Applying to an Ivy League this fall? Start working.

If you are thinking about applying to any school with an admission rate of 30% or below, you need to start thinking about and working on your application now. If you really want to get in to your college, be prepared to work your ass off on the application. The harder and longer you work, the better your reward. Talent is over-rated and hard work is under-rated; if you don’t believe me, read this article.

I do not care if you got 2400 SAT’s and are valedictorian and have twelve extracurriculars. There are no locks for schools that admit less than 30% of applicants. UPenn, the school I got into, admitted 394 of 1035 valedictorians, about 1 in 3. That’s the competition. Sure, some people have better chances than others, but no one is a guaranteed shot. Everyone needs to put thought into the essay. You need to put yourself in the mindset of the tired admissions officer who has read so many applications they run together like words when you’re half asleep. One of your key tasks is to market yourself. You need to make sure an admissions officer can summarize you in one sentence – for a friend of mine, it’s that his parents are Iranian but Jewish. You need to find that one or two things that make you unique. This, and developing a great essay, are your two most important tasks between now and December 31.

You are evaluated in five or six main areas: personal essay, transcript, SAT scores, extracurriculars, recommendations, and possibly an interview. It is crucial to realize that on your application there are some things you can control and some things you cannot. You can’t control what your teachers say about you (but you can pick ones that will say good stuff). You can’t control what your grades were in freshman, sophomore and junior years. You can’t control how strong your school is, or whether it offers AP’s or whatever. You can’t change your extracurriculars to show you’ve practiced ballet for the last 10 years. These are out of your control. You can control your SAT scores by means of coaching, you can control your interview through practice and self-confidence, and most importantly, you can control your essay.

I was planning on taking a year off before college, mainly because I hadn’t gotten in anywhere I wanted (I was waitlisted at University of Pennsylvania, along with 1400 others, and 20 got in. Don’t write shitty essays, and figure out a way to market yourself). Anyway, if I hadn’t gotten in, I was going to do a writing regimen this summer. I was going to write 5 new essays, just get diarrhea of typing and get them all out, and then pick the two best and refine and rewrite and refine and rewrite them until they’re fantastic. I would recommend that each of you do this. Two things. Don’t write to admissions officers. Write like you’re going on the editorial page of the New York Times. Your writing is more compelling that way. Admissions officers don’t want to hear anything about hard work, they want to hear what you want to talk about. The other piece of advice I have is to get a great reader, someone who works in admissions or writes for a living or a teacher. I would recommend “On Writing the College Application Essay” by Harry Bauld if you want to write a great essay.

So, this summer, start working on your essays, and start thinking about your one-sentence summary. See you in the fall.

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