How to Get into an Ivy League School

February 24, 2023
Ivy League

For many students around the globe, being accepted into an Ivy League university is a fervent ambition—and for good reason. Ivy League schools are known for their rigorous academics, world-class faculties, and extensive resources, all of which contribute to their well-earned reputations as academic powerhouses. They are also among the most selective institutions of higher learning in the world, which can make the process of applying to these schools a bit—or more than a bit—intimidating. However, with the right preparation and approach, it is possible to significantly increase your chances of gaining admission to an Ivy League school. In this blog post, we offer some less conventional advice on maximizing your chances of being accepted into the ivy-draped university of your dreams.

Use Social Media and Online Communities to Your Advantage

There is no doubt that social media can be a double-edged sword in the college admissions process. However, while it is definitely important to be mindful of your online presence, you can also use social media to demonstrate your passions, achievements, and commitment to your interests. In addition, by participating in online communities, such as forums and discussion groups, you can demonstrate your interest in and commitment to a particular cause or field. And by following and actively engaging with the social media accounts of the colleges to which you are applying, you can show your enthusiasm for those schools. This type of engagement also shows that you have the ability to effectively participate in online communication and can thrive in a digital environment—skills that will, no doubt, become increasingly important as time goes on.

Start a Club, Project, or Initiative

By starting a club, project, or initiative, you can demonstrate your leadership skills, creativity, and ability to problem-solve. Whether you found a student group, organize a charity event, build a website, create a product, launch a service, or even start a business, starting—and, importantly, following through with—a project shows Ivy League admissions committees that you are proactive and driven.

At AtomicMind, we have guided students in the planning, launching, and management of a number of projects and organizations. Some of our students have started free tutoring services and websites that serve underprivileged communities. One student founded a nonprofit organization that procured and distributed personal protective equipment to frontline healthcare workers during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, while another launched a nonprofit that collected used luggage to distribute to homeless people. Our students have also planned and taught courses on a number of different subjects—including robotics, financial literacy, and creative writing—to local children. When it came time to fill out their college applications, these students were well prepared to show the admissions officers just how dedicated they are to the causes about which they are most passionate—something that Ivy League universities love to see in prospective students.

Get Involved in Research

Getting involved in a research project, or even starting your own, can demonstrate your ability to think critically, collect and analyze data, and work independently or as part of a team. Over the years, AtomicMind has helped students plan, conduct, and participate in research on a plethora of fascinating topics in a number of different fields, including employing artificial intelligence to recognize deepfakes, using scientific evidence to demonstrate the existence of and investigate the root causes of psychological differences between men and women, and exploring the evolutionary implications of Neanderthal parents’ use of baby slings. Research like this highlights your interest in a particular field and goes a long way in making an Ivy League application stand out from the crowd.

Participate in a Contest or Competition

Whether it is a science competition, a debate tournament, or a creative writing contest, participating in a competition or contest can be a great way to demonstrate your skills, abilities, and commitment to a particular field or cause. AtomicMind has guided many students in a variety of contests and competitions, including the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, in which our students have won awards for painting, photography, drawing, critical essays, journalism, poetry, and short stories, and the John Locke Institute Essay Competition, in which students can write essays on economics, philosophy, politics, history, psychology, theology, and law. In addition, we have counseled students on the crafting of papers, essays, and articles that have been submitted to the National Writing Board, the Journal of Research High School, and The Concord Review, a number of which have been published. Few achievements illustrate a student’s preparedness for and deservedness of acceptance into an Ivy League institution like winning a prestigious award or being published in a respected publication.

Take a Gap Year

The American Gap Association defines a gap year as “a structured period of time when students take a break from formal education to increase self-awareness, learn from different cultures, and experiment with possible careers. Typically, these are achieved by a combination of traveling, volunteering, interning, or working.” As this definition suggests, taking a gap year can be a unique way to gain new experiences, learn new skills, and demonstrate your independence, interest in other cultures, and personal growth and development.

Harvard University’s website states: “Each year, between 90 and 130 students defer their matriculation to Harvard College, and they report their experiences to be uniformly positive. … We encourage admitted students to defer enrollment for one year to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way.” Similarly, Princeton University offers a gap year program that, according to the university’s website, “allows newly admitted undergraduates to begin their Princeton experience with a year of community-engaged learning at one of five international locations,” where they “study the local language, live with … homestay families, and take part in a variety of cultural enrichment activities, while learning with and from community partners through their community engagement.” Given these schools’ enthusiasm for the gap year, prospective Ivy League applicants should consider it a strategic option.

At AtomicMind, we have helped a number of students plan enriching, unique gap year experiences. One of our favorites was a student who spent a year volunteering at an orphanage in Kazakhstan. Such an experience is sure to catch the eye of Ivy League admissions officers.

Enroll in a Summer Course

Many colleges, including many Ivy League ones, offer summer courses—some of which even allow students to earn college credit! Harvard University’s Pre-College Summer School Program for High School Students, for example, offers a number of rigorous and fascinating courses, including The Stuff of Life: Exploring the Human Experience in Museums, Libraries, and Archives; Introduction to Quantum Mechanics: From Schrodinger’s Equation to Quantum Computers; The Intellectual Economy of Pants: Fashion, Gender, and Power; and Stereotypes and Attitudes: The Science of First Impressions. The University of Pennsylvania’s Pre-College Programs also offer a plethora of appealing courses, including Medicine in History, Critical Approaches to Popular Culture, Emergence of Modern Science, and Introduction to PPE: Ethics and Economics of Wealth Creation. AtomicMind has helped many students navigate the process of enrolling and participating in courses such as these, which can definitely give students a leg up in the Ivy League admissions process.

Reach Out to Faculty, Alumni, and Current Students

Reaching out to faculty, alumni, or current students of the Ivy League university to which you are applying is a good way not only to learn more about the school’s culture and what it takes to be admitted but also to demonstrate your genuine interest in and enthusiasm for the school. You can ask faculty about their courses and their research, and you can ask alumni and current students about their experiences at the college, what they wish they had known before applying, and what they think sets the university apart from other schools. Before reaching out to these people, be sure to conduct some research on the college, including its history, its mission, and its values, as this can help you make a more meaningful connection with the institution and with the people associated with it.

Dartmouth University’s website states: “We foster lifelong bonds among faculty, staff, and students to encourage a culture of integrity, collaboration, and collegiality.” This school’s enthusiasm for interpersonal connections demonstrates the importance of making such connections as part of your Ivy League application process.

Showcase Your Uniqueness

Ivy League universities want students who stand out from the crowd and bring unique perspectives, backgrounds, and interests to their campuses. Instead of just listing your achievements in your application, highlight your passions, interests, and what makes you unique. For instance, instead of writing a traditional essay, you could try a more unorthodox format, such as a letter to the admissions committee, a dialogue between you and a teacher or mentor, or an autobiographical story that showcases your character and experiences. If possible, you could even make your application stand out by utilizing creative techniques—such as creating a multimedia presentation, writing a poem, filming a video, or using infographics—to emphasize your interests, achievements, and goals.

Ivy League schools value diversity of experience and expression. For example, Brown University’s website declares that “Brown has always recognized that diversity strengthens every aspect of our institution, from the residential and extracurricular experience to the world-class research opportunities.” Similarly, Cornell University’s website states, “We foster a climate on campus that doesn’t just tolerate differences but treasures them, providing rich opportunities for learning from those differences.” Given this focus on diversity, showcasing your uniqueness in unconventional ways could be just the boost you need to get into the Ivy League.

The Ivy League colleges are some of the most prestigious and lauded universities in the world, and gaining admission can be a daunting task. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to successfully applying to these celebrated institutions, there are ways to improve your chances of acceptance. Ultimately, however, no matter what path you choose, the key is to be genuine, passionate, and organized in your pursuit of your Ivy League dreams.