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How to Get into an Ivy League School

How to Get into an Ivy League School

If you want to boost your chances of getting into an Ivy League university, your application must be impeccable. We break down how to ensure your application materials, including your essay, are acceptance-worthy using the PAGE method.

John Morganelli
John Morganelli
College Admissions
College Essay
SAT

The overall admissions rate for Ivy League schools is less than 10%, with the most competitive being less than 5%. If you want to boost your chances of getting into an Ivy League university, your application must be impeccable. We break down how to ensure your application materials, including your essay, are acceptance-worthy using the PAGE method.

What are the admissions requirements of Ivy League Schools?

The admissions requirements vary by school, but all Ivy League schools will consider your grades, standardized test scores, and the rigor of your curriculum as the basis of admission. If you fail to meet these requirements, admissions departments often will not even review the rest of your application. These three are what "get your foot in the door." Utilizing the PAGE method below can significantly improve the chances of students whose academic performance is borderline for their top choice schools.

What is the PAGE method and how does it work?

The PAGE method is a way of rooting your entire application around an ethos and perspective that is yours and which showcases your achievements in a manner that exemplifies that you are mentally and emotionally ready for the rigorous college environment. Ivy Tutors and many of our peers in the industry have seen this method earn prestigious acceptances for students whose grades or test scores are not as high as typically needed to gain admittance. Conversely, we've seen solid academic candidates fail to earn acceptance due to a weak application. This method works for all students, even those not applying to Tier 1 schools, but has the most significant impact for top universities and those that might otherwise be a reach for a student.

The four parts of the PAGE method are as follows:

Perspective

Your perspective is about how you see the world and what makes you unique. Typically, students (and parents!) fail to understand the importance of a unified perspective throughout the application materials. By identifying your unique worldview and, even more importantly, how it's been impacted by the activities and experiences you've had throughout high school, you showcase growth, maturity, and adaptability - all skills that exemplify college readiness.

Activity

This represents the extracurricular activities you're involved in, both in and out of school. It is important to note that the activities that will most significantly impact admission decisions tie directly to your goal. This does not mean that all activities must tie to your academic and career goals, but that you should have several that do. Additionally, if you can find a way to tie your non-related activities into your ethos, this boosts the strength of your application.

Goal

Your goals are your academic and career aspirations. Setting your goal is critical to making the other elements of the PAGE method interact seamlessly into a cohesive, impressive application. Typically, the goal is straightforward: focus on your intended major. If you already have a longer-term goal, specificity doesn't hurt. Long-term goals can include career objectives such as owning a business or attending medical school. It could also tie into a focus area, such as an interest in studying economics through the lens of housing insecurity in urban centers. That being said, colleges know that most 17- and 18-year-olds do not, and should not be expected, to know exactly what they want to do with their lives. Setting the goal as an intended major is sufficient for almost all applicants.

One last note: your goal should be academic in 99% of cases. While some student-athletes can set an athletic goal to center their application around, the vast majority of students should choose an academic/career-centered goal to see success.

Ethos

Ethos is the application theme and comprises a few clear perspectives derived from a few important activities. Another way to look at the ethos piece is as your personal brand. We're looking to craft a very clear, concise statement about a personal, intellectual, and relevant concept to the student that permeates the entire application.

Often, the ethos can be intimidating to students. They comment that they don't know what they stand for yet—which is a very reasonable way to feel! But here is where a consultant can be the perfect ally: they will sit down with students, find commonalities that run throughout their experiences, and help them craft a compelling and authentic ethos statement from which to base their entire application.

Admissions Metrics at Ivy League Schools

The Ivy-Plus Group - all the Ivy League schools plus MIT, Duke, and Stanford - have similar admissions metrics. Admissions teams give a school fit score to each application that comes through their door, with a perfect fit being 115. While different schools may have one or two unique items specific to their admissions process, they generally look at the below 17 factors to determine if a student will fit into their school.

Most Important

  1. Grades. The closer to a 4.0, the better the chances of admittance.
  2. Standardized Tests. Yes, standardized test scores still matter. While many schools were "test blind" for several years, they are now reversing those policies after seeing a decline in college readiness among their accepted students. Test blindness also failed to produce the equity gains it promised in most cases.
  3. Rigor. Schools will look at the academic rigor of not just your school but your chosen courses. For instance, a student whose school only offers four AP classes but who took all of them will be seen as having completed the most rigorous path available to them, which helps their chances. Comparatively, a student who attends a more academically challenging school but only took two of 20 available AP/college-level courses will be seen to have taken a less rigorous path, which could hurt their chances.

Helpful

  1. Application Type. Whether you are applying regular decision, early decision 1 or 2, early action, or restrictive early action can significantly impact your chances. We go into greater detail here. It can also matter whether or not the school has rolling admissions.
  2. Engagement Rating. How engaged you are is the biggest factor, outside of your academic performance and test scores, in your application. Schools want to see that you're engaged in activities outside of school, whether in sports, YouTube channels, clubs, creative writing, or any number of other extracurriculars and hobbies. From a college admissions perspective, you want as many activities as possible to relate to your goal. If they don't do so directly, finding a way to tie them into your ethos statement can have a significant impact, as can showing how they changed your perspective.
  3. Objective Achievement. Achievement can impact your application, but it tends to be seen as the "cherry on top" rather than a deciding factor. Far more important than having "won" at something is having participated in the first place and linking that participation to your perspective, goal, and ethos.
  4. Personal Quality/Obstacles. This is one to be careful with and also one that doesn't apply to many applicants. Unless you have genuinely faced a unique obstacle or personal circumstance, it's best to avoid centering your application around it. Conventional wisdom says to avoid death and divorce as the basis for your application and essay.
  5. Prospective Major. Your prospective major can have a significant impact on your admittance. The popularity of the particular program as well as the competitiveness of it can have a huge impact on your chances. The earlier you are able to focus your activities on the goal (aka your prospective major), the better.

    In several situations there are programs/majors with very similar course loads, but one might be considered the more competitive, and thus harder to earn acceptance for. Which is not to say you should put down a major for which you have no interest in as your prospective major. But if two majors exist in the same school (i.e. arts and sciences vs business) and relate to each other, this can be an effective strategy. That being said, there’s a lot of nuance here and if you’re wondering if this strategy can help you, we suggest working with a college admissions expert to find the best way to leverage this element.
  6. Ethnicity. While changes to affirmative action have impacted the weight given to ethnicity, it is a criterion you shouldn't ignore. Many supplemental essay questions now lean heavily towards diversity topics, and schools are still aware of the importance of having a diverse student body. Remember to highlight if you are from an underrepresented group in your supplemental materials.
  7. Citizenship. While this is not something a student can change, international students will have more difficulty getting into Ivy League schools than U.S. citizens/residents.
  8. High School. The rigor of your high school and whether or not it is a "feeder" school can undoubtedly impact the likelihood of your admittance. On the other hand, competition from these schools is often more intense.

Boosts

"Boosts" or "hooks" are very often school-specific—what matters to one school may not matter to another—and can help nudge students toward acceptance. Still, they are not typically things that will outweigh holes in other areas of the application.

  1. Hook: Sibling. Typically, your sibling must be enrolled simultaneously for it to impact your application. Siblings who have already graduated rarely tip the scales.
  2. Hook: Legacy. The graduation of a parent or grandparent from the school can improve your chances at some schools.
  3. Hook: VIP. If parents donated a lot of money to a school, this can impact a student's admission.
  4. Hook: First Generation. Many schools nationwide have made a big push to increase the number of first-generation students admitted to their schools.
  5. Hook: Women in STEM. Female students interested in studying a major in which women are typically underrepresented, such as physics, can drive acceptance.
  6. Hook: Geographic Diversity. Most schools want a diverse student body in more ways than one and this includes geography. Students from rural areas, as well as international students, are often viewed as bringing diversity to the school, and it can positively impact their admission decision.

Does Volunteering Impact College Admissions Decisions?

Volunteering has significantly less impact on admissions decisions than it used to. Many parents of high school students will remember the emphasis placed on being a "well-rounded individual" when they were applying to schools. Volunteering and significant community engagement were considered central tenets of college admissions. This has drastically changed in the last 10-15 years as schools. This is not to say that volunteering has no impact, but schools want to see it relate to the overall goal. For instance, volunteering in local elections would have a much greater impact on the application of a student intending to pursue political science or public policy as a major than one intending to pursue biology or business.

It's also true that lower tier schools, particularly those with a religious or social justice focus, value volunteer hours more than Ivy League Schools. But if you're targeting Tier 1 or 2 schools, volunteering will have less of an overall impact and should be directly related to a student's academic goals to make a positive impact.

How do I stand out in my application materials?

The best way to stand out in your application materials is to start with your ethos statement. The ethos statement allows for a clear focus for the entire application. Failing to do so can be the difference between acceptance and rejection. At Ivy Tutors, we know that crafting what amounts to a personal mission statement can feel intimidating. But you don't have to do it alone! Work with one of our college admissions coaches to build the application that will get you into your dream schools.

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