HELP with Holistic Admissions at Top Colleges

So I’ve been getting good grades, test scores, Olympiad results (amc dhr, usabo semis, other smaller awards) and such throughout high school, but a few people have been telling me that “unless I bring something else, you have very little chance at top 25 schools.” I’m a junior right now planning on attending a selective summer program in the summer (so I’ll be busy almost my entire summer). What can I do before I apply to colleges to bring something to the table? Should I try to become a political activist and such? Note my ECs and awards are heavily math focused so that’s why I haven’t been doing any things like that. Do I need to start doing this stuff to have a chance/increase my odds at schools like Yale, MIT, Cornell, Berkeley, …?

Just commenting so it won’t get lost

My approach was always to do what was right for me. My family have taken a similar approach. If you want to play chess, then play chess. If you would rather compete in math competitions, then do that.

One point is that if you do what you want to do, then you are likely to do it well. Top schools want to see applicants do well at whatever ECs they do. Another point is that you cannot guess what admissions at MIT or Yale want you to do. If you do what seems right for you, then whatever your admissions results are, at least you will have done what was right for you.

Do remember that if you are in a leadership position, then “leadership” does not mean getting your way. Rather, “leadership” means making the group better for everyone who participates.

This approach has worked for us, including several times at a level that was either “top 25” or quite a bit higher than this.

1 Like

That’s what I’ve been doing so far, basically trying to become as strong at mathematics as I can (because it’s both fun and impressive). However the extremely low rd acceptance rates have got me worried for next year.

1 Like

“Holistic” doesn’t mean that YOU have to have everything. It’s a nice way of saying that the colleges can take whomever they want, for whatever reasons they want, and not have to be held accountable for rejecting valedictorians with perfect SATs while taking people who are top 10% of the class with 95th percentile SATs because they want them for some other reason.

You should focus on what you love doing - and if that’s math, then zoom ahead in it, try to win competitions in math, do some community service type work connected to math. You probably couldn’t become a political activist or anything else to the level that would impress an ivy this late no matter how hard you try, and besides, if it’s not what you love doing, why do it? But if what you’re best at is math, take it as far as you can, and that might get their attention.

And like everyone else, you’ll need great essays and wonderful letters of recommendation - the whole package. Make sure you have safeties and matches that you want to go to, along with the reaches.


I would say, if possible just do not worry about it.

The really top schools are very hard to predict wrt admission. However, there are a lot of very good universities. Yale, MIT, Cornell and Berkeley (and Stanford, Harvard, and Princeton) do not have any mathematical secrets. Professors at a wide range of other universities can teach you the same stuff.

Make sure that you think about what you want in a university, and do not just look at rankings. Pay attention to your budget. Make sure that you apply to at least two safeties. Also, do some thinking about what would be good safeties (unless they are obvious, which probably would mean in-state public universities).