A few people on this website might have seen the documentary called "Ivy Dreams". It is a 2006 documentary that follows the lives of 4 Asian seniors to allow people to observe what the college application process is like for at least some of the Asian population in the United States.
In the documentary, there is one girl who stands out because of her acceptance to both Yale and Harvard, the only individual in the documentary to be admitted to either school. As far as the documentary shows, she only did 2 clubs at school, little community involvement, but she did get a 2360 on her SAT and very good SAT II scores, yet these scores are the only things that make her stand out, besides the possibility of her good GPA, but she admits that she did not finish High School with a 4.0 unweighted GPA. Other than that, it sounded as if she wrote a good essay and made a good impression on the interviewer.
This case sounds like she lacked so much of what people talk about is necessary to get into an Ivy today (numerous awards, much involvement in clubs and the community, having a passion). So I am wondering, how did she get into Harvard if she did not meet many of these requirements? Are these requirements REALLY necessary? Do colleges value scores over service?
To the OP, I know the documentary and you are talking about Diana.
Just as the poster above me mentioned, things were very different in 2006. The college admissions process wasn't as competitive as it is today. More people are applying to schools like Harvard, so the competition is fiercer. The college can't accept all the brilliant kids who apply.
As for the title of your thread, i am also dying to know what is truly necessary. The admissions process is not meant to be easy. Knowing what is truly necessary would make it easy. That is why admission into the ivy league and many other top schools is so unpredictable.
I got few awards other than NMF and other run-of-the-mill things, and my EC's were good but not 20-hours a week kinds of things. I am Asian and I compensated by getting good grades, taking the hardest schedule possible (and my school offered tons of AP and advanced classes) and getting perfect SAT/AP/SAT2 scores (better than anyone else I know by virtue of volume and the highest score on all). (I almost wish I had taken the ACT too). My essays were great and interviews were good too. I got in to HPS, Caltech, Berkeley with Regents scholarship, and was rejected from MIT. (I withdrew all my other applications.)
Frankly, the student who was admitted to H & Y caught readers' attention. What was it? How will we know? Trying to discern what it is and trying to mimic it is Quixotic, IMHO. Be yourself. If you get their attn,fine. If not, don't worry about it.
Don't forget- Harvard BUILDS a class each year . Many kinds of people go into the mix . Of the people I know at Harvard ,they show a real passion for something . Most did not have a ton of shallow ECs. They had unique interests and were often quirky .They had a passion and demonstrated involvement ,in addition to all the scores ,grades ,tests ,etc. None felt an OBSESSION to go to Harvard -they had other choices as well .
As far as the documentary shows, she only did 2 clubs at school, little community involvement, but she did get a 2360 on her SAT and very good SAT II scores, yet these scores are the only things that make her stand out, besides the possibility of her good GPA, but she admits that she did not finish High School with a 4.0 unweighted GPA.
She may have something else. Is she hot?
Seriously, even back in 2006, many kids with such a stats but without any non-local awards (e.g., the award should be at the state level or higher) usually did not have a chance to get into such a school. I know because I know several kids from our school district who applied that years (3 kids with 2600, 2380, 2400 respectively, all with near perfect SAT 2 and AP/IB, did not get in.) And they even were not from a super competitive area like, say, the bay area in Ca.
One kid with good SAT (2400), likely good SAT2/IB, not so good rank (likely 16th-18th) but with state-level ECs, did get into H. He chose not to attend though as his family thought it's not worth it -- too expensive. (He is not an Asian. He is neither an URM nor an athlete.) Two of the top 3 ranked kids in the same class, with comparable SAT, were outright rejected by these 2 schools. Go figure! (Hint: ECs!)
The classic CC answer from Lowellbelle's classic thread about how to get into Harvard:
You want to know how to get into Harvard? I go there, and I think I'm fairly ordinary as far as social skills etc. go; lemme see:
1. THEY WANT YOU TO HAVE A LIFE. Do leadership. But if you're going to have a ton of activities, DO A TON OF ACTIVITIES THAT YOU LOVE. Most of my things were music-related. "Depth, not breadth", IS the key. All-State Band. Jazz Band. Accompanist for 6 years. Band band (haha). Rock and jazz substitute around town. Choir. Jazz choir. Everything else you can think of. Yeah, I did FBLA and stuff--and yeah, I went to state and nationals--but those were also things I loved. I wrote a nutrition book and then used it for FCCLA because it was convenient, lol. I explained that to the admissions people.
2. Don't be afraid to promote yourself, but do NOT be arrogant. I read hope2getrice's posts...pretty sure he was hunting for approval, and for his own sake I hope he got into Columbia. On that note, PLEASE don't think that (a) you are worthless or (b) your life is over if you don't get into some of these schools. When they say they "sculpt" their classes, they mean it (Harvard for sure). I didn't get into Princeton, and I'm not bitter about it. (actually, I don't think I would have fit so well there). Read the part about the interview for more information on "sculpting" a class. (I think I may write a book on this whole subject...hmm...;D)
3. The Essay. The OHGODI'MGOINGTODIE thing you have to write? Nah.
It's not so bad, really. Just write about (a) what you know and (b) how something has affected your outlook on life, especially as it relates to going to "a great university, specifically _________". I wrote about an awful soloist-accompanying experience and how I had to rely on my carefully-acquired skills to keep the piece together, and how I could utilize a similar process (if you can call it that) later in life, especially in college and my early career.
Feel free to have a teacher or someone look over it, but ONLY ALLOW THEM TO MAKE MINIMAL CHANGES...admissions officers can tell immediately whether or not a student wrote their own essay.
This should be obvious by now, but DO NOT EVER (!!!) Google an essay and copy it, even if you paraphrase it. If you run out of time or can't think of a decent essay to write, do SOMETHING--explain why you couldn't write an essay. If your family had a crisis going on, describe it and how it has affected you. I don't know--draw a picture of something important to you and tell why. Creativity is always good--my essay was incredibly glib and serious at the same time. Your essay=you. NOT you=your essay. Show them who you are, not who you think you should be. You shouldn't have to change yourself to fit in at your school.
4. Grades and stuff. I don't know...I got 1510 SAT as a sophomore and then decided that I was sick of it (my mom had me take it as "practice") so I never took it again. 34 ACT. 4.0 GPA, valedictorian. I can't say anything, I guess...haha...but honestly, there WERE APs available at my 2nd school, and I didn't take them because I was lazy and didn't want to. (It was senior year...end of the year...and I'd already gotten in to the schools I was going to be admitted to, so I didn't really need to, I guess). MOVING ON...
5. The interview.
Be respectful and show a genuine interest in the SCHOOL, not just the name. If you're lucky, you will have something in common (music in my case) with your interviewer; even if you don't, you can still ask about their experience at the school. They have seen hundreds, possibly thousands, of kids with the same scores and the same activities and the same everything--what makes you unique? Why do you want to go to that specific school? Why do you want an EDUCATION? (really think about this one--it's very important). If you won't fit at that school, don't try to fit their "agenda"--you won't be happy, even if it *is* Harvard or Yale or another Ivy. I didn't go to Boston College because, as wonderful as it is, I didn't fit their mold, and I refused to change myself to fit it. College is a time of discovering yourself (really), as cliché as that sounds, and you can't grow in an environment that pressures you to be otherwise. Many interviewers will advise one of those colleges not to admit you for that reason. It is not necessarily a poor reflection on you.
THE KEY TO GETTING INTO HARVARD (OR ANY IVY) IS THIS:
MAKE THE ABSOLUTE (!!!) MOST OF YOUR HIGH SCHOOL YEARS. TAKE EVERYTHING YOU CAN FROM--AND GIVE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE BACK TO--YOUR HIGH SCHOOL(S). TAKE THE BEST COURSES. DO THE THINGS YOU LOVE.
Be happy and enjoy life. There are far too many brilliant people in the world who are socially awkward and miserable because they base their entire existence on scores. I'm not saying you shouldn't do your very best--150% of your best WILL be expected at any of the Ivies--but don't kill yourself with work, please.
My daughter(class of 2014), got into Harvard, Princeton & Columbia (she did not apply to Yale). She too had excellent SAT's and SAT II scores and APs. However, she had only 2 EC's. She was, however, very passionate about both of these, and did not do any EC's just for the sole purpose of getting into college A or college B.
She loved what she did, and I think that the degree of her commitment to whatever she did, was what tipped the balance. I wish that I knew the magic formula......I have another one in the pipeline, who is now a freshman in HS.