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What do colleges look for?

When you’re sending out your college applications, there’s something you should keep in mind: while they’re definitely looking for candidates who will do well in their classes, they’re also looking beyond graduation, when they get to add you to their list of alumni. So, when it comes to college admissions, grades and test scores are important, but do they tell admissions officers everything? And do they really indicate anything? The short answer is . . . yes, but not on their own. While a 2.5 GPA likely won’t get you into a T-10 regardless of the accomplishments you may have up your sleeve, a 3.5 (having done extraordinarily well in other areas) just might.

If you’re pretty high up on the GPA and test score scale, then your supplements and resume just might lead to you gaining acceptance over students with similar metrics. This is where your essays, community service projects, awards, extracurriculars, and letters of recommendation come into play.

How important are SAT/ACT scores for college admission?

Because each high school has different expectations and grading techniques, it’s safe to assume that the most important part of your application is ultimately the SAT/ACT score. This is a metric by which all students are measured equally. Your score should fall in the score range that the university has posted for admitted students.

Academic Performance [GPA + Class Selection]

Schools are looking to know whether you challenged yourself in high school—and if you did well in rigorous courses. If you couldn’t handle rigorous courses at your school, will you be able to handle these courses at theirs? That’s the question on institutions’ minds as they balance priorities. This means that you should certainly be taking AP and IB courses (granted that your school offers them), and if your workload is evidently on the heavier side, admissions officers will understand if you earned occasional B grades. A competitive edge is useful as well—which would essentially indicate that you’re top of your class. After all, the Ivies and other top universities truly look for students who rank in the top 10% of their class. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that proves this, and the few who do get in otherwise, have shown exemplary talent elsewhere.

Leadership and Interests

It’s one thing to be involved in a thousand things and another to have impressive involvement in one or two things. Specialization and focus are important qualities when it comes to getting into college. However, you should have a combination of volunteer work, extracurricular activities that you treated like hobbies, and activities that you went the extra mile for. You should have a leadership role in at least one of your extracurricular activities. Maybe get something published if you hope to go into an academic field. At the end of the day, while you want the admissions officers to view a well-rounded profile filled with your accomplishments, there should be an area of focus. For example, maybe all of your internships were different in terms of responsibilities, but they were all for non-profits that focus on kids. Or you might have an affinity for numbers . . . a passion for the written word (in which case, you should write short stories or screenplays, publish papers, etc.) . . . a charisma that makes you love theater . . . an endless curiosity for science and technology. Passion is important to universities, and whatever yours is, roll with the punches. Make it count. Soak up as much knowledge and experience as you can, so that it’s clear to them (and to you) that you’d be comfortable pursuing it at their institutions—or, at the very least, will continue to pursue hobbies relentlessly.

Personal Essay and Supplements

Needless to say, this is a chance for you to show them who you are. Who are you, numbers, and metrics aside? Delve deep into parts of yourself that you feel define you and have shaped you into the person you are. As cliché as this sounds, it’s important that you really show them the side of you that makes you awesome. You want to tell them your story. Use each supplement as an opportunity to connect what you’ve done to what you hope to do at the school. Take each chance to talk about parts of yourself that they might not necessarily see in the rest of the application. Tell anecdotes and truly paint a picture that they’re going to spend time analyzing.

Letters of Recommendation

This is the way that you put the rest of your application in ‘test mode’, if you will. This is the big-picture view, one that will set the admissions committee at ease—simply because it reaffirms your academic capabilities—and your potential to become a notable alum. Letters of recommendation should be requested strategically, and it should enhance your application. They should come from relevant individuals—i.e., professors, employers, former internship supervisors—who can attest to your ability to succeed.

Bottom Line. Ultimately, college admissions have many factors that come into play. However, the key point to keep in mind, is that you should enjoy your time in high school while making productivity a regular part of your routine. Be well-rounded, but don’t do it just for the resume—make sure you enjoy what you’re doing and focus in on an area you’re passionate about, because you’ll perform much better.

5/5
Wendy Y.
Parent
Below is my son's review. He was accepted to his dream Ivy League school!

From an admitted student's perspective, I am incredibly grateful to have met Sasha - he has been instrumental in helping me achieve my educational dreams (Ivy League), all while being an absolute joy (he's a walking encyclopedia, only funnier!) to work with.

Many people are dissuaded from seeking a college counselor because they think they can get into their desired college(s) either way. Honestly, going that route is a bit short-sighted and can jeopardize your odds of acceptances after years of hard work. The sad truth is, the American education system (even if you attend a fancy private school and ESPECIALLY if you go to a public school) doesn't really tell students how to write a compelling and authentic application. Going into the admissions process alone, without speaking with an advisor, is like going to court without a lawyer - you put yourself at a significant disadvantage because you don't have all the facts in front of you, or the help you need to negotiate the system.

That said, you need a good lawyer just like you need a good college counselor. And that's where Sasha distinguishes himself from the crowd of people claiming they'll get you into Harvard. I came to Sasha worried about and frankly dumbfounded by the college admissions process. I was unsure what to write about and how to go about drafting the essay that perfectly captured my passion, interests, and self. And I was highly skeptical that anyone could really help me. But, damn, did Sasha prove me wrong. From the beginning, Sasha amazed me with his understanding of the process, and ability to lend clarity and direction to me when I desperate needed it. After interviewing me about my background, experiences, activities, outlook, and vision, he helped me see qualities about myself I had not previously considered 'unique' or 'stand-out.' This process of understanding myself was so incredibly important in laying the groundwork for the essays I eventually wrote, and I'm certain I would've drafted boring, inauthentic essays without it.

Looking back, Sasha's talent is that he can see where your strengths lie, even when you don't see them. The truth is, although we don't always realize it, everyone has a unique story to tell. Sasha helped me see mine, and with his big-picture insight I was able to write the application that truly encapsulated my life and vision. He inspired me to dig deeper and write better, challenging me to revise and revise until my essays were the most passionate and authentic work I had ever written. As clichéd as that sounds, that's really what universities are looking for. In retrospect, it makes sense - in the real world passionate (not simply intelligent) individuals are the ones who make a difference in the world, and those are the individuals colleges would like to have associated with their brand.

In the end, I was accepted to the college of my dreams, a feat I could not have achieved without the direction Sasha lent to me. Essays (and the personal narrative you develop through your application) matter so much, and can literally make or break your application. I have seen so many of my 'qualified' friends receive rejections because they wrote contrived essays that didn't truly represent who they were; conversely, I have also seen so many friends with shorter resumes accepted because they were able to articulate their story in a genuinely passionate and authentic way - I fall into the latter category.

As a former admissions officer at Johns Hopkins, Sasha knows what types of essays jibe well with universities, an invaluable asset to have in the admissions process. He is responsive, flexible, creative, positive, and witty. For anyone who is serious about going into the college admissions process informed and prepared, I highly recommend Sasha.
5/5
Arda E.
Student
I used Ivy Scholars to mainly help me with college applications. Within weeks of using this service, Sasha was able to simplify the already complex process. When it came to writing the Common App essay, Sasha didn’t just help with grammar and syntax, he brought my essays to life. Sasha also worked tirelessly to help solidify my extracurricular activities, including research and internship opportunities. Without his help, I would have never had an impressive resume.

Sasha is not only an extremely knowledgeable tutor, but also a genuine brother figure. His guidance, throughout my last two years of high school, was everything I needed to get me an acceptance letter from my dream schools (UC Berkeley, Tufts, Emory).

When it came to testing, Ivy Scholars worked like a charm. Sasha offered a very comprehensive plan when it came to completely acing my standardized tests. Without his test taking strategies I would have never gotten straight 5s on my AP tests and a 35 on the ACT.

Working with Sasha, I didn’t just become a good student, I became a genuine scholar.
5/5
Samson S.
Parent
We worked with Ivy Scholars during my son's senior year. I was concerned that we may be too late to take advantage of college advising but the Ivy Scholars team quickly and confidently directed us through the steps to ensure no deadlines were missed. Sasha's knowledge about schools, what they looked for in candidates, and how to maneuver the application process was invaluable. Mateo and Ryan worked with my son to help him create an essay that would get noticed and I am so appreciative he had their guidance.

Prior to securing Ivy Scholars, we tried using a less-expensive online service which was a terrible experience. As a parent, Ivy Scholars brought peace of mind to an area that was frankly overwhelming. This service was invaluable in the knowledge that we gained throughout the process. He has also met with my freshman daughter to provide guidance for her high school courses, career paths, extracurricular activities, and more.

Prior to signing with Ivy Scholars, I tried a less expensive online service and was very disappointed.

As a result of our work with Ivy Scholars, I am pleased to say that my son will be attending Stern Business School at New York University this fall! I highly recommend Ivy Scholars. Highly recommend!