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The Best Free Resources to Ace Your SAT and ACT

July 12, 2023 by Veritas Essays Team | SAT, Testing, Guide

We all know that studying for the SAT or ACT can be a time-consuming and expensive process.

That's why we’ve put together this guide to the best free SAT/ACT prep resources to help you meet your academic goals.

Before jumping into our top picks, here are a few questions you should ask yourself before you start studying:

Questions to help you orient your approach:

  1. How much time do I have between now and my testing date?
  2. How much time can I reasonably dedicate each day to studying? Is there a day per week that I can give more of my effort?
  3. Is there a particular section that I already know I will need to work harder on?
  4. How much material do I need to cover each day/week in order to make it to a certain point before my exam?
  5. Are there multiple test dates in the future that I can take advantage of? Or is this the last testing date I can sit?

Read on to learn about some great free resources for SAT and ACT prep.

Best Free SAT Prep

1. College Board

The College Board is the most trusted resource for all SAT prep materials since they are the creators and issuers of the SAT test.

The College Board website offers a number of free practice tests in addition to extra practice sections for math.

One of the most helpful ways to get the most out of the time you put in is to target your efforts toward not only the section that you may need most help with, but the particular sub-topics within that section that may be particularly difficult for you.

For example, if math is your lowest scoring section, you may be able to narrow down your knowledge gap to geometry or system of equations questions.

It’s important to keep in mind that during the real SAT/ACT you will have time constraints for each section.

When you are studying it is okay to take some extra time to learn a topic throughout, but remember that you won’t have that same luxury during the actual exam.

2. Khan Academy SAT Prep

Khan Academy’s SAT prep is not only endorsed by College Board, but also allows you to move at your own pace through a fairly comprehensive curriculum of SAT topics.

This will help you to further pinpoint any difficulties you may have in a particular subject and give you additional problems to solve within that subject area.

For example, you can choose to work step-by-step through the math sub-section on geometry and trigonometry, where you will find problems grouped into even more specific sub-sections such as “congruence, similarity, and angle relationships” and “circle theorems.”

Khan Academy is also a great resource for familiarizing yourself with the overall structure of the SAT, such as test-taking strategies and tips for creating your own SAT prep plan.

Khan Academy can also be particularly helpful in understanding what to expect for the SAT when it starts being offered digitally in 2024.


This site offers numerous downloadable SAT practice tests in addition to reading or math specific practice tests.

The math practice tests are particularly helpful as they offer both grid in and multiple choice questions and sections with and without calculator.

The downside to is that there are usually numerous ads running on the site, which can be distracting for some users.

However, once you click on a practice test and scroll down to the questions, the ads should usually disappear.

Best Free ACT Prep


The best place to start your ACT prep journey is of course with the maker and issuer of the ACT.

You can find full length practice tests as well as modules to practice questions divided by test section.

In addition to practice materials, also offers a free test prep guide that includes information about test dates, fee waivers, and the official answers to other preparation questions you may have. also occasionally offers free online test-prep events and workshops that you can sign up for.

2. Varsity Tutors

Varsity tutors is a great resource for ACT diagnostics.

With at least 10 diagnostic tests for each of the subject areas on the ACT, you can work on one section at a time in manageable chunks.

The detailed scoring results for each of the practice tests will also provide you with an understanding of which concepts you struggle with and which ones you are acing.

3. Kaplan

While Kaplan only offers a 1/2 length practice test, this site is particularly helpful if you are short on time but want to fit in a few practice questions each day.

Kaplan offers both an ACT pop quiz as well as a question of the day to keep your momentum going.

4. The Princeton Review

The Princeton review is one of the most popular sources for both practice materials and test-prep courses.

While many of their services are paid, you can certainly kickstart your ACT studying with their 14 day ACT prep free-trial!

How to Overcome Writer's Block and Ace Your College Essays

October 06, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Essays, Guide, How To, Brainstorming, Personal Statement

What is the scariest part of writing an essay from scratch?

Take it from the King of Horror himself, Stephen King:

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.

After that, things can only get better.”


The first draft of your college essay will be unspectacular - and unspectacular is perfect!

If, at first, no particular topic jumps out as the perfect essay topic, don’t worry. Most people don’t get so lucky!

Plus, some of your best potential subjects might be the ones that won’t readily come to mind. In my experience, the best way to unearth some old memories or kickstart your creativity is through a guided brainstorm.

If you're looking for a place to begin, The New York Times has a great list of questions to help you get started on the right path!

Put Words on the Page

After you get a few ideas down, here's the good news: you’ve already done the hardest part of your essay!

When it comes to college application essays, the idea is paramount.

If you enter the writing process with a strong idea, your exact words and phrasing can be sculpted and revised until they accurately reflect the quality of the idea.

Now you just need to get the words down - they don’t need to be pristine, in fact, they don’t even need to necessarily be good.

The idea is that as you get words on paper, as you edit, rework, and rearrange, you will naturally hone in on the “right words.”

Odds are, your first draft will come out better than you anticipate. However, there’s no way of knowing that until you take that leap of faith and start writing. For guidance on how to start specific essays and specific prompts, one-on-one guidance from an experienced mentor can be an incredibly effective form of assistance.

As for a general approach to starting your essays, you need to be able to trust yourself and the writing process .

You’ve formulated the idea, so you know that you have the right words somewhere. Now, you need to commit yourself to trial and error in order to tease the proper verbiage out.

Be Brave

Remember that traditional isn’t better when it comes to your college essays.

Chances are, when you apply to college you'll have little to no previous experience writing college admissions essays. Most of your formal essay writing experience will have come from English class.

This time, though, you’re not trying to decode Fitzgerald’s prose or explore the themes of 1984. The goal of a Personal Statement or supplemental essay is to give admissions officers a sense of what makes you you .

You want your personality to shine through! And it doesn’t hurt if it’s an entertaining read - these officers are reading hundreds of essays every week.

Don’t be afraid to add some humor , experiment with less formal language, or open with a unique introduction .

Don’t be afraid to pick a topic that’s out-of-the-box , or to pick a topic that’s seemingly “boring” and explore it through an engaging or unexpected lens.

If you need proof that ~almost~ anything goes as an essay topic, check out this excellent essay on Costco that got its author into 5 Ivy League schools and Stanford.

Remain Focused

One final note: With every ounce of strength in your body, force yourself to avoid procrastination.

Writing an essay is hard enough on its own. The last thing you need is another excuse not to write.

As novelist Peter De Vries once wrote,

"I only write when I’m inspired, so I see to it that I’m inspired every morning at nine o’clock."

The writing process is long and tedious, and spontaneous bouts of motivation can be few and far between. Sometimes you just need to tell yourself to open up the computer and type!

It’s natural to put pressure on yourself to produce a perfect first draft.

As a result, though, you’ll get caught in the minutiae, constantly self-editing and deleting.

Don’t fall into this trap! It’s okay for your first draft to be too long, too short, too ridiculous. What’s more important is to get your ideas down and give yourself material to work with. It won’t all be usable, but chances are, some of it will stick.

A great (and somewhat scary!) way to write a first draft quickly and without being able to self-edit is this writing tool . It will prompt you to write for a given amount of time and erase your work if you stop writing.


To summarize a few of the key takeaways from this post:

  1. Don’t be afraid of a bad first draft

  2. Trust the writing process

  3. Take advantage of an experienced mentor

  4. Make the time to sit down and write

Good luck!

3 Simple College Application Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

October 05, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Red Flags, Mistakes, Guide

Your elementary school teacher knew best — Many of the biggest college application red flags occur when students forget the 3 R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic .

1. Reading

Read the instructions and follow them.

Read the prompts. Make sure your essays actually address them.

Know your deadlines, especially for early action/decision applications.

Know where to submit your supplementary materials and when they are due (oftentimes they have a different due date and submission portal than your main application).

Read the advice of others online and incorporate their feedback into your apps.

2. 'Riting

Your writing is a reflection of you.

Don’t make spelling mistakes. Don’t make grammatical mistakes. That’s lazy writing, and lazy writing makes you look like a lazy person.

If you can’t get a teacher or friend to read over your materials, use a service like Grammarly or, at the very least, Microsoft Word’s spell checker.

Here’s a simple editing tip that’s changed my life: After you’re done writing a draft, print out everything you’ve written and make a dot over every word with a pen. This will prevent you from glossing over your words as you edit, and force you to think through every word choice and phrase.

3. 'Rithmetic

Make sure your numbers add up.

Don’t claim to do more than 100 hours of activities per week (you must sleep and go to school).

If you claim to have accomplished something in your application, provide a number to back it up. “Started a non-profit and helped people” carries less weight than “Started a non-profit that served 20,000 meals over the past 3 years.”

Top 11 College Application Red Flags to Avoid

September 12, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Common App, Application, ECs, Rec Letter, Declared Major, Social Media, Red Flags, Mistakes, Guide

There is plenty of advice on the Internet about what you should do for your college apps.

But what about common pitfalls you should avoid?

Here are 11 unconventional college application red flags that will weaken your application and hurt your admissions chances:

1. Offensive social media posts

Colleges have increasingly rejected and rescinded admissions offers after discovering offensive social media posts.


Parkland shooting survivor Kyle Kashuv had his Harvard admissions offer rescinded in 2019. (Source)

According to a 2017 survey of admissions officers , 14% of colleges rescinded at least one student’s admission in the previous two years due to negative social media posts.

Another survey found that 11% of officers denied admission based on social media content.”

These numbers are likely even higher in 2020, as admissions offices become more social media savvy.

Here are some specific examples:

  1. In 2017 , Harvard rejected 10 students after admissions officers discovered offensive memes that they had shared on Facebook.
  2. In 2020 , Cornell, Marquette, the University of Florida, and dozens of other colleges all rescinded acceptances due to racist social media posts after George Floyd’s murder.

2. Wrong major

Students who demonstrate interest in different majors have widely different acceptance rates at certain colleges.

This can work to your benefit, as most colleges will allow you to switch majors after enrolling.

At Harvard , students interested in “humanities” are admitted at almost double the rate as students interested in “engineering”:

Harvard Admissions Stats

At UC Berkeley , applicants intending on studying “computer science” have an 8.5% acceptance rate, compared to 17% overall.

At Carnegie Mellon , the acceptance rate of different programs ranges from 7% to 26% !

And at UCLA , the School of Engineering explicitly sorts students by intended major, as well as admits students at a significantly lower rate than the College of Arts and Sciences.

If you mention that you are interested in pursuing Major X in college, you need to have demonstrated interest in Major X in high school:

“Noting your intended major on a college application is generally a good idea, because it shows admissions committees that you have a firm direction and plan for the future ,” says Stephen Black, Head Mentor at the admission consulting firm Admissionado.

“Even if you’re not 100% sure that this will be your major—and virtually nobody is certain—it nevertheless shows that you are interested in exploring a particular field.”

What if, the week before applying, you discover that your true passion is different than what you’ve done throughout high school?

In short: Too bad.

You’re 4 years behind students who’ve pursued that passion since 9th grade.

Stick to your strengths.

Unless a school doesn’t allow you to change your field of study post-admission, sell the college on the strongest you possible.

It’s OK if you’re no longer passionate about that something when you apply — you’ll likely change your mind in college again anyway.

3. Wrong school

If you focus your application on a skill or interest that a school is known to be weaker in, then you better prove why you have a good reason to go to that school.

Convincing the MIT admissions office that their Ancient and Medieval Studies major is the ideal department for you is more of an uphill battle than claiming to want to study Computer Science.

4. Submitting an “obligatory” recommendation letter

Rec Letter

If you can get a rec letter like this, you’re golden. (Source)

Every letter of recommendation should strongly advocate for your acceptance.

If a teacher or counselor’s letter doesn’t actively advocate for you, then it will appear as if that recommender did not truly want to write on your behalf, but felt obligated in order to avoid a socially awkward situation with you.

How do you fix this?

When you ask for someone’s recommendation for college, be direct in making sure they will write you a strong letter.

Instead of asking:

"Would you be willing to write me a rec letter?"

Be straightforward and ask:

"Do you think you’d be able to write me a strong rec letter for college?"

It’s a simple change, but can be powerful.

This phrasing gives the teacher a bit more of an out if they don’t feel they can write you a strong letter. As The College Essay Guy writes:

"The word ‘strong’ gives teachers a polite out if they feel like they don’t know you well enough or don’t have time to take on your letter."

Additionally, writing a weak letter will feel like more of a personal betrayal after giving you this explicit confirmation, which can work to your benefit.

5. Submitting an “A-lister” recommendation letter

Me: “You got a rec letter from Tom Hanks? How cool!”

You: “Yeah, pretty sweet.”

A jaded admissions officer: “Yawn...Reject.”

You: “Wait…what? Did you not see the signature — That’s Tom Hanks!!”

Admissions officer: “Yep, that’s why you were rejected. This letter doesn’t mention a single specific anecdote about you. He clearly doesn’t know you. You only got this because your mom is a Hollywood agent, which speaks to your privilege. And as great of an actor as Mr. Hanks is, his words don’t carry much weight as to how amazing of a chemist you’re destined to be.”

6. Essays >15 words under the word limit.

Yes, the “word limit” is technically the maximum number of words you can write. But smart applicants know that it is also the expected number of words. Most college essays are barely 300 words.

If you can’t fill 300 words talking about the thing you want to spend 4 years of college studying, then you clearly aren’t passionate enough to be admitted.

Fifteen words is more than enough room to fit another sentence in.

7. Ignorance of privilege

If you were afforded opportunities that most students wouldn’t experience, acknowledge that. Or, at the very least, show that you understand that you were fortunate to have such experiences.

8. Insincere volunteering

If you write your essay about helping those less fortunate than you, you must be sincere and authentic in your writing.

Otherwise you risk sounding condescending, out-of-touch, and/or disrespectful.

Additionally, don’t co-opt or claim for yourself the experiences of people you help as a way to elicit sympathy; this reflects poorly on you as a person.

9. Typos

This is the easiest way to go from the Accept to Reject pile.

Print, read over, and have multiple friends/relatives read over every application before you submit.

There are 40,000+ students applying to many top colleges, usually for <2,000 spots. You can be sure that 39,000 cared enough to make sure there were no typos.

10. Different “voices” across essays.

Make sure all of your essays convey the same authentic voice. If you receive help on one essay, make sure it fits in with and sounds the same as the rest of your essays.

Make sure your Activities Section presents your achievements in the same way they’re presented elsewhere in your app and rec letters.

11. Unprofessional interview

A poor interview can erase a great “on paper” applicant’s chances.

The college is admitting you as a person, not a transcript, so failing the interview can make even the most impressive achievements seem fake or exaggerated.

Some of the biggest turn-offs identified by admissions officers are: not showing professionalism, dressing too casually, saying something offensive or crass, offering one word answers, and not having questions ready to ask about the interviewer’s school. ( Source 1 , Source 2 )

How to Get into an Ivy League School

A list of the exact metrics used by Ivy League Admissions Offices

July 10, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Admissions, Ivy League, Guide, Admissions Secrets

While each Ivy is unique, they share similarly high standards for accepting applicants and tend to draw from the same pool of exceptional individuals.

They are also incredibly secretive about their admissions practices.

Luckily, one of them -- Harvard -- was forced to reveal incredibly detailed information on its admissions practices through both a recent federal lawsuit as well as FERPA records requests submitted by our own Essay Mentors to view their admissions files.

Read on to learn the Ivy League admissions secrets behind getting into an Ivy League school, and use this information to better prepare your application to get into the Ivy League. (Note: No other Ivy League school has released such detailed information on its admissions practices, so this may be the best glimpse into what are likely common practices amongst Ivy League admissions offices)

Q: How are applicants selected?

A: First, they are graded on 4 dimensions using a scale of 1 (best) to 6 (worst) with +/-’s in between.

After taking into account background factors (legacy, donor status, minority, geographic location, etc.), the applicants with the best ratings are selected.

At Yale , on the other hand, they use a scale of 1 (best) to 4 (worst), but the principle is the same.

Nassau Hall, Princeton

Q: How are ratings assigned to applicants?

A: The 4 dimensions on which all applicants are graded are:

  1. Academics
  2. Extracurriculars (“ECs”)
  3. Personal Qualities (“PQs”)
  4. Athletics

Each applicant is rated on a scale of 1 (best) to 6 (worst) across each dimension, with +/-’s for more nuanced ratings. The scale is interpreted as follows (image taken directly from Harvard’s Internal Admissions Handbook :

Admissions Handbook

Q: What do admissions officers talk about during admissions office proceedings behind closed doors? How fast do admissions officers read applications?

Admissions officers read essays on their own time, then reconvene during admissions committee meetings to discuss applications and decide on admissions.

Admissions officers read applications incredibly fast, a skill sharpened by churning through 40,000+ applications. During a 2-hour committee session, a group of admissions officers will read and evaluate roughly 300 applications, then decide on accepting or rejecting each application.

As Yale Admissions Officer Ed Boland writes,

You could look down at the names of four or five kids from one school who were terribly smart but not exceptional and say, “Reject the entire high school”; sometimes you could go further and say, “Reject the page,” and send 20 kids on a single page of computer paper packing; or, most famously, “Reject the state,” when it came to sparsely populated places like North Dakota or Wyoming.

Q: What does my application look like to the admissions office?

A: For Harvard specifically, your admissions file will get boiled down into the following one-page summary sheet:

Summary Sheet

Q: How do I get the best rating in each category on which my application will be graded?

A: The answers, quoted directly from Harvard’s Admissions Handbook, are as follows.


  1. Summa potential. Genuine scholar; near-perfect scores and grades (in most cases) combined with unusual creativity and possible evidence of original scholarship.
  2. Magna potential: Excellent student with superb grades and mid-to high-700 scores (33+ ACT).
  3. Cum laude potential: Very good student with excellent grades and mid-600 to low-700 scores (29 to 32 ACT).
  4. Adequate preparation. Respectable grades and low-to mid-600 scores (26 to 29) ACT).
  5. Marginal potential. Modest grades and 500 scores (25 and below ACT).
  6. Achievement or motivation marginal or worse.


  1. Unusual strength in one or more areas. Possible national-level achievement or professional experience. A potential major contributor at Harvard. Truly unusual achievement.
  2. Strong secondary school contribution in one or more areas such as class president, newspaper editor, etc. Local or regional recognition; major accomplishment(s).
  3. Solid participation but without special distinction. (Upgrade 3+ to 2- in some cases if the e/c is particularly extensive and substantive.)
  4. Little or no participation.
  5. Substantial activity outside of conventional EC participation such as family commitments or term-time work (could be included with other e/c to boost the rating or left as a "5" if it is more representative of the student's commitment).
  6. Special circumstances limit or prevent participation (e.g. a physical condition).

Personal Qualities (Essays, Teacher Recs, School Rec, Interview)

  1. Outstanding
  2. Very strong
  3. Generally positive
  4. Bland or somewhat negative or immature
  5. Questionable personal qualities.
  6. Worrisome personal qualities


  1. Unusually strong prospect for varsity sports at Harvard, desired by Harvard coaches.
  2. Strong secondary school contribution in one or more areas; possible leadership role(s).
  3. Active participation.
  4. Little or no interest.
  5. Substantial activity outside of conventional EC participation such as family commitments or term-time work (could be included with other e/c to boost the rating or left as a "5" if it is more representative of the student's commitment).
  6. Physical condition prevents significant activity.

Q: How are my academics (GPA, transcript, SAT score, ACT score, AP scores, etc.) weighed?

A: All of the Ivies use the Ivy League Academic Index (AI) to score applicants' academic aptitudes on a scale from 60-240. All applicants are graded on this AI.

The Academic Index was originally used by the Ivy League as a standardized metric for assessing the intellectual quality of each school's incoming class of athletic recruits.

The Ivy League colleges all compete in a sports league that is also referred to as the "Ivy League." In order to ensure that some Ivy League colleges don't "dumb down" their classes, and thus tarnish the intellectual reputation of the Ivy League, by recruiting students who excel at sports but aren't academically inclined, the Ivy League requires that all admitted athletic recruits have an AI above 170, and that the average AI of students on sports teams is within a standard deviation of the overall campus's average student AI.

The average AI of an incoming student is about 220 at Princeton, Yale, and Harvard.

The average Academic Index at Dartmouth, Brown, and Penn is about 215.

And the average Academic Index at Columbia and Cornell is about 210.

Q: How is the Ivy League Academic Index calculated?

There are 3 separate components to the Ivy League Academic Index, each of which is scored from 20-80.

  1. Class Rank Conversion: Takes your unweighted GPA and adjusts it to the reputation of your school/strength of your courseload.

If you are an international student and have taken IB tests and courses under the International Baccalaureate system, then then following conversion chart is used to convert your IB grades into an "American" GPA. Higher Level courses are given double the weight as Standard Level courses.

7 = A+ = 4.3

6 = A = 4.0

5 = B = 3.0

4 = C = 2.0

3 = D = 1.0

If you are an international student whose high school follows the British system for grading, then the following conversion chart is used to convert your British grades into "an American" GPA. A Level grades are weighed twice as heavily as AS and GCSE grades.

A* = 4.3

A = 4.0

B = 3.0

C = 2.0

D = 1.0

If you are an international student from Singapore , then the following conversion chart is used to convert your H3 grades into "an American" GPA.

Distinction = A = 4.0

Merit = B = 3.0

Pass = C = 2.0

If you are an international student from New Zealand , then the following conversion chart is used to convert your grades into "an American" GPA.

Excellent = A = 4.0

Merit = B = 3.0

Achieved = C = 2.0

Not Achieved = F = 0.0

So then how does the Ivy League calculate your GPA and convert it into a raw AI score?

The table below shows how to convert the most common grading scales (percentile scores, 6.0/7.0/11.0/12.0 grade scales, letter grades, etc.) into a raw AI Class Rank Conversion score (CGS):


  1. SAT/ACT Scores: A perfect score on either the SAT or ACT will give you the maximum 80 points for this category.
  2. Best 2 SAT Subject Test Scores: If you get an 800/800 on two of the SAT Subject Tests that you report, then you'll receive a full 80 here.

The 7 Extracurriculars that Will Impress Your Admissions Officer

What matters is not the What, but the How and Why

July 03, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Admissions, ECs, Examples, Guide, How To

What high school activities and clubs look good on college applications?

Is a question I'm often asked.

Unfortunately, the very premise of this question -- and thus any answer to it -- misses one key insight:

There is no such thing as an “impressive” extracurricular.

There is also no such thing as an “unimpressive” extracurricular.

There are just extracurriculars.

The same activity can be impressive for one student, but meaningless for another.

What matters is NOT what you pursue, but how you pursue it, what you achieve , and most importantly, how you frame those accomplishments to the admissions office.

I’ve listed 7 common activities, and for each given 3 examples, to show how common high school clubs and activities can be pursued, or spun, in increasingly impressive lights.

(And by "spun," I mean how you describe your activities in your personal statement, supplementary essays, and Coalition/Universal/Common App Activities section.)

Student Council

1. Student Council

You were elected to your school’s student body. Congrats.

1. Unimpressive: You were elected as a class representative, or served for a year in an executive role (e.g. Treasurer).

2. Notable: You were elected School President.

3. Impressive: You were elected School President. You took the initiative to start several new programs at your school which were widely successful, from a book drive for local middle schools to a fundraiser that earned over $20,000 to spearheading the creation of a recycling program on campus. You fought for the main issue students cared about, issue X, even though the administration pushed back, and after months of back-and-forth you eventually succeeded at convincing your school to implement X. While none of these achievements are necessarily earth-shattering on their own, they collectively show that you’re a go-getter who takes initiative.


2. Research

You spent a summer or two doing research in a local college's lab.

1. Unimpressive: You contributed to a small, discrete portion of a larger project. You don’t really understand the science behind the larger project, or why it matters. You don’t make an effort to connect with your lab-mates, and your only souvenir from the summer is a short PowerPoint detailing your work. You don’t keep in touch with your mentor afterwards.

2. Notable: You contributed a small, discrete portion of a larger project. You understand the basic principles and goals of the project, and make an effort to finish your portion early to help others. You connect well enough with your mentor to have them write a recommendation letter for you for college. You get your name on the authorship list of a published paper.

3. Impressive: You independently design and execute your own experiments under the supervision of a well-respected investigator in your field. You connect well with your mentor and have them write a recommendation letter for you for college. You are the first or second author on a published paper in a prestigious journal. Given the scope of your ambition, you develop this project over multiple summers or continue during the school year.


3. Sports

You play a varsity sport for your high school.

1. Unimpressive: You play varsity level all four years and perform well. You win a few tournament MVP awards and your team wins the regional championships. You don’t reach out to college coaches or train on your own time.

2. Notable: You win a league MVP award for your performance. You attend recruiting camps over the summer and winter break, and reach out to college coaches. You train by yourself, and spend the summers practicing and competing.

3. Impressive: You commit to having sports be your ticket to college. You attend recruiting camps, train by yourself, spend the summers practicing and competing, play on multiple teams, and are unarguably qualified to play at the D1/D3 level. You are in frequent communication with college coaches and get a verbal or written commitment that you will be recruited/scholarship offer/likely letter.


4. Play an Instrument

You play the piano, trumpet, or some other instrument

1. Unimpressive: You’ve taken lessons for 12 years.

2. Notable: You’ve composed your own music, recorded it, and posted it online to YouTube and SoundCloud. You’ve won performance competitions. You’ve performed for large crowds in your church/community center/school.

3. Impressive: You’ve composed your own music, recorded it, and distributed it to 10,000’s of people. You’ve performed for large, paying crowds in concert halls. Alternatively, you started an educational outreach program to teach younger students how to play your instrument, and have had hundreds of middle schoolers advance through your program by your senior year.


5. Debate

You competed in Policy Debate all four years of high school.

1. Unimpressive: You’re the team captain, you’ve won a couple local tournaments, and you’ve placed at a few national tournaments.

2. Notable: You’re the team captain, you’ve won a couple national tournaments.

3. Impressive: You’ve only competed in local tournaments and won them all; however, before you there was no debate program at your school. After starting the team, you grew it from 2 to 50 kids by the end of your junior year. You led fundraising to pay for travel to tournaments, hired coaches, and ran team meetings. You independently competed in a few national tournaments with your partner and placed well. Alternatively, you won the national or world championships in your event, or consistently ranked among the top finalist for multiple years.

Science Olympiad

6. Science Olympiad/Academic Quizbowl

You competed in an academic event.

1. Unimpressive: You competed every year, served as your team captain, and placed first in state.

2. Notable: You were qualified for the national championships and placed well in the competition.

3. Impressive: You won the national championship or represented your country in the international championships. Alternatively, you began your school's participation in this event or competition, and led your fledgling squad to a strong placing at your state/national tournament. You fought the uphill battle of convincing the administration to let you compete, and enjoyed the rewarding experience of inspiring younger students whom would otherwise be discouraged to pursue their passions in the field.


7. Volunteer Work

You volunteered at a local soup kitchen or Habitat for Humanity.

1. Unimpressive: You volunteered every week for a few hours.

2. Notable: You led or started the initiative to have students at your high school volunteer. You worked multiple days a week, or spent a summer volunteering full time.

3. Impressive: You led or started an initiative that drew from multiple high schools in your area, you began your own independent charitable organization for an under-covered issue, and/or raised significant funds for said efforts. You demonstrate a clear interest in continuing to pursue this cause in college, and have made a clear, tangible impact on individual peoples' lives that you are able to eloquently article in your application.

To summarize, colleges aren’t necessarily looking for a particular extracurricular pursuit (with the exception of sports, for which coaches will actively recruit).

Instead, colleges want you to demonstrate valuable personal qualities through your extracurricular pursuits. Qualities like:

  1. Leadership
  2. Initiative
  3. Integrity
  4. Determination
  5. Passion
  6. Dedication

If you can show that your extracurricular activity or involvement in a high school club demonstrates these qualities at a significant level, then your extracurricular will be impressive.

The key is to frame your involvement in these activities in such a way that these positive personal qualities shine through application.

Obviously, not all of your activities will be as impressive as the examples listed above.

But every one of your activities can be spun in a more impressive light, and thus the descriptions provided in your application can be just as important as your involvement in those activities themselves.

By way of illustration, note that all of the "impressive" examples listed above had much longer descriptions than the "unimpressive/notable" examples. That was on purpose: The very act of telling a story about an activity will make it sound more impressive.

(1) The most common place to do this is in your essays.

That is something we specialize in, and would be happy to offer you a free 20-minute consultation to ensure that your accomplishments come across as strongly as possible in your application.

(2) The second most common place is in the form of strong recommendation letters from teachers, advisors, coaches, bosses, and/or mentors who have personally witnessed your involvement in these activities.

If you can get your lab mentor, boss at work, or teacher/advisor to write you a stronger rec letter by investing yourself more fully in an extracurricular pursuit, then the “impressiveness” of that pursuit is instantly multiplied by the testimonial offered by such a trusted source.

Applying to the Ivy League for Computer Science

December 12, 2019 by Veritas Essays Team | Ivy League, Guide, Computer Science

I’ll give you two answers , the "conventional" one and then the "real" one.

1) The "Conventional" Answer

Your chance of acceptance will be the same as every other major.

When you apply to an Ivy League college, you don’t apply as a “computer scientist” or even as a “STEM major.” Rather, all applicants are lumped together into one centralized pool regardless of intended major.

There’s two reasons for this:

  1. These colleges know that you’re probably going to change your major once, twice, maybe even three times before deciding on what you actually want to study. That’s the point of a liberal arts education, and the point of college.
  2. Ivy League universities are not vocational schools. They don’t really care what you study so long as you are growing intellectually and developing critical thinking skills. Again, liberal arts.

2) The "Real" Answer

Your chance of acceptance will be higher than it would be when applying to a more technical institution (e.g. MIT, Stanford). According to CS Rankings , the highest ranked Ivy League school when it comes to CS is Cornell at #7, followed by Columbia at #12. Harvard and Yale aren’t even top 20.

Ranking of undergraduate programs by CS graduate job placement rates/wages (Image Source)

The Ivy Leagues are known to be weaker at CS, and they recognize this fact as well. Thus, they’re spending a lot of time and money (e.g. Harvard , Yale ) recruiting new CS professors and strong CS undergrads/grad students to improve their programs.

So yes, if you’re interested in CS and are applying to MIT and Harvard/Yale/Princeton, you probably have a much better shot at getting into the Ivies.

So does that mean you should apply to Harvard as a "computer scientist" since they need more CS? Unfortunately, the answer is a bit more complicated than that for 2 reasons:

A) Everyone programs

Everybody, it seems, has caught onto the fact that the Ivies want to improve their CS programs, and that CS is the future. As a result, the skill has unfortunately become commoditized.

The number of CS majors at elite colleges has grown almost exponentially. (Note: At MIT, 6.2 is Electrical Engineering & CS, 6.3 is CS) (Image Source)

High schoolers who taught themselves to code after-school and have built a dozen websites/love programming are a dime a dozen these days. This makes it incredibly hard to distinguish yourself as a CS applicant unless you do something truly exceptional (e.g. found a start-up, place at the USACO, do algorithms research, etc.)

B) Top-heavy field

Because CS is such a math/engineering-focused field, this means that it is much easier for the nation’s “top” CS students to distinguish themselves from the rest of the population.

This occurs in the same way that the nation’s "top" math students become fairly identifiable — there are objective measures for how well you perform at math (e.g. doing well in a competition, publishing a paper), whereas for fields like English, History, etc. it’s harder to objectively rank applicants.

Harvard’s admissions rate for students who declare different majors. CS is at the bottom, tied with engineering. (Image Source)

It’s therefore much easier for the admissions office to rank two CS applicants against one another than it would be had they declared their interest in a humanities or social sciences field. Thus, even if you’re not one of the “top” CS students in the nation, by applying as a “computer scientist” you’re basically asking the admissions office to lump you in the “CS” pool.

The US’s 2019 International Olympiad in Informatics team. To a certain extent, these are the students to whom your CS application will get compared. (Image Source)

This means you’ll be ranked against the pool of all other CS-interested applicants, which includes the top CS students in the nation.

And because there are somewhat more “quantifiable” or “standardized” metrics for comparing CS candidates than there are for comparing applicants with other intended majors, you’ll probably look relatively worse off because of it.

What is the Ivy League?

December 01, 2019 by Veritas Essays Team | Ivy League, Guide

In this post, we'll clear up your confusion about all things Ivy: the Ivy League, Potted/Little Ivies, Public Ivies, and how Stanford/MIT fit in.

1. The Ivy League

The Ivy League is an athletic conference comprised of 8 private universities located in the Northeast.

Listed roughly in order of prestige, they are:

  1. Harvard
  2. Yale
  3. Princeton
  4. Columbia
  5. University of Pennsylvania
  6. Dartmouth
  7. Brown
  8. Cornell

These schools are all highly selective, have huge endowments , and have a reputation for being the best universities in the US. Brown has the smallest endowment at $3.6 billion, while Harvard has the largest at $38 billion.

Their graduates go on to become Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, Nobel Prize winners, celebrities, media titans, and billionaires.

They are also some of the most historic colleges in the US - all were founded before the US was even a country with the exception of Cornell (1865). In fact, Harvard was the first institution of higher learning established in the US way back in 1636, over 100 years before the Revolutionary War.


MIT and Stanford are equally as competitive as the most prestigious of Ivy League colleges. (Image Source)

There are also colleges that are not technically "Ivy League" but have a reputation for being equally as good, if not better than, the true Ivies.

You’ll frequently hear "HYPSM" being used to refer to the 5 "best" colleges in America. The “HYP” is Harvard/Yale/Princeton, while the “SM” are:

  1. Stanford
  2. MIT

3. "Public" Ivies

The original list of "Public Ivies" published in 1985. (Image Source)

Additionally, there are several public state colleges known as "Public Ivies" due to their strong record of research and academic excellence.

They are also often cheaper for in-state applicants than the Ivies. The term was first coined in 1985 by UCSC Dean of Admissions Richard Moll to describe the following schools :

  1. University of California
  2. University of Virginia
  3. College of William & Mary
  4. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
  5. University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
  6. University of Texas - Austin
  7. Miami University of Ohio
  8. University of Vermont

4. "Potted" or "Little" Ivies

Like the Ivy League, the Little Ivies are all located in the Northeast. (Image Source)

Finally, the "Potted/Little Ivies" are a collection of small liberal arts colleges located in the Northeast.

While a step down from the Ivies in terms of reputation, they are still very strong academically, and are known to be more student-focused than Ivy League colleges due to their smaller size.

They belong to their own athletic conference , the NESCAC, and are as follows:

  1. Amherst College
  2. Bates College
  3. Bowdoin College
  4. Colby College
  5. Connecticut College
  6. Hamilton College
  7. Middlebury College
  8. Trinity College
  9. Tufts University
  10. Wesleyan University
  11. Williams College

Hopefully this helps shed some light on what other students, parents, and college counselors mean when discussing the "Ivies."