02 September 2022 11:05:57 IST

Vivek Bhandari is the Founder and CEO of edtech company Scholarly. An IIT Delhi and IIM Calcutta alumnus, Vivek is passionate about higher education. A former banker and mortgage expert, he mentors students and professionals for admissions to the Ivy Leagues and top universities globally. Over a two-decade career, Vivek has led large global organisations providing banking products, IT-enabled services, technology services, loan servicing, property management, and other real estate services. He has extensive experience of working in India, the US, and Europe, and a strong understanding of these markets. Based in Luxembourg, Vivek regularly travels to North America and India for work.

Make your Ivy League dream come true

A view of the Low Memorial Library at Columbia University in New York City. | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Northeast coast of the US is home to a collection of eight oldest and most prestigious private research universities known as the ‘Ivy Leagues.’ These colleges are renowned for their exceptional athletic programmes, outstanding academic stature, rigorous curriculum, incredibly low admittance rate, and incomparable future prospects.

The eight Ivy League universities are: Brown University (Rhode Island), Columbia University (New York), Cornell University (New York), Dartmouth University (New Hampshire), Harvard University (Massachusetts), University of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania), Princeton University (New Jersey), and Yale University (Connecticut).

In contrast to a one-dimensional admission process followed by Indian Universities which is majorly based on grades or an entrance exam, the admissions procedure for the Ivy Leagues and other top colleges in the US is holistic and considers a number of elements. These universities look for students who are ‘college ready’ and are capable of succeeding in college and beyond.

Let's address some of the frequently asked questions regarding the Ivy Leagues before we explore the elements essential for demonstrating your ‘college readiness’ and differentiating your profile.

Ivy Leagues universities are looking for an X-factor. Do you have it in you? Every year Ivy Leagues receive more than 4 lakh applications while only 4-6 per cent of students secure admissions. Do you have the potential to lead a company or become a global leader? Will you be able to handle the demanding academic workload if admitted?

Admission officers evaluate applicant’s likelihood of graduating from their institution and assess their cognitive ability, academic interests, and career goals, using data points such as grades, courses taken, extracurricular activities, application essays, and recommendation letters.

It requires extensive planning, a lot of effort, and meticulous preparation over the course of four years (grade 9 to 12 ) to be admitted to Ivy Leagues. The top five criteria that admissions officers consider when reviewing any applications are mentioned below.

Academic performance

Academic grades carry approximately 60 per cent weightage of the application. This is an important and vital component of a strong application. While applying, your school counsellor is required to submit high school transcripts along with a ‘predicted score’, based on your overall achievements in grades 11 and 12. Maintaining a high academic performance throughout your high school career is, therefore, very crucial.

Standardised tests

SAT is well known among students preparing for undergraduate admission to US universities. It aids institutions in comparing thousands of applicants from all around the world on two topics that are essential for higher education —mathematics and English.

SAT is a 1600-point exam; 800 points for mathematics and English each. The SAT is particularly crucial for international students because, oftentimes, there isn't adequate knowledge about how different national or state curriculums compare to the high-school curriculum in the US and other boards like IB or IGCSE. Your intellectual aptitude and likelihood of succeeding in college are strongly indicated by your SAT score.

Extracurricular activities

While academics are important, intensive participation in extracurricular activities and community outreach programmes is also crucial. Extracurricular activities such as debates, cultural events, sports, technical events, workshops, conferences, and volunteer work sharpen your interpersonal skills while also preparing you for higher study overseas, physically and mentally.

Please be mindful that performing three to four activities for a significant amount of time will be more beneficial than performing ten different activities for short periods of time.

Admission essays

All the aforementioned elements come together to narrate compelling admission essays. This is your chance to introduce yourself to the reader, share what drives you, how you have overcome obstacles, your goals, and describe the experiences that have shaped you as an individual.

Everybody is unique, with a range of diverse skills and life experiences. Admission essay is your opportunity to present the best version of yourself. In the application essays, students are encouraged to sing their own praises, but you still need to be mindful that the examples/anecdotes are appropriate and effectively communicate your point.

Letter of Recommendations (LORs)

LORs are an important component of your application package since they provide insight into your abilities, traits, and knowledge from the perspective of your teacher, mentor, or academic counsellor. LORs ought to discuss your work ethic, vigour, and intellectual curiosity and if there is anything that sets you apart from your peers.

For you to be admitted to the Ivy Leagues or other prestigious colleges, it is essential to decide early on what you want to study in college and to engage in the appropriate activities. Seek out and participate in extracurricular activities and develop hobbies to establish a balanced, ‘college ready’ profile.

While for a high school freshman or sophomore the preparation may seem daunting, remember that, even the longest journey starts with a first step.