9 tips on getting into an Ivy League School

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Mandee Heller Adler

By Mandee Heller Adler

May 12, 2015

Tens of thousands of students from all over the world apply to Ivy League schools each year. Getting into a dream school can be difficult, but it is not impossible. To improve chances, a student must understand the admissions process and make a real commitment to academic and extracurricular activities. As with most things, knowledge is power. Here are some tips for students striving to get into the Ivy League college of their dreams:

1. Start early.

College admissions is a process. One of the biggest downfalls of college applicants is starting too late. In all four years of high school, students need to get good grades, participate in extracurricular activities, and do community service. The earlier a student starts the process, the more information the student will have on their application, and the better the chance of acceptance. Many private school students start college prep in 8th or 9th grade. It is also better to do well in challenging classes than to ace an average one.

2. Choose the right high school classes.

The majority of admissions officers give the strength of a student’s high school curriculum the most weight in the decision-making process. Students need to make sure they are meeting the high school requirements; taking a balanced set of classes; choosing a smart range of college prep courses like AP, Honors, IB and AICE; and showing colleges a positive pattern of success throughout high school.

3. Know the Ivy League colleges.

The Ivies are very different from one another. Cornell offers a traditional public school feel and a larger student body. Brown has an open curriculum, enabling students to study what they choose. Columbia may not be the right fit for a student looking for a strong on-campus social scene. Students should consider each Ivy as a separate entity and focus on applying to the college that would be the best match for them.

4. Visit the colleges.

Visiting a college is the best way to get a feel for the campus. College visits also enable students to ask questions, take a tour, sit in on classes and really get to know the college’s atmosphere. If there is a sign in sheet, students should be sure to use legible handwriting. This lets schools know that the student was there. Visiting a school demonstrates interest and this may give a student ‘extra points’ in the admissions decision.

5. Spend time on essays.

Essays give students the opportunity to tell the admissions committee how and why they are different from everybody else. Students need to write about themselves and tell a positive story. For supplemental essays, make sure to mention the specific school, pinpointing something academic. And make sure to answer any optional essays – they are not optional!

6. Consider applying early.

Applying early can maximize a student’s chances to get into a school; however, students must read the policies carefully. When a student applies Early Decision, the decision is binding, meaning that the student agrees to attend the college if it accepts you and offers adequate financial aid. Early Action is non-binding, has few restrictions and benefits the student by allowing them to hear early from a school.

RELATED: Get your child ready for the Ivy League this summer

7. Study for Standardized Tests

Like it or not, the SAT/ACT will most likely help to determine which colleges a student is able to attend. Don’t discount the test as simply one of many factors that will be considered, or believe that it is not very important. The reality is that it plays a major role and it makes sense to get the highest score possible. Simply put, students need to study hard and take both the SAT and the ACT to see which one they perform better on.

8. Lead in areas of excellence.

Students should aim to get recognized for the skills and-or interests that set them apart. This could mean sports, music, video games or really anything. Opportunities for recognition include leadership roles like class president, winning a national competition, or organizing a community service project. The best experiences will set a student apart from his or her peers.

9. Ask for help.

The process can be overwhelming and stressful. Students should seek help from school guidance counselors, teachers, and parents. And of course, for hands-on support, students should consider an independent college counselor, such as one from International College Counselors.

RELATED: How to make the most of your college visit

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