How to Get Into an Ivy League: Advice from a Yale Graduate

Posted by Ben Flores on Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Ben Flores

Ben is a member of the Learning Team at Testive, where he works to improve our learning outcomes through supporting coaches and developing curricula. After attending college at Yale University, Ben earned his M.Ed in Boston and taught elementary school before joining Testive as a Coach.

A lot of the students (and sometimes parents) come to Testive saying, "I need you to help me get the SAT or ACT score I need to get into an ivy league."

News flash: Getting into an ivy league— or whatever your “reach” school is— isn't all about the numbers.

Yes! You need to have a high GPA, a high SAT or ACT score, and prove you've taken a challenging and competitive course load while in high school, but that isn't the whole story.

If you do your research, you’ll see that many colleges publish the range of SAT or ACT scores in the 25th to 75th percentile of admitted applicants. That's a very wide range.

So how do you set yourself apart from the "other guys"? Keep reading.

Extracurricular Activities Do Matter

When I was in junior and senior high school I had a radio show on a public access radio station at a local state college. In fact, I wrote about this in my application. When I was accepted to Yale, my admissions officer wrote a note about this particular activity—not about my test scores. It wasn’t a prestigious activity—there were no awards associated with it, no metrics on which my performance could be measured—but it told a story about who I was.

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Depth of Passion Can Outweigh Breadth of Experiences

Based on the above, I believe colleges care more about depth of passion than breadth of things you're involved with. Don’t try to become an officer in every club in your high school. That just makes it look like you don’t actually care about any of them! Pick one or two things and do them really well. This will be more rewarding for both you and what you write on your college application.

Work experience shows more than just the ability to earn a paycheck

Often people think they need internships and service trips to far away places to make themselves stand out in a sea of applications. Not necessarily so. I worked outdoors digging trails for two summers in Idaho, which is where I lived. I also worked for a house painter stripping wallpaper and painting wood molding and washing dishes at a local restaurant. All of these things are far from "exotic," but working at these jobs demonstrated hard work and responsibility: two things that are very critical when attending any college.

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Little bit of luck goes a long way

Anybody who tells you luck doesn't play a role in determining which schools you get into is not telling it straight. When you get to a certain level of selectivity, there are many students who look the same “on paper,” and even though each one is actually unique—so are the people who review the applications. What one admissions officer finds intriguing (like working at a radio station) another might find mundane. Bottom line: you can help yourself with how many dice get rolled, and you can help weight the dice, but ultimately there is some dice-rolling that happens.

Obviously, these aren't all the defining factors that will help you get into an ivy league or other selective college, but the point is, you shouldn't hyper focus on the numbers. Focus on doing your best, getting a wide range of life experiences and just "being you." In the end, that's all you've got!

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