So for starters I'll just lay out where I got accepted to. I got accepted into NC State and Emory University and got waitlisted by UNC and Boston College. Only got denied by Cornell and UPenn. I had taken ZERO AP classes until senior year, despite my school offering many for me to take.
I wanted the easiest high school experience because school was easy for me and I wanted to spend my free time doing extra-circulars (very important as you'll see). My senior year however, I actually realized I wanted to go to college in a year, so I took 4 AP classes (AP Physics C, AP Euro, AP Calc AB, and APES). I worked my ass off and got As in all those classes and my English Honors (just as hard as the rest of them). I also got all 5s on my AP Exams except AP Euro. My SAT was a 1380 and my ACT was a 28. I'm not going to be naive, so this most definitely aided my ability to actually get into a top 25 school. However, what really got me there was my ECs.
My ECs were very good. I volunteered for three years on a music event production team, running cameras and directing; I started a real estate photography business that got ranked one of the best in my city of 1M people, I worked for an NBA team as an assistant equipment manager for 3 years and I intricately planned a business that cuts health care costs in half for about half of Americans. I wrote my essays on this plan.
Emory had a 25% acceptance rate for my class, and I'm sure they turned down many people with perfect SAT/ACT scores and double the AP classes I took. The thing that got me into Emory and actually got me a shot/waitlisted at BC was my ECs.
So the moral of this story is to show that ECs can get you FAR in the college app process, and if you have genuinely meaningful ECs that show grit, determination, passion, a willingness to try new things, and to put it bluntly, are flashy or impressive, you can get into schools that people with far better academics will never get into.
Side story that furthers my point: my friend my age who has managed a multi-million dollar hedge fund and done TED talks actually applied to Duke (btw he has FAR worse academics than me- he failed out of calculus) and within a week, they emailed him and said essentially this: "we can't accept you this year, but we like your ECs so much that please apply again next year and we will most likely love to accept you."
ECs can get you VERY far in college land, so start early with big dreams to change the world and you will be able to get in places that far exceed what most people think you should be able to get into.
Another random side not that I've wanted to share to help somebody out there trying to figure out what to write their essay on: A prompt I wish I had used that (probably not for me) could definitely be the kind to get somebody into all 8 ivys is this. I would've written about my biggest failures. Not traumatic experiences or eye opening changes in your life (colleges get thousands of those), but the times when you've flat out failed so epically you thought you never wanted to try anything new again. For me I would've written about the many times I got turned down making cold calls for my photography business, when I essentially got cheated out of a $1k photography gig, when I should've gotten fired from my NBA job, and when my hedge fund I raised $125k for fell flat. Of course, I wouldn't just leave it at where I failed, but what I learned and how I actually did get back up and keep trying. That could be the best essay your college admission reader has ever gotten. They certainly don't get many of those kind of essays and i'm leaving this here so somebody out there can use it and get into all 8 ivys. Please give me a shoutout if you do!
I'd love to answer any questions y'all may have.
Thanks for reading!