What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part IV: Extracurriculars

This is the foliage of destiny.

Welcome back to our series, What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? While tests and grades are the most important part of your application, they alone are not enough to distinguish you from all the other kids who are applying. As difficult as it may be to get the grades and scores required to be considered by Ivy League schools, there are tens of thousands of high school students who do it every year, and there just aren’t enough spots at the top for all of them. This leaves the admissions officers with a problem: how do they pick one candidate over another? Thus begins the applications arms race of extracurriculars, personal essays, recommendation letters, etc., etc.

This part of the application can be hard because you can’t measure how well you’re doing with a number or exam score, but if you keep in mind what the admissions officers are looking for, it can be easy to know what you need. So, what are they looking for? Remember, as I noted in my first post, Ivy League schools want kids who are going to go on to be “successful” – rich, famous, powerful, prestigious. Yes, being smart is an important ingredient here, but it’s not enough to be a study robot that does nothing but make good grades and ace exams. You have to be able to get people to like you if you want to be successful. You have to be “well rounded.”

There are thus three main types of extracurriculars: creative, athletic, and volunteering activities. For each activity you do, admissions officers are looking for three additional dimensions: commitment, leadership, and recognition. Some colleges give you an entire page to list your extracurriculars: don’t be intimidated and try to fill all that empty space. With extracurriculars, less is actually more. You really don’t need more than five extracurricular activities, so stop stressing out about how to fill that page. You do need to do those few activities for real though.

First, let’s examine the three dimensions and what they mean.

Commitment is how much time you spend doing an activity and for how long you’ve been doing it. You need to do an activity for all four years of high school and practice/participate in it regularly. This is the most important dimension, and the least complicated to achieve.

Leadership comes in many forms.

Leadership mostly applies to clubs or organizations to which you belong. Colleges like it when you have some official position in at least one of the organizations you participate in – for instance, getting elected President of one of the clubs in which you participate is a classic and highly desirable option. The kind of success that admissions officials are looking for often includes having impressive titles, making decisions, and bossing people around in real life after college, and they think that being President of a high school club might indicate future success in that direction (these admissions officials make many such leaps of faith – but with so many applicants they have to choose somehow). Getting elected to a position also shows an ability to get people to like you, which is a big plus as well. Student government always looks good on an application (even if it doesn’t have any real power). Who knows, maybe you’ll get elected President of the U.S. some day (this is really how their minds work).

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You have to admit, she really does do a great Margret Thatcher impression.

Recognition is related to leadership, but it usually takes the form of prizes, awards, and accomplishments. Winning an award in one of your activities is a way to try to prove you are actually good at it that is easy to document on a resume or application. Remember, on paper it doesn’t matter how good you are at something unless you have an award to prove it, and college admissions, job applications, and so many other things in life are primarily conducted on paper (it’s just the way things are).

So, what kinds of activities should you pursue? First let’s discuss the “creative” type. These  are the most important type, and can include any arts activities you do, including things like: visual art, music, dance, theater, etc. If you’re not artsy, though, don’t worry: computer programming, building robots, astronomy, the school newspaper, yearbook, chess club, speech and debate, and even math club could potentially count here, too.

South Korean gamer Jang Jae Ho is a Warcraft III and Starcraft II world champion.

The trick here is to take whatever you like to do in your spare time and make it sound prestigious on paper. Saying “I like to play video games all day” is not that impressive, but saying “I won a prize at a video game competition two years in a row, I review games each week on my blog (www.gamesnobbery.blogblog.com), I’m president of my school video game club (which I founded (with my friends so I could put it on this application)), and I am very interested in programming, designing, and revolutionizing video games as a career” sounds very impressive. You just have to make it fit the format that they are looking for. Preferably, this type of activity will be something you actually like and care about, and it’s great if you have more than one.

If there isn’t an organization dedicated to your chosen activity at your school, try to find one outside it or even create a new one (president and founder sounds extra fancy – if you can start a club, maybe you can start a company someday!). You should also look for summer programs dedicated to your activity. Anything you can put down on paper is your friend.

American gymnast Nastia Liukin won gold at the Olympics in 2008.

The athletic type is pretty straightforward: join one of your school’s sports teams, and do it all four years. If you do a sport that may not have a team at your school, like gymnastics or taekwondo or weight lifting, try to find a local organization dedicated to it, and make sure you go to competitions and win some kind of prize (it can be sixth place at the local level or something – you don’t have to be state champion, although it’s great if you are). Getting a trophy or letter jacket is a nice award to rack up in this department (you don’t always have to be good, either – I did my time and got to be a relay alternate on my swim team at regionals, so I got a letter jacket without even getting wet!). This is another way to show them that you are well-rounded, or even a “team player” (you can work with people/get along/have basic social skills) if you do team sports.

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Mother Teresa famously said to “find your own Calcutta.”

As for volunteering, this theoretically shows that you are a good person (or that you really want to go to Harvard), and is a good way to rack up leadership, since volunteering often happens through organizations that you can advance through if you want. If you belong to a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or some other religious community, this is often a good place to find volunteering opportunities (religious youth groups can also be a good place to get leadership points, since leadership positions may be less competitive than in school clubs). There are many non-denominational ways to find volunteer opportunities as well, of course, and there are probably numerous clubs and organizations for volunteering at your school. It’s always best, of course, to volunteer when your heart is truly in it, and you might try to find a way to tie your creative extracurricular into your volunteering. For instance, if you love to play the piano, you might volunteer to play at a hospital or retirement home once a week. The important thing is to pick something and do it regularly all four years of high school to show commitment.

So, what did I actually do as far as extracurriculars? Here they are:

  • Played Violin in the school orchestra, 3 years, conducted the orchestra playing a piece I wrote, participated in playathon fundraiser
  • Music composition summer camp, 2 years, wrote music for a ballet in collaboration with the local ballet academy, had a piece I wrote played on a professional concert
  • High School Swim Team, 4 years, received letter jacket, went to regionals for 100 Butterfly
  • Debate Team, 1 year, won trophy in novice Lincoln Douglass debate
  • Economics challenge team, 1 year
  • High School Quiz Bowl team 1 year, undefeated, went to nationals*

*Note: Quiz Bowl is another tried and true Ivy League favorite for extracurriculars.

That was the main stuff. Notice I didn’t have any volunteering, and not too much leadership either (I guess you could count conducting the orchestra. I don’t know what it is, but people just don’t vote for me). Not many real awards, either (although the professional concert might count as an accomplishment/recognition). The main thing is that I had two activities, music and swimming, that I was committed to and did a little something to distinguish myself in (composing also isn’t that common, which helps). The others are mostly prestigious things that look good on paper, even if I didn’t do them for very long.

The Whiffenpoofs at Yale are the oldest collegiate a cappella group in the U.S.

So, if you have at least a few things that you do seriously you should have a good shot during this part of the admissions process, but I would personally highly recommend that you do at least one creative, one athletic, and one volunteer activity regularly for four years, since if you manage your time and start early it’s really not that hard to rack up extracurricular experiences that look great on your application. If you haven’t been doing one of these, start now – one year is better than no years. For your other activities, try finding a small club at your high school that you might be interested in, and be a member of it for all four years of high school. If it’s a small club and you are generally friendly to everyone in it, you are bound to get a leadership position by your senior year. Also, remember that the more intellectual or prestigious sounding your activity is, the better. Student government, debate, newspaper, yearbook, quiz bowl, and glee club (especially glee club – I don’t know why, but students at the Ivy League just love a cappella) are all stereotypical Ivy League activities. Also, professional experience can also count as an extracurricular (especially if you do one of your creative activities professionally).

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The main thing is to show commitment in whatever it is you do. We live in a time where awards for kids are cheap, since everyone’s a winner. Do your time and take advantage of any leadership or award opportunities that come along. If you stick with three or more things for four years, you’re bound to get something eventually. Also, always remember that grades are more important than extracurriculars. Never sacrifice grades for extracurriculars.

I hope that was helpful. Remember, if you have questions about anything in these or other posts on this site, you can ask us with the Ask Test Masters feature. Next time, we’ll discuss essays and other writing samples you are asked to provide on your application. In the mean time, get back to studying!

This post is part of a series. Other posts in this series include:

What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part I: Grades

What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part II: PSAT, SAT, and ACT

What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part III: AP, IB, and SAT II Exams

What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part IV: Extracurriculars

What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part V: Essays

What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part VI: Recommendations

What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part VII: Application Strategy

What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part VIII: Interviews

What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part IX: Checklist

What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part X: Epilogue

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  1. Good advice! I have often wondered if there should be a discount for test scores that are partly the result of practice. Even family experience skews the playing field. Do teachers ever post their scores? Is there any way to learn what questions were missed? These are the only questions of personal interest.

    1. Thanks! As for your questions:

      “Do teachers ever post their scores?” – If you mean Test Masters teachers, then no, there isn’t a place online where you can look up our scores (or anything else about us, really), but I’m sure any Test Masters instructor would tell you what he or she scored if you ask him or her in person (we all scored really high). If you mean some other teachers, I have no idea.

      “Is there any way to learn what questions were missed?” – If you mean you took the SAT and you got your scores and you want to see what questions you missed, then yes, that is possible. You can find out how to do this through the college board here: http://sat.collegeboard.org/scores/verify-sat-scores

      If you mean you want to know what questions you missed on a Test Masters practice test, then yes, you should always receive a score report with a question by question break down for every test you take with Test Masters. If you mean some other test, I’m not sure how to answer.

      Hope that helps!

  2. I am a sophomore white male in a top 50 public highschool, and my one downfall is extracurricular activities. I play beach volleyball, and have placed 4th and 5th in national events, which may look good, but is it too late to start doing volunteer work? I know I can’t go into the creative outlet, because I am not good at any art besides calligraphy. I am just worried that it is too late for volunteer work and clubs to matter if I started 2nd semester sophomore year. Any advice?

    1. Dear Justin,

      What do you mean, your downfall is extracurriculars? Sounds like you have plenty to work with. Stick with your volleyball – if you keep placing nationally all four years that will be really amazing. No, it’s not too late to start volunteering – I did all my volunteering for the IB diploma my senior year. You generally only need one or two main extracurriculars that you’re really involved in – all 4 years, leadership positions, awards/recognition, etc. – and the others are mostly there to show that you’re “well rounded” – whatever that means. So starting volunteering halfway through sophomore year is fine and will definitely add to your application – it just won’t be as important as volleyball.

      Also, there is nothing wrong with calligraphy! In fact, it’s pretty good because most kids probably won’t have that and it can help you stand out. If you’ve dedicated a significant about of time to practicing calligraphy, you should definitely include it in your list of extracurricular activities. If you feel confident about the skills you’ve developed in calligraphy (and don’t be too hard on yourself: you will only need to impress non-experts, since admissions officers probably don’t know anything about calligraphy), you might even include a sample of your work as a supplement to your application (maybe write out a short poem – the school’s fight song, perhaps? – in a few contrasting styles or something like that).

      To me it sounds like volleyball will be your main thing, and maybe calligraphy could be a secondary main thing (depending on how into it you are), and then you can round out your application with some volunteering, a few clubs, maybe a summer program or two. I can tell you that national recognition in volleyball is going to impress them the most, though – they love awards. Of course, NEVER sacrifice grades for extracurriculars – if your grades aren’t good enough they won’t even look at them. Remember, at the Ivy League level extracurriculars are mostly just a way for you to stand out from all the other national merit finalists and semi-finalists. Best of luck to you – keep up your grades and keep up with volleyball and your chances will be as good as anyone’s. Also, don’t neglect application strategy.


  3. Hi, I was wondering instead of doing a sport could I be dedicated to several clubs and volunteer activities for 4 years and still get accepted to a Ivy League college? Also, I’m a freshman in IB and I wanted to know if there is something I should practice to become VP by senior year?

    1. Dear Sam,

      Yes, it is possible to get in without doing a sport. A sport is just another way to distinguish yourself from all the other applicants, but it is certainly not the only way. A number of my friends from high school were never involved in sports and still managed to get into Stanford, Rice, Yale, U Penn, etc. Remember that depth is generally more important than breadth when it comes to extracurricular activities. If you can stick with a few clubs for all 4 years of high school and obtain leadership positions in some of them, that’s great. Also, why aim for VP when you could be president of a club? Remember smaller clubs tend to be less competitive with regard to leadership positions so they can be good choices. If you can become president or vice president of at least one club and maybe have a lower leadership position(treasurer/secretary/etc.) in another that will be very impressive. The key with clubs is to stick with them, get leadership positions, and have specific accomplishments that you achieved while you were in those leadership positions (I raised X dollars though bake sales and car washes, sold Y t-shirts, organized an event with Z people attending, etc). Of course, academics always come first, and you should never sacrifice your grades for the sake of extracurricular activities. Keep up the good work and make As in those IB classes and you should have a good shot, even without sports. Hope this helps!


  4. You say never sacrifice grades for extracurriculars, but time and again, kids with near perfect GPAs and test scores get rejected from their Ivy of choice. And you don’t understand that sports means a lot more than being athletic – it means being able to be part of a team and dealing with adversity. Even if you are a swimmer or track star, you have to deal with being picked and bonding with your teammates. The athleticism is minor unless you are being recruited for sports.

    Commitment is hard to show, and I’m not sure how much it matters. Commitment before the HS years tends to be less important – do schools really want to know my kid has played soccer since the age of three, or was helping to take care of a sick family member between the ages of 5 and 10?

    1. Dear RH,

      You are absolutely right: kids with perfect grades do get rejected, and sports are about more than athleticism (I did swim team all four years of high school, so I know). Ivy league schools want your child to have BOTH! And other stuff, too! I know it sounds impossible, but thousands of kids do it every year. And even then, some of them get rejected. What I mean when I say that your child should never sacrifice grades for extracurriculars is that these colleges weigh grades more heavily than they do sports. That may or may not be fair, but in my experience that’s just the way it is. I have many friends who didn’t do sports and got into Ivy League schools. However, even though they didn’t have sports, they did have some other extracurricular activity in its place: quiz bowl, art, debate, music, volunteering, etc. Many had multiple extracurricular activities in which they were involved. None of my friends who did not have top grades got into Ivy League schools, regardless of how good they were at sports, music, debate, or whatever. Grades alone are not enough, but you can’t get in without them. Extracurricular activities will never make up for poor grades.

      As for your child’s soccer and care-giving experiences, yes, they do want to know about those – admissions officers eat that stuff up. There will definitely be space on the application to list how many years and how many hours per week your child has done soccer and other organized activities. You might try to squeeze in the care-giving there, but because it was not done through a formal organizational structure it may be more difficult to fit in on that part of the application. It is, however, something that would be good to mention in an essay. Because they have so many straight A students to sort through, they are looking for anything unique about your child that will help him or her stand out from all the other kids who all have the same exact grades and test scores. Experiences like that are unusual and give your child the opportunity to show commitment and strength of character that grades don’t necessarily communicate.

      With elite college admissions, all your child can do is his or her best to jump through as many of these hoops as possible, and after that it’s the luck of the draw. My main advice to you is to relax. If your child is bright and hard working, he or she will do fine wherever he or she ends up at college. The elite college admissions process in this country has grown into a ridiculous circus that people take way too seriously. Your child can go to the honors school at a public university in your state and become an affluent, successful doctor/lawyer/engineer/computer programmer/etc. and do just as well as an Ivy League graduate. And it will almost certainly be much less expensive for you. A good friend of mine did very well in high school (although she was not in the running for an Ivy League acceptance letter), and she ended up going to the honors college at the University of Houston where she majored in accounting and did very well academically. Her senior year she got an internship with Deloitte, one of the top accounting firms in the country, and at the end of the internship they offered her a job. Unless your child wants to work on Wall Street or in Washington D.C., not having an Ivy League undergraduate education is not going to prevent him or her from pursuing whatever career he or she chooses (and even if he or she does want to work in the financial or public sectors, it’s still very possible to do so by going to an excellent public university). The Ivy League will not magically turn your child into a Nobel Prize winning scientist, a great author, or President of the United States. Basically, they admit students who are workaholics who know how to collect prestigious sounding credentials, and surprise surprise, many of them go on doing the same thing.

      I know the college application process can be stressful and frustrating for parents and students alike. Just always remember that even for the most qualified students, acceptance to the most selective schools always depends on an element of luck, and that the kind of life your child will one day have will be determined by your child, not by what college he or she attends. Just make sure your child does his or her best and everything will be fine.

      Best of luck,

      1. P.S. – In addition to test prep, Test Masters also offers college admissions counseling upon request. Through this service we help students make sure their applications look their best by giving each student personalized attention. This often includes college research, discussions of extracurricular activities, and help editing essays. Most students wait until they start applying to use this service, but in my opinion the earlier you start planning for college applications the better. If you’re interested, please don’t hesitate to call and ask about it. I myself often work with students on college applications and would be happy to help your child, too.

  5. Hi. I am a sophomore and actually I just came to America from China. So I spent my freshman year in China. I am wondering that does the extra-curricular activities that I did in China count in the application? And, it is hard for me to show commitment since I have just come here. I can only do something in a row for at most 2 and a half year for the reason that I spent the first semester of my sophomore year getting used to the new environment. I have been playing the piano for almost 10 years but now I dont even have a piano at home so I have to drop it. And this really makes me upset. Do you have any suggestions of what I should do for extra-curricular in the next 2 and a half years? Thanks a lot:)

    1. Yes, your extra curricular activities in China certainly do count! You can show commitment by continuing the activities you did in China at your new school in the US. Admissions officers understand that sometimes students change schools (or even countries) during high school, and they won’t count that against you.

      Please don’t quit piano!!! Especially if you like it!!! Get an inexpensive electronic keyboard if you can’t get piano right now. Go to a local piano shop and tell them you can’t buy a piano now but you still need to practice. Maybe they will allow you to practice there for a small fee. They may be able to give you a list of local piano teachers who may have or know of pianos you can practice on. Music schools and universities often have practice rooms with pianos that may be available for you to use. I know my high school actually had two pianos in practice rooms (they were terrible, but better than nothing). The music teachers at your high school (if your high school has a music program) may also have access to pianos you can practice on or may be able to recommend solutions to you. Any true lover of music will try to help you out. I guarantee you there are lots of old ladies who have pianos that never get played sitting in their living rooms in your town, and I’m sure at least one of them would be happy to let you practice on her piano. Try putting an ad in the newspaper or craigslist if you have to (but be careful, of course). Music is a great thing to put on your application, and if you’ve already invested 10 years in playing the piano it would be foolish to throw it away by quitting. Also, you should know that every time someone quits playing piano a kitten dies. (Full disclosure – I was a music major in college.)

      If you need ideas for other extracurriculars, sports, newspaper, quiz bowl, speech and debate, chess club, model UN, student government, etc. are all classic choices. Clubs organized around volunteering are also good. Also, remember my advice about smaller clubs – it can be easier to become President or Vice President of these clubs if you have less competition.

      If you want more specific guidance with your application, Test Masters offers college admissions counseling upon request. Through this service we help students make sure their applications look their best by giving each student personalized attention. This often includes college research, discussions of extracurricular activities, and help editing essays. Most students wait until they start applying to use this service, but in my opinion the earlier you start planning for college applications the better. If you’re interested, please don’t hesitate to call and ask about it. I myself often work with students on college applications and would be happy to help you, too. Best of luck, and keep music in your life!

      1. P.S. – In addition to test prep, Test Masters also offers college admissions counseling upon request. Through this service we help students make sure their applications look their best by giving each student personalized attention. This often includes college research, discussions of extracurricular activities, and help editing essays. Most students wait until they start applying to use this service, but in my opinion the earlier you start planning for college applications the better. If you’re interested, please don’t hesitate to call and ask about it. I myself often work with students on college applications and would be happy to help you, too.

  6. Last year (freshman year) I moved and was in two different schools for semester 1 and 2. My school in semester 1 wasn’t the best and really didn’t offer that many clubs so I was only in Red Cross (my current school doesn’t have it). My current school is one of the best in America and it has so many clubs and activities, I’m currently in about 5-6 different clubs (I’m a sophomore right now). Would it harm me if I was in most of my clubs for only 3 years not 4?
    Also, I’m really not that athletic….at all, so what if I only did sports (tennis or ultimate frisbee) junior and senior year?
    Would I still hopefully still have a good chance of getting into an IVY (assuming that my grades were amazing etc etc)?

    1. Dear Ana,

      You shouldn’t worry too much about extracurriculars – you sound like you’re doing fine. 5-6 clubs is actually a lot, especially if you do all of them for three years. I’d advise you to pick your favorite two and focus on really participating and getting leadership positions in them. It’s great if you continue with the others as well, but you don’t have to be as committed. As for sports, you don’t have to do sports if you don’t want to, but I do think two years of a sport would be a positive addition to your application (and it would be good for you, too!).


  7. Hi! I am currently a sophomore in high school and am working hard to get into various prestigious colleges, many of which are ivies. I am also interested in bachelor/md programs such as the plme at brown and the hpme at northwestern. I am involved in my school orchestra, choir, and student council.
    Here is what I have as of now.
    Orchestra: concertmistress of the highest level orchestra- this year and I assume I will be for the rest of high school
    District(9th and 10th grade) and state(10th) orchestras – within first three chairs at district and I haven’t had state seating auditions yet. I assume I will be in district and state for the rest of high school as well
    11 years of private violin lessons so far
    All 1 ratings at regional and state solo/small ensemble competitions
    Winner of school concerto competition and solo performance with the orchestra
    Choir: my choir’s president last year and this year + solo at pops concert, a supporting but large role in the musical
    Student council: started this year, elected by my peers as Vice President of my class. I plan on continuing student council as long as I’m elected. I am also in charge of a new campaign that student council is running.
    I am in AP Euro this year, and plan on taking AP classes in chemistry, BC Calc, us history, physics, government, lit and comp, and maybe biology during high school. I have had straight A’s so far and hope that continues.By the time I am a senior, I will have taken Spanish for 4 years.
    I am also in the gifted program and founded a college prep club.
    I volunteered at the local hospital last summer and plan on doing so every summer from now on, and I sing and play violin for my church on a regular basis (does that count as volunteering?). I also volunteer by tutoring a freshman in math regularly.
    I took the PSAT this year as practice and got an unfortunate 194, however I plan on studying a lot this summer and raising it by at least 30 points to have a chance at being a national merit semi finalist next year.
    Due to work loads and all, I think I will be dropping choir for the rest of high school. Do you think that’s ok? Will orchestra and student council be enough extracurriculars? And do you think my extracurriculars/classes are enough to have a chance at ivy leagues? I would appreciate some advice. Thanks!

    1. Dear J,

      This all sounds great. As for choir, maybe instead of dropping it you could just do less of it. You could still sing, but not be president or have a solo role in the musical – that way you could still do it without dedicating so much time to it. It would just be a shame to drop it altogether if it’s something you enjoy. If it really is too much, though, don’t hesitate to drop it if you feel the time you spend doing it is necessary for keeping up your grades. All your other stuff is impressive enough, especially if you are able to keep it up and maybe even improve a little over the next two years (perhaps you might become class president? VP is still excellent if not). My main advice is to keep getting straight As, get 5s on your AP Exams, and get those PSAT/SAT scores up. If test prep is an option for you, at Test Masters we offer a 300 point score improvement guarantee with our SAT course (which is equivalent to a 30 point improvement on the PSAT). Becoming a National Merit Finalist would really help your chances of getting into one of these elite schools, so I definitely think you could benefit from the course.

      Besides grades, tests, and extracurriculars, you need to start narrowing down the list of schools you are interested in. If you are 100% sure you want to be a doctor, then one of those bachelors/md programs would be an excellent choice (also, you should definitely do AP Bio if you want to be a doctor). However, if there are other career options you might want to pursue, it may be wiser to try for something else. It’s hard to know what you want to do as a sophomore in high school – I have a good friend who double majored in biochemistry and art at Rice, thinking she was going to go to med school. Guess what? She decided in the end that med school wasn’t for her and started her own art lessons business instead and is having great success with it. Or maybe you are the rare type who has a strong calling to be a doctor, and you know that that’s definitely what you want to do no matter what (I’ve got friends like that, too). The point is, you need to start figuring out what it is you want out of college and then, through visiting schools and doing research, narrow down your list to maybe 4-6 schools (definitely no more than 10) based on what you want. Please consult the other blog posts in this series, especially the Application Strategy article. Until then, keep playing that wonderful music, and good luck!


      P.S. – Yes, your church musical activities count as volunteering. Also, what violin concerto did you play when you won the competition? I’m just curious because I’m a total classical music geek. 🙂

      1. Thank you! All of this was GREAT advice, and I’m glad to hear that my work other than choir is “impressive”. I played the Beethoven Romance in F Major 🙂

  8. Hi,
    I recently reviewed your blog and found it very helpful. I am in high school and my interest lies in studying medicine and I would like to travel to disadvantaged countries and help out in any way possible. I would like to get involved in organizations like “Habitat of Humanity.” I feel that volunteering at a local library or at school is a bit cliche. I want to do something that sets me aside from other applicants. I would appreciate your input in this matter.

    1. Dear Amelia,

      Being passionate about a cause is the best reason to get involved in a cause. If you are excited about organizations like Habitat for Humanity then that in itself is a great reason to get involved – volunteering to help people in other countries could be a very rewarding and productive summer project. As for what colleges think, sure, taking on a major project and going to a foreign country to volunteer might be more impressive than volunteering at a local library, but remember there’s nothing wrong with volunteering at a library – after all, there are plenty of people who could use your help right here in the United States and perhaps even in your own community (also, remember there’s no such thing as a disadvantaged country – only disadvantaged people. Even the poorest countries invariably have a few extremely wealthy people at the top). As Mother Theresa said, “Find your own Calcutta.” Also, there’s nothing wrong with doing both – maybe during the summer you do Habitat for Humanity and during the school year (when it’s harder to drop everything and fly off to the third world) you do something less grand but still important and meaningful. When searching for volunteering activities and projects, the most important thing is to find something that you genuinely care about. These are the activities that will in the end do you and the people you’re helping the most good. Since you mentioned that you want to become a doctor, you might consider volunteering at a medical clinic or doing something else related to medicine. This would show your interest in and commitment to this career path and would also give you a chance to learn more about it. Hope this helps!


      1. Hi, i’m an African student at a small state uni in America. I plan to transfer to an Ivy league next year. I have a 4.0 GPA currently, doing honor courses . President of two clubswrote a bestseller and tutor less privileged HS students free for SAT. 2200 on SAT and 750 on two subject tests. Score 5 in 5 AP exams. Only problem is … I’ll be 17+ when I transfer and i’m not doing any sports. Do I still have a chance to get into Harvard or Stanford?

        1. Dear Valerie,

          Yes, I’d say so! You have a very strong application – it’s okay if you didn’t do a sport. I have many friends who got into Ivy League schools without doing any sports. Sports are just one option among many for extracurricular activities, and while it is always nice to show that you are well-rounded by doing sports, it isn’t absolutely necessary. One thing I will say though is that Harvard and Stanford are very different schools with different cultures, atmospheres, and opportunities. Transfer admissions are often very competitive, especially for international students, so you really need to do your research and figure out what your top choice really is. Don’t just apply to an Ivy League school because it’s an Ivy League school – apply because there is something special about that particular school that you need to achieve what you want to achieve at college. There is always a question on applications that asks “Why do you want to go to our school (and not some other school)?” This question is very important to admissions officers, so make sure you know the answer.


  9. I would really like to Yale, but I didn’t get a chance to have any extracurriculars. My mother couldn’t afford it most of the time, but when she could, I had to stay home and take care of my little brother and sister. This article really crushed my spirit and drained all hope from me. I only have my Senior year left. Is there any way I could still go without 4 years of extracurricular activities?

    1. Dear Aleasha Marie,

      Elite universities understand that not all students have equal opportunities to take piano lessons, go to soccer practice, and attend space camp. Helping your family in times of need can be just as valuable an extracurricular activity in their eyes, and you should definitely still apply and tell colleges about your experiences. If you will be the first person in your family to attend college, or if you have had to face significant hardships during high school, that can actually help you stand out more than a long list of extracurricular activities on your application would. If you are one of those rare people who beat the odds by getting stellar grades despite great challenges, chances are Yale, or any college for that matter, would love to have you as a student. That kind of life experience can actually mean more to them than debate trophies or being editor of the school newspaper, because it means that no matter what life throws at you, you will be driven to succeed and won’t give up, and that’s a rare quality few teenagers can prove they have.

      Hope this helps,

  10. This is some really awesome advice! I was wondering…. how does a job come into play here. I’m in 5 clubs, two of them are leadership positions, and I have a job; how does that look? Will it make me more of a standout that I have the job and I do all of these other things. Also, this year I was really having troubles in school, and I discovered I have ADD. I’ve been diagnosed by a psychiatrist. It brought my grades down this year, I don’t have any d’s but I will have 2 c’s and the rest A’s. Is that going to REALLY hurt me? (I’m a sophomore and I had excellent grades my freshman year, all A’s) I also did take two classes online on top of my class load, bumped up my math class by taking it online, and I’m getting my credit for a class next year in a summer school class that’s not remedial. Is this some how going to equal out if I get good test scores? I’m just really unsure and I need some direction! Thanks!

    1. Dear Zoe,

      A job can be just as good as any other extracurricular activity, especially if it ties in with your prospective major(s). For instance, in high school some friends of mine worked as techs in genetics labs over the summer since they wanted to major in biology in college. Having any job, however, demonstrates responsibility, maturity, and independence, and colleges recognize that all types of jobs can provide students with valuable work experience. In short, having a job as one of your extracurricular activities is great, and you should definitely put it down on your application.

      As for those Cs, they are problematic. There will probably be space on your applications for you to mention that you have been diagnosed with ADD, and colleges may take that into consideration. Remember though, that all other things being equal, if colleges are presented with two students with ADD and one got straight As and the other didn’t, then they are likely to go with the one with better grades. It all depends on your competition. High scores on AP or SAT subject tests in the subjects in which you got Cs can help you demonstrate mastery of these subjects and may help make up for the grades somewhat, and you may want to ask your counselor to mention that your aberrant grades were related to your struggles with your diagnosis when he or she writes your counselor recommendation. If you mention it in your own essay (which you may or may not want to do depending on how much you feel this struggle defines you as a person), paint it as a story of you overcoming adversity and triumphing in the face of circumstances beyond your control. A member of my family was diagnosed with ADHD, so I understand the impact that these kinds of conditions can have on grades and so much more. Know that you are doing an amazing job and keep up the good work! If you want to still have a chance at the Ivy League, straight As and high standardized test scores are a must from here on out.

      One good thing about your diagnosis is that students with ADD can get extra time on standardized tests; for instance, on the SAT I believe you should be given time and a half for each section. Make sure you get to take advantage of this! If you have to have ADD, you might as well get something out of it, right? Extra time on tests like the SAT can help you make sure you get the highest score you can and make you a more competitive candidate for admission to selective colleges. Remember, if you want help preparing for the SAT, ACT, PSAT, AP exams, or SAT subject tests, Test Masters can provide you with experts like me who can help you get the scores you need to get in to your dream school.

      Keep up the good work!

      1. Hi Calvin,
        I am going to be a senior this fall, and I feel like my extracurriculars make me too well-rounded. I understand from reading online that Ivy Leagues and other elite schools actually do not want well-rounded students, but want a well rounded class. This concerns me because just like you, I go to an IB and AP school. As you know, to complete the IB diploma, one needs hours to fulfill creative, active, and service hours. I feel like my extracurriculars are my strong point in my application, but I do not know what elite colleges exactly want. Some of my extracurriculars include:
        1. Internship with a U.S. Senate Campaign, was given leadership position as regional student field director
        2.Internship at Ernst & Young Beijing Office, currently doing that right now
        3.WSMA Clarinet Solo Ensemble, each year in highschool, 7 years private lessons
        4.Co-chair of county’s Young Republicans
        5.Boys State and Businessworld camps
        6.Varsity Football and Varsity Wrestling
        7.Scholastic Writing Regional winner Silver Key
        8.Math League
        9. President and founder of FBLA at my school
        10. Community Service: Top Soccer, Peer Mentor, National Honor Society, International Outreach, Nursing Home, Thanksgiving Dinner, Humane Society, IB Diploma–All pretty consistent each year
        11.I also took some summer program classes through Northwestern CTD and Stanford EPGY
        Also, I wanted to know about grades because I know grades are the most important. During high school, I have taken the most rigor possible while taking both AP and IB classes. In some classes I recieved B’s, but our grading scale to recieve an A is very tough (95 and above) as I go to a college prep school (Top 50 Catholic in US). I still have a pretty good, but not outstanding GPA though. I really want to go into business and maybe minor in political science in college and just wanted to know my chances because I understand that the college application process is holistic.

  11. I am currently in my sophomore year and i’m in a situation where i have to graduate after my junior year. This takes a whole year off where i could build on my extracurriculars and so this worries me a little. So far my grades have been good and my SAT scores are around 2300 to 2350, and because i’m graduating early, I can’t take the full IB course and my school offers only 2 AP courses. I’m planning to study the AP subjects like Bio, Chem, Physics and take them by myself and I’m worried whether i’ll get a good score just with the work from my sophomore and junior year. I’m a science kind of person but i also write really well so i’m participating in a couple of international writing competitions but don’t have any solid results yet. As for my extracurriculars, I kind of dabbled in a lot of activities in my freshman year because i wanted to see what i really enjoyed but now that i only have 2 years left, I’m afraid i might not able to really participate as a leader and show real commitment after i graduate. I’m just really worried about my future and how should i show my love for medicine through extracurricular activities? I just feel so short on time having to graduate a year early. What do college admissions think about graduating early? I have to so i don’t have a choice but does it look bad? I really want to get into an IVY League school and i can study my ass off but i just don’t have enough extracurricular skills to develop in time. I’m scared that all my extracurriculars would be kind of wishy washy and the colleges won’t like me. Also what SAT subject tests and AP tests do you recommend for students that have to study by themselves? Is buying a workbook and just looking through it enough? If I want to get ready for AP Chem or Physics right now in my sophomore year, will that be extremely hard cause i’m really short on time and i just have to hurry up if i want to take like 10 APs in 2 years. Please respond because i’m going out of my mind.

    1. Dear Jane,

      First, chill out! My mom has a favorite prayer, which goes something like this: “God, give me the strength to change what I can, the patience to accept what I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.” If it’s already decided that you’re going to graduate in three years, stop asking yourself “what if I had an extra year?” and just make the best of it. I actually had a friend in high school who had to graduate in 2 years in order to avoid being drafted into the Singaporean military. He ended up getting into Cornell, majoring in aerospace engineering, and now lives in California. So yes, while it is hard, it is possible to graduate early and still get into an Ivy League college. If you only spent three years in high school colleges will understand that it was impossible for you to be part of newspaper or whatever for four years. They do have some connection to reality, I promise. Your grades and test scores are most important, and they sound very good so far. As for extracurriculars, don’t worry. Leadership positions are nice but not required (I didn’t have any). If you want to pick up a medical related extracurricular, try working or volunteering in a lab, shadowing doctors, and working or volunteering in a clinic or hospital. As for taking AP exams without taking the AP classes that go with them, AP Psychology and AP European History were very popular with my friends, and a number of them got 5s. Some kids even studied for Physics 2 or Chem 2 without taking the class (but they were kind of nuts). They had already taken AP World History, which has a lot of overlap with European History, and I think they bought workbooks. You can also buy real past exams from College Board online that you can use as practice. Yes, it will be hard, and yes, you might go a little bit crazy, but hey, it’s all part of the fun! Just be yourself, do your best, and take all that time you spend freaking out and use it to study instead. You’re going to need it.

      Good luck!

  12. Hi Calvin. Your articles really inspire me ! But my case is a difference . As English is my second language ( i’m from asia and i moved to the USA 1 year ago, during the fall of my sophomore year, now i’m having my Junior Year), do you have any specific advice for people like me to get in Ivy League ? I dream schools are Havard, Yale and Duke. Although one year ago i still had ESL class for 1 quarter , but now i’m taking Honor 11 Lit, 2 Ap classes and i’m also in Debate club. I’m in dance class and intending to have a Hip Hop performance next spring. My GPA has always maintained 4.0 since i come to the USA. I’m not doing any extra activities . Is there anything you think that i should do to improve my application next year ? Thank you so much

    1. Dear Huy,

      It sounds like you are doing very well, and it is very impressive that you have been able to succeed academically even while making the transition to a new country. My main advice is to make sure that you are taking as many AP classes as you can. If your high school offers a full compliment of AP English, Math, History, and Science courses, you should take all of them at the AP level if you want to go to one of the schools you mentioned. If your high school only offers Juniors the chance to take the two AP classes you are already enrolled in, then that’s fine, just as long as you are taking the most challenging course load available to you. Another thing to consider is your class rank. You mentioned that you have a 4.0 GPA (I assume that all classes, including AP classes, are graded on a 4.0 scale). Do you have a chance at being valedictorian or salutatorian? If you do, that would be great, because being valedictorian is a major feather in your cap when applying to the schools you mentioned, especially if you go to a high school that doesn’t send kids to the Ivy League every year. Also, make sure you have excellent scores on all your AP, SAT, PSAT, and SAT II exams.

      As far as extracurriculars go, Debate and Dance will probably be your main ones. See if you can pick up some volunteering – something regular that would not require too much time each week. If you don’t have time for that during the school year, you might try doing it during the summer. Also, have you won any awards for debate or dancing? Have you held any leadership positions in debate club or dance club? These things aren’t 100% required, but they do look good. Of course, always remember: never sacrifice grades for extracurriculars.

      Your English seems very fluent, especially for someone who has been living in the USA for only one year, but there are, of course, occasional unidiomatic phrases and constructions (For instance, “But my case is a difference” should be “But my case is different.”). I would strongly advise you to complete your applications essays early so that you can have your English teacher proofread them. In fact, you might write rough drafts over the summer.

      You seem like a very bright, hard-working student, and I’m sure you will do well wherever you end up for college. In the mean time, keep up the good work, and good luck!


      1. Dear Calvin.
        Thank you for your advice . I have one more small question . Do you think college will look at my application differently since my case is different ?( I moved here 1 year ago) Will i earn any priority for that ?

        1. Dear Huy,

          I would say that the progress you have made in English is likely to impress them, especially if you are able to take an AP English class senior year (and get a 5 on the exam – although they won’t know your score until after you are admitted). However, on the whole, you will be expected to achieve just as much as any other student – the bar will not be set lower for you (at least not at the most selective colleges). The only allowance they might make is they would probably understand why you didn’t take the most advanced English classes right away, but they would still expect you to work your way up to the top by the end of high school. Basically, your story is impressive, but they expect to be impressed, so if you keep up the good work I would say it won’t particularly help or hurt you: they will see you as an acceptable candidate (which in itself is very good). Just don’t think you can get away with doing less than a native born student. They expect the same high standard of achievement from everyone. Leniency is only shown to underrepresented minorities or first generation college students (students whose parents did not attend college), and even then the bar is still very high.

          One important thing you should research is how many international students each school accepts each year. These highly selective schools like to admit a certain percentage of students from each region of the United States as well as some international students. For instance, Harvard lists the following statistics:

          Geographical breakdown

          New England: 17.3%
          Middle Atlantic: 22.7%
          South: 16.8%
          Midwest: 8.7%
          Central: 2.3%
          Mountain: 3.2%
          Pacific: 17.9%
          International: 11.1%

          If you are a US citizen or if you are a permanent resident (you have a Green Card), then you usually count as a domestic student (call the university to make sure). If not, you count as an international student. Naturally, competition is higher if you wind up in the international pool, since you are competing with students from all over the world, not just, say, the American South. If you do not count as a US citizen or permanent resident, find out which schools admit the most international students and which schools have the friendliest policies toward international students in terms of financial aid, work-study programs, housing, etc.

          Hope this helps, and keep up the good work! You’re doing great!


  13. I am a freshman in high school, and am a student in a specialized learning center at my school, which consists of 32 students. I currently have a 4.85 GPA, and take all honors classes with the exception of geometry (I do plan to take honors algebra 2 next year) and one AP class (I am also taking another AP class sophomore year as a part of the learning center, and many more junior and senior years). I am currently conducting a yearlong service-learning project focusing on the importance of reading, in which I volunteer at the local library and read to children. I am also orchestrating a book drive throughout my community and school to benefit children who are less fortunate. As a part of the learning center, I need to complete a service learning project each year, in order to graduate. So far, I have about 40 community service hours since the beginning of freshman year, and am planning on volunteering at a day camp for underprivileged youth and as well as at local hospital over the summer. I am in the Red Cross Club, the Community Service Club, and the Mock Trial Club at my school, as well as the Varsity tennis team, JV track team, and JV lacrosse team. My dream is to go to an Ivy League school and become a doctor, but my biggest concern is my lack of leadership and my lack of “creative” extracurricular activities. I enjoy acting, drawing, and painting, and recently auditioned for a Shakespeare monologue competition, but the drama club at my school conflicts with sports and other clubs, and the school does not offer an art club. I was wondering if you had any suggestions of activities that would set me apart from the typical applicant. I am extremely concerned that my extra curricular activities will not be enough. I am trying to do as much outside of school as I can freshman year before my workload at school becomes even harder, but am worried I need to be doing much more than I am. If you have any other general advice for me it would be greatly appreciated! Thank you so much for your help!

    1. Dear Elizabeth,

      You’re doing fine. You have plenty of extracurriculars, and it sounds like “orchestrating a book drive” counts as leadership. If titled positions (president, treasurer, etc.) aren’t available to you, than leading special projects like that is just fine (also, if you don’t have one you could make up a title for yourself – “Director of Book Drive,” “Book Drive Committee Chairperson/President,” etc.). Also, you are just a freshman! Normally, you don’t get higher-up leadership roles until Junior or Senior year. Pick whichever organization you like the most (or the one that is the smallest) and aim to get a leadership position each year. Sophomore year you might be Secretary or Historian or Treasurer, Junior year you might be something else or Vice President, and hopefully by senior year you will be President or Vice President of the club. Also, mock trial club totally counts as a creative extracurricular. Even if you don’t belong to any organizations for acting/drawing/painting, you can still put them down on your application. For acting, you might see if you can find something during the summer since that won’t conflict with your other activities or your grades.

      My main advice to you is this: NEVER SACRIFICE GRADES FOR EXTRACURRICULARS. You are doing plenty of stuff already, and you only need leadership in one thing (I guess if you have time you could try for two just in case one doesn’t work out), so just stay in the things you are doing now for four years and you’ll be fine. If you can win an award or two that would be great as well. However, always remember that your grades are the most important part of your application. If you are ever in a situation where you have to choose between grades and clubs, go with grades. It’s best not to overextend yourself in the first place. You have done very well so far, but your classes might get tougher in the years ahead and you need to keep your grade point average up. Keep a calendar, be organized, and manage your time well. Don’t let yourself be surprised when the day of the book drive is the day before a major test. If you plan ahead, you can navigate such conflicts successfully by getting work done ahead of time. When it comes to a packed schedule, procrastination is your worst enemy. Keep up the good work, and good luck!


  14. Dear justin,
    Thanks for the great advice. I am in my senior year and havent been too involved in any extra curriculars but have only realised the importance of these activities only recently. I just have a year before applications start. I have always been an exceptional student but am worried my lack of extracurriculars will hold me back in admissions. Would it be any use if i started now or is it useless? Please give me advice.

    1. Dear DS,

      Something is always better than nothing! Picking up a few extracurriculars now would definitely be a good idea, as long as you don’t let your grades drop. While Ivy League colleges generally expect you to do a lot with extracurriculars, just about all selective schools and honors programs are looking for at least something, so picking up a few extracurriculars will help your application no matter where you apply. Plus, it should be fun! Just pick some activities you like and show up, participate, and see what happens. Keep up the good work, and good luck!


  15. Dear Calvin,

    I just finished my junior year of high school and I have what seems like an unusual set of extracurricular activities, with respect to what the Ivy League schools are looking for. I’m wondering how I should present these, or if they pretty much rule me out for Ivy League consideration… I wish to study the sciences in college but I have played the piano and violin since ages 3 and 4, respectively, taking regular lessons, giving regular recitals, participating in competitions and so on. I started playing the violin in my junior high school orchestra when I was in 4th grade. My parents are musicians and so thus the initial impetus for all of this. 🙂 Well, my musical activities have taken a tremendous amount of time outside of school, considering that I practice each instrument at home almost every day, have private lessons each week outside of school hours, practice extra long and have additional lessons when it’s time for competitions and so on. (I have indeed won a few prizes over the years.) Consequently, I’ve never had much time for much else, when it comes to extracurricular activities. However, I managed to do competitive swimming when I was a freshman and sophomore, although I’ve stopped since, due to time constraints; I’ve been taken on extended trips outside of the country — Australia, Asia, Eastern and Western Europe, and Central and South America — once or twice a year since I was an infant, as my mother is from Asia and my father has lived abroad, and both of them strongly believe in multicultural experiences as part of one’s education; I flew to France by myself just after my 15th birthday, where I lived and worked on a volunteer basis on a farm there with several other local French high school students, run by a French family, i.e. the trip was self-organized, I was the only non-French person there and communication was exclusively in French; I’ve volunteered here and there, e.g., at a local retirement home, participated in “walks for cancer research” and so on, although such volunteer work has been only occasional and sporadic; and for this summer, I was fortunate enough to obtain an internship in a biology lab at a research facility at the local university here, even though the facility’s interns have always been college students in the past. In brief, I was thinking that I’d make myself most attractive to the Ivy League schools by demonstrating that I’m well-rounded, and by demonstrating a bit of “selflessness” by doing occasional volunteer work. I’ve taken a handful of IB courses in an effort to bolster my “well-roundedness” , and I starred in a locally produced short film, which took a lot of time and effort on my part. But based on what you’re saying, it seems that the Ivy League schools prefer a very particular set of extracurricular activities, some of which I haven’t really done. I’m a representive of the student council, a member of the math club and a couple of other school organizations, and although I’ve run for certain leadership positions in those organizations, I’ve never been elected. I’m afraid that my only explicit leadership position is first chair of the second violin section in the orchestra, which I’ve held for several years, by the way. What do you think? Are these extracurricular activities simply too “deviant”? If not, how should I present them?


    1. Frances,

      In fact, you have hit all of the expectations typically associated with admission to an Ivy League school. According to your post, you have been involved in athletics, student government, both creative and academic extracurricular activities and endeavors, and you are not just a regular volunteer but practically a global citizen! You should obviously avoid a narrative tone that makes you seem like you’ve “been there, done that,” but you have everything you need for a successful Ivy League admission essay. One method to learning how to do something successfully is to study what previously successful candidates have done. Given you background in music, I recommend you read Kwasi Enin’s College Essay. Kwasi Enin, by the way, was accepted to every Ivy League school. You can learn more about how he accomplished this tremendous feat here.

      Hope this helps!

      1. Hi, Bill,

        Thank you very much for your reply! It was very kind of you. I just read Kwasi Enin’s College essay and I have a few questions, if you could please indulge me a little further:

        (1) Calvin mentioned in one of his posts that it’s not a good idea to apply to too many schools and in particular to too many Ivy League schools, since it suggests not being truly enthusiastic about any particular school. As I recall, Calvin wrote that a friend of his applied to all of the Ivy Leagues and was rejected from every single one. Yet Kwasi applied to all of them. Is applying to all of them really a good idea?

        (2) Kwasi’s essay is all based on his musical activities, and although he explains how music taught him how to think, how to be a leader and so on, he didn’t mention any other extracurricular activities. Is this really a good idea? Given the diversity of my extracurricular activities, from working in a biology lab to music to traveling abroad, shouldn’t I mentioned all of them? I understand that I don’t want to sound pretentious, but I also don’t want to sound like a “music nerd”, if you see what I mean.

        (3) There is a very smart guy in my school whose father is from the States and whose mother is from Japan, and he did a research paper on the acceptance rates at universities of Asian applicants: he concluded that Asian applicants are held to higher standards and so it’s harder for Asians to get in. He’s worried that if the colleges that he applies to find out that his mother is Japanese, then he will have a harder time getting accepted. I’m in the same situation, because my mother is from China. So, if I am asked about my ethnicity on a college application, should I just check the “caucasian” box, since my father is American? I suppose I could check the “Asian” box too, but I’m afraid that if I do that, then it will reduce my chances of being accepted.



        1. Frances,

          Good questions!

          1) If you weren’t aware, the admissions officers for Ivy League schools are regularly in contact with one another in regards to their respective applicant pools. For this reason, Calvin’s assertion that applying to every Ivy League school impacts your chance of admission in as much as it demonstrates an apparent lack of commitment to any particular school is absolutely true. However, as evidenced by the example of Kwasi Enin, there are exceptions to this general rule. Note, though, that Kwasi’s example is just that – an exception. My advice would be to follow Calvin’s recommendation: if possible, narrow down your options to two or three top-choice schools and focus on your applications to these schools.

          2) If you read more about Kwasi Enin, you’ll find out that he was also an athlete, academic competitor, and volunteer, among other things, in addition to being a musician. His essay is remarkable, particularly for a student his age, in that it follows a specific narrative theme from start to finish. The most important advice I can give you in this regard is to remember that you should not use your essay to reiterate the bullet points of your resume. It’s okay to talk about yourself in your application essay (in most cases, that is the entire point of writing such an essay!), but avoid mentioning things that the admission officer already knows.

          3) It’s an unfortunate fact that discrimination exists in all walks of life. In the case of Ivy League admissions, it appears to be unintentional (or least not racially motivated malevolence) but nonetheless existent. As Asian students typically outperform their peers in terms of GPA and standardized test scores, the averages for Asian students accepted to elite universities tend to be higher than students from different backgrounds. This, in turn, makes admission to these types of schools more difficult for Asian students who are high-achieving when compared to the aggregate but may only be average within their specific demographic. If this is something you are concerned about, there should be an option allowing you to not disclose your race; although, Ivy League schools conduct truly holistic reviews of their applicants, so not disclosing this information may negatively impact your chances of admission more so than the demographic you will be compared to. My recommendation is to simply be honest on your application.

          Hope this helps!

  16. Hi calvin,
    I am currently a junior and am still finding it difficult to decide with my extra curriculars. Considering that I have only about one year to get done with a lot, it seems a very short time to master any activity. Here’s what you could count as my extra – curriculars:
    I was in my school debate club from grade 7 but got a chance to participate in only one major outside school competition. Now that I have been admitted to a new school(for junior and senior years), i may carry on with debating but going on to participate in the national level is quite unlikely.
    I have also been into volunteering by working in a school for street children last summer, and several other single day activities.
    I am not very athletic, but I do take swimming lessons. Would it be worthwhile joining the swimming club in my new school considering that I may make it to the school team by the end of junior year, but then again would that be enough? I would also like to ask you if starting creative activities such as programming be wise because in my country there is no platform where young programmers can gain recognition. Oh! I almost forgot to mention, I am an overseas student (which seems to make everything harder).I could also start playing the guitar or any other musical instrument. I am comfortable with my grades and expect to do well in the SAT, but extra curricular activities are really giving me a headache especially when I learn’t that I had to do them for all the four years of high school. Hope you could solve my problems!

    1. HJ,

      Remember that your extracurricular activities are secondary in importance to your GPA and standardized test scores (SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests). If you have a competitive GPA and correspondingly high test scores then you have done all the hard work already! Extracurriculars should be activities you find fun, so try not to let this aspect of your application worry you too much.

      My advice would be to do what interests you. If you enjoy debate, then debate! Accolades will follow success, and you are more likely to succeed at an activity you like (as opposed to participating in an something solely for the purpose of college admissions). Volunteering is an activity that can definitely improve any resume; try to volunteer in an activity that relates somewhat to the major you plan on pursuing. And, although there might not be a platform by which participants in a creative activity you enjoy are regularly recognized, you might endeavor to create such a platform or organization (that would certainly look good on an application and demonstrate a real commitment to your interest in such a field).

      The best advice is to simply do what you like; everything else will follow from that. I bet that you could surprise yourself with what you could accomplish in a year!

      Hope this helps!

      1. Hi, I am also a currently a junior in a public California high school and have a few questions on extracurriculars. I’ve been playing Waterpolo and have been swimming since before freshman year and have been on high school teams since freshman year. But I’ve recently been thinking of quiting waterpolo because this season I have been playing extremely poorly (which is unusual) and I dont consider myself adequate for the Varsity level in waterpolo anymore, even though the season just started. I do however plan to keep on swimming and I have considerably good times in my events (I hope on making and placing at regionals this year) and have been competing on Varsity since I started high school. My question is, would it be okay if I quit waterpolo now since I have been having such a dreadful time with it? My academics are prime and I am taking challenging courses this year with four APs and an honors class and plan to keep staright As, so I’m not worried about that. I havent started any clubs (sadly) but I do plan to take some up this year and continue them onto senior year, if that helps. I’m just really worried that after all this time I have put into waterpolo that if i quit now, what Ive done with it wil be obsolete and my chances of getting into a bright college are doomed with my decision. Can you give me some feedback? Thanks in advance.

        1. Rese,

          First, if you feel like you have been under-performing, or that you can perform at a higher level, that should serve as motivation to improve, not reason to quit. One of the reasons athletic success is something admission officers value is that it is not easy to achieve – it takes hard work, perseverance, and commitment.

          That said, you should remember that quality always trumps quantity. So, if you feel like you can achieve more in one sport by focusing on Swimming rather than Waterpolo, then you should do so. One sport should be sufficient to meet our recommended guidelines. If you do decide to quit Waterpolo, then you should definitely put that extra time towards other extracurriculars to flesh out your application (don’t forget that volunteering is always a plus too!).

          Hope this helps!

  17. Hi Calvin, I was wondering if I tended to get 2 B’s each semester of high school (only in AP Classes) but I had a perfect SAT score, and a really good internship as well as several leadership roles including president of debate and cofounder of a high school business publication that is read nationwide, am i in the running for UPenn?

      1. Akshat,

        You can change your photo provided you do so at least one week before the test. For obvious reasons, changing your name on your SAT registration is much more difficult – if you have to change your name, you will need to contact College Board directly and they will undoubtedly require some kind of legal documentation confirming your name change. Again, for obvious reasons, you will not allowed to remove your surname entirely from your registration ticket.

        Hope this helps!

    1. Akshat,

      Absolutely! Those are solid credentials. Be sure not to neglect the other aspects of your application (SAT Subject Tests, volunteering/philanthropy, athletics, and admission essay) and you should be as competitive as any other applicant.

      Hope this helps!

  18. Dear
    My daughter has cleared grade 6 piano exam from ABRSM and learning piano for last 6 years
    she has represented school in various sport activities ( athletics and swimming)and get positions also. once she has represented district in stale level athletics event.
    what else she can do to enrich her profile in extracurricular activities.

    Amit Tandon

    1. Amit,

      A common theme in many of our posts about extracurricular activities is quality over quantity. This means that it is more important for students to excel at the activities they participate in than it is for them to participate in a plethora of activities. Earning district or state honors in athletics is a great example of how students may demonstrate success, excellence, and competitiveness to admission officers; likewise, passing the ABRSM exams is an excellent way to quantity your daughter’s progress and development as a musician. Generally speaking, when selecting which activities or clubs students should participate in, you should focus on three broad categories: Creative/Academic, Athletic, and Volunteering. You seem to have done a great job so far! Your daughter’s age may limit the number of activities she can participate in (for example, if she is not yet in high school then it is too early for her to join the National Honor Society); however, going forward, I would recommend she identify a volunteer program that she can participate in over an extended period of time. Ideally, this activity should tangentially relate to whatever professional career she would study for as an undergraduate (for example, if she wants to pursue a pre-med undergraduate degree path she should volunteer at a hospital). When she does reach high school, at that time she should also join and actively participate in at least one academic club. Remember though – the goal is NOT to join as many clubs as possible; the goal is to excel at the activities she does participate in. This means winning awards, earning recognition, and being voted to leadership positions.

      Hope this helps!

  19. Thank you for this post and series-I found it very helpful! I’m a freshman right now, and have to pick out clubs, and was wondering about the volunteering. You see, I play harp(I’m the only harpist at my school) and plan to do math team (I’m good at math) and quiz bowl. And I’m wondering about joining my school’s key club, which would give me a chance to tutor kids(probably in math) and visit elders(and maybe play harp for them?) Problem is, do you think that I would ‘spread myself out too thin’ if I joined it? Plus, maybe there are more specific ways to volunteer? But I don’t know any other ways that would last 4 years. Could you please tell me your opinion on the matter? Thanks.

    1. Anna,

      The most important criteria when deciding which philanthropic or volunteering activity you would like to participate in is that it is something you can see yourself enjoying over an extended period of time. Of course, there are other factors that might influence your decision – specifically, we recommend doing something that will tangentially relate to whatever undergraduate degree path or professional career you plan on pursuing. So, for example, if you plan on pursuing an M.D., then perhaps you should volunteer at a hospital, if you plan on studying psychiatry, then volunteer at a shelter, if you plan on studying music, then volunteering to entertain the elderly is a great fit. However, in the context of admissions, this only matters if you consistently participate in this activity over an extended period of time, and you are much more likely to do this if you actually enjoy what you are doing.

      In terms of spreading yourself too thin, if your participation in extracurricular activities ever becomes detrimental to your GPA, then you should reevaluate the number of activities you are participating in. Only you will be able to determine what you can and cannot handle, but remember that the most important admission factor to any college is your GPA/Class Rank.

      Hope this helps!

  20. Hello! This has been a great article so thanks very much for posting it! I have just started my freshman year in high school and am taking the most advanced courses possible to take at my school, 2 AP the rest honors except electives. I am currently doing robotics as a club after school and i plan to join other clubs such as Debate Team, National Honor Society’s and other clubs i may find intresting. However i also have previously played lacrosse and am thinking of joining the team but it is on the same days as my Robotics meets so I would most likely have to pick one or the other. I am also worried about overloading myself if i have too many things going on at once because in my next 3 years the amount of AP classes will increase significantly. My actual chances of making Varsity at some point in lacrosse are doubtful so an athletic scholarship is out of the question which is why I have been pursuing academics, so I am unsure whether I should quit Robotics if the two years of JV Lacrosses will just be a social thing not a career benefit. I appreciate any advice, thanks!

    1. Zach,

      Admissions officers prize versatile, balanced, competitive applicants. You should keep this in mind as you outline the next several years of your academic and extracurricular life. That said, the extracurricular that will most benefit your application is the one that you will excel at – if you feel like you are more likely to succeed or win recognition as a participant on a robotics team, then you should seriously consider pursuing that activity. As always, though, our recommendation is that you pursue the extracurricular that you feel you will most enjoy!

      Hope this helps!

  21. I’m a sophomore in high school and I was able to do a sport last year as a freshmen. However some problems arose and it turns out my doctor told me that I wasn’t able to do a sport due to some health issues. Will not doing a sport in high school affect my chances at an Ivy even if I have a creative and volunteering extracurricular?

    1. Brittney,

      You will not be penalized if you cannot participate in a sport due to medical reasons. In this case, just be sure to spend all that new found free time wisely and productively!

      Hope this helps!

  22. Hello, I am about to enter the second semester my junior year. I have always dreamed of attending Stanford, and would also like to apply to UPenn. I am in the IB program and have kept an unweighted 4.0 GPA until now. I also participate regularly in 5 clubs, especially in FBLA and am currently a school officer as well as a district officer and have gone to the state competition in all my years of competing thus far( I am not a president or VP in any of the clubs, however). I have been on my high school swim team for the past three years, and as with my clubs, I plan on going through with this through senior year (4 years in each). I am also a competitive synchronized swimmer, and have been competing for over 9 years. I compete regionally, state-wide, as well as nationally and practice for about 20 hours a week. I have also been dancing for almost 12 years. I also volunteer at my local YMCA and plan on volunteering at an animal shelter and hospital over the summer, as well as hopefully finding a summer internship at a lab in a university. I have received 4’s and 5’s on the three AP courses I’ve taken in freshman and sophomore year. At the end of this year I will take 3 AP exams and 2 IB exams (and the following 4 IB exams during senior year).

    However, with all of this I have just received my PSAT scores and have just missed the score national merit cutoff. I plan on taking the SAT this January and have been working very hard.
    I am very concerned about my chances on still being able to get accepted into Stanford and UPenn after not making the National Merit cutoff with my PSAT scores. I feel that now my chances have been heavily lowered, and any advice on what I should do from now until college applications in the fall of 2015 to still be able to get into these schools would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    1. Take a deep breath! Yes, universities love to see “National Merit Scholar” on a resume, but by no means do they throw out other applications–especially one as outstanding as yours! I personally HATE national merit–my sister and my best friend BOTH got it and I was in the same boat as you! However, admissions officers realize that National Merit just means you did well on ONE test that you had ONE chance to take. Although I didn’t apply to Stanford or UPenn, I did apply to several competitive schools and I got into every single one with a merit scholarship (and my resume wasn’t even half as impressive as yours). Of course you should have a safety school–anyone applying to Ivy League schools should–but honestly I think the only thing you need to focus on is having a good essay! In my experience, the only thing that kills an application like yours is when that student’s essay is a run down of all the great things they did in high school. YES, you have an impressive application, but are you a human? Ivy League universities (and the University of Texas) have enough National Merit scholars, as evidenced by the fact that they seldom give out much money to recruit national merit scholars. They also have enough grade-grubbing automatons with no social life who do well in school but have zero interpersonal/practical skills–and that’s a category you want to make sure the university knows you don’t fall into! Should you choose to write your essay over one of your extracurricular activities (I mean, I don’t think they get too many essays about competitive synchronized swimming), just make sure that the essay focuses on how the experience has shaped you and that it doesn’t come off as, “I did a million things in high school so I’m a star and you’re going to let me in, right?!?!” Otherwise, go forth, continue to excel, and how could any university–even an Ivy League–say no?

  23. Hi,
    I am currently a sophomore at a small catholic school. I have a 4.0 GPA as of right now, which is the highest GPA i can get this year. I take all the honors classes that my school offers for sophomores, which unfortunately is only for algebra 2 and chemistry. I’m really worried since every other sophomore is talking about how they take multiple AP classes and lots of honors classes. My school only offers a couple AP classes for juniors and seniors. I do plan on taking them. I also have been playing piano for 9 years now, and I have been going to the National federation of music festival and the michigan music festival to play for 8 years now. I have received the highest score every year, and I plan on doing the same for the rest of high school. I do sports year round except for winter. I’m not on any varsity sports yet, but plan on getting into varsity field hockey next year. I took the PLAN this year and got the highest in my class, but it was only a 27 out of a 32. I am prepping for the ACT right now and plan on taking both the ACT and SAT. I also do service every thursday, and plan on doing more service on weekends in the future. I was president of my freshman class, and then vice president of my sophomore class. I am also a part of a club. At my school, we are only allowed to be in one club at a time, so I can’t do any other clubs. When I look at what I have done so far in high school, it’s not very impressive compared to others. Do I have a chance at an Ivy league school? What advice do you have for me.

    1. Elizabeth,

      You certainly have a chance at an Ivy League school. First, you should take the most demanding academic schedule you available to you. Admissions officers will understand if there is a restriction on the number of AP classes you’ve completed simply due to lack of availability; however, in a case like this, they will expect you to have taken every possible AP class you could. Second, excel at the club you are participating in. Again, if there is a restriction on the number of activities you may participate in, then it is doubly important that you excel at those activities you do participate in.
      Third, there are ways to work around restrictions set by your high school – for example, if there is no honors class available for a certain topic, then you may take the SAT Subject Test or AP exam for that topic alternatively, you might consider an online community or junior college course.

      It sounds like you have a good plan and record, so keep up the good work!

      Hope this helps!

  24. Hi,
    I am currently a sophomore in high school. I am currently taking an AP class and the rest are Honors classes. I am also involved in 5 clubs as of now,( Robotics, Spanish, Model UN, Model Congress, and Debate club) as well as other outside activities. Even though I am actively involved in these clubs, I don’t have any position of leadership. I’m worried that’s the thing that’s going to be the reason I don’t get into the college of my dreams. >.< Would you say it's better to be actively involved in a lot of clubs without a position of leadership or be in a like one or two clubs with a position of leadership?

    1. Tera,

      Quality always trumps quantity. It is far more important that you demonstrate leadership and excellence in the activities you participate in than just participate in a large number of activities.

      Hope this helps!

  25. Hello,

    Today in my school we went over course seletions
    and a question popped up in mind. I plan on taking 4 AP classes next year,
    my junior year (AP Chem, AP, Psych, AP Lan & Comp, and Ap Econ). However
    what I’m worried about is that I won’t be able to handle all those AP classes.
    I am currently taking one AP class this year (AP US History) and that is already
    a lot to handle. Nonetheless, I really really want to get into an ivy league school,
    and don’t they look to see if you take a lot of AP classes?? But while talking about
    it with my dad,he told me that it’s better if I don’t take a lot of AP classes but I have
    a high GPA. However, I’m still worried that I’m not taking enough AP classes
    to get into an ivy league school. So what should I do?? I’m really worried. Do ivy league schools look more for how many AP classes you take, or how high your GPA is? Also,do ivy league schools care more about your unweighted GPA or weighted GPA?? Sorry for all my questions. But thank you so much in advance!! 🙂

    1. Lisa,

      Yes, Ivy League schools prefer their applicants take a lot of AP and Honor classes. Taking these types of classes and maintaining a competitive GPA demonstrates to admission officers that you can handle the academic challenges associated with attending an Ivy League school. That said, if you don’t think you can handle that kind of course load then you should not try to. The most important thing about your college application will be your GPA, and you should not risk your GPA for any reason. Of course, this will put you at a disadvantage when compared to students with a comparable GPA but who took more challenging classes. Every student must find the balance between taking these types of classes and maintaining a good GPA. If you are concerned about taking too many AP classes, my advice would be to focus on taking those AP classes that correspond to what you would like to study as an undergraduate. For example, if you plan on pursuing a pre-med degree path, then take AP Chemistry; if you would prefer to study English, then take AP Lang & Comp.

      Ivy League schools will consider your weighted GPA, but your class rank and unweighted GPA are prioritized when making an admission decision. However, again, Ivy League schools prefer students that take a lot of AP classes. One more piece of advice here: if you do not want to take too many AP classes (in order to preserve your GPA), you could take the regular class and then take an SAT Subject Test in that topic at the end of the school year. A good Subject Test score would serve to demonstrate fluency/competency in a topic (note: this could also be accomplished by taking the AP test in that topic at the end of the year; you do not have to take an AP class to take the AP test. If you don’t like your score you can just choose not to submit it when you apply).

      Hope this helps!

  26. I’m a current sophomore with an unweighted cumulative GPA of 3.84 but a weighted GPA of 4.03, and have taken the four honors courses available to me (Algebra 2,Trigonometry, Biology, and Chemistry). I am in my school’s Key Club, Science Club, and Discipleship. I started to take private singing and instrument lessons outside of school, because I love music. Next year, I hope to take 4 AP’s (Physics, English Composition, Calculus AB, and US History) and because my school doesn’t offer AP Studio Art or AP Spanish, I hope to also take the Spanish Language and Culture exam and turn in a drawing portfolio. Next year, I also want to do my school’s Mock Trial and do an internship over the summer. Am I doing enough to have a chance to get to an Ivy League? If not, what do I do?

    1. De,

      It sounds like you are keeping yourself very busy. My one piece of advice is to try and orient your extracurriculars toward whatever you would like to pursue as an undergraduate. Otherwise, the next step is to obtain leadership positions in the clubs and organizations you are in.

      Hope this helps!

  27. I am sophomore at a small private high school that only offers 8 AP’s and 4 honors courses, and I have an unweighted GPA of 3.83 and a weighted GPA of 4.0. I am in Key Club, Science Club, and Discipleship. Outside of school, I have started private singing and instrumental lessons and have begun my SAT Prep classes. Since freshman year, I have taken 2 honors courses a year, and by the end of this school year will have Honors Algebra 2, Honors Trigonometry, Honors Biology, and Honors Chemistry under my belt. Over the summer, I plan on doing an internship and preparing to do a season of Cross Country for the first time. By the end of this year, I should be finished with writing and illustrating my children’s book that I hope to publish by next year. Next year, I plan on taking 4 AP’s (English Composition, US History, Physics C, and Calculus AB) and because my school doesn’t offer AP Spanish: Language and Culture and AP Studio Art, I plan on taking the AP Spanish exam and sending in my art portfolio by next year. During my junior and senior year, I also plan on joining my school’s mock trial. Because I am constantly busy, I am not sure if I should do Cross Country and if I should run for a role in student government. Would it be detrimental to my application if I did either Cross Country or student government and not both? Also, am I doing enough to get to an Ivy League? If not, what can I do?

    1. Des,

      If you burn out before college applications, will it really matter? Yes, you want to keep busy and have a resume full of different activities that make you–or at least make you seem–well-rounded, but they should still be activities you want to do and can make an honest commitment to. Honestly, the way you’ve presented it, it sounds like you don’t really care about student government or Cross Country, and, though it may be hard to believe, admissions officers can spot phonies. I’m saying you shouldn’t participate in either or both or these activities, only that it sounds like you have a pretty full plate, so you should do the activities that mean something to you.
      Also, having the resume is fine and dandy, but not at the expense of grades. I don’t want to freak you out–a 3.83 is a good GPA–but it’s not as competitive as some of the applicants you’re up against, especially being that this is only sophomore year and courses are ostensibly going to get harder. Make sure you’re leaving time for school and that you don’t shoot yourself in the foot by over exerting yourself and looking like someone who can’t balance grades with all they want to do.

      Thanks for reading! Hopefully this is helpful!

  28. Hi,
    I am a sophomore in high school. I currently have a 4.4 GPA, and take all honors and AP courses, (except for math, which is at the regular level). I have been on the high school varsity cross country team for 5 years, the varsity soccer team for 2 years (we also went to state semi-finals), and just started managing both of the water polo teams. I have been in advanced orchestra for 3 years and am the editor of the yearbook. I also am applying to volunteer at a cancer center over the summer (but I don’t know if I got in or not), previously worked at a summer camp, and plan to take a precalc over the summer so that I can be in honors math my junior year. However, I’m not a very good standardized test taker (for AP, SAT, and ACT). My school doesn’t offer Honors Physics, so I will be moved to regulars since I wasn’t recommend for AP Physics. Also, if the precalc course over the summer is too expensive, then I can’t take the class and I will be in two regular courses my junior year. I will be in AP Humanities courses, but does it ruin my chances of getting into a good school? I don’t care if it’s not Ivy (although it would be great if I could), but I’d still like to get into Tufts, Bowdoin, Duke, etc. What schools do you think I can get into?
    Thank you!

    1. Olivia,

      Based on what you’ve said, you have an excellent background in terms of academic accomplishments, and also in terms of athletic and other extracurriculars. You should be very proud of your achievements thus far! That said, if you are serious about getting into an Ivy League school, or other similarly competitive universities, you need to understand how important standardized tests are to the admissions process. Your scores on the SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, and AP exams will be a determining factor to whether or not you are accepted to your universities of choice. As an expert in the field of standardized tests and college admission, I can tell you that I have met many students who are in your position – students who are otherwise honor, straight A students, but who do not perform well on standardized tests. In my experience, this is usually a matter of the student not necessarily struggling with the content of the exam, but rather the format of the exam. The best way to overcome this is two-fold: 1) with test preparation and 2) with practice. Like with many other disciplines, with standardized tests practice makes perfect; or, more accurately, perfect practice makes perfect. What this means is that you should learn how to take these tests and then practice according to the instruction you receive.

      Hope this helps!

      1. Thank you! Your response was extremely helpful! But I still have a few questions, will the lack of advanced physics affect my application even though honors isn’t offered? I was in honors chemistry this year, but they don’t offer honors physics and I’m required to take a physics class next year.

        Also, even though I have committed to my extracurricular activities, I don’t have a very wide arrangement, do I have enough?

        Lastly, assuming that I am able to boost my SAT scores with the tips you gave me, am I looking at the right kinds of colleges? I know that Ivy League is a bit of a reach for me, but can you please list 2-3 alternatives? I just have no idea where to start my college search, but do you think 2nd tier is doable for me?
        Thanks so much!

        1. Olivia,

          The important thing here is that you take the most challenging courses available to you. If AP Physics was not available to you, that will be taken into account during a review of your application. You should not worry about this too much. I can only imagine this adversely impacting your chance of admission to a top tier school if you are planning on pursuing a degree that relates to physics, such as engineering… or physics. If this is the case, then I would strongly recommend supplementing your application with an SAT Subject Test in Physics. This would serve two purposes: 1) It would partially meet most top tier schools’ requirement that applicants take and submit SAT Subject Tests (most of these types of schools will require students to take and submit two subject tests – we recommend taking and submitting three: these schools are looking for students who exceed the requirements, not just simply meet them) and 2) A good score on the SAT Subject Test Physics would go a long way towards assuring admission officers of your grade-level mastery of physics.

          By my count, you are currently participating in seven or eight extracurricular activities. The only way you could really improve this portion of your application would be to participate in something that is strictly academic (think debate or Math/Science team) or creative (think Improv or theater). As it is, Ivy League schools value quality over quantity, so just be sure not to spread yourself too thin.

          Again, you seem to be doing everything right; however, that is no guarantee of admission. Keep in mind that even if you do everything you possibly can to make yourself a competitive applicant, there will always be a certain amount of luck that goes into being admitted to these types of schools. You should divide the schools you apply to into several different categories:

          1) “Reach Schools” – These are the types of schools we’ve been discussing thus far. One piece of advice here: it is not a good idea to apply to every single Ivy League school; they have been known to monitor which schools a student applies to, and if you apply to every single Ivy League school it will appear opportunistic, instead of as if you sincerely want to attend the schools to which you do apply. Unless you are Kwasi Enin, then you are more likely to hurt than help your application by applying to every Ivy League school; only apply to the ones you really want to attend.

          To your question, other extremely competitive schools you might consider in lieu of applying to every Ivy League school might be Rice, Duke, Emory, Notre Dame, University of Chicago, or Berkeley; it really depends on what you want to study.

          2) “Probably Admitted Schools” – These are schools that you might reasonably expect to be admitted. The type of school that might fall into this category would be your state’s Honors College, or a private university that’s captured your attention. To give yourself plenty of options, you should apply to at least two or three, if not more, of these types of schools.

          3) “Safe” Schools – These are the types of schools that you are absolutely 100% percent sure you will be admitted to. Depending on your city, this could be your “City College.” As a safeguard, you should apply to at least one “Safe” school.

          Hope all this helps!

  29. I was literally handed the position of being vice president for a club my senior year(currently a junior). But is being vice president look just as good as president? And any tips for this position?

    1. Alexa,

      Yes! Being vice president is still considered a leadership role in a club, and that’s what colleges are looking for. The important thing is that when you’re asked about being vice president you can say something about it. Colleges know that not all clubs/leadership positions are created equally. It doesn’t matter if you were Officer at Large, President, Fearless Leader, or Omnipotent Dictator of a club if all that club did was make t-shirts and turn in service hour sheets once a semester. If you get to the point of interviews or if you’re asked to elaborate on your activities, remember to focus on what you did to help your club grow or succeed and what some of your leadership responsibilities were.

      Hopefully this helps!

    2. Alexa,

      Although the more glamorous position is president, the position of vice president is still very desirable. Also, this position might give you an advantage if you choose to run for president next year. In terms of tips or advice – it really depends on the type of club you are participating in. Other than that, just do your best!

      Hope this helps!

  30. My daughter is in 7th grade, and we are considering sending her to a 3-week summer camp offered through the National Associated for Gifted and Talented to study math and science. They offer programs at schools such as UCLA and Princeton but they are not really associated with the university. The camps are very expensive and I want to know if such camps would truly benefit her in her application process (as long as she has the grades and test scores) for getting into the Harvard or Standford?

    1. Vickie,

      Sounds like a great opportunity! However, colleges are typically less concerned with what students were up to before high school. That being said, the camp sounds like an invaluable learning experience, and there’s simply no telling what discoveries she might make there that may indirectly give her a competitive advantage later on down the road. I would worry less about what colleges may think in the future and more about whether you think your daughter is genuinely interested and will benefit from the program at the age she is now. If, however, the endgame is simply to impress colleges, you might save the money.

      Thank you for reading! Hopefully you found this helpful.

  31. Hi,

    I am currently a freshman in high school. I am taking all honors classes, an AP class (AP government), and pre-calculus this year because I am on the accelerated track and am 2 years ahead in math. I also have a 4.4 GPA and have been doing taekwondo for almost 8 years (I am a third degree black belt). When I was younger, I actively participated in taekwondo and placed in several local tournaments, but now I have been very busy and have not been able to devote as much time anymore. Do you think this will affect my chance of getting into an Ivy League school? I still go to classes and plan to continue taekwondo throughout high school, but I haven’t done many tournaments recently. I am in varsity math team, got into chamber orchestra freshman year as a violist, and am a peer tutor. I haven’t been playing viola for long, however, it’s only my third year 🙁 In addition, I plan to join mock trial, national honors society, beta, and track in upcoming years. I am also planning on founding HOSA at my school for next school year. Do you think there is anything else at should change or improve to get into an Ivy League college?

    Thanks so much!!

    1. Ashi,

      Colleges understand that as you progress through high school you have more on your plate. Yes, you want to only choose activities that you thoroughly enjoy and can commit to, but that doesn’t mean that pulling back a little on your commitments in order to make room for other interests will be frowned upon. It sounds like your in a good place, but if you find yourself getting burned out, scale it back. Although they want you to have a varied resume, colleges can tell if you’ve overextended yourself to the point where none of the activities on it really mean anything to you. Also, founding a club is a great idea! This shows that you have leadership ability as well as the drive to make things happen.

      Hopefully this is helpful!

      1. Hi,

        I have one more question for you. Do Ivy League schools know which other colleges you’re applying to and how many? Could you potentially apply to every ivy school to increase your chances of getting in to one of them?


        1. Ashi,

          Good question! It is safe to assume that Ivy League admission departments communicate with one another and so will know which other schools to which you are applying. For this reason, we actually recommend against applying to every Ivy League school. After all, if you send out eight identical essays, all of which say “[x] school is my number one choice!” they’re going to know you’re lying to somebody. Additionally, the effort and cost of applying to all eight schools would make the whole process incredibly onerous. Each school has its own personality and history; we recommend applying only to those schools that you really sincerely want to go to.

          Hope this helps!

  32. This article is so opening my eyes and answering many of my questions about college application in USA. Thank you! Since I am not US citizen, I had no idea about college application until very recently. so..I would appreciate your precious advice for my kid.

    1. GPA, SAT, APs
    My daughter is a junior in one of the top science high school in USA. She has all A except 1B in AP physics. Since she moved to USA in her 3rd grad, skipped the 5th grade and entered GT program from 7th grade, her curriculum maybe less competitive (also because of her school request curriculum for diploma is much different from regular high school; such as prerequisite biology and physics for AP courses, lab and science subject without AP credit, 4 years math). Also she wants 4 years orchestra and 4 years language course. She took all the honors or AP (physics, history, math). She will take additional possible APs (math, language, English) next year. PSAT score was over 230 and she is waiting for her first SAT score (hope she did well). 780 and 800 for SAT subject chemistry and math II.
    Do you think 6 AP is not enough? Do you think she has to drop orchestra for next year to fill up one more AP?

    2. extra curriculum
    She’s been playing violin in her school orchestra (last 3 years) and district orchestra, also private lesson (since 4th grade after she quit piano). She got one award in debating (novice) and is in JV of her school after joined from sophomore. She had 2nd degree black belt in taekwondo (since 1st grade but not for completion). She is an assistance manager at volunteering group for free tutor kids (> hundred kids, 10 ~ 20 volunteers coming on every Saturday, for last two years). She is applying for manager job for next year. She did independent research about nano-biology and got an honorable mentions in chemistry in her school science fair. She is preparing to publish the result in one of SCI journal. She applied for summer internship in research group this coming summer and governor’s school program as well (one student per school applied for each subject. Hope she can get in). She is in the couple of school clubs but no representative position.
    Do you think her extracurricular is not strong enough? Do you think it is worthy to try district or regional orchestra during senior year? Also she went to the several science-fair or conferences as guest, following her relatives attending (several cities in USA and other country). Is this counted as some extra curricular experience, or not worthy to mention it at all?

    What else can she do for making her strong candidates?

    1. GPGK,

      1. First of all, her PSAT and SAT subject scores are great! I would recommend committing to orchestra for all four years, rather than dropping for an additional AP class. Sustained commitment to an extracurricular will look better on her application than a single additional AP class. If you are worried about her not having enough AP classes, consider having her take another SAT Subject Test to make up for it. An additional Subject Test score will demonstrate grade-level mastery of a Subject, without her having to make the same commitment that an AP class would require.

      2. It sounds like her extracurriculars are strong. I would not mention her attending these science fairs on a resume; her resume should be more formal and focus on tangible accomplishments. However, if she can mention her voluntary attendance of science fairs in the context of a personal statement or admission essay, that would be an appropriate place to mention this.

      It sounds like she has been doing a great job! She should continue to earn good grades, maintain her extracurricular commitments, and start focusing on all the other things that go into getting into college: visit campuses, obtain recommendations, start working on her admission essays, start researching financial aid, etc.

      Hope this helps!

      Focus on

  33. I moved to a different school after my sophmore year. I had all A’s except for English and Spanish I guess languages aren’t my best subject. I feel like I wasted my freshman year didn’t have any extracurriculars but sophomore year i did lots of tutoring and helping out in my local library, joined Lacrosse team and was made vice captain. After the move my grades have improved but haven’t found any good extracurricular that interests me because there is no lacrosse team in my new school but I joined model UN. As for APs I took Euro, am taking computer science, govt and Physics and registered for 3 more APs senior year. I also got accepted into a state legislature internship which I will do this summer. But my main question is how can I show and make sure that I spend my senior year productively to enhance my college app?

    1. Elden,

      Focus on your grades, recommendations, and standardized test scores. You might also begin preparing for and taking all of the standardized tests required to apply. The most productive thing you can do as a senior is begin focusing on your application and ensuring that you meet all the requisites to apply.

      Hope this helps!

  34. This is really great advice and certainly helpful. However, I am not in any athletic activity because teams won’t take me because of my short stature (4’11”). For volunteering, I am in clubs such as CSF and Interact and even trying to pursue a leadership position in each one. I like to dance but didn’t join the dance team at school because it’s just filled with high school drama. I dance in cultural programs and I have received many certificates of recognition. I am also in speech and debate and qualified for the California State Tournament as a freshman in 2014 (I am a sophomore now and I have about three more chances).

    Would I still be considered by Ivy Admissions officers, even though I don’t play a sport?

    1. Sowmya,

      Strictly speaking, it isn’t absolutely necessary to participate in an athletic extracurricular. Athletics, particularly team athletics (as opposed to more individual sports, like wrestling or weight-lifting), demonstrate an ability to work well with others as well as an ability to commit to a certain endeavor long term. If you can demonstrate those characteristics through your participation in other extracurricular activities, you application will not suffer for lack of a sports trophy.

      Hope this helps!

  35. Hi, I am currently a junior at nationally ranked high school in Houston. I am ranked 76 out of 613, which would put me in approximately the top 12%. I have gotten a couple of B’s (around 7 but going by semester, probably 14). My GPA is currently around 3.6-3.7. I have taken all Pre-AP and AP classes (Pre-AP: 14 and AP: 6 so far planning to total 13). I am part of my school’s YES program which requires 100 volunteer hours (and then you get a medal) and currently making my way through them. I have been on my Speech and Debate Team for the last 3 years and I also volunteer as an MC at cultural events with over 500+ attendance. I have also volunteered as freshman orientation leader (I guess that counts for leadership…). I have been part of DECA for 2 years so far and am planning to try out for varsity volleyball senior year. I have gone to debate summer camp for 1 year. Unfortunately, I got a 198 on my PSAT. I have been a part of Red Cross for 1 year also.

    I don’t know for sure if I can get accepted to an Ivy League school for a chemical engineering major, but if I do, I will definitely choose to go there. But is there anything I can do to spruce up my application?
    P.S. I am getting my first SAT score in 3 days and I’m taking the ACT this April so I don’t know about those scores yet.

    1. PP,

      You should strive to graduate in the top 10% of your class; although, strictly speaking, this won’t necessarily be required for you to be admitted to a top flight school, it will greatly help. In the same vein, concentrate on your grades. A GPA of 3.6-3.7 is very good, and you should be proud of your accomplishments, but over 87% of student admitted to Harvard had a high school GPA of 3.75 or higher (with the average GPA being a 4.04). As you read through the site I’ve linked, you might notice that Harvard says that class rank is not considered during the admission process; however, you should also notice that 95% of the students admitted to Harvard are in the top 10% of their class.

      Your PSAT score won’t affect your chances of admission (PSATs only matter in positive ways, eg if you were a NMSF). But, you should focus on achieving a 2250+ on the SAT. Also, it’s great that you’re taking the SAT and ACT (this optimizes your chances of scoring in a higher percentile), but don’t forget about taking the SAT Subject Tests as well!

      Hope this helps!

  36. Hello. I am a junior in high school and I am worried about my extracurriculars. I am taking the most rigorous schedule available to me at my school, I have a 4.0 un-weighted GPA, I am in National Honors Society, I have SAT scores of 2260, and my PSAT scores are above the national merit cutoff. I have been in FBLA, a literature club, spanish club, teaching religious classes at my church, and been doing volunteer work at a local hospital and local library since my freshman year; however, I have been involved in my school’s fall play and spring musical, private voice lessons, and student government only since sophomore year. I am on my school’s swim team, but I did not participate sophomore year because I was too busy with the musical and researching at a lab at a local university. I have also had a job for the past year. Will the fact that I only started some activities in my sophomore year and the fact that I did not swim my sophomore year hurt my chances?

    1. Charlie,

      Yes, colleges want to see that you can commit to an activity, but that doesn’t mean that finding new interests throughout high school will have an adverse affect on your application. It’s most important to schools that you stayed busy (which it sounds like you do) and that you’re committed to at least one or two activities to the point of filling a leadership position Junior and/or Senior year.

      Hopefully this is helpful!

  37. I would appreciate any feedback as to if I have a chance at Dartmouth College:
    SAT: 2190
    ACT: 34
    GPA: 4.0 unweighted
    Haven’t take SAT Subject Tests yet
    Extracurricular Activities:
    10 years piano lessons – played at the baccalaureate ceremony my sophomore year
    4 years starting varsity soccer – numerous awards
    4 years travel soccer – numerous awards and captain
    1 year Science Club
    Junior Leadership Program (ROTC) – Assistant Supply Officer (Freshman year); Adjutant (Sophomore year); Deputy Battalion Commander (Junior year) and next year I will be Battalion Commander (Senior Year). Battalion Commander is the highest position overseeing 75 cadets. I have receive many JLP awards, which are too numerous to list here. I also have attending Cadet Leadership Training for 3 years. Two of those years I have been a cadre (leadership position).
    I have done over 120 hours of volunteer time from concession stands, food bank, disabled learning center, festivals, bike races, etc..
    National Honor Society (hoping to hold a position my Senior year)
    Missionary Work – plan to go to Smolenska Russia for 3 weeks to work at a church and orphanage.
    Church – member of a local church
    Also have received numerous academic awards including: 5 star (top 5 in class); Outstanding Sophomore; Science Award; English Award and others
    Currently #1 in my class

    There are probably other things I can add, but you get the idea. I come from a small school in a rural area and have taken the hardest classes available. They only offer 4 AP classes.
    Thank you for your time.
    Sarah Nelson

    1. Sarah,

      Of course you’re competing with the best of the best, which always makes Ivy League admissions tricky, but it sounds like you have a very competitive resume. I think it shows that even in a rural area you took advantage of all the opportunities offered to you.


  38. Hello,
    I have two questions:
    A) Is there any substitute for athletics? Like participating in clubs or getting an officer position that would also show my ability to work well with others?

    B) Would FBLA count as a “creative” type of extracurricular activity?

    Thank you!

    1. Nahor,

      A) Athletics isn’t a required extracurricular by any means – if you can demonstrate the kind of leadership and cooperative spirit typically associated with sports activities via another activity you should be fine.
      B) Sorry, but not really – only if you’re planning on applying to a business school. FBLA doesn’t really fall into that sort of cerebral creative-type thinking that this category of your application is meant to demonstrate.

      Hope this helps!

  39. I am a junior in high school and I am taking some challenging courses-AP chemistry, AP biology, AP statistics, AP Psychology and AP English literature, but the burden is kind of getting to me. Apart from that I volunteer at a hospital 2 hours a week and do cross country everyday after school. I am also involved in two clubs. I have no study halls at school and I have one elective,Namely sculpture which I just recently joined but I am not all that dedicated to. I want to drop sculpture and rep,ace it with a study hall but I don’t know how colleges will look at that. I hope it’s not detrimental to my college admissions process! Do you think I should go ahead and drop sculpture?

    1. Anusha,

      The absolute most important thing is your GPA. If you feel like you need that extra time that to achieve and maintain a competitive GPA, and if you’re not particularly passionate about the class as it is, then yes, you should go ahead and drop sculpture. Again, having a high GPA will ultimately be much more important than having a single dropped elective on your transcript.

      Hope this helps!

  40. Thank you so much for kind advice. I am updating just in case for helping readers.
    My d could manage her 4-years commitment to orchestra (she could add additional online ap class during senior but 8 class is quite load to her) and involved in couple of leadership positions in her orchestra and other clubs which she’s been doing over years. And she could open new center for her volunteer work around her community and is center manager now. And luckily she managed a in ap physics, eventually and all a her gpa (except 3 a- till now). She got nominated to national merit and us presidential scholar (with perfect act score, 36 including writing). She got school principle’s leadership award and other small award (intel sts research report badge).And she got an internship in government research center and won state-awarded 3 weeks summer camp (one of 40 selected kids in state) during last summer. She also involves in district orchestra and other out of school orchestra, which she loves to go 3 hours every week.

    Now she got deferred from one of ivy school EA. At this moment, we don’t know what to do or what needs to be done better. Instead of worrying to get into elite school, I think more important thing is she did her best during her HS year and loved her HS no matter what the college result is. After all this long college admission process, she may not be satisfied with the future results which she cannot do anything about. But I am sure she will be happy about her hard works in HS and her choices there including orchestra, volunteer tutoring little kids, clubs, independent researches and other summer experience she got offered during her 4 years of HS. It was hard and beautiful at least to me.
    I know now, even with this really good ststs of my d, accepting to elite college does not look easy or fair (somewhat for everybody). But kids are still living in their HS as part of their LIFE, and let them be happy now by doing whatever they love!
    -Learning mom-

    1. GPGK,

      That is an absolutely great perspective. It’s true – there is an element of luck to the Ivy admission process. As hard as it is to believe, there are tens of thousands of high school students graduating every year with impeccable credentials, and unfortunately there are just simply not enough spots available at the top colleges for all of them. Ivy league admission is incredibly, ridiculously competitive. Hopefully your daughter will eventually be admitted to her university of choice, but regardless she should be very proud of all of her accomplishments in high school.

      Thank you very much for sharing your story!

  41. Hello Calvin,

    Do A-‘s count as A’s? I am striving for A’s, but in my first semester of Freshman year (I’m still a Freshman), I received two A-‘s. Does that look very bad on an application?


    1. Hi Tommy! In general, A-‘s are still viewed very well, so don’t worry too much about that! Keep working hard, and you should be in good shape!

  42. I am an IB student nearing the end of my junior and am interested in applying to Ivy League schools. Yet I feel that where I have excelled in academics, I have faltered in extracurriculars. I so far have a GPA of 4.67, an ACT score of 33, and a PSAT score of 1420 out of 1520 (I am still waiting for my SAT results.) I have passed 3 AP exams, will be taking 3 AP exams and 1 IB exam next month, and will be taking 5 IB classes/exams & 1 AP class/exam my senior year. Unfortunately the longest I’ve ever committed to any extracurricular is my total 5 years of piano lessons (3 years on & off, 2 years since the beginning of sophomore year) and my participation in my youth group since 8th grade (I’ve gone on 2 trips to youth camp in North Carolina, where we also did some community service.) I’ve shown leadership by initiating the Angel Tree Program in my youth group last Christmas (& will again this Christmas), where I collected donations of Christmas gifts to children on behalf of their parents in prison. I have run for but never held any office positions. I have participated in 5 different clubs this year was only able to compete in district competitions for 2 of them. I’ve also volunteered at several different events/places (too many to list) through clubs and on my own. As you can probably infer, I have never stayed consistent on 1-2 extracurriculars but rather hopped around among a variety. I plan on joining the percussion group of my school’s band in order to continue that musical theme in my resume. The only other thing that may make me stand out is that my father is an immigrant from East Germany, which I have visited about every other year since I was born to see my grandparents & cousins. I have also visited 5 other European countries, which may show my understanding of the world.

    1. Hi Izzy! It does indeed sound like your extraccuriculars are a bit eclectic, but if you can tie them together with a common theme, like music for instance, I think you have a good shot at making it sound cohesive. The college admissions essays are a perfect time to tie everything together, so make sure you start working on those essays now so you can perfectly plan out how you want to frame your academic and extraccuricular achievements!

    1. Freedom,

      If it’s something you’re passionate about, and is otherwise a hobby you have invested a lot of time and energy in, you should definitely mention it! Also, in the context of your essay and interview, focus on what you are, not what you are not. So, talk about how you do play the piano, not about how you don’t think you’re very good at it.

      Hope this helps!

  43. Excellent series of articles. I took AP Biology and Psychology in my sophomore (2016) and got a 4 and 5 respectively. When I came out after taking
    ap biology exam, I realized that I messed-up while bubbling multiple choice questions and skipped a row. I just do not know where I made the mistake but now I got my result and it tuned out to be a 4. I am very good with Biology and have taken several online and school
    Level courses in Biology and never scored less than 96. I was soring a high 5 in all practice tests. I am planning to major in either Biology or Psychology. My plan is to apply to Brown, Stanford, Amherst, Williams and University of Michigan. With a 4 in Biology, did I mess-up my chances to be in these schools and getting a biology or psychology major? is there anything that I can do (for example biology olympiad, a microbiology course in a community college etc) in jr year to show these colleges that I am good at Biology?

    Thank you

    1. Jeremy,

      A score of 4 is still very good! However, if you are very confident in your knowledge of Biology, I would strongly recommend that you take the SAT Subject Test in Biology. A perfect or near perfect score on that exam would go a long way of demonstrating mastery of the subject. Your other examples would be useful as well, in terms of demonstrating passion for the subject. However, the standardized test format of AP exams and SAT Subject Tests are more useful as a consideration for admission because they more easily allow admission officers to compare you to other applicants.

      Hope this helps!

  44. I’m going into my sophomore year and taking all honors (save for one CP class in journalism because no honors course was offered), and as many AP as I can (three for this year) at my school. My GPA from freshman year was 4.31, as my school required me to take two CP classes. I am about to start a new school because my old school did not offer enough AP or opportunity. I plan on joining my new school’s young life club, book club, and french club. I also plan on writing and working for the school newspaper. I volunteered at a hospital the summer before freshman year. I currently bake and volunteer at an assisted living, which is about six hours of my week total. Will this be enough extracurricular to give me a shot with Ivy League schools? I plan on being an English major. What more should I do to give myself the best chance of admittance?

    1. Autumn,

      This all sounds great! If you’re serious about studying English, you might consider what kind of English major you would like to be. Broadly speaking, concentrations in English break down into two different categories: Creative Writing and Literary Analysis. If you are interested in Creative Writing, you should consider submitting original works to various writing competitions for high school students; even if you don’t win any prestigious awards, the act of participating in such competitions demonstrates a sincere interest and passion for writing, which you could in turn talk about in the context of an essay. Alternatively, if you are more interested in literature from an academic perspective, you could participate in similar competitions dedicated to literary analysis.

      Hope this helps!

  45. I’m going into my freshman year and taking all honors, (except for history which is not offered) for electives I am taking communication skills (hoping this will help me if I go into business) and a innovation and design class (this is considered a “hard” elective but I don’t know if colleges will know that) I’m trying to start planning as early as possible to optimize my chances of getting into an ivy. I play on two club soccer teams and am hoping to make varsity as a freshman. I’m focused on math and sciences and am not really sure how to incorporate fine arts into my extra curricular activities. (I’m not into music, or visual or performing arts) I’m going to try to do as much community service as I can (It’s possible I’m traveling to remote villages in Peru next year to donate school supplies and solar powered lights) To make up for my lack of fine arts I was thinking of taking mandarin next year in addition to French (I wanted to this year but my school wouldn’t let me because of scheduling difficulties) Let me know what you think about mandarin and what else I could do to improve my chances! 😉 Thanks!

    1. Kayla,

      It is more important that you do things that interest you and you are passionate about than you try to complete some sort of checklist; that said, taking additional foreign languages – and more importantly, being able to demonstrate fluency or mastery of that foreign language via an SAT Subject Test – should be sufficient as a replacement for more traditional fine arts extracurriculars.

      Hope this helps!

  46. Hi, my name is Fayrooz. I am a freshman at a great highschool that I am very comfortable with, but my schedule needs a little fixing. There isn’t anything bad about it, but I feel like I need to change it. I think that it is lacking and that I need something more challenging and attractive to colleges. As of now, I have Spanish 2, Biology Honors, Stagecraft 2, Personal fitness, AP human geography, Algebra 1, bioscience 1 honors and English I Honors. My highschool offers four year programs, so I am in the Biotech program. My extracurriculars are debate team, deca, volunteering club, a woman’s mentor and empowerment club, and I plan on being on the tennis team for all four years. Psychology is something I’m very interested in. I also am very passionate about stagecraft, which is an extracurricular that involves ushering shows, working with stage equipment, and learning leadership qualities. I am thinking about starting a club that involves working with and helping underprivileged families, and doing things such as food drives and such. Or maybe a club that volunteers hospital-to-hospital. I also plan on volunteering at my local hospital or psychology clinic (I am friends with one of the doctors there.) I plan on taking more online math courses so I can take more courses in school. It is only my second week, though. I also tutor kids at the middle school next to me. Do you think I have what it takes to be accepted into, let’s say, Yale, Brown, Columbia or Upenn? If anything, what can I do to help myself out and excel? Please help me, thank you.

    1. Fayrooz,

      It sounds like you have a lot of different ideas about how to get involved with and contribute in your community. It’s great that you are passionate about so many things! I would reiterate that the most important thing when applying to college will by your GPA/Class Rank and standardized test scores. If you feel like you can improve your course schedule, that is take harder classes, and still maintain a good GPA, then I would say Go For It! Also, if you are planning on applying to the schools you named above or other similarly competitive colleges, be sure to factor in taking the SAT Subject Tests in addition to the SAT or ACT. My recommendation would be to plan on taking the corresponding Subject Test immediately after taking your AP exams at the end of the school year.

      Hope this helps!

  47. I have the misfortune of attending high school that is known in the state for being less-than-stellar academically. We have very few extracurricular activities and clubs (the principal got rid of the NHS here), we have no creative or arts clubs anymore (those were done away with as well), and what clubs we do have don’t accomplish much due to lack of funding and resources. Attending another school was out of the question for me, as it would have required a physical move to another part of my county.

    I have joined what clubs I can: Beta Club (4 years, served as VP and Treasurer), my school’s chapter of Y Club (4 years, KYA and KUNA conventions), Academic Team (4 years, captain) and the VEX Robotics Team (1 year as a programmer). I’m afraid that these clubs aren’t diverse enough to really stand out on an application, or that they don’t showcase any actual talents.

    My school also offers little in the way of advanced classes. Three dual-credit and two AP classes were recently cut out of our already dwindling pool of classes. I’ve taken Pre-AP English, AP English II, AP English III, Dual Credit English IV, AP World History, AP US History, Honors Chem, Honors Geometry, Honors Algebra II (which I received a 91% B in, yikes), Dual Credit Psychology, and Dual Credit Anatomy. It feels like a long list to write out, but when I compare it to my friend in California that gets to take double the amount and with much more diverse topics (AP Shakespearean Lit, AP Government, AP Physics), it seems like I could never hold a candle to students like her.

    I’m sorry for this long and rambling comment, but I guess the question I’m trying to get at is: Will going to a sub-par high school ranked low in the state, not by any choice of mine, impact my chances at an Ivy League or at a top-ranked university in general? I know many schools tout that they judge you by “what is available to you” and whatnot, but surely someone with a diverse and interesting collection of extracurriculars as well as an enormous sum of AP/Honors classes would be preferable to me, especially if they go to a top-ranked high school.

    1. Christina,

      Most colleges, Ivy League schools in particular, take a holistic approach when making admission decisions; this means that every aspect of your application, including geography, gender, socioeconomic factors, etc. are all considered when an admissions decision is made. It may seem trite, particularly when compared to some of the resources and luxuries your friends may have access to, but it is true. You should focus on exhausting those resources that you do have access to, and really just try to make the best of the situation in which you find yourself.

      I will share a story with you – In high school I was on the wrestling team. It just so happened that one of the lowest income schools in my city employed one the best wrestling coaches in the region. Over the summer of my last two years of high school, daily I would train with this coach and a few other athletes from around the city. One of the athletes we trained with was actually a student at the school we trained at. He explained that the school had a less than 50% graduation rate, and suffered severely from gang violence, etc. This person graduated at the top of his class, valedictorian (with a relatively low GPA of 3.7), and scored only a 1400 (out of 1600) on his SAT; however, he was accepted to and attended Princeton.

      It may seem unfair or disadvantageous when compared to some of the resources your peers may have access to, but your application will be contextualized and considered in light of what you accomplished in your given circumstances. Focus on improving those things you can control (GPA/Class rank), and don’t fret those things outside of your control. You will be fine.

      Hope this helps!

  48. Hello,
    I’m a high school student entering sophmore year, and I started my own social media/blogging account and I started publishing books online during my freshman year up until now. I also joined a fitness training club, yoga club, dance club, and swimming club during the summer entering 9th grade, but i was wondering, do these activities ive done during the summer be counted as extracurricular activities? I was planning that sophmore year’s extracurricular activities would all be scientific and envrontmental, like going t a science research facillity and creating environtmental projects. Will this be enough to ensure i enter Harvard?

    1. Jane,

      Your summer activities can definitely be counted among your extracurricular activities; however, remember that your goal should be to focus on demonstrable accomplishments. So, for example, you can put on your resume, “Swimming Club 2015-2019,” but it would be more impressive to put something like “City Champion – Swimming, 2018-9.” Also, in terms of planning out the extracurriculars you will participate in throughout four years of high school, it is very important to be consistent. Remember, the rule of thumb should be quality over quantity. This means that in addition to demonstrable accomplishments, you should also be consistent – it is much better to participate in one club across four years of high school than it is to participate in four clubs across four different years. My advice would be to participate in those extracurriculars that you are passionate about; if that include environmental science, then go for it!

      Hope this help!

  49. Hello, I found this article very insightful as a freshman, however I still have a few questions…
    First, I was wondering if the Ivies favor students who took several different advanced science classes (i.e. Bio, Chem, AND Physics) instead of just focusing on one throughout high school. I am particularly interested in Physics, but I am not sure if taking Physics and only Physics for the next few years would somehow hinder my chances of admission.
    I was also wondering if taking AP Spanish Lang & Lit will have a negative impact, seeing that I am already a native Spanish speaker. Should I skip the class, but take the AP exams? Either way, I am taking another foreign language and intend to do so all four years.
    Lastly, does being involved in several different extra curriculars at once make me appear indecisive or uncommitted? What if I held leadership positions in some of them?

    1. Michelle,

      If you are really passionate about Physics then you should definitely pursue all of the advanced studies in that topic available to you! That said, it is wise to avoid appearing myopic; ultra competitive schools value well-rounded applicants, so if other topics of study are available to you then you should pursue them as well. Generally speaking, you should complete the most rigorous and demanding courses that you can without sacrificing your GPA. In that same vein, if you are a native Spanish speaker, then rather studying Spanish as a foreign language you should see if there are more advanced senior level classes which study Spanish literature; either way, if you think you would do well on the AP exam, you should take it.
      Remember, the rule of thumb for extracurriculars is quality not quantity. It doesn’t hurt to be involved in a lot of activities but you should prioritize those activities or clubs which will allow you to have documentable accomplishments.

      Hope this helps!

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