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I mean it - you'll see literally everything in my application. In revealing my teenage self, some parts of my application will be pretty embarrassing you'll see why below. Important Disclaimers My biggest caveat for you when reading this guide: This guide tells a story about one person and presents one archetype of a strong applicant. As I explain in my Harvard guideI believe I fit into one archetype of a strong applicant — the academic superstar.
There are other distinct ways to impress, like: This is what schools like Stanford and Yale want to see — a diversity in the student population! The point of this guide is use my application as a vehicle to discuss what top colleges are looking for in strong applicants. Even though the specific details of what you'll do are different from what I did, the principles are the same. What makes a candidate truly stand out is the same, at a high level. What makes for a super strong recommendation letter is the same. The strategies on how to build a cohesive, compelling application are the same.
Technology is much more pervasive, the social issues teens care about are different, the extracurricular activities that are truly noteworthy have probably gotten even more advanced. What I did might not be as impressive as it used to be. So focus on my general points, not the specifics, and think about how you can take what you learn here to achieve something even greater than I ever did.
With that major caveat aside, here are a string of smaller disclaimers. This is what I believe will be most helpful for you.
So if you read this guide and are tempted to dismiss my advice because you think I'm boasting, take a step back and focus on the big picture - how you'll improve yourself. A sample list of schools that fit into this: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, MIT, UChicago, Duke, UPenn, CalTech, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth, Northwestern, Brown. The top in that list are especially looking for the absolute best students in the country, since they have the pick of the litter.
For less selective schools, having an overall strong, well-rounded application is sufficient for getting in. In particular, having an above average GPA and test scores goes the majority of the way toward getting you admission to those schools.
The higher the admission rate, the more emphasis will be placed on your scores. To state the obvious, an application strong enough to get you Columbia will get you into UCLA handily. Everything else is unaltered. Throughout my application, we can see marks made by the admissions officer highlighting and circling things of note you'll see the first example on the very first page. It could also be that the reader got bored and just started highlighting things, but I doubt this.
Finally, I co-founded and run a company called PrepScholar. I want to emphasize that you do NOT need to buy a prep program to get a great scoreand the advice in this guide has little to do with my company. The 1 Most Important College Application Question: What Is Your PERSONAL NARRATIVE? This is what I call your PERSONAL NARRATIVE.
This is the story that you tell through your application, over and over again. This is how an admissions officer should understand you after just glancing through your application. The more unique and noteworthy your Personal Narrative is, the better. This is why I recommend so strongly that you develop a Spike to show deep interest and achievement. A compelling Spike is the core of your Personal Narrative. Everything in your application should support your Personal Narrative, from your course selection and extracurricular activities to your personal statements and recommendation letters.
You are a movie director, and your application is your way to tell a compelling, cohesive story through supporting evidence. Yes, this is overly simplistic and reductionist. It does not represent all your complexities and your 17 years of existence. Your PERSONAL NARRATIVE is what they will latch onto. Together they tell a relatively unique Personal Narrative that distinguishes me from many other strong applicants.
This might be what you're picturing as you read this Personal Narrative, which is good, because it's distinctive. A good test of a strong Personal Narrative: This, again, is why being well-rounded is so deadly — mix 10 different paint colors together and you end up with an unappealing, indistinguishable mess. Note also that point 2 is probably the weakest, least unique part of the Personal Narrative.
Most people applying to top colleges have great test scores and grades, so this is rarely distinguishing by itself. You should get a very strong flavor of who I am, which is the hallmark of a memorable, effective application. The major question for you to ponder as you read is — what is YOUR Personal Narrative, and how are you going to show it through every component of your application? This put me comfortably in the 99th percentile in the country, but it was NOT sufficient to get me into Harvard by itself! Because there are roughly 4 million high school students per year, the top 1 percentile still has 40, students.
You need other ways to set yourself apart. My extracurriculars and awards were what really got me into Harvard. In particular, I ranked nationally in the top 20 in the US National Chemistry Olympiad, and I participated in Research Science Institute, what was then and may still be now the most prestigious science research program for high school students. My letters of recommendation were very strong. My personal statements were, in retrospect, just satisfactory.
They represented my humorous and irreverent side well, but they come across as too self-satisfied. Finally, let's get started by digging into the very first pages of my Common Application. My Complete Common Application, Page by Page To set the stage, I applied Early Action to Harvard early in senior year, and this is the application I used to get in early. Personal Data Now known as: Profile This is a straightforward section where you list your basic information.
But as I point out below, a lot is conveyed about you through just a few questions. There are a few notable points about how simple questions can actually help build a first impression around what your Personal Narrative is. First, notice the circle around my email address.
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This is the first of many marks the admissions officer made on my application. The reason I think he circled this was that the email address I used is a joke pun on my name. I knew it was risky to use this vs something like allencheng15 gmail. Second, I knew in high school that I wanted to go into the medical sciences, either as a physician or as a scientist.
I was also really into studying the brain. So I listed both in my Common App to build onto my Personal Narrative. Figuring out what you want to do is the just click for source of college! But this doesn't give you an excuse to avoid showing a preference. This early question is still a chance to build that Personal Narrative. Thus, I recommend AGAINST "Undecided" as an area of study — it suggests a lack of flavor and is hard to build a compelling story around.
Finally, in the demographic section there is a big red A, possibly for Asian American. Education This section was straightforward for me. The most notable point of this section: This is notable because our school Principal only wrote letters for fewer than 10 students each year.
This was the same person who, when I was eight, threw a drunken party at our house for teens younger than I am now. I am overwhelmed by the rules and precepts that are observed in the college. He had already received a rejection from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was wait-listed by the University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon University, and was deferred at Harvard University after applying early. Top schools are generally looking to see that you fit in the top 1 percentile of the country. I remember being surprised with myself, surprised that I would be sad after all she had done. Hence, the hope that a perfect essay might be where real distinction lies. Like Harvard, Princeton tends to admit students who write about overcoming adversity.
Counselors wrote letters for the other hundreds of students in my class, which made my application stand out just a little. In the current Common Application, the Education section also includes Grades, Courses, and Honors. Test Information Now known as: I need to make one very important point that stresses a lot of students and parents out. You do NOT need perfect scores to get into Harvard, Princeton, Yale or other top schools.
After all, schools like Harvard have the pick of the litter, and there are plenty of students who get super high test scores AND have amazing achievements. Remember, over 40, students fit in the top 1 percentile of students nationwide. Top schools are generally looking to see that you fit in the top 1 percentile of the country. But within that 1 percentile, your score does NOT make a big difference in your chances of admission. Just a sanity check: The 75th percentile is aand the 25th percentile is a In other words, a on the SAT or a on the onld scale is NOT going to significantly change please click for source chances, compared to a perfect They know that there is some amount of chance every time you take a test, so a is more or less equivalent to a NO ONE looked at my test scores alone and thought, "Wow, based on his GPA and test scores, Allen really deserves admission!
You really do want to be in that top 1 percentile to pass the filter. A on the SAT on the scale IS going to put you at a disadvantage because there are so many students scoring higher ivy league college essays that worked you. Want to improve your SAT score by points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now: Even though math and science was easy for me, I had to put in serious effort to get an on Reading. I learned a bunch of strategies and dissected the test to get to a point where I understood the test super well and reliably earned perfect scores.
I cover the most important points in my How to Get a Perfect SAT Score guideas well as my Guides for ReadingWritingand Math. Between the SAT and ACT, the SAT was my primary focus, but I decided to take the ACT for fun. The tests were so similar that I scored a 36 Composite without much studying.
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Having two test scores is completely unnecessary — you get pretty much zero additional credit. Again, with one test score, you have already passed their filter. Family Now known as: Family still This section asks for your parent information and family situation. The reader made a number of marks here for occupation and education.
There's likely a standard code for different types of occupations and schools. So it seems higher numbers are given for less prestigious educations by your ivy league college essays that worked. I'd expect that if both my parents went to schools like Caltech and Dartmouth, there would be even lower numbers here. This makes me think that the less prepared your family is, the more points you get, and this might give your application an extra boost.
Schools really do care about your background and how you performed relative to expectations. But this can be shorthand to help orient an applicant's family background.
Luke Kenworthy Luke Kenworthy, 17, was nervous on Ivy Day — the last Thursday in March, when all eight schools drop their admissions decisions. Costco fuels my insatiability and cultivates curiosity within me at a cellular level. I am someone who is so much concerned about my spiritual life and all the rules and pre One of these lessons: Family still This section asks for your parent information and family situation. They represented my humorous and irreverent side well, but they come across as too self-satisfied. After he was deferred from early action at Harvard, he felt compelled to change his essay topic.
Extracurricular, Personal, and Volunteer Activities Now known as: Activities For most applicants, your Extracurriculars and continue reading Academic Honors will be where you develop your Spike and where your Personal Narrative shines through. This was how my application worked. As instructed, my extracurriculars were listed in the order of their interest to me. The most important point I have to make about my extracurriculars: If I were to guess, I assign the following weights to how much each activity contributed to the strength of my activities section: