“What are my chances getting into an Ivy League school?”
By Tina Wu | Admissions Counselor, Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions
This is a favorite question from both students (and their parents) I meet. Many students’ college application “short lists” consist of entirely Ivy League schools before their first consultation with Kaplan. When asked why, there are usually few concrete reasons except the prestige of these institutions.
It can be problematic to have a “short list” comprising only of Ivy League schools. Admissions into the top U.S. colleges is extremely competitive with bright young minds from the U.S. and all over the world competing for a place every Fall. Harvard’s latest acceptance rate was only 4.5%, students applying to Princeton and Yale faired only slightly better with a rate of 5.8%. This is not to discourage you from applying to the top U.S. institutions as part of a balanced list of schools comprising some reach, some target as well as one to two safety.
Remember your applications are read by admissions officers. Admissions officers, like you and me, are human. They read thousands of applications every year, and frequently come across highly qualified students. From this list, admissions officers will first offer places to those who are the best fit for the school. If you apply to schools based on prestige alone without articulating why you are a good fit in your application, then your application will likely go to the “denied” pile.
Q: What is “fit” and why is it important to U.S. schools?
Fit describes your ability to show that your profile is right for the school. This is not only limited to your academic performance, but also your potential, interest, character and personality. You should show knowledge of the schools’ missions and values, courses and offerings as well as the student body mix. You need to be able to demonstrate that you will be a valuable addition to the school’s student body.
Q: How do I determine my “fit”?
I wish there were a black and white answer to this question, but the truth is, there isn’t a miraculous formula that can determine your fit. Finding your fit will challenge you to think about who you are and who you want to become. It is a “match-making” exercise- ideally your academic performance, interests, values, personality and career aspirations will fit the schools and faculty in which you are applying to.
A good place to start is researching the schools’ curriculum, professors, clubs and activities, sports teams, student body mix, exchange programs, locations and regions to see what resonates with you.
College visits will give you some insight into campus life, but it might not be practical for international students to visit all the schools they are interested in. If you decide to visit your chosen U.S. colleges, please optimize your travel routes and make sure to book college tours in advance. You can also work with your Kaplan admissions counselor, who has a lot of experience in his/her field and will be able to provide valuable insight in your research process.
Q: How does determining my “fit” help in applications?
After you have done your research on “fit”, you should be an expert on all the schools on your list. The next step is to make it clear in your application (mostly through your essays, and in some cases interviews) what you have done, do, value and prove that these are aligned with the schools’ missions. Most universities require you to write a supplementary essay answering, “Why school X?” (or a variation of this question). This will be your best chance to demonstrate your “fit” to the admissions officers.
For most students, there will be a dream school that is both well-ranked and also an institution you are a good fit for. There are strategies you can use to increase your chances of admission. For instance, applying early (early decision or early action) could improve your odds as top universities play the “yield game” and are constantly trying to improve their enrolment statistics. Applying early is also a clear signal to admissions officers that the school is your first choice!
In a nutshell, students need to commit the time to research on “fit”. There are over 3,000 4-year degree-granting institutions in the U.S. and each one has its own culture and character. Do utilize the help from your Kaplan college counselor, who can provide you guidance in your research as well as help to position your profile to maximize your chance for admissions.
Ms. Tina Wu
Member of NACAC
M.B.A., Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST)
BSc. In Accounting and Finance, New York University – Stern School of Business
• A passionate mentor to students
• Emphasis on understanding and developing her students’ strengths, positioning their potential to admission office in the best possible light
• Over 10 years of experience in helping students gain admission to top boarding schools and colleges in the U.S.
• Matriculation includes: Cornell University, University of Michigan, NYU, University of Virginia, UCLA and UC Berkeley
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