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How Ivy League schools look at your high school extracurriculars

by John

High school extracurriculars for Ivy League admissionsA typical Ivy League school like Yale will look at the following things:

1) Leadership

Was the student an officer of the club? Did he/she manage people, lead and organize events? Was he/she elected to increasingly more prominent positions, like president?

Leadership is an important characteristic of the strongest applicants to the best universities.

What should you take away?
-Run for office as early as possible! Don’t be afraid of losing and take some risks
-Do interesting things in the club – organize conferences, invite teachers to help (great for recommendations as well!)

2) Commitment

Did the student demonstrate a consistent, sustained commitment to the club? Did his/her other activities show a distinct interest in that topic or subject? Did his/her high school summer activities correspond to schoolyear club commitments?

Harvard’s admissions committee hates it when they see that a student has been in 3 different clubs each year, or his most important commitments were all for very short periods of time. It demonstrates a capriciousness and lack of commitment, and makes Ivy League schools wonder whether this student is serious or simply in it to build his resume.

3) A record of excellence

This is the least important of the 3, because by demonstrating #1 and #2, you’ve partially demonstrated #3. Here, it’s important to show that not only were you president of your school’s Chess Club and captain of the Debate Team, but you managed significant accomplishments. Ways to do this include winning major regional or national contests and expanding the club’s membership.

By focusing on a diverse, but related set of extracurricular activities, aiming for leadership positions, and doing things that go beyond the status quo of previous student leaders, you’ll demonstrate several key characteristics that are highly valued in getting into Stanford.

Again – it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. And it’s better to have 2 distinct areas of interest (like science and poetry) and do REALLY WELL in them, than 5 different areas of interest where your performance is solid but not distinctive. This comes back to my biggest secret in Ivy League admissions – it’s the stories that matter.

Thanks for reading! Don’t hesitate to email john AT if you have any college admissions questions that you want answered.

Want to attend Ivy League schools? Check out my insider’s course and guide to getting into Harvard, even with a 1360 SAT from a public high school. Comes with 50 ACTUAL apps and essays from students admitted to Brown, Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and more!

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