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On Ivy League Admissions...
“get good grades, work hard, and be yourself”?
by Beracah Yankama
Director, StudentsReview

Because we offer a “How to Get into the Ivy League” product, and have been catching a lot of flak and insults for it, I thought it would be useful to explain how Ivy League admissions works. 

There is this prevailing idea that all that you have to do to get into the Ivy League is to “get good grades, work hard, and be yourself”, and the rest is a 1 out of 10 dart board.  While this may be good life advice, it also advises you to work blindly, and present yourself to Ivy League Admissions as naively and uninformedly as possible.  (As an aside, Ivy League students do things neither naively or uninformedly).

Ivy League schools receive tens of thousands of applications, that you already know.  But the “1 out of 10” or “1 out of 20” admittance ratios that are so often publicized and quoted would lead you to believe that darts are thrown at a board in admissions, and that your application has a 5-10% chance of being hit and winning.  Those arbitrary numbers are actually in admissions' interests — because everyone thinks they have a fair shot, more people apply. 

The admissions committee however, is usually made up of recent and inexpensive undergraduates.  They have attended the school for some 4 years and know the culture and have a model for accepted (current) students.  They have a well formed idea of what constitutes a student of their school, and it is their job to look for those same features in prospective students' applications.  In other words, if your application does not demonstrate those features, your actual chance of admissions is far lower — zero, in fact.  Your application will never make it to any dart board.  To save time and money, it will be instantly trashed.  Of course, not so dramatically, but with the same effect.

The people who actually make it to the random dartboard are essentially admitted students.  They are those students who fit the Harvard or MIT (for example) student profile, and may be lucky enough to attend.  There are still a limited number of spaces, so darts are needed, but now chances are much higher (like 1 out of 2, or 2 out of 3) for initial acceptance.  Those students who are not chosen by the darts become waitlisted.  If accepted students do not attend, then the school will turn back to the dartboard, which only has waitlisted students, and choose from there. 

To make the example concrete, let's consider Harvard.  Harvard receives over 20,000 applications for around 1,000 spots.  Do you think that the chance of admission is 1/20?  It isn't.  On the initial pass, some 18,000 people who present their applications incorrectly, were sent home on first glance.  Their chance of admission was ZERO.  For the remaining 2,000 students, the chance of admission was 1 out of 2.

Do you see what I am getting at?  The dartboard contains accepted and waitlisted students only.  Waitlisted students were only those unlucky enough to be chosen by darts.  Everyone else has been outright rejected.  Remember, humans not computers run admissions.  It's not a lottery or computer program where every tenth application gets accepted — humans are there to decide who doesn't belong.

I've referred to “your application” instead of “you” because EVERY student has millions of facets to their personality and activities with which to present, but it is up to you to present the right one.  Otherwise you will quickly seem to “not fit the mold”, and evaluation is done ® trash.  And rightfully so — you didn't really take the time to find out what the school was looking for, and didn't care enough to present it.

For instance, if you want to be a Cornell student, it is up to you to find out “what makes” a Cornell student, by calling Cornell students that you know, visiting the campus, talking to present Cornell students, asking them what features or activities they all have in common, what makes a student “stand out” to admissions, and then present it on your application.  You might not be accepted, but you won't be immediately rejected either.

Our "How to get into the Ivy League from the students who did" chapters:
How to get into Harvard.
How to get into Stanford.
How to get into Columbia.
How to get into Yale.
How to get into Cornell.
How to get into Upenn.
How to get into Caltech.
How to get into Brown
How to get into MIT
All 9 Chapters Online

Beracah Yankama
Director, StudentsReview

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• On Ivy League Admissions... “get good grades, work hard, and be yourself”?
• What is a "Good School"?

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• How Ivy League Admissions works
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