10 11, 2015

Your Ivy League College Admissions Interview: How to Prepare & What to Expect

By | 2017-04-17T22:51:49+00:00 November 10th, 2015|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Harvard Library

It’s incredibly nerve-wracking to have to go into a room and have a stranger decide your future.  If you’re also a top student (like I was), it’s even more nerve-wracking to not know if you’re really going to get to go to a top-tier, super-elite school like Harvard, Princeton, MIT or Yale and have your future and career almost completely laid out for you, or if you really even have the slightest chance of getting in at all.

That’s why I’ve laid out the top questions students often hear during their Ivy League college interviews. Even if you’re not applying to the Ivy League, this will work for any other competitive top to mid-tier college, too.

So, whether you’re applying to Harvard and Princeton, or Boston University and NYU, studying these questions will help you be more prepared in terms of what to expect from your college interview, and how to be more confident during the interview itself, because nothing will take you by surprise.

As an overview though, college admissions officers want to know that you have the maturity to speak clearly, that you can be comfortable even in a nerve-wracking situation, that you can look them in the eye, smile, chat, have a solid “adult” conversation on an adult level, and are clear in terms of who you are at this point in your life and where you want to go.  These questions will help you get there:

1. “So, what are you interested in studying in college?”

What college interviewers are looking for here, is an answer that reveals your academic and possible future professional plans and interests, but also shows uniqueness and a background (however slight it may be) related to your answer.

In other words, just saying you’re interested in pre-med is fine, but saying you’re interested in pre-med because you spent time interning over the summer at a make-shift hospital in India, or at an inner city hospital in Chicago, is better because it shows you have actual experience to back up your goals. .

The main thing that will get you bad marks here on this question?  Being too vague – that’s what this question is trying to screen for.  Your college interviewer wants to make sure that you have the focus and ambition needed to truly succeed in a top Ivy League college (and in life).  They want to make sure you’re someone who has a plan and has a direction…even if that direction later changes course.  Just show them that you have an initial thought-out plan.

 So, if they ask you this question, pick an academic subject and back it up, even if you end up changing your major 4 times once you’re in.  First, get in!

2. “What high school accomplishment are you most proud of?”

Here, your college admissions interviewer is trying to get a sense of what you value, as the accomplishment you are most proud of will not only show off your best strengths academically (or extracurricularly, as could be the case) but will show him/her what things and pursuits you actually  identify with, in your own life – and that gives them great information about YOU.

The main thing that will get you bad marks on your college interviewer’s report with this question? Not showing a real passion or energy behind your answer.  You can’t expect someone to be excited about what you’ve done in life, if you yourself aren’t that interested.

3. “Tell me about your family background? Where did you grow up?”

What the admission officer is looking for here, is a sense of trying to place you = what I call, trying to paint a picture of your home life in their mind.  Did you grow up in a big city, a suburb, a rural farm?  Were you home-schooled, or did you attend a highly competitive science magnet in your area?

They are trying to place you, but they are also trying to discern how you yourself feel about your background.  There’s no wrong answer here, except a one-word answer.  That will get you a bad mark on the interviewer’s report, and you don’t want that.  If someone asks you a question, expand and expound!

4. “What is an example of something difficult you’ve had to go through, or an important event perhaps that took place in your life in the last few years?”

Here, as with the question above, the admissions committee (through the college interviewer’s report that they will write about you)  is simply trying to get a sense of who you are, what you value, and what stands out in your mind.  They are simply trying to understand who you are as a person, and how you see yourself in relation to others.

The one thing that will get you bad marks on this question?  Not having a strong and solid answer.  It’s really not so much what you say with any of this, but how you say it.  Always speak with confidence and self-reflection = that’s what they really like.  Don’t be afraid to show them who you are as a thinker and a person.  The fastest thing to get you dinged on all of your questions is, again, a weak, one-word response!

5. “Why Harvard” or “Why Princeton?” or “Why Columbia?” or “Why Berkeley?”…

Most likely, you already wrote an admissions essay covering this question, so I strongly suggest you review all of your essays before going into your college interview.  Your answer “Why Harvard, or University of Pennsylvania, or Columbia, Brown, Duke, UCLA, MIT, or NYU?” (just to name a few), should focus on that particular school’s program, core curriculum, professors, classes and extracurriculars that are specific to your interests.

The focus should be academic at the core, but don’t be afraid to let your personality and true interest in a school’s outside extracurricular activities also shine through.  Do your homework and understand the differences between different programs and how they’re set up with their own unique flavor, especially when we’re talking about the Ivy League colleges and universities.

In the end, your college admissions interview should be conversational, interesting, educational and engaging!  In other words, just try to have a very real and connected conversation. Most interviews last 20-40 minutes, and if you’ve gotten this far, it’s a very good sign that you are already on your way!

[I’m a former Harvard admissions interviewer and a Harvard graduate.  I currently run the Ivy League admissions firm: www.IvyLeagueEssay.com out of New York.  I provide expert advice on college essays and applications to students all over the world, and specialize in the Ivy League and “Top Ten” schools.  Feel free to contact me for more information, and get into the college of your dreams!]

2 10, 2014

Common App College Essay Prompts and How to Master Them for Your Ivy League Application!

By | 2017-04-17T22:51:49+00:00 October 2nd, 2014|Brown, College Admissions, Columbia, Common App, Dartmouth, Duke, Harvard, Ivy League|1 Comment

So, it’s official.  You’ve decided it’s time to start working on your Common App. Good for you!  Great even.  You’re not procrastinating!  That is, until you looked at the prompts and thought, “I have absolutely NO IDEA what to say, let alone guess what the colleges are even looking for.”  This thought perhaps made you panicked, sick, ill, malaised (i.e. good SAT word, write it down), and forced you to have visions of working at a donut shop for the rest of your life, (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Perhaps you had plans though of potentially setting off for Harvard, Princeton, Yale, or some other picturesque U.S. school to watch football games, meet great life-long friends, STUDY and get an excellent education, and just do something incredibly solid and interesting with your life…but then messed it all up with the Common App and destroyed the dream.  Done.  OVER.  Donut?

Well, stop worrying.  We’re going to go through the prompts one by one, and if you take away my key points from each of the questions, you’re going to do more than fine.

Prompt #1Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

This essay is a great chance to show your uniqueness, your individuality, what makes you different, and college admissions officers LOVE different.  Did you hear that? They read so many applications, that they truly gravitate towards those students who are unique and stand out.  So, do you have something unique in your background?  Have you done something unusual?  Is there something different about your family that makes you interesting?  Here is where you write about what makes you different from others in your school. What does make you different from your friends.   Remember, different = interesting.

PROMPT #2: Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

Make sure you answer each of the questions stated in this prompt and you’ll do fine.  Mostly though, you want to pick a negative experience (a “failure”) that then has a positive spin — that shows your self-reflection and ability to pick yourself up and move forward stronger than before!  This essay is a good choice if STRENGTH and FORTITUDE are two of your major traits.

PROMPT #3: Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

This essay is here to show your character.  What are you passionate about?  What are you willing to stand up for, even in the face of adversity? As with prompt #2, make sure you address all of the questions within the question – that is part of what you are being tested on.  This essay is a good choice if you have very strong morals and values and are willing to make a public stand.  Always be aware of your audience though, and take into consideration how things will be perceived by the admissions committee.  In other words, choose your battles wisely.

PROMPT #4: Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

I like this essay, as it is the most creative.  Again, make sure you address all three points, and focus equally on description as well as self-reflection: why this is meaningful to YOU.  I’ve read very lyrical essays that describe a place, only to not understand its significance for the student.  Similarly, I’ve read very factual essays for this prompt that have no description or emotional feeling or language. Balance both, and do it in a creative way, and you’ll win by giving your reader insight into your world.

PROMPT #5: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

What the admissions committee is looking for here, is growth. Your growth.  That moment when your world changed.  Pick an event that clearly shows how you were before, and then how you were different after.  Again, as with the other essays, they are looking for self-reflection.  This essay also allows for a lot of creativity and I have found sometimes the smaller, less formal and more personal events or moments in life make for the best, most moving essays – and that advice goes for all of the prompts, above.

[I’m a former Harvard interviewer and a Harvard graduate, and currently run the college admissions firm IVY LEAGUE ESSAY.com.  Like more help on your Common App or college applications? Contact me for a free consultation today!  www.IvyLeagueEssay.com ]

21 09, 2014

Mastering the Common App: How to Write a Great College Application!

By | 2017-04-17T22:51:49+00:00 September 21st, 2014|Berekeley, Brown, College Admissions, Columbia, Common App, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Harvard, Ivy League, MIT, Princeton, Standford, UPenn, Yale|3 Comments

cropped-harvardcollegeThe season is upon us. Now is a good time to start your Common App.  You’re a month into the new school year, you’ve settled in, and now the Common App is starting you in the face. Day and night.  You try to forget about it, but you can’t.  It’s always there in the back of your mind. College Application time. You know it’s time to begin, but HOW? How!  How can you create the absolute best admission essays possible when you have absolutely no idea what to write about, what the admission committee is looking for, and what will make a really strong college essay and application.

Oh yeah, and did I mention your entire future seems to appear to depend upon this?

Don’t worry though, because I am going to walk you through the process. Tell you how you can master the Common Application and make the most of your college choices and, to be more direct, get into the best schools possible…including The Ivy League: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, UPenn, and Cornell. The top. I mean, what if you want to go there?  How can you tackle the Common App and catapult your way to the top?

Let’s start with the questions.  These are the choices for your Common App Essay:

  • Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Which one to choose, you say? Which one will be the best one to write about?  Here’s what I say:  go with the one that is going to contain the most EMOTION.  Emotion is powerful, good or bad, and the examples you choose, if they have a certain emotional weight to them when you think about it, that will add weight (and admissions committee engagement) to your essay.  In other words, emotion or powerful experiences (which is really what I mean) serves to ENGAGE your reader, and an engaged reader is going to not only remember your essay, but feel that you truly conveyed a mood, and environment, and an experience.

In other words, they will feel they got to know YOU just a little bit more than if you had written about something “less powerful” that didn’t engage.

Go with the powerful emotions.  The experiences and examples for any of the above, that convey some kind of emotion, and make you feel, because that is going to translate to your essay.

More tips and advice to come…

[I’m a former Harvard University admissions interviewer and a Harvard graduate.  I currently run the College Admission Essay firm: IVY LEAGUE ESSAY, out of New York, and specialize in helping students get in to the top schools and the Ivy League.  Please contact me for a free phone consultation today: www.IvyLeagueEssay.com ]

10 06, 2013

3 Expert Tips to Get Into an Ivy League College!

By | 2017-04-17T22:51:49+00:00 June 10th, 2013|College Admissions|1 Comment

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It’s that time of year again, when high school seniors hoping to get into an Ivy League college stare desperately at the Common App and supplemental college admission essay questions and ask themselves:

1. What are the Ivy League colleges really looking for?

2. How can I make my Ivy League application stand out?

3. Do I even have a chance of getting in to the Ivy League?

Let’s address these questions one-by-one, but first of all, for those of you who don’t know (or maybe aren’t sure) the Ivy League is made up of 8 colleges and universities including Harvard, Yale and Princeton (which are considered the “Top 3”) and then Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, Brown, and the University of Pennsylvania.

One shouldn’t forget though, that there are also a handful of other extremely competitive schools that are considered to be on par with the Ivy League, such as Stanford, MIT and Duke University, just to name a few.  So…

  1. What is it that the schools are really looking for (especially when talking about Ivy League colleges)?

I believe that the answer can be found in two words: confidence and individuality.

In other words, yes, your grades are important, yes, your test scores need to be as high as possible, yes, you need to have a strong assortment of as many AP courses as you can fit in your arsenal,  but once you have all of that (because why would you be applying to an Ivy League college if you didn’t think you could compete at that academic level with your peers) the next important thing is: YOUR UNIQUE EXPERIENCE.

By this I mean things in your background that make you different, that are going to make you stand out to an Ivy League college admissions committee. Things that are going to make you different than simply being “another suburban high school student from New Jersey,” or “just” another kid from a private school in Massachusetts or New York.

Not to say that the top schools don’t accept A LOT of students who fall into these two categories (believe me, they do)… but your competition if you’re coming from these categories is going to be stronger because of that highly competitive applicant pool and because college admissions officers like to diversify.

  • The answer to question #2 then is that, no matter what your background, you should always, always, always ask yourself, HOW ARE YOU DIFFERENT and then try to highlight that

In other words, what is it in your background that makes you unique? That’s what Ivy League college admissions officers want to see as they paint a picture of you in their mind. You will increase your chances astronomically, if you give them something to paint with.

So, were you raised in a poor village in India before immigrating to the U.S.? Did your family move here from Russia? Is your family in politics?  Are you training for the Olympics in ice skating, or skiing, or do you compete at a very high level in equestrian sports? Have you built your own guitar?  Have you studied ballet in NYC since the age of 8? Did you grow up in a fishing community in Alaska, or was yours the only Jewish family in a Southern Baptist community in the deep South? Have you served in the U.S. Army? Is anyone in your family famous, or extremely well-known in their field?  Is anyone a legacy at the Ivy League college you’re applying to? Do you own any patents? Or, are you a budding biotech or real estate entrepreneur even though you’re still in high school who started their own company from the ground up (regardless if it failed).

All the above are true stories from admission essays in the past. All are very interesting and obviously make the student STAND OUT.

And, that is what an Ivy League college admissions committee is looking for, and this is the big secret that will give you an edge:  tell them something interesting. Everyone in my opinion, has done something of interest in their life, even if they are too close to it perhaps to really see it for themselves.  Think about what makes you different from your peers.

So, should you even apply to an Ivy League college if you don’t have these things, or is it just a waste of time? Will you even have a chance? Yes, you have a chance, a good chance — if you have the grades, and the test scores, and the academic background and some interesting academic or life experience. You are then, as they put it, a “contender.”

  • So now question #3, –  will you get in? That’s the wrong question. Change the question instead to, “can I paint an interesting picture of who I am and where I want to go in life?”

Then craft that into a properly formed college admissions essay, and make sure you speak with clarity, insight into your own experience, truth, emotion, and confidence.

All these together become the first step to getting you into the Ivy League college of your dreams!

[ Need help on your own college applications or Ivy League admission essays? I’m a former Harvard admissions interviewer and Harvard graduate, and currently run the firm: www.IvyLeagueEssay.com Request more information or schedule a free consultation today!]