I was reading the "...ordinary people?" forum, and it was really interesting...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.
I hope I've covered everything. Good luck all, and hope to see some of you on campus!
Now if only people would listen.
No matter what we try to say, there will always be those people who try everything in their powers in order to discover the "magic key" into Harvard or MIT or Yale or wherever. They will always believe that there is such a thing: a SAT score above some point, a certain award etc.
My favorite question on this board is:
"what competitions should I enter (anbd win) to get in?"
Haha...I know. It really is.
Actually, I shouldn't laugh, because it's basically life for a lot of people...but honestly, the "key" really is INITIATIVE. Maybe I should have used that word in there...???
Do you go to an Ivy League school, then?
Lowellbelle - As the parent of a Harvard-bound student, I can recognize and second just about everything you wrote. One other observation - the admissions staff and volunteers were exceptionally genuine and personal with my daughter at each step of the visit, information-gathering, and application process - no airs, no pretentiousness, no smokescreens. Clearly, you can assume that they all respond well to the same type of genuineness in return. She asked at one point if they look at SAT subscores from a single sitting or if they'll consider combined scores from multiple sittings. The response was "we'll consider everything you provide us" and they absolutely do.
A valedictorian with over a 1500 SAT giving advice..and saying...to do activities you love. For the average student, this is misleading. The number one thing you can do to get into Harvard, is to have the highest grades possible. Then you talk about activities.
"A valedictorian with over a 1500 SAT giving advice..and saying...to do activities you love. For the average student, this is misleading. The number one thing you can do to get into Harvard, is to have the highest grades possible. Then you talk about activities."
Yes...I should have talked more about grades, I suppose...but overall, if given a choice between a valedictorian/1510 SAT who only studied and a top-10% 1450 (or whatever) SAT who did something amazing (I don't know...started an advocacy program for something, use your imagination), they will be more likely to choose the latter because that person showed initiative and had passionate interests (just passions, I guess, haha) outside of school. There is a small population of people at Harvard whom we never see because they live in their rooms/the library...they're the unhappy ones who are not getting the most out of their education, and they do mean it when they say they want people with "potential". Not necessarily "well-rounded", because it's difficult to do that if all you have time for is studying, but <b>people who are able to make the absolute most out of any situation they find themselves in...THAT is the important part. </b>
I hope that helped
What is misleading about this is that it implies that Harvard admits people almost purely based on passion. This is true to the extent that most Harvard students are passionate--they're passionate about being successful and intellectual.
Most of Harvard's students are incredibly hard-working type-A's. Almost all of them studied extremely hard in high school and scored very well on SATs, etc. And most of them are just really smart to begin with.
"Making the absolute most out of a situation" is not enough--though a lovely idea. Plenty of average people have "passion" and "make the most out of a situation," but they aren't all going to get in.
It's hard to be accepted into Harvard, and rigorous admission standards--a lot of very qualified applicants won't get in--is part of what makes Harvard an elite school.
Just "loving life" and being "passionate," and happy, and "living life to the fullest" is a nice idea, but Harvard admits its students to be successful, not to be happy (not to say that Harvard students are unhappy!!!).
Oh, and gadad: you're right. I guess I thought I'd included that...(esp. in the interview portion)...the way I see it, your essay equals you...so does the interview. They're really very wonderful people, admissions officers are...they want to make sure you will fit at their school, and that is one of the main reasons for rejection in many cases. Harvard, like any other school, has its own culture; without sounding arrogant at all (I hope), there really are people who will not--and do not--fit there. It has nothing to do with their intellectual levels or academic "caliber"; they simply don't fit. I know many people who chose Harvard solely for the name, and usually they end up unhappy. Be genuine, as gadad said, and that way you'll know that it was the culture, not you, if, God forbid, you don't get an acceptance letter.
Thanks for all your comments, everyone! Very informative, and I hope I'm answering everyone's questions...???
"What is misleading about this is that it implies that Harvard admits people almost purely based on passion. This is true to the extent that most Harvard students are passionate--they're passionate about being successful and intellectual.
Most of Harvard's students are incredibly hard-working type-A's. Almost all of them studied extremely hard in high school and scored very well on SATs, etc. And most of them are just really smart to begin with. "
Wow...I feel like this is turning into an argument, haha ah well, such is life.
I guess I assumed that this would be tailored toward people who have the scores/grades/etc. to have a good chance of getting into Harvard, and then these tips would be that extra "edge" over the other applicants, as crass as that sounds...I hate saying "average people" or whatever but I assumed that whoever takes themselves seriously enough to apply to Harvard would NOT be "average". Sorry for the confusion, and if I've offended anyone...again, such is life. I would write it in French, but I can't remember the spelling at the moment, lol.
As for what you said:
"Just "loving life" and being "passionate," and happy, and "living life to the fullest" is a nice idea, but Harvard admits its students to be successful, not to be happy (not to say that Harvard students are unhappy!!!)."
Did I actually *say* any of that? I certainly didn't mean that as the ONLY thing one should do...
Also...okay, I'll admit, I literally wrote my essay in half an hour, never studied for the SATs, had far too much free time, etc....so I'm probably the exception to the rule. I just don't think people should sacrifice social skills (speaking as a generality) for grades, because THAT is why they turn away half of the perfect-scores people.
As for Harvard students being unhappy...that depends on the student. I personally am extremely happy with my choice, but I know many others who worked hard their entire lives and then ended up miserable because Harvard was not the environment they wanted.
I don't even know anyone that applied to Harvard with less than a 1500. The "chance" of getting in with less was just that much more of a crapshoot. If you haven't done anything "amazing" don't bother. Unless you a URM, of course.