For Ivy League schools (and speaking mostly from my experience with Harvard), it can be incredibly hard to “stand out” from the 40,000+ other valedictorians and debate champions applying every year.
Harvard’s Widener Library houses over 3.5 million books and serves as the backdrop for Commencement and Graduation ceremonies ( Image Source)
However, some things that were cited in the admission office papers released during the Harvard Asian-American admissions lawsuit that would instantly catch an admission officer’s eyes include:
- Being an athletic recruit (you’re pretty much guaranteed admission if you receive a likely letter)
- A well-written, detailed recommendation letter from a faculty member at the school you’re applying to. Or, even better, being the child of a faculty member
- Being able to convey a unique, compelling, and (most importantly) memorable personal story in your essay. For me personally, this was specifically called out as the difference maker for my app on my Harvard admissions summary sheet.
- If you want direct feedback on your essays from Ivy League students, or want to work 1-on-1 with an experienced mentor to craft your application essays, visit us here.
- Original research published in a prestigious academic journal
- Attending a prestigious research camp like the Research Summer Institute (at least a dozen kids my year attended RSI, roughly 50 students do the program every year)
- Outstanding performance at an international competition like the International Mathematical Olympiad or International Physics Olympiad or Intel Science Fair
- Founding a business or charity with national reach and legitimate objectives/operations
- Patents or artistic portfolios that demonstrate outstanding creativity
- Getting involved in the leadership of a social or political movement (I have friends who were involved in the Sunrise Movement in high school and, more famously, David Hogg matriculated last year)
As you can surmise from the above, GPA/SAT/AP scores will not make you stand out for an elite university — they are baseline cut-offs used to quickly narrow the pool.