Like every year when these rankings from US News, Forbes, and Wall Street Journal come out, there is an incredible amount of controversy and opinion from journalists and the media about everything that is wrong with the rankings and how they “don’t matter.” The old saying goes that you should pick the college that is the best fit for you, and ignore the rankings because they’re meaningless indicators of how great a college experience should be.
And yet the same people who decry the rankings are the same people who, year after year, secretly and eagerly await the new rankings to come out and check where their school is on the list. Oh the irony.
As a college admissions consult, I feel that some of this outcry from the media is merited, but others are not. I don’t quite believe in picking a college that is “right for you.” In this day and age, when the Ivy Leagues, Stanford, UChicago, MIT and other top universities are making a strong push toward increasing diversity, I’m a strong believer that your high school child will eventually, albeit with some experimentation and networking, find his or her niche within the Ivy gates.
In any given class, you’ll have accomplished musicians, scientists, engineers, politicians, artists, and the like. From a capella groups to research teams to dance groups, the diversity at these schools is impressive and you will find a social peer group that you fit in with, even if it takes a little bit of trial and error.
Get in the the best school possible, then if anything you can decide which school is the right fit for you. In reality, who actually picks a college because of the experience these days?
These universities have evolved into emblems of societal hierarchy, though certainly not to diminish the incredible educational experience these universities offer. Students pick schools due to the name brand recognition – it’s no secret. Every year high school students and families anxiously compete at the highest echelons to get a coveted spot at one of these schools.
If data is any indicator, more often than not students will choose the university that is higher ranked, not one that is necessarily the right fit for them. So I guess these rankings do matter.
When employers screen for resumes, a name brand school sticks out like a sore thumb on the resumes. Whether it’s Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley looking for investment banking hire from Princeton or Harvard, or Google and Facebook looking to hire the next top product manager or engineer from Stanford or MIT, you can bet a degree from the Top 10 university will be put at the top of the list.
That’s also a big reason why I don’t believe in college lists. Why spend so much time crafting together a school list that is the right fit for the student? Instead, you should be apply to every university in the Top 10 if you have the academic and extracurriculars stats to back it up. Because if you don’t apply, you have a zero percent chance at getting in.
The common application allows you to apply to 20 universities. Apply to as many colleges as possible – you only get one shot at this. I’ve seen students who get into Yale but rejected from Rice, for example. It’s actually not uncommon. And imagine if that student never applied to Yale – he or she wouldn’t be attending there today.
So should you pay attention to the college rankings? I’ll leave it up for you to decide.
By the time you hit 10th grade and you just found out about many of these competitions, it may be too late as you’ll find yourself scrambling to prepare over summer and winter break in addition to all of your regular school work and summer reading list piled on top.
I can tell you these competitions are no joke – they require a fundamental understanding of the subject matter and doing lots and lots of practice problems to develop that nimble mindset able to solve these challenging questions.
These problems are many orders of magnitude more difficult than the SAT’s, for example, which many students already find challenging. You certainly aren’t going to get brilliant overnight. Qualifying for AIME and advancing to USAMO has been one of the highly touted exams that would drastically increase your probability of getting into MIT.
I’ve consulted with students as early as 5th-6th grade and provided them a long term roadmap to achieve this level of success. It requires the right study habits, hard work, persistence, and the right attitude to perform well.
It requires understanding what the opportunity set looks like out there in terms of regional and national competitions like the Scholastic Art & Writing Competition so you can be well prepared by the time you compete.
For my high school students, I lay out the foundation at our very first session – exactly what you need to do to prepare and the actionable items and goals you need to accomplish to get into these universities.
It’s certainly not an easy task, especially with acceptance rates dropping to all time lows.
That vague notion of “pursuing your passion” is sound and true, but the pathway to get there and the actionable items to achieve those goals to get you a high probability of getting into one of the HYPSM schools is possible.
But first, you need to know what you need to accomplish as a high achieving student to get there.
What factors drive a university to the top of the rankings like US News and World Report that has sparked so much debate and controversy from the eyes of the public and media every year? Why are some universities better than others? In light of the upcoming US News & World Rankings that will come out in September of this year, I’d like to highlight some important attributes to watch out for when deciding on how to choose a university where you’ll spend the next four years.
Getting into these elite universities is certainly no easy feat. At IvyCollegeAdmit, my focus has always been on helping high school students and families across the country gain acceptance to these highly coveted institutions. And the demand in the past few years to get into these colleges has been surreal – I’ve been approached from families and students from all across the country to strategize a powerful application to get their kids in.
A top university has several attributes that ultimately feed into the low acceptance rates due to increased demand and the soaring number of applications every year. While there myriads of factors that define a top university that ultimately contributes to its rankings, I’ve noted some of the most important ones here below.
Among them include:
Endowment: Everything begins with the endowment of a top university. With a large endowment to fund research opportunities, attract top notch faculty, and build new labs and buildings, the endowment drives a university’s operations and selectivity. Endowment per capita is also a number to watch out for – Harvard, for example, has the highest endowment of any university, while Princeton has the highest endowment per capita, for instance.
Faculty: A university’s accomplishments, from Nobel Prizes to Fields medallists, depend largely on the strength of its faculty. If a university can attract top notch faculty, then the strength of the curriculum improves and students receive better instruction.
Nobel Prize/Fields Medal/National Grants & Awards: A university’s prestige is often measured by the number of Nobel Prizes, Fields Medals, Wolf Prizes, Abel Prize, National Science Foundation awards, among others. University of Chicago is known for having the most Nobel Prizes in Economics, for instance, and sparking the rapidly developing field of behavioral economics.
Research Opportunities: Research plays an incredibly important role as it sparks original, creative thinking outside of the classroom environment. With strong research opportunities, students can exposure to experimentation and scientific inquiry outside of the standard curriculum.
Academic Curriculum: The curriculum needs to be strong and in a diverse range of fields ranging from Medieval studies to Economics to Electrical Engineering. In addition, top notch faculty who are focused on providing a high level quality of instruction are important, as opposed to merely focusing on their research.
Extracurricular Offerings: A strong university has excellent extracurricular offerings, ranging from dance groups to chess clubs to business organizations. These facilitate learning outside of the classroom environment to provide a well-rounded education.
Study Abroad Programs: Often times top universities will have partnerships with other universities abroad, such as Oxbridge, Renmin University, or London School of Economics. These partnerships facilitate collaborative, international learning for students who want to study abroad.
Student Body: A top university needs to attract top high performing students to create an intellectually stimulating, diverse environment in which to learn. I can tell you the people you surround yourself with is just as important as the curriculum at the university.
Alumni Network: After graduation, the university needs to continue to do outreach to its students and alumni, as an alumni’s success is just as much the university’s success. News about alumni’s success will continue to attract top students and faculty to the university.
Admissions Marketing: The admissions office needs to take steps to market their university to attract students to apply. Even Harvard, which is arguably the most reputable university in the world, still sends out brochures to nearly ever high school student in the country inviting them to apply. This drives down their acceptance rate and boosts their rankings.
These are among the most important factors that would attract top notch students, faculty, and research scientists to a highly reputable university and make it an institution the general public would desire to attend.
The time-tested advice of choosing a university that is the best fit for you still rings true – ultimately, you should choose one where you believe can jumpstart your career and provide the educational opportunities that you can’t find elsewhere. More often than not, the elite universities will provide all the opportunities you can possibly ask for, and more.
“Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and other executives are among 50 wealthy people charged in the largest college cheating scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice. Those indicted in the investigation, dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues,” allegedly paid bribes of up to $6.5 million to get their children into elite colleges, including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and the University of Southern California.” (ABC News)
These well to-do’s spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get their children into America’s elite institutions, from bribing athletics coaches to writing falsified letters of recommendation. In addition, some parents paid SAT exam proctors revise their multiple choice answers to boost their scores, while others paid someone else $10,000 just to take the SAT for their daughters.
But perhaps a culprit to blame is the manner in which the college admissions process is conducted in our country. Not just about the rich and privileged, but an inequality that spans across race, ethnicity, socioeconomic, and political backgrounds. When it comes to college admissions, the root of the inequality lies in a system that favors the rich and wealthy, underrepresented minority groups, athletes, legacies of parents who attended the university (especially wealthy donors), and the children from backgrounds of higher authority, like children of US politicians.
In a utopian society, I believe that elite education should not be an entitlement, but a meritocratic opportunity honored fair and square. But our education system isn’t fair in the first place. As a college consultant who has helped students admitted to the top universities, I know this scandal is more than just about privilege or race. It’s about the inherent flaws in our education system that need to be fixed.
Perhaps we should adapt the UK system where equality is more based on merit. For example, in the UK system, you are expected to perform well on a series of exams such as the A Levels, a high level exam known as the MAT, and finally an on campus in-person interview with the admissions committee where they challenge your academic and intellectual skillset. Very few soft factors such as race, ethnicity, unique personalities, or socioeconomic status are considered.
That seems like a much more fair process than what we have in the US system today, where students are judged by not only their academic profile but also softer factors like essays, ethnicity, income background, and an informal interview. The student’s personality has to shine, or mimick a culture that shares common values we are trained to approve of through the influence of media while in the process neglecting other backgrounds that are necessary to increase diversity in the first place.
For example, universities prefer to accept a student who has studied Roman Classics, a largely Westernized subject, rather than a strong student in math and science who also happens to be Asian. Are we really improving diversity, as these schools tend to claim to achieve? If you spawn an essay writing contest where the student has to act as “Western,” or “WASP,” or whatever culture that aims to stereotype the persona that admissions officers subconsciously want every student to mimic, aren’t we created a more segregated, rather than diverse, society by adhering to the values of Western culture that the media portrays?
We need to revamp our education system so that it plays a greater role toward the advancement of human knowledge and progress rather than a system that creates social, income, and ethnic class divide within our society. The divisive effects have stunted the growth in our country – the U.S. lags behind many other world countries including China, Japan, and Russia in the math, sciences, and engineering, for example.
The fact that these parents were willing to shore up millions of dollars to help their children get into these speaks volumes to the demand for these higher elite institutions, which have come to play an increasingly disruptive role within higher education, and fundamentally, our society. The great lengths that these privileged families were willing to undergo to secure their children an elite education shows that the value of these degrees cannot be understated.
It’s as if you get a head start in life. A degree from Stanford or Yale means you have higher employment opportunities, easier access to venture capital, and a lifelong connections with ambitious, successful colleagues who may one day propel your career and overall state of well being. From income inequality due to the higher employment prospects of these degrees to the lawsuit against affirmative action that put Asian Americans at an advantage, the admissions process of these universities have caused more harm than good.
From a long-term perspective, however, I recognize that these higher institutions will continue to encounter difficulty, not only by backlash given the the unfairness and inequity of the current admissions process, but also by the huge advancements of Internet education. The digital revolution, while as some have argued that it certainly has caused its fair share of income inequality, has also given us equal access to education and a superb quality of delivery of content that spearheads the universal dispersement of knowledge.
One day, these higher institutions may lose their luster as online education gains its foothold. But that is not going to happen anytime soon, at least not quite in our generation given by the ultra competitive desire among students and parents to get accepted in our nation’s most elite universities. And as long as higher education survives, the college admissions process seriously needs some reconsideration, and evaluated to establish merit-based solutions to uphold the values that institutions of higher learning are expected of – the purest pursuit of knowledge and the advancement of society.
The essay or personal statement is the most important part of the college admissions process. There are tens of thousands of high achieving students with 4.0 GPA’s, 1600 SAT scores, strong leadership and community service activities, and awards from regional and national competitions to boast.
But there’s only a limited number of spots. What do you think separates one student from another, especially at the highest echelon?
I’ll give the answer – it’s no secret. It’s the personal statement – without a doubt. It’s the one factor that will differentiate you from the tens of thousands of applicants vying for a limited number of spots.
I will begin by stating that the personal statement that you write will be highly dependent on who you are as a person and your background – including your ethnicity, demographics, socioeconomic background, extracurricular involvement, and even your gender. I take all of this into account when I work with my students to help draft a powerful personal statement.
There are certainly many pitfalls that I’ve seen students make. Some will write an essay that ends up being a laundry list of their accomplishments. Others will write an essay that simply doesn’t let them stand out. I’ll give you one example: an Asian American student who writes an essay simply about his/her intellectual curiosity about math/science without much else is literally shooting themselves in the leg.
Why? Because there’s tons of strong Asian American applicants who are strong in math/science.
The Ivy Leagues are looking for critical thinkers, and the essay needs to show your level of introspection and how you think about and approach the world around you – and how a particular experience shaped your perspective. This is key.
How you write the personal statement is just as important as what you write about. There’s a reason why some books are New York Times bestsellers year after year – it’s because of how the writing keeps the reader engaged and captures their attention while getting across a powerful message that resonates with the reader.
That’s what your personal statement should be – creative yet humble, one with flair yet introspective, and one that is deeply personal yet enables your personality to surface.
And if you can achieve that, you’ve got a winning personal statement – and a shot at the Ivy League.
Every Ivy League school has its own set of characteristics and attributes that define its traditions as an institution.
Although they have a long history dating back to 1636 with the establishment of Harvard, followed by Yale in 1701, and Princeton in 1746, the Ivy League schools today carry on some of the same standards today, but also molded by the digital era and technology revolution.
As the acceptance rates at these premier institutions become more competitive than ever, the pressure on the nation’s highest achieving high school students has become sky high as parents begin training and guiding their children as early as elementary school.
Every year, I witness the heartbreak of a rejection letter, and the incredible thrill (and relief) of a student who has put in all his or her hard work to get that coveted Ivy League acceptance letter.
But what and who are these Ivy League schools?
While each institution strives to admit a diverse student body, you will find some characteristics that are prevalent among these elite institutions of higher learning. I’ve had the opportunity visit each and every one of these institutions during my college days at these peer institutions.
There’s certainly an amount of rivalry to be said of these universities. I’d say the rivalry for the most part is a friendly one and of mutual respect. After all, after getting in students rarely speak of their high school accomplishments. It just goes without saying.
Whether you’re interested in attending an Ivy League school or want to learn more about each of the institutions, I hope to shed some light on the characteristics of these Ivy League schools so that you may find one that is most suitable for you.
And hopefully, you can make your decision based on facts as opposed to merely the prestige of the institution.
Harvard’s admits roughly 1600 students per year where some of the brightest minds and burgeoning leaders. Most students will major in Economics, Government, Political Science, whereas departments are equally strong, including Biology, Chemistry, among others.
The students at Harvard tend to be extremely high achieving students. But not everyone there is smart.
Of all the universities, Harvard may very well be the most political in the fact that they accept nearly 15% of their students are legacies of parents.
In addition, there is the infamous “Z List,” a secretive list where Harvard tracks children of famous alumni and politicians. Students on the Z List get preferential treatment and are almost certain to be admitted. Malia Obama was certainly on Harvard’s Z list, for example.
At Harvard, students compete every year to get into the top companies, whether it’s Goldman Sachs or McKinsey. Landing a job or internship at these companies is a dream come true for many students. But just because you’re from “Hahvahd” doesn’t mean it’s a shoo-in, as you will be competing with many of your classmates to land a spot at competitive firms.
Princeton is known for its academic strengths, in particular mathematics, physics, economics within the STEM fields, and English, political science, philosophy, and psychology in the humanities. Unlike many of its Ivy League counterparts, Princeton is focused on an undergraduate education, and this is evident by none other than its 5200 undergraduates and 2500 graduate students.
Princeton is, plain and simple, an academic powerhouse – and this is evident from none other than its coursework. Princeton has a strong emphasis and focus on theory as opposed to applications. Unlike a school like Stanford or MIT, Princeton shines in its purest pursuit of knowledge.
Even in its introductory CS101 class, you will be finding yourself doing a practice set on the Traveling Salesman problem and applying your algorithmic thinking there as opposed to building a simple mock application of Facebook. The birth of the field of computer science began at Princeton where Alan Turing invented the first computer.
Princeton has a long history for its strengths in mathematics, with prominent Fields Medallists like John Milnor, Terence Tao, Manjul Bhargava, and Edward Witten. The Nobel Prize of Economics and Abel Prize was awarded to John Nash, perhaps the most prominent figure at the university, who supposedly wrote mathematical formulas and insights in the chalkboard at Fine Hall late in the evenings.
At Princeton, much of the social scene revolves around the eating clubs on Prospect Ave, known as “The Street.” Eating clubs are social scenes where students have their meals together by day, and turn into a night club in the evening. The Frist Campus center is also a hubbub of student activity and where prominent firms like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Lazard, among others, like to recruit.
Yale is located in New Haven, Connecticut and is known for their strengths in English and Comparative Literature. That’s not to say that they aren’t strong in other disciplines in math, science, and economics, either – students at Yale are well equipped with academic and extracurricular opportunities and study with the world’s brightest.
Over 19 of the Supreme Court Justices are Yale alumni, including Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor. Bill and Hilary Clinto famously met each other at the Law School, which is considered the top law school in the country. Yale’s strengths in political science are truly unmatched as many of their alumni have gone on to assume prominent positions in Congress.
In the technology sector, Yale has prominent alumni including Ben Silbermann, the founder of Pinterest and Emmett Shear and Justin Kan, founders of Twitch TV which eventually got acquired by Amazon.
I’ve always said that the beauty of these institutions isn’t necessarily the education received, but the incredibly bright and ambitious peers you meet. This was true for none other than the founders Twitch TV, the offspring of Justin.TV, a live video streaming that captured the daily lives of Yale undergrads.
Yale recently established a partnership with the National University of Singapore (NUS), and established a campus where students could now apply to Yale-NUS and leverage the academic, extracurricular, and research opportunities from both universities. Yale-NUS is slightly easier to get into than Yale and is a great option should students choose to pursue it.
Columbia is located in the heart of Manhattan, New York and boasts an Ivy League education in perhaps the most bustling, active city in the world. With the easy access to the culture that New York has to offer, students get an incredible exposure to Central Park, Lincoln Center, and the Broadway.
Columbia is known for the Core Curriculum, where students receive a truly well rounded liberal arts education including contemporary civilization, literature, writing, art, music and the frontiers of science. Students may also apply to the Fu Foundation of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS).
Students study with the world’s leading writers, scientists, and scholars, all within reach and within the context of a diverse and international student body. Famous alumni include Barack Obama, the recent President of the United States, and Ruth Ginsburg, our Supreme Court Justice.
5. University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania, or UPenn for short, is located in the heart of Philadelphia. Founded in1755 by Benjamin Franklin, UPenn strives to train leaders in commerce, government, and public policy through its liberal arts curriculum.
When high achieving students apply to UPenn, they typically aim for the Wharton School, which is the top feeder school into Wall Street as students vie for positions at bulge bracket investments banks. Famous alumni include none other than Elon Musk, who studied in the Wharton School of Business and double majored in economics and physics, and Warren Buffet, one of the most savvy investors in the world and the proponent of value investing.
I strongly believe that UPenn students receive really the quintessential college experience, as I’ve traveled frequently to hang out with friends at UPenn given it was just a 1.5 hour train ride from Princeton. From Spring Fling, which is an annual party where they host famous singers like Drake and Jay Z to perform, to all the magnificent restaurants that downtown Philadelphia has to offer, UPenn students get plenty of exposure to college life outside of mere academics.
UPenn also has specialized programs, such as the Jerome Fisher M&T program that blends together management and technology in an integrated curriculum. UPenn is known to pass out minors like candy, with minimal requirements to attain a minor in math or psychology, for instance, which helps boost the resume.
Located in Providence, Rhode Island, Brown maintains a commitment to an undergraduate liberal arts education with its free spirited, open-minded students that comprise roughly 6,000 undergraduates. Brown is by far the most liberal of all the Ivy Leagues, empowering students to explore their creativity and unbridled passions.
Brown is known for its Open Curriculum, where students could have the flexibility to virtually take any courses they want to satisfy their distribution requirements and also design their own concentration should they pursue it. But just because it’s flexible doesn’t mean it’s easy – the courses at Brown, like most Ivy Leagues, are extremely demanding and challenging.
Brown allows its students to take all their classes pass/fail, which is unique among all the Ivy Leagues and so as to discourage the competitiveness of its student body. This is always an advantage for students who struggle in more difficult courses, but also allows the students to truly pursue their academic passions without having to constantly think about the grade they’ll earn.
Famous alumni at Brown include Janet Yellen, the Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, and Emma Watson, the star in the J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
Lastly, Brown is has the famous Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME), the only one in the Ivy League that combines an undergraduate education and professional studies in medicine in a single eight year program.
Dartmouth is the smallest Ivy League university and is famously known as “The College on the Hill,” located up north on the Connecticut River in New Hampshire. Given its small size and rural area, Dartmouth’s tight knit community has forged strong bonds and friendships among its student body.
As Dartmouth uses a quarter system, students only take three courses at a time, but at a rigorous and lightspeed pace. The 10-week quarters provdie students opportunities to study abroad and pursue internships during the year.
You will find incredibly brilliant professors such as Thomas Cormen, the author of the famous Algorithms that is used by universities across the country. From Greek life to the Outing club to newspapers and political organizations, the students here get exposure to an excellent well rounded experience.
Dartmouth is truly a bubble and has almost a high school dynamic in that everyone knows each other or at least has seen each other on campus. In junior year, students will get tapped into secret societies, and has a unique social scene.
Dr. Seuss and Robert Frost are among its most famous alumni who played a role in literature and poetry, as well as Timoth Geithner, the 75th US Secretary of Treasury and American economic policy maker.
Located in Ithaca, Cornell has a rigorous academic environment that in spans the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Architecutre, Art and Planning and the School of Hotel Administration. Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration is the best in the country and offers a top notch education for those who seek this field of study.
Cornell is also known to have the strongest engineering program among the Ivy Leagues. This comes as no surprise given that engineering is usually among the most difficult majors and Cornell is known for its extremely rigorous academic curriculum.
Cornell has seven dining halls and a beautiful campus with gothic architecture that is the quintessential Ivy League experience. Bill Nye the Science Guy, an American science presenter and mechanical engineer, and Toni Morrison, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a famous American novelist, are famous graduates of Cornell.
The student organizations at Cornell are robust, with over 1,000 clubs ranging from A Capella, dance troups, Bridges to Community, among others, that foster personal awareness and belonging.
Cornell typically has one of the higher acceptance rates among schools in the Ivy League, but don’t mistake that for a knock on its prestige. Cornell is easily one of the most difficult Ivy Leagues to graduate from given its sheer demanding academic curriculum.
Outside of the Ivy League, there are also other top universities that deserve notable mentions.
Located in the heart of the Silicon Valley, Stanford may very well be the 21st century version of Harvard. Not only are its academics superb, but what it lacks in history and tradition it more than makes up for given its standing at the forefront of technology and entrepreneurship.
Stanford recently announced that they will no longer publicize its acceptance rates, which is a first among its rival universities, and speaks to the incredible demand of students applying to the school.
Stanford has graduated its fair share of tech entrepreneurs, including the Peter Thiel, the founder of Paypal, Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, and Evan Spiegel, the CEO of Snapchat. With the close access to high tech Silicon Valley venture capital investors on Sandhill road and the larges companies in the world, undergraduates have a unique access that is truly unsurpassed.
Unlike Princeton, Stanford values application over pure intellectual pursuits, and how the application of knowledge could play a role in society amid the digital and technological revolution, which is a highly valuable undertaking.
The campus is also amazing with the rich Spanish colonial architecture and clean, well-kept dorms.
10. University of Chicago
From Milton Friedman to Eugene Fama, University of Chicago, or UChicago for short, has spearheaded many of the prevalent economic theories of our time, from Keynesian to monetarism to new classical macroeconomics based on rational expectations.
The UChicago Economics department, considered one of the world’s foremost economics departments, has awards 12 Nobel Prizes Laureates in the field of Economics, more than any other university in the world. UChicago’s influence on public policy, law, economics, political science, and business has been revolutionary to modern day society. Overall, UChicago has one of the highest concentrations of Nobel Laureates of any university in the world.
The undergraduate education is unparalleled, and often noted for its intense academic rigor within the context of a liberal arts education. The graduate professional schools are outstanding as well, including the Booth School of Business, the Law School, Pritzer School of Medicine, and the Harris School of Public Policy Studies.
Located in Hyde Park, south side of downtown Chicago, the university has a wonderful blend of culture and an intellectually stimulating atmosphere that makes it one of the dream schools for the most ambitious of high school students.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT for short, has one of the most brilliant mathematicians and scientists of any undergraduate university. If you look through the prestigious competitions like the Putnam Mathematics Competition, you will find a heavy concentration of undergraduates placing in the Top 500.
Or, if you look through the students who competed in the annual Intel Science and Engineering Fair or Regeneron Science Talent Search, you will often find a heavy concentration of them attending MIT.
That is because, quite frankly, MIT values strong math and science students as opposed to its Ivy League counterparts, which often may seek other future world leaders or a diverse student body with strengths in the humanities as opposed to strictly math and science talent.
To uphold the school’s often eccentric and mathematical nature, the majors are labeled by course numbers. The largest degree programs at MIT tend to be Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (Course 6-2), Computer Science and Engineering (Course 6-3), Mechanical Engineering (Course 2), Physics (Course 8), and Mathematics (Course 18).
MIT has strong professional schools including the Sloan School of Management, which is commonly ranked the #1 undergraduate business school in the country, in addition to UPenn Wharton and Berkeley Haas. Famous alumni include Richard Feynman, the Nobel Laureate physicist known for his work in quantum mechanics.
The California Institute of Technology, or Caltech for short, is a small, private research university located in Pasadena, CA established in 1891 and is often ranked as one of the world’s top universities. Famous alumni include Linus Pauling, the Nobel Laureate in chemistry, and Kip Thorne, the recently Nobel Prize winning physicist.
Caltech boasts a small student of roughly 960 undergraduates with the highest average SAT scores in the country. The prerequisites to graduate are intense, including differential equations, applied mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology, which is atypical of other universities.
Caltech has a friendly rivalry with MIT, where each year its respective students will pull pranks on each other during the Campus Preview Weekend for freshmen. MIT has stolen Caltech’s antique Fleming Cannon and transported it across the country to its own campus.
In fact, interestingly enough, one of the questions in Caltech’s application is for the applicant to describe a time when they pulled a prank on someone. Clearly, this imbedded as part of the school’s unique and frisky culture.
The Caltech Beavers compete in 13 intercollegiate sports in the NCAA Division III’s Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. While sports isn’t something boasts about, it is commonly known that if you attend Caltech you can more likely than not qualify to compete in their varsity sports teams.
I was recently interviewed by US News and World Report editor Courtney Rubin on my process for the early action/decision entitled “The Early Edge.” The early action is an excellent way to take advantage of the higher acceptance rates at these competitive universities. Certainly, one might argue that the early action pool is also much more talented and competitive than the regular decision pool. But when you have a chance to signal to the university that they are your indeed first choice, I always advise my students to take that opportunity and put your best foot forward.
In the article, I discussed that the early action round may also be an opportunity for an applicant to test the waters of their application. This usually only applies if you are a very strong candidate, and for some reason just happened to get rejected by one of the easier early action universities that we expected to get into (ie, Georgia Tech, University of Michigan). Perhaps we wrote something risky in the personal statements that we expected to have a huge payoff, but didn’t happened to work, for example. As a result, we may take a safer approach and recalibrate for other universities in the regular round.
This is a more nuanced and strategic approach that I see very few college admissions consultants take. From my view, the personal statement is a matter of risk and reward, and sometimes we have to make these decisions whether to write something more controversial and risky to stand out, or take a safer, conservative route to land that acceptance letter. I won’t mention what my students write about here, but these are some elements that my students and I work together to consider.
The early action process is statistically a great opportunity to take advantage of. Let’s take a quick look at the numbers. Stanford boasts an acceptance rate of ~4%, but their early action acceptance rate is over 10%. Princeton and Harvard boast an acceptance rate of 5%, but their early action acceptance rate is 15%, nearly triple the overall acceptance rate. Cornell’s overall acceptance rate is around ~12%, but their early decision acceptance rate is nearly 25%! So yes, I absolutely recommend my students to take advantage of that early action/decision to leverage the high acceptance rates to increase their odds of getting in.
When the top universities in the world have such low acceptance rates hovering in the single digits, you have to play the probabilities to your advantage. Let me make a factual statement: If you don’t apply, you have a zero chance at getting in. Yes, you heard me. And I think we can all agree on that statement, objectively speaking. In fact, last year I worked with a student who was rejected from Rice, waitlisted from Dartmouth, but accepted to Yale. Most people would argue that Yale is a better university than Rice or Dartmouth, but when push comes to shove, we are playing with probabilities at the end of the day.
You can mitigate the low acceptance rates by applying everywhere (yes, you heard that right – all 8 Ivy Leagues/Stanford/UChicago/MIT/Caltech – type schools), as well as putting your best foot forward by crafting together a powerful application for each university.
Taking advantage of the high early acceptance rates at these schools definitely helps. But I’d also like to warn that getting deferred or rejected in the early round does not mean the end of the world. I’ve had students who were deferred early to Stanford, but ended up getting into Harvard and Princeton, for example. I’ve also had students who were accepted early to Stanford but rejected from Duke, Columbia, among others. What does this mean?
It simply means that the college admissions process isn’t perfect. There are real human beings (admissions officers, if you will) who are analyzing these applications behind closed doors. There isn’t a single algorithm or formula that determines your fate, but there are factors that you can take advantage of to increase your probabilities of success. As one of the top college admissions consultants in the country, I’ve seen all shades of the spectrum when it comes to navigating this complex college admissions process.
All my students submit highly compelling applications that put their best foot forward to maximize their odds of success. In fact, I’ve had students tell me that they don’t care what happens in the end because they know there’s nothing else they could have done to present the best possible application to the admissions officers. They’re not only confident in my process, but they know themselves that we’ve finagled every crevice to put them front and center as compelling applicants. After we’ve spent tremendous time and energy poring into the personal statements and polishing that final application before submission, we leave it in the hands of the admissions gods to determine their fate.
But I can’t emphasize how important it is to polish that application to make sure it’s picture perfect. Because if you don’t, even if you play the odds, you’re not playing with a very strong hand that would give you an opportunity to get admitted. And that’s what exactly IvyCollegeAdmit program accomplishes – perfecting an application that would maximize your odds of success.
As rising high school seniors prepare for another competitive admissions round this coming application cycle, a big factor to watch for this year’s application cycle is the discontinuation of the Siemens Westinghouse Competition. For those who are new to this, the Siemens Westinghouse competition is a highly prestigious research competition offered for high school students across the country that selects students based on their cutting edge research performed typically through university affiliation or through highly competitive summer programs.
In the past, the 18 page, double spaced research paper for the Siemens Competition is submitted in September, and students find out their semifinalist standing (usually top 500 or so in the country) in October, right before the early application deadlines. Many of my students have gone on to win semifinalist and regional finalist in this competition, which is extremely helpful and an award that they include before the early application deadline due November 1st.
Now that this competition has been discontinued, it generally means a few things:
The sophomores who placed semifinalist or higher in the previous year’s Siemens Competition have a significant leg up on this year’s (Class of 2023) application cycle students. Very few sophomores place in the Siemens Competition, which is primarily given to juniors.
The Intel Science Talent Science and Engineering Fair carries an even greater weight than before. In the past, those with ISEF awards were considered strong, but now that the Siemens Competition has been discontinued there are fewer students to compete with (minus the overlap – both Siemens and ISEF semifinalists).
Students who attend a competitive summer science program this year don’t reap the same awards they would have in the past. The juniors who attend competitive science summer programs this year still have an opportunity to compete in the Regeneron STS competition, but that one carries less weight because they won’t find out until January/February, after they have already submitted their application. Last year I had two students who placed Top 300 and Top 40 respectively in the Regeneron STS competition, including one who won a $25,000 scholarship.
The Siemens Competition requires an 18 page, double spaced research paper typically under supervision of a mentor through a university lab. The Regeneron STS competition also requires a research paper, but also a personal statement in addition to the research report. Again, the application essays and personal statements for summer programs, national research competitions, and of course, the college applications continue to play a significant role in the process.
Attending a science summer program is helpful for this year’s rising juniors as it demonstrates one’s intellectual curiosity through research, but it carries less weight due to the inability to compete in the Siemens Westinghouse competition. While the exact percentage of Siemens Competition semifinalists (or higher) who attend Ivy Leagues or top 10 universities is difficult to find, as a former Siemens Competition semifinalist myself and with peers who did place in the competition, it’s one of those things that does increase one’s chances to the top universities.
These research competitions are the type of competitions that Ivy League admissions officers have looked for in applicants for years – Intel Science Talent Search, Intel Science and Engineering Fair, Siemens Westinghouse, and Regeneron STS have given students a leg up when it comes to getting in. But that does not mean everyone gets in simply because of these competitions – especially those who write subpar personal statements and don’t know how to present their narrative through the applications.
The 2018 results are finally in for the Class of 2022!
75% of IvyCollegeAdmit students were accepted into Ivy League universities.
This year, I worked with a total of 16 students for the 2018 application cycle for the Class of 2022. Needless to say, given the competitive admissions climate and acceptance rates hovering at anywhere from 4-7% for the Ivy League or top 10 universities, IvyCollegeAdmit students performed incredibly well. My students have been accepted to and will be attending:
Berkeley MET / Brown (1)
This marks a total of 12 out of 16 students, or a 75% acceptance rate to the Ivy League and/or Top 10 university – an incredibly strong track record when the average acceptance rate at these schools hovers anywhere from 4-7%. This was by far the most competitive application cycle in history. Here’s some sample acceptance letters from this admissions cycle:
Outside of the Ivy League/Stanford/UChicago/MIT/Caltech schools, my other students still performed phenomenally well, including acceptances to Berkeley, Georgia Tech Biomedical Engineering program (ranked #1 in the country), University of Michigan, UCLA, Carnegie Mellon, Northeastern, and Boston College, just to name a few. This year also marks the second year of the relatively new inaugural Berkeley MET program, which accepts 40 students in the entire country for a less than 3% acceptance rate. One of my students was able to secure a spot in this highly competitive program.
My students hailed from several Bay Area high schools as well as the East Coast, including Harker School, Lynbrook High, Gunn HS, Aragon High, Saratoga HS, Juniper Serra HS, Milton Academy, University High, Lexington HS, Highland School of Technology, Auburn HS, among others. Roughly 60% of my clients are from the Bay Area, and another 40% are from all around the country, including East Coast schools.
2018 Acceptance Rate
University of Chicago
Ivy League Average
The average acceptance rate at the Ivy League or top 10 university was roughly 6.7%! Despite this the lowest acceptance rate in history, IvyCollegeAdmit students had a 75% acceptance rate to at least one of the Ivy League or top 10 universities, which is truly an incredible feat and more than 10x the regular acceptance rate at the creme of the crop colleges.
We were able perform remarkably well because of the powerful applications that we crafted together to the universities. While we may have made it “look easy” in the most competitive application cycle in history, we poured a tremendous amount of time and energy into the personal statements, supplemental material, application review, and interview preparation to get these results.
I am very proud of my students, their achievements, and the spellbinding applications that resulted in an impressive outcome for the Class of 2022 in perhaps the most competitive admissions process to date. The Ivy College Admit program has continued its excellence of success and extremely high track record of placing students into the most competitive colleges in the country.
Here’s a sample of some additional acceptance letters from this admissions cycle for the Class of 2022:
Note: Past performance is not indicative of future results given the highly competitive nature of college admissions.
College admissions isn’t perfect. There are a lot of flaws when it comes to college admissions, in particular the somewhat vague and mystical standards of admission at the Ivy League and other comparable universities. As a high school student, you’re placed into a system where you have to go above and beyond what is considered the standard requirements for admissions to gain acceptance.
At Oxford, Cambridge, and top universities in Asia, this is less so. You take a national exam (or series of exams), and if you fall within a certain score, then you will more or less get into a particular school based on a sliding scale. Admissions is clear cut, highly objective, and standardized. But in the US, that’s not the case – in fact, far from it.
Getting top SAT scores, GPA, and AP exams by no means guarantees or promises anything – and in fact, sometimes you’re expected to go above and beyond to have a shot at the very top universities. This includes extracurricular activities, national competitions, summer programs, and the list goes on.
But how do you expect a high school student who’s approaching this for the first time to be aware of all these opportunities if they’re not stated explicitly as requirements or standards of admission? Granted, the lucky few who are aware of these outside opportunities (such as math/science Olympiads, competitive research programs, extracurricular activities, etc.) start preparing as early as middle school.
But those from a less fortunate and lower socioeconomic background aren’t aware of these opportunities, but they’re still (more or less) held to similar standards for admission. So what the US needs to do is standardize the requirements for admission so that everyone has an equal opportunity.
The SAT, SAT Subject Tests, and AP Exams more or less accomplish this, but not if so many students are getting perfect scores to such extent where the value of these exams become almost meaningless when it comes to admission to the top universities like HYPSM. Perhaps we should have a second battery of exams for the very top students and make those standardized or required so that the standards for admission more objective.
What we end up with, however, is a system where assuming you have the top test scores, grades, and extracurriculars, your ultimate admission depends on the application and personal statement you package together. So admissions to the Ivy League becomes a borderline essay writing contest where the top students are accepted based on the quality of their personal experiences expressed through the essays.
And on the flipside, there are students who have weaker scores and grades who get in every year. At any top 10 or so school, roughly 50% of the class has 4.0’s or higher, 30% with 3.7-3.99, and 20% with GPA’s significantly lower than 3.7. So how do the students with GPA’s lower than 3.7 get in? Certainly, athletes, URM’s, and legacies definitely play a factor, but 20% is still a significant portion of the student body. Again, it comes down to the personal “unique” experiences and qualities expressed through the essays.
It’s not a perfect process, and certainly not a fair one. It’s as if the admissions committee were to judge your character and personality through a 650 word typed personal statement and supplemental essays – a far from a perfect process – without truly getting to know who you are. But ultimately, you have to play the hand you’re dealt.