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Ivy League Study Tips, from a Current Harvard Student

December 24, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Ivy League, How To, Study Strategies,

Studying is not fun, even for Ivy League students.

As an undergraduate at Harvard, I have a lot of friends who talk about studying the same way kids at my high school did -- namely, not affectionately.

I have noticed one key difference, though, between my high school and Ivy League friends:

A default mindset of showing up.

This is a picture of a Harvard library in the middle of the day on a Friday.

Even on weekend mornings or afternoons, libraries will be full of students studying, hoping to finish their work so that they can go out in the evening.

Harvard and Ivy League students in general seem to be aware that simply showing up to an environment that encourages hard work will eventually influence them to be productive.

The important lesson here is to set your environment right, it may just make or break you.

Another theme one may notice in Harvard libraries are just how many groups there are. While there inevitably is some goofing off, there is also something to be said for utilizing group sessions to improve your study habits.

More minds around you means more chances that someone can explain topics that you cannot understand.

And the habit of doing the same for someone else is proven to increase your own understanding and retention.

I used group sessions for almost every single one of my problems sets in my freshman year at Harvard. They were invaluable to my success in those math classes.

Lastly, Ivy League students talk to their professors.

It can be scary at first, but building a relationship with your professors/teachers and probing them on any gaps in knowledge you have is crucial to the studying process. Almost always, they will be glad to spend the time to reteach the parts you struggle with.

Together, all of these steps enable Ivy League students to set themselves up for success on test day, even if they dread it just as much as any other student.

UCs v. the Ivy League

What Makes UC Berkeley, UCLA, and the UCs Unique

July 30, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | UC, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Ivy League, Admission, Chances

The University of California schools (UCs) are a collection of public universities and institutions located in California, comprised of 10 campuses, 5 medical centers, and 3 national labs.

The Ivy League, on the other hand, is a collection of 8 private universities in the Northeast . They receive far fewer applicants per year — UC Berkeley and UCLA receive 88,000 and 110,000, respectively, while <40,000 apply to Ivy League colleges on average.

However, the Ivies also have much lower acceptance rates , all at <11% versus 16% and 17% for UCLA and UC Berkeley, respectively .

The distinction between the University of California schools and the Ivy League colleges can be most clearly seen by comparing the UC system’s two most famous members UC Berkeley and UCLA — to the Ivy League.

With its close ties to Hollywood and Los Angeles, it’s no wonder that UCLA has a long list of prominent alumni who’ve made strong contributions to music , theatre , and the arts .

The Ivy League has much weaker connections to industry than UCLA, which is why UCLA has the #4 ranked film program and #1 ranked theatre program in the nation.

UC Berkeley is the engineering powerhouse of the group. It is the oldest of the UC schools, having been founded in 1868, and has had a total of 107 Nobel laureates pass through its gates, the 3rd most of any university in the world.

UC Berkeley is mainly known for its strength in engineering and CS , counting Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple) and Eric Schmidt (ex-CEO of Google) among its alumni.

If you graphed the performance of students as a bell curve, the “ tail ” of weak performers at Berkeley and UCLA is probably longer than the tail of such students at a school like Harvard or Yale.

However, at the top of that curve, students at both schools will be virtually indistinguishable , and the faculty at UCLA and UC Berkeley is similarly top-notch (if not substantially better in certain fields).

Both are fantastic schools; just because they aren’t “Ivy League” does not mean they aren’t as good, if not significantly better in some fields, than schools like Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, etc.

Sending AP Scores to Colleges - What Should I Report?

July 18, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | AP Exams, Admissions, Ivy League

Here are answers to 5 common questions about AP exams, AP score reports, and how AP scores affect college admissions chances.

(1) Do AP scores matter when applying to top colleges?

Yes. AP scores demonstrate proficiency in a subject that has been standardized in a way that can be used to evaluate candidates across the country. It used to be expected that for schools like Stanford/MIT/Ivies, applicants should have at least half a dozen AP scores with 4’s and 5’s (assuming that their high school offered them).

However, low AP exam scores are not necessarily bad, as will be explained below.

(2) What is the distribution of AP exam scores?

In 2018, the distribution of AP exam scores for all exams was as follows. (Data taken from this Tableau visualization)

STEM Exams

Arts & Humanities Exams

Language Exams

Social Sciences Exams

(3) Does having mostly AP scores of 3's and 4’s hurt my college admissions chances?

Yes, if that’s the best you have to offer. An AP Score of 3 or 4 will likely not get you any college credit or respect at a top school like Stanford/Ivies/MIT.

A score of 5 may not either — top colleges like to think that their courses are more rigorous than APs and thus should not be passed out of, and earning a 5 is simply expected for top admits.

(4) Since I can self-report by AP exam scores, do I have to report all of my scores to colleges or do I not have that obligation? Will low AP scores hurt my chances?

You can save yourself from low AP exam scores by simply choosing to NOT self-report your 3’s.

Colleges ask you to self-report scores for a reason. If you were expected to submit all of your exam scores, then colleges would simply make reporting mandatory, just as they already do for the SAT/ACT.

Top colleges will let you self-report your AP scores. Take advantage of that and don’t report scores that you don't want to share. Including 3’s will weaken your application to a school like Stanford.

Only a year ago, this would not have been the case. Schools would have read your omission of AP scores as suspicious.

However, things are different in 2020 because of COVID-19. Schools are much more understanding of students who report fewer AP scores this cycle.

But don’t take my word for it.

Here is Yale’s Dean of Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan on the matter:

Students who have completed AP Exams, IB Exams, or AICE Exams prior to submitting their applications may opt to self-report scores in the application, but there is no expectation that students enrolled in academic-year courses associated with any of these tests complete exams in spring or summer 2020.”

And Dartmouth’s Dean of Admissions Lee Coffin :

At Dartmouth, we will welcome any testing element a student chooses to share—the SAT, the ACT, a subject test, an AP score—or none at all.

Our admission committee will review each candidacy without second-guessing the omission or presence of a testing element.

And an official statement from Columbia’s Admissions Office :

Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), SAT Subject Test and other proficiency exam scores are not required by Columbia, but we will accept your results if you choose to submit them in the testing section of your Common Application or Coalition Application. Optional SAT Subject Test scores can also be submitted on the Columbia application status page after you have applied.

You will not be at a disadvantage should you choose not to take these optional tests or submit the scores to Columbia.

(5) How do I know which AP scores I should report? Don't schools have different standards for what they consider a "good" or "bad" score?

Here’s a quick method for determining whether you should submit your score to a specific school or not (Stanford is shown below).

First, go to the College Board's AP Credit Checker here.

Second, type in the college to which you’re applying. The website will pull up a list of every AP exam and the school’s policy on granting academic credit for that exam.

Third, look at the Min Score Required column of results. This tells you the minimum score needed for that college to give you academic credit for taking that AP.

If your AP score is below this threshold, then you probably should not report it. You should only self-report scores that make you look smart.

(6) How prestigious is the "AP Scholar with Honour" award? Will it increase my chances of getting into a top college in the US?

Let’s do some math. According to The College Board, in 2019 the following numbers of students received AP Scholar awards (listed in increasing prestige):

  • AP Scholar: 305,822 students
  • AP Scholar with Honor: 128,491 students
  • AP Scholar with Distinction: 219,925 students

The “AP Scholar with Honor” is the 2nd most prestigious AP merit award.

That means that every year, 348,416 students will receive an AP Scholarship award that is equivalent to or more prestigious than your AP Scholar with Honor award.

According to The College Board, the “AP Scholar with Honor” is given to students who fulfill this criterion:

Granted to students who receive an average score of at least 3.25 on all AP Exams taken, and scores of 3 or higher on four or more of these exams

The College Board used to give out 10 AP-based merit awards. However, in an effort to “reduce the burden on students, the AP Program is discontinuing awards that encourage students to take large numbers of exams” starting in 2021.

These are marked with asterisks in the chart below:

And the State AP Scholarships were also discontinued:

What It's Like to be an Ivy League Student

July 11, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Ivy League, Student Experience

What is the Ivy League student experience like?

Here are the 6 things that struck me the most as a recently graduated Ivy League student.

  1. You’ll meet classmates who are already 1000x more famous than you’ll ever be. A few may even call the most powerful person in the world “Dad.”

  2. You’ll quickly learn that studying is such a senior-year-of-high-school move. Thanks to grade inflation , you won’t be sweating most of your classes.

  3. You’ll be surrounded by breath-taking architecture . You’ll take classes in some of the most historic buildings in North America on some of the prettiest campuses in the world.



  4. You’ll participate in traditions older than the US . You’ll watch sporting events created decades before their professional counter-parts. But you’ll also experience traditions that are problematic and anachronistic, remnants of classes from prior decades and centuries.

    Harvard-Yale 1920 Football Game

  5. You’ll be able to roll out of bed and hear a Senator deliver a seminar before going to your afternoon class taught by a Nobel Prize winner. You’ll randomly bump into thought leaders and politicians on your way to class.

    Hillary Clinton

  6. Applying for a job in finance, consulting, or tech will be infinitely easier than if you were at a “non-target” school. Almost too easy, in fact. Many of your high-achieving peers will find themselves drawn to a comfy job in one of these “Big 3” industries which heavily recruit Ivy League students.

    Princeton Yale Harvard

These charts were made in 2011, before the big boom of tech recruitment at the Ivies.

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.

5 Tricks to Get Accepted with a Low GPA

Is it possible to get into a top college with a low GPA?

July 10, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | How To, GPA, Admissions, Chances, B Student, Ivy League, AP Exams, SAT, Essays

Can low GPA (i.e. "B" students) get accepted into a top school?

The answer is a bit more nuanced than a hard "yes" or "no."

Are you a "B" student, or have you gotten B's?

Though these questions sound the same, their answers have very different consequences for the purposes of college admissions.

I went through every top university that reported the distribution of unweighted GPAs for its admitted students, and plotted them below.


The small black sliver at the top represents students with a “ B ” average or worse (3.0 GPA).

These are students with extremely extra-ordinary circumstances, so unless you have a building named after you or can throw a 95mph fastball, a “B” average is likely disqualifying. Thus, averaging a straight “B” is likely a death knell for top colleges.

All is not lost, however, if you generally do well in school but have a handful of B’s (e.g. a GPA between 3.6–3.8).

Having a lower GPA will require you to play your cards more thoughtfully, but you are still very much in contention for a spot at a top university.

Here are 5 tricks for making your application stand out despite a lower GPA.

1. Take more APs

Since they are graded on a 5-point scale, you can raise your weighted GPA to appear more in-line with a college’s admissions standards. The average weighted GPAs of Ivy League admits, shown in the USA Today chart below, is quite attainable:


2. Ace your standardized tests.

A high SAT or ACT score can help offset a lower GPA by demonstrating that you have the intellectual ability to perform at a high level.

3. Shine elsewhere in your application.

Your essays, for example, are a fantastic place to explain or indirectly shed light on personal circumstances that may have caused your lower GPA.

They also allow you to directly frame your application and convey why you — and only you — can add something uniquely meaningful to the incoming class.

As Logan Powell, Dean of Admissions at Brown University, writes:

“The essay is one of only two places where the student can tell us exactly who they are, in their own words (the other place is the interview).”

And Mitch Warren , Director of Admissions at Purdue University, adds:

"We receive about 54,000 applications from high school students each year, and despite that really large number, [the essay] truly is an individual and holistic review...[it] helps us to better understand the life of the applicant, especially things with grit, humor, motivation. I think also it helps tell stories that we may not have picked up on elsewhere in the application."

This is something that our Ivy League mentors specialize in.

4. Show an upward trajectory

If you got straight B’s freshman year but gradually worked your way up to consecutive semesters of straight A’s as a senior, then colleges will look much more favorably upon your transcript, as it demonstrates growth as a student.

As Dartmouth Assistant Director of Admissions Ariel writes,

[W]hen we review an applicant's transcript, we look at grade trends that will help us understand a student's academic trajectory in his or her secondary school.

We see transcripts that show steady grades throughout a student's high school career or a positive/upward trend from 9th-12th grade. We see transcripts where a student has bounced back from a transition or dip in grades. We also see downward trends in grades.

We use the rest of the application to try to fill in WHY the trend looks the way it does. If you have a particular reason for, say, a dip in grades in your junior year, please let us know about it in the "Additional Information" section of the Common Application.

Keep in mind that we will be looking to see how you have done in your most recent coursework since this will be a good indicator of how ready you are to move into a rigorous academic environment at Dartmouth.

5. Take the hardest classes offered

The negative impact of lower grades can be partially softened if they occurred while taking the hardest classes your school offers.

In the eyes of admissions officers, taking a rigorous course-load and challenging yourself, even if you do get a B or B+, can be equally as important as acing your classes.

An aside: These high GPA cut-offs are largely due to (1) increasingly high numbers of applicants and (2) rising grade inflation at the high school level.


Why is it So Hard Getting Into a Top College?

July 09, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Early Action, Early Decision, Acceptance Rates, Ivy League, Stanford, Harvard, University of Chicago, Cornell, Dartmouth, UPenn, Duke

Why do top colleges and universities have much lower acceptance rates than they did only a decade ago?

It’s a tragic saga of prestige, tradition, statistics, and a decade-long race to the bottom. Watch it slowly unfold in the charts below:


In the “good ole’ days” depicted on the left , your last name was your college application. Today (on the right ), the high school students competing with you are basically curing cancer.

Unfortunately, the number of spots at top colleges has not kept pace with the explosion of applications:


And yet the total number of students admitted to top colleges has remained stagnant :


This isn’t just a phenomenon of “top” colleges — this problem occurs across the board for all US universities:


As the saying goes, scarcity creates value.

So from the perspective of top colleges, this surge in demand has been a blessing rather than a curse.

Consider the two most prestigious colleges in America — Stanford and Harvard.

Once upon a time, over 1 in 10 students who applied to Harvard and Stanford got in (2001). Now, that number is less than 1 in 20 students.


Both elite schools have fought a race to the bottom in terms of acceptance rates, closely tailing one another for the “top” (or “bottom”) spot.

At the same time, the number that matters most to colleges for prestige — Yield Rate — steadily increased. Yield Rate is the percentage of accepted students that choose to enroll in your institution.

Luckily for top colleges, low acceptance rates and high yields go hand in hand:


The reason why top colleges have much lower acceptance rates than they did a decade ago is because prestige is relative.

If you’re the dean of the only college in your division with a double digit acceptance rate, then you can expect to be reprimanded by your Board of Trustees for failing to uphold the prestige and exclusivity of your college’s brand. Angry alumni who see the value of their diploma depreciating relative to the peers from other institutions will demand action.

And that’s why you see the craziest drops in acceptance rates for institutions that lagged behind their peers in prestige a decade ago.

Consider the Ivies:


Note the most dramatic drops in Ivy League acceptance rates come from schools like Cornell, Penn, Brown, and Dartmouth, which are typically considered the “less prestigious” Ivies.

Their acceptance rates have plummeted from a completely reasonable 15–35% in 2007 to an intimidating <15% by 2018 .

That’s because these “less prestigious” top universities have the most “catching up” to do.

Deflating acceptance rates while filling your incoming class was difficult to do 1–2 decades ago. But now, thanks to...

  1. The Internet

  2. Standardization of the Common App/Coalition App/Universal App

  3. Higher number of international applicants

...there is enough demand for any college to achieve their desired prestigiously low acceptance rate by simply spending enough on marketing/ad flyers/outreach.

The table below shows the 16 colleges with the largest decrease in acceptance rates over the past decade:


You’ll note that most of these schools are good, but not in the upper echelon of “elite” schools.

These are schools like the University of Chicago, Northwestern, Duke, Georgia Tech, Michigan, Rice, Vanderbilt, etc.

For these schools, a low acceptance rate is a fast track to prestige, something that could otherwise only be achieved through hundreds of years of achievement.

So while all elite colleges have seen their admissions rates decrease over the past decade, colleges like the University of Chicago have been able to attain roughly comparable admissions selectivity as Ivy League schools by simply out-pacing more "prestigious" colleges at lowering their acceptance rates.


To summarize: Top colleges have much lower acceptance rates than they did a decade ago because there’s too many applicants and not enough spots.

This benefits colleges by making their diplomas more valuable, and thus there have been no substantial efforts to resolve this race to the bottom.

Is There an Advantage in Applying Early Decision/Early Action?

July 08, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Early Action, Early Decision, Ivy League, Stanford, Northwestern, Emory, Williams, Harvey Mudd, Admissions

Contrary to what most admissions officers will tell you, the answer is a definitive YES.

Here are 4 data visualizations and a study which prove that applying early decision or early action makes it easier to get into your dream college.

1. Numbers don’t lie; Ivy League colleges have an almost 3x higher early acceptance rate than regular admission rate! Applying to Harvard early action, Yale early action, Princeton early action, Cornell early decision, UPenn early decision, Columbia early decision, Brown early decision, or Dartmouth early decision will increase your chances of acceptance.


  1. On top of being relatively easier to get in, more overall students are being accepted early action and early decision by Ivy League schools. As the chart below shows, the overall number of spots being filled by early action and early decision applicants has increased almost every year for the past decade:


  1. This trend of higher early decision acceptance rates than regular decision acceptance rates holds for non-Ivies as well. Just to name a few shown below: Northwestern, Skidmore, Wellesley, Harvey Mudd, Carleton , Emory , and Williams :




  1. As a result of confirming which students will enroll sooner in the process through early decision and early action, the Yield rate of colleges has steadily increased ( This is an incredibly important measure of a college’s prestige , as it measures the percentage of students accepted who choose to actually enroll.


But why does applying early decision or early action make it easier to get accepted into a top college?

As Jed Applerouth, PhD in Educational Psychology, reports :

In a study undertaken by Avery, Fairbanks, and Zeckhauser…in their book The Early Admissions Game , the authors surveyed thousands of high school seniors, hundreds of thousands of applications, and five years of admissions records from more than a dozen colleges…Their conclusion was surprising:

“Colleges were much more likely to admit an early applicant than a regular applicant with the same qualifications.”

Why would colleges seem to reward students who apply early decision?...

[1] Typically, colleges can count on ED/EA students to be more enthusiastic about their first-choice school if accepted...

[ 2] Furthermore, colleges can manage their selectivity rates better through ED/EA, which in turn influences U.S. News & World Report rankings...

[3] [W]ith early decision, an acceptance is binding, which is of great benefit to the school..[A] student waives the right to shop financial aid packages, meaning that he will pay the full-tuition, or accept whatever financial aid his early decision school offers. This arrangement places much of the control in the college’s hands...

How Private Prep Schools and Public Exam Schools Impact College Admissions

July 07, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | High School, Private, Public, Acceptance Rates, Ivy League, Admissions

The conventional wisdom on how going to a competitive, top prep school affects your college admissions chances is wrong.

The downsides of “being a small fish in a big pond” during high school doesn’t matter. When it comes to admissions chances for top colleges, students of prestigious private schools have a clear statistical advantage over students from public high schools.

According to MarketWatch, 94 of the top 100 feeder schools to Ivy League institutions were private.

Overall, the benefits of going to a well-resourced prep school tend to outweigh the drawbacks of increased competition from your peers.


There are a few reasons for this.

(1) Private schools have more money, resources, and experience to throw at high-achieving students applying to elite colleges. As former Dean of College Admissions Jason England writes,

“A prep school applicant curated by elite counselors, tutors, essay writers, and a manipulative school profile is routine, even though it inspires less backlash.

Private schools create applicants who are difficult to reject.

The candidate is “prepared” (the assumption is that private schools’ courses are more rigorous), has a relatively high SAT score (a reflection of parents’ incomes and education levels), and is touted by carefully crafted recommendation letters from counselors who have many fewer students and far more resources than their public school counterparts.”

(2) Students can take advantage of more opportunities at top prep schools.

As University of Georgia Professor Greg Woniak, who specializes in higher education, writes:

“Attending a high school that is a known pathway to institutions like Princeton has a direct resource benefit for [a] student. In some ways, it can serve to offset other deficiencies a student might have if they’re not the strongest.”

Imagine if your high school looked like this (Philips Andover):

And had the following academic opportunities, as reported by The Daily Princetonian :

Flip through the pages of elite high schools’ catalogs, and it’s easy to find exotic course titles that the average Joe wouldn’t see until their later years of higher education.

Multivariable calculus and linear algebra — subjects normally reserved for college sophomores or juniors — are widespread among moneyed high schools.

Thomas Jefferson students can take electrodynamics and differential equations. Phillips Academy Andover offers organic chemistry. Stuyvesant High School teaches artificial intelligence.

(3) According to The Atlantic, grade inflation is more rampant and second chances are more frequently afforded at private schools, and thus students’ transcripts look better.


That’s why in 2015, the top 14 private high schools in the US had an average of 33% (!!) of their graduating classes attend an Ivy League college.

In order, they are:

  1. Trinity, NY (Percent admitted to Ivy League: 40%)
  2. Collegiate, NY (40%)
  3. Brearly, NY (37%)
  4. Horace Mann, NY (36%)
  5. Roxbury Latin, MA (36%)
  6. Phililips Academy Andover, MA (33%)
  7. The Spence School, NY (33%)
  8. The Winsor School, MA (31%)
  9. Dalton, NY (31%)
  10. St. Paul’s, NH (30%)
  11. Chapin, NY (30%)
  12. Harvard-Westlake, CA (30%)
  13. Phillips Exeter Academy, NH (29%)
  14. The College Preparatory School, CA (29%)

But that’s not the full story...

The above numbers make things look better than they actually are for public schools.

That’s because the vast majority of public school spots go to students from highly selective exam schools and charter public schools, not students of schools you'd typically think of as "public schools."


These are public high schools like Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Boston Latin.

They have rigorous admissions standards, with even lower acceptance rates than Stanford, Harvard, and MIT! These nominally “public” schools will typically send 10–25 students to Harvard every year.

That’s how you get stats like this at Princeton in 2020:

One in 20 undergraduates at the University, for example, came from just five high schools. Four of them were world-class magnet schools, and the other was the $69,000 per year Lawrenceville School.

And this stat from a 2017 article in The Crimson :

In total, one out of every 20 Harvard freshmen attended one of the seven high schools most represented in the class of 2017—Boston Latin, Phillips Academy in Andover, Stuyvesant High School, Noble and Greenough School, Phillips Exeter Academy, Trinity School in New York City, and Lexington High School.

And the below chart of Harvard’s 2017 admissions, which shows that the top 10% of high schools sent almost a third of the student body to Harvard:


What Do Colleges Look for in Applicants?

Learn How to Best Focus Your Application for Your Dream School

July 03, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Inside Info, Stanford, MIT, UC Berkeley, Yale, Ivy League, UCs

What is a competitive college GPA?

What is the GPA needed for Stanford? What is the GPA needed for Yale, or the GPA needed for MIT?

What are the best ECs for college?

What are Stanford's requirements for admission? What are the UC admissions requirements for each school?

What do colleges look for in students? What do Ivy League schools look for? What are the college admissions requirements for my dream school?

How do colleges decide who gets in?!?!

These are all great questions!

And answering them may seem overwhelming at first.

A lot of people on the Internet claim to miraculously have all the answers. Somehow, they've synthesized the collective knowledge, opinions, and beliefs of thousands of admissions officers across the US.

I, however, am unfortunately not a mind-reader -- I will openly admit that I know the answer to very few of these questions. Yes, I can tell you generally what ECs are preferred, how to write a great essay, what you should be focusing on in high school, and specifics for my alma mater (Harvard).

But to immediately know how an MIT admissions officer I've never met will weigh your specific community service experience against working a part-time job? Impossible (unless of course you're one of these mind-reading college consultants found around the Internet).

Does that mean there's no way to know the answers to these questions?


In fact, there's an even better solution.

What if you could directly ask your dream college how it decides who'll be admitted?

Amazingly, you can.

You just need to know where to look.

That's because the federal government mandates that accredited colleges report this information every year to the National Center for Education Statistics.

This data is conveniently collected by College Data into a neat admissions database. Thus, I’ve pulled a few interesting examples for you below (Stanford, Yale, MIT, and UC Berkeley).

These are the factors that Stanford uses to grade applicants, as well as their relative importance:

Personal Traits

Collectively, this table (as well as the ones below) show that a much wider variety of factors beyond just GPA (essays, extracurriculars, rec letters, etc.) go into your admissions decision, and how each will be weighted differently by different colleges.

These are MIT’s preferences:

Personal Traits

And here is the corresponding chart for UC Berkeley :

Personal Traits

As you can see, there are a ton of factors that influence your admissions decision.

Additionally, each school has its own unique culture which will be reflected in how it preferentially evaluates different candidates.

Finally, here is the relevant chart for Yale :

Personal Traits

It's important to make sure that in each of your applications to these schools, you highlight the elements of your application that correspond to those most prioritized by that school.

An amusing anecdote from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates perfectly illustrates this point:

As a senior, he [Bill Gates] applied only to three colleges — Harvard, Yale, and Princeton — and he took different approaches to each.

"I was born to apply for college," he said, fully aware of his ability to ace meritocratic processes.

For Yale he cast himself as an aspiring political type and emphasized the month he had spent in Washington as a congressional page. For Princeton, he focused only on his desire to be a computer engineer. And for Harvard, he said his passion was math. He had also considered MIT, but at the last moment blew off the interview to play pinball.

He was accepted to all three, and chose Harvard. "There are going to be some guys at Harvard who are smarter than you,"" Allen warned him. Gates replied, "No way! No way!"

The College Data website also lays out the requirements and benchmarks for admission to each school.

Here are the admission statistics of students admitted to Stanford :

Personal Traits

If you fit the profile of the typical student admitted to the school you want to go to, that's amazing news -- Congrats! You now just need to polish up the rest of your application.

If perfecting your essays is something still on your bucket list, you've come to the right place.

If you want direct 1-on-1 mentorship from top Ivy League students, or a review of your materials before you press submit, consider signing up for a free 20-minute consultation or learn more about how we can help you here .

The 5 Types of Students that Get into Harvard

Who gets into Harvard, and why?

June 29, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Harvard, Ivy League, Admissions

There are four main categories of students that get admitted to Harvard per Harvard's admissions policy.

Collectively, they comprise roughly 60% of every Harvard class.

Who makes up the other 40% of admits? The students who excel across the other 3 dimensions (Academics, ECs, and PQs) used to rank prospective students.

In this article, I'll walk you through each of the four main categories of Harvard students, then walk you through how the fifth category distinguishes themselves for Harvard's admissions requirements.


1) Recruited Athletes (20% of admitted students)

Harvard has the most D1 sports teams of any college in the nation — 42 — which means there are a lot of spots to fill.

Recruited athletes have a 90% acceptance rate and comprise 10% of the incoming class. (Source: The Atlantic) .

For perspective, the overall Harvard acceptance rate is below 5%.

Walk-ons comprise another 10% of the incoming class, and also get in at a much higher rate since coaches will “soft recruit” them. Harvard’s athletic recruitment process is detailed below.

Athletic Recruitment

2) Director’s List (10%)

The “Directors List” contains the names of top donors and influential families.

Students lucky enough to be on the Directors List have a 42% acceptance rate, and comprise roughly 10% of every class. (Source: The Crimson)

For example, Jared Kushner famously got in after his father donated $2.5 million.


3) Deferred (“Z-list”) Admits (3%)

Some students who would otherwise qualify for the Director’s List are not yet ready to begin college. Harvard will force these incoming students to take a gap year before coming to Harvard.

This is roughly 60 students every year, and is colloquially known as the “Z-list.”

On campus, the reputation is that Z-list admits tend to be less than qualified for admission.

As The Crimson reports:

Computer technicians in the admissions office coined the term “Z-list” because the group is the last to get admitted each cycle, after regular and waitlisted admits Students who are Z-listed must take a gap year before enrolling as freshmen the following year.

Faculty Club

4) Faculty Children (1%)

The children of Harvard faculty have a 47% acceptance rate, and roughly 20 students of faculty apply per year. (Source: The Crimson)

It’s a pretty funny sight to see the student of your professor copying off your homework for his dad’s class.


5) Legacies (15%)

A legacy is defined as an applicant with at least one parent who went to Harvard or Radcliffe College (Radcliffe was the women’s college that merged with Harvard).

Legacies are admitted at a 33% acceptance rate, and make up 15% of each class. (Source: The Crimson)

Harvard Yard

Assuming these groups don’t overlap much, that brings us to ~60% of Harvard’s admitted class.

Who makes up the other 40% of admitted students?

Those who excelled at the traditional 4 metrics used to rank every Harvard application.

They are, in no particular order:

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

*Athletics has already been covered in the 30% of recruited athletes and walk-ons, so we’ll ignore that.

This leaves us with 3 dimensions to rate applicants: Academics, ECs, and PQs.

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. (Source: Harvard Admissions Procedures Internal Handbook)

Harvard Admissions Handbook

This image is taken directly from the Handbook given to Harvard’s Admissions Officers.

So, how do you get a 1 in each category?

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.

For further reading, I recommend checking out this great article from the New York Times which interviewed several Harvard freshmen about why they got in.

And for another blog post analyzing one of our team member's own Harvard admissions file, after getting to view it as part of a FERPA request, check out this post .

If you're applying to a selective college (even if it's not Harvard!) we want to help! We provide 1-on-1 mentorship with experienced editors who can help you craft your application. Sign up here for a free 20-minute consultation .

Acceptance Rates of the 22 Best Colleges in the World

June 02, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Acceptance Rates, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Ivy League, NYU, MIT, Duke, Notre Dame, NYU, Oxford, Cambridge, USC, UVA, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, UCs, UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Chicago

The 2019-2020 admissions cycle for the Class of 2024 was one of the most competitive ever , with more and more students from around the world applying to top universities and elite colleges with a limited number of spots.

The 2020-21 cycle is shaping up to be an even more competitive year for admissions to Ivy League schools and other top universities, especially with the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. Read on to learn more about the admission rate of top colleges in the US and UK.

Ivy League Schools

Gates of Princeton

Harvard Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Harvard acceptance rate was 4.9% . This was slightly higher than the previous year, which was 4.5% . A total of 40,248 students applied for 1,980 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Yale Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Yale acceptance rate was 6.5% . This was slightly higher than the previous year, which was 5.9% . A total of 35,220 students applied for 2,304 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Princeton Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Princeton acceptance rate was 5.6% . This was slightly lower than the previous year, which was 5.8% . A total of 32,836 students applied for 1,823 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Columbia Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Columbia acceptance rate was 6.1% . This was higher than the previous year, which was 5.1% . A total of 40,084 students applied for 2,465 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Penn Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 University of Pennsylvania acceptance rate was 8.1% . This was slightly higher than the previous year, which was 7.4% . (Source)

Brown Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Brown acceptance rate was 6.9% . This was slightly higher than the previous year, which was 6.6% . A total of 36,794 students applied for 2,533 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Dartmouth Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Dartmouth acceptance rate was 8.8% . This was higher than the previous year, which was 7.9%% . A total of 21,394 students applied for 1,881 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Cornell Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Cornell acceptance rate has not been published, as part of a move by administrators to not release regular decision results until the following admissions cycle. However, Cornell did release its Early Decision results, which showed an ED acceptance rate of 23.8% . This was higher than the previous year, which was 22.6% . A total of 6,615 students applied for 1,576 Early Decision spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Top US Colleges (Non-Ivy, Private)

Entrance to Stanford

Stanford Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Stanford acceptance rate has not been published, as part of a move by administrators to not release acceptance rate statistics. However, Stanford did release its results for the previous year, which showed that 47,498 total students applied for 1,900 spots in the Class of 2023, for an acceptance rate of 4% . (Source)

MIT Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 MIT acceptance rate was 7.2% . This was slightly higher than the previous year, which was 6.6% . A total of 20,075 students applied for 1,457 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

USC Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 USC acceptance rate was 16% . This was significantly higher than the previous year, which was 11% . A total of 60,000 students applied for 9,500 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Duke Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Duke acceptance rate was 7.7 %. This was the same as the previous year, which was 7.7% . A total of 39,783 students applied for 3,057 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Notre Dame Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Notre Dame acceptance rate was 16.5% . This was higher than the previous year, which was 15.4% . A total of 21,270 students applied for 3,507 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

NYU Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 NYU acceptance rate was 15% . This was lower than the previous year, which was 16% . A total of 85,000 students applied for 13,000 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Georgetown Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Georgetown acceptance rate was 15% . This was higher than the previous year, which was 14.1% . A total of 23,318 students applied for 3,309 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Johns Hopkins Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Johns Hopkins University acceptance rate was 8.8% . This was slightly lower than the previous year, which was 9.2% . A total of 27,256 students applied for 2,604 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

University of Chicago Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 University of Chicago acceptance rate was 6.2% . This was slightly higher than the previous year, which was 5.9% . A total of 34,400 students applied for 2,130 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Top US Colleges (Public)


UCLA Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 UCLA acceptance rate has not yet been published. The previous year, the acceptance rate was 12.4% . A total of 108,837 students applied for the Class of 2024, which was slightly lower than the previous year at 111,306. (Source 1) (Source 2)

UC Berkeley Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 UC acceptance rate has not yet been published. The previous year, the acceptance rate was 16.4% . A total of 88,026 students applied for the Class of 2024, which was slightly higher than the previous year at 87,393. (Source 1) (Source 2)

UVA Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 UVA acceptance rate was 20.5% . This was significantly lower than the previous year, which was 24.3% . A total of 40,971 students applied for 8,420 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)



Oxford Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Oxford acceptance rate has not been published. For the previous year, there were 23,020 total applications for 3,889 spots in the Class of 2023, for an acceptance rate of 16.9% . (Source)

Cambridge Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Cambridge acceptance rate has not been published. For the previous year, there were 19,359 total applications for 4,694 spots in the Class of 2023, for an acceptance rate of 18.2% . (Source)

If you want direct feedback on your essays from current Ivy League students, or want to work 1-on-1 with an experienced mentor to craft your application, learn more about us here or click here to schedule a free 20-minute consultation

How Harvard Grades Applications

Learn How the Harvard Admissions Office Makes Admissions Decisions

December 21, 2019 by Veritas Essays Team | Ivy League, Harvard, Admissions File

Last year, I was able to view my actual Harvard Admissions file through a Student Records Request, and I have several friends who work/have worked in Harvard’s Admissions Office. Thus, I've been able to learn a ton of inside knowledge about the Harvard admissions process, as well as dispel some common myths propagated by college counselors, teachers, parents, and Harvard itself.

In this article, I'll detail everything I learned first-hand about Harvard's admissions process, and tell you exactly what goes on in the committee room when your application is being voted on.

Freshmen walk through Johnson Gate while moving into the Yard during Opening Days. (Image Source)

Though personal details below have been blurred out, you can get a general sense of what is on the one-page "summary sheet" that Harvard makes for every applicant in the image below. This summary sheet is given to every admissions officer so that they can quickly reference the overall strength of your candidacy when debating the merit of your admission in committee.

Screenshot of my actual Harvard Admissions file. Sections of the summary sheet have been annotated to describe what you will be graded on.

The Harvard Admissions committee will grade you on 4 metrics . They are as follows:

  1. Academics
  2. Extracurriculars
  3. Personal Qualities
  4. Athletics

For each of these metrics, you will be assigned a score of 1–6, where 1 is the best and 6 is the worst.

So which metric you should be optimizing for?

According to a friend who worked in the Admissions Office, it is the "Personal Qualities" metric that is the most underrated by applicants.

In fact, "Personal Qualities" actually ends up having the biggest impact on borderline admissions decisions.

View of Dunster House, a Harvard undergraduate dorm, from across the Charles River (Image Source)

The reason for this is simple — if you’re a 1 in any of the other categories, you’re most likely going to get accepted anyway. (1) Recruited athletes (with a 1 in “Athletics”) will receive a likely letter from their coach months before admissions decisions come out, and are essentially guaranteed a spot. (2) Academic superstars who’ve published papers, proven unsolved theorems, or won prestigious competitions are also a pretty solid lock to be included in the incoming class. (3) Finally, students who’ve excelled in leadership positions in intense extracurriculars , i.e. founding a company or leading a charity or getting elected to a national position of a high school organization, are also much more likely to be admitted.

Harvard’s overall acceptance rate has gone down every year for the past decade (Image Source)

So what if you’re not one of those kids?

Well, after throwing in spots reserved for the children of prominent politicians, billionaires, and mega-donors on the dean’s list, you now have very few spots left for amazing students who aren’t quite “prodigies.”

These students would be considered “very smart” and “Harvard material” in their high schools, but not labeled “prodigies” or “child geniuses,” and wouldn’t assume their admission is “guaranteed” by any stretch of the imagination.

According to the Washington Post, this ends up being the vast majority of applicants.

These students will get a handful of 2’s and 3’s across the four metrics. That puts them in the running for admission, but their profiles could be easily swapped out with another student who has 2’s and 3’s, and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

Harvard’s admissions process, according to the Harvard Admissions Office. (Image Source)

This is where Personal Qualities really stand out.

At this level, everyone is a great student, participates in extracurriculars, and has won some honors/awards. They can do the academic work at Harvard, no question.


  • Do they fit in at Harvard?
  • Will they be the change-makers of tomorrow?
  • Do they add something unique to the incoming class?

Screenshot from a Student Government campaign video that went viral earlier this year, with celebrities like Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and Kerry Washington retweeting the video. The students who posted this video won a surprising, come-from-behind victory to take the Presidency and Vice Presidency for 2020. Watch the video here and read a CNN article about it here

As my friend who works in the Admissions Office likes to say, Harvard’s Admissions Office prides itself on building a community, not a classroom.

Harvard wants interesting people who will get along with others, bring unique perspectives to the table, and add something unique to the make-up of the class. If another applicant has the same personality/interests/motivations as you, then your spot will get taken by that applicant. Or the 10 others with identical essays about why they want to go to medical school or why they’re passionate about a certain subject or how they coped with a family member who went through a hardship.

Your essays, teacher recommendations, and interview are incredibly important for Harvard. More so, in fact, than they are at any other Ivy League college (from what I’ve been told by friends in the Admissions Office).

If you have any more specific questions or want to see other parts of my Harvard application, feel free to message me and I’d be more than happy to answer questions.

To learn more about my Harvard admissions journey and the tips/tricks I’ve learned along the way, check out the other posts on our blog .

Or, if you want to learn these secrets yourself for your own college applications, check out the services we offer

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.

Starting a Club: Required for the Ivy League?

December 08, 2019 by Veritas Essays Team | Common App, ECs, Ivy League

Literally every other applicant has founded at least 20 clubs while being the President of 15 others. How is that even possible? Who are these people?

This was the thought that nagged at me my entire senior fall while applying to colleges. I remember scrolling through Reddit and College Confidential and reading Chance Me after Chance Me, becoming extremely discouraged by all the other amazing applicants' lists of infinite ECs.

I'm sure you've had similar thoughts about your own candidacy. I know I did.

But what happens if you haven't founded a club at your school -- Are your dreams of getting into an Ivy League school hopeless?

The answer is an emphatic No.

And, as I learned after getting into Harvard, even if you had founded a club it probably won't matter in your admissions decision.

There are 3 main reasons for this:

Memorial Church at the center of Harvard Yard. (Image Source)

1. The numbers game

Think about this from a numbers perspective — there are ~40,000 high schools in the US.

If one student at every high school started a club, we’d have 40,000 students who’ve started clubs v. about 2000 spots at each Ivy League university. Even after filtering out students who didn’t found clubs, we’d still be left with 20x more "qualified" students than spots.

Unless the club you start becomes a nationally recognized charity, starting a club is almost never a defining factor in a Harvard app simply because 20 other students have also done the same exact thing.

Admissions letters (Image Source)

2. The journey is the reward

"If founding a club doesn’t help, then why do people who found clubs get into Harvard so often?"

The answer is a bit nuanced. Let me speak from my personal experience with Harvard admissions.

Harvard grades applicants across 4 metrics:

  1. Athletics
  2. Academics
  3. Extracurriculars
  4. Personal Qualities

Founding a club doesn’t help with 1, 2, or 4. That leaves us with just #3, Extracurriculars. So at best, founding a club will impact only ¼ of the scores that sum up to provide your overall application score.

You don’t "need to start a club" to get into Harvard or Stanford. In fact, it likely won’t help you — a million students found clubs every year in high schools around the world.

Rather, what will get you in is demonstrating how the act of founding a club showcased some unique combination of leadership, intellectual curiosity, initiative-taking, and personal qualities.

Don’t think of "starting a club" as a little checkmark on your resume, that once you’ve checked that box you’re suddenly Ivy League material.

Instead, think of how starting a club plays across the entire application. Instead of it just increasing your Extracurricular score, think about how it might increase your Personal Qualities and Academics scores.

Your essays are where this should really shine through, and showcase how the act of founding a club shapes your entire application and improves all of the 4 metrics on which you’re being graded.

  • What difficulties did you face starting your club? (Extracurricular)
  • How were you able to inspire others and gain the critical mass needed for the club to self-perpetuate? (Personal Qualities)
  • What did you learn about yourself through this process? (Personal Qualities)
  • Did your club compete in any competitions, and if so how did you perform? (Academics)
  • etc…

Starting and/or leading a club is definitely preferable to just showing up for meetings. But starting a club is, pardon the pun, just the start.

What matters is not just what you did, but also how you did it and why. That is what will distinguish your application from every other applicant, not the mere act of starting a club.

Factors that go into your admissions decision. (Image Source)

3. There are a ton of other (more common) ways to get in

If you’re a recruited athlete, no one cares whether you started a club at school or not. You’re getting in.

If you’re a certified genius, then you’re getting admitted for your academic prowess.

If you are a leader of an organization (e.g. your school’s Student Council, Youth in Government, a political campaign, etc.), it doesn’t matter whether you founded it or not — serving as a leader is impressive in its own right.

There are a ton of ways to get into Harvard. Every student’s path is unique, and there’s no single way to get in.

To put this in perspective, most students I know at Harvard never started anything in high school. What got them in were those aforementioned intangible characteristics that truly distinguished their applications.

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."

Best Spots to See at Harvard

November 29, 2019 by Veritas Essays Team | Ivy League, Harvard, To-Do

Every tourist goes on a campus tour, wanders through Harvard Yard, and rubs John Harvard’s foot.

They don’t know what they’re missing.

There are a lot of great spots on Harvard’s campus that tourists don’t really know about, and are much more relaxed, beautiful, and chill than the usual tour stops.

My favorite underrated, publicly accessible places at Harvard are (in no particular order):

A view of Eliot House (an undergraduate dorm) from across the Charles River (Image Source)

1. The Charles River

Taking a stroll down the Charles River front can be a beautiful experience during the spring, summer, and fall. Walking along the River near campus, you’ll be able to see most of the River Houses (e.g. Eliot, Dunster, Winthrop). Crossing the River will get you to the Business School, which has even more beautiful architecture and grassy lawns than the red brick undergraduate dorms across the River.

Food trucks and tables full of students studying between classes crowd the Science Center Plaza at noon. (Image Source)

2. The Science Center Plaza

There’s seemingly always something happening on the Plaza, whether its the bevy of delicious food trucks selling lunch every day or the random events that Harvard hosts as part of its Common Spaces initiative. There’s also a local farmer’s market every week, and many student organizations host events/activities in the Plaza. If you come at the right time you might stumble on something fun happening!

A collection of Enlightenment-era scientific instruments which helped revolutionize humanity’s understanding of the world, on display in the Science Center (Image Source)

3. The Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments.

Hidden in the Science Center, this small museum has a really cool assortment of scientific instruments that you won’t be able to find anywhere else. It’s usually pretty empty and not many students even know about it, so definitely recommend checking out this hidden gem while on campus.

Radcliffe Yard (Image Source)

4. Radcliffe Yard.

This is where Admissions tours are handled, so you may stumble across this picturesque part of Harvard’s campus anyway. If not, I definitely recommend walking through Radcliffe Yard. I have never seen such perfectly manicured lawns in my life. It used to be Radcliffe College before the two institutions merged to become just “Harvard.” Now, it is the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. (Note: Some students incorrectly refer to this as the “Radcliffe Quad.” It is not, however, the same as the “Quad” that most Harvard students reference — the other “Quad” is a 15 minute walk away, and houses upperclass dorms).

Langdell Hall, the Law School’s main library, is the largest academic law library in the world and the largest building on the Law School campus. (Image Source)

5. Law School / Business School campus

Though on opposite ends of campus (the Law School is north of Harvard Yard, while the Business School is across the Charles River to the south of campus), it would be a mistake not to visit these two graduate school campuses while visiting Harvard College. You won’t be able to enter the buildings, but the lawns and campus spaces are beautiful to walk through nonetheless.

Artifact on display in Harvard’s Peabody Museum. (Image Source)

6. The Peabody Museum

This is more widely known, but most tour groups don’t stop by there for some reason. One of the world’s oldest museums focusing on anthropology, you should make sure you check out the Peabody’s world famous archaeological exhibits while you’re on campus.

Glass flowers on display at the Harvard Museum of Natural History (Image Source)

7. Harvard Museum of Natural History

This museum houses arguably the most famous exhibit on Harvard’s campus, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka’s “Glass Flowers.” The exhibit is a collection of over 4,300 meticulously crafted glass replications of over 780 plant species. Again, most students won’t take advantage of this during their time at Harvard, but having gone I can say with 100% confidence that you’ll be missing out if you don’t pay this exhibit a visit.

Portrait of President George Washington, housed in the Harvard Art Museum. (Image Source)

8. Harvard Art Museum

Harvard technically has three separate art museums (the Fogg, Busch-Reisinger, and Sackler). However, their collections were combined into one building, and thus functionally they are the same museum. The Harvard Art Museum is a beautiful building, and is usually pretty quiet — students usually only come there to study, attend lectures in the basement, or look at art for a seminar. There aren’t a ton of publicly displayed pieces, but the collection spans several floors and can make for an enjoyable afternoon.

Ivy League To-Do List

October 08, 2019 by Veritas Essays Team | Ivy League

We asked our team of Ivy League editors:

If you could spend just 1 hour as a student at each of the 8 Ivy League schools, what would you do at each one?

Here are their answers.


As a student at Harvard, I’ve been lucky enough to spend multiple hours in Cambridge! However, if left just one, I would go see some of the amazing speakers that draw huge crowds weekly. As a professor once remarked to me: “You come to Harvard and the world comes to you.”


Being stuck in the middle of New Haven, CT doesn’t mean there aren’t amazing things going on at campus. I would go browse the shelves at Beinecke Rare Books Library.


Dartmouth is often thought of as the inspiration for Animal House but surprisingly offers amazing opportunities that don’t involve binge-drinking. In an hour, I would check out the HOP (Hopkins Center for the Arts) and see a show.


Despite being in NYC, Columbia’s breathtaking campus is a sight in itself. Not to copy my answer for Yale, but Butler Library is far and away the most enticing building on campus. I’d grab a cup of coffee at the library’s cafe and do some people watching!


At Princeton, I would visit a spot at Whitman College that is known for its echo effect. As explained by a student:

If you have a chance, swing by the north Whitman courtyard and have some fun shouting at yourself! Just find this circle of steps, stand right in the middle of the black plaque, face out into the courtyard, start talking really loudly, and you'll be pleasantly surprised by an echo ringing back to you.

University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania hosts WXPN 88.5 FM , a listener supported radio broadcast from its campus. I would check out the student interns and staff members that keep the station running.


At Brown, I would head to the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES). IBES researches Conservation Science, Land Change Science, Climate Science, Environmental Health, and Institutions and Human Behavior — and their building is pretty awesome as well!


With it being winter in cold Ithaca, I would partake in a student tradition and go sledding on Libe Slope. Pictured below, it offers the perfect trajectory for a fun snowy ride!

Is It Possible To Sit In on Harvard Classes?

August 16, 2019 by Veritas Essays Team | Harvard, Ivy League, College Life

While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, a stranger off the street could sneak into almost every single non-seminar class I’ve taken at Harvard, for several reasons:

(1) Easy access

Most classes are held in large buildings like Sever, Emerson, Harvard Hall, and the Science Center, none of which have any sort of swipe access restrictions.

So, you wouldn’t even need to wait for someone to hold the door open for you in order to sit in on Harvard’s most popular humanities/engineering courses.

(2) No seating charts

Not a single class I’ve taken at Harvard has a seating chart. Not even seminar-style courses with 12 students around a table. Not even the graduate courses I’ve taken. Seating charts are very “high school”-y and teachers don’t waste time on them.

Now, most students end up sitting in the same seat every day, so there typically becomes a de facto seating chart, but if you sat in someone’s seat they likely wouldn’t bat an eye and would just sit somewhere else (assuming there were enough seats for everyone)

Klarman Hall at HBS, where one of the more popular General Education courses about tech ethics was held this year ( Image Source )

(3) Large lectures (mostly STEM courses)

Most engineering courses at Harvard take place in large lecture halls, so you could easily slip in without anyone noticing.

In my experience, only upper-level and graduate-level seminars would be too small for you to enter a classroom without getting noticed.

(4) Extension/visiting students

Even if you didn’t look like a Harvard student at all, you still wouldn’t stick out.

That’s because there are plenty of older Extension students (i.e. actual adults) who sit in Harvard courses, visiting students from MIT, and one-semester junior transfers from abroad.

Students in the Harvard Science Center take a Math 21b exam (Image Source)

(5) Non-mandatory lectures

Some of the largest lecture courses are recorded. This means that students can skip lecture and watch them online after the fact.

Additionally, some courses do not require attendance.

This means that not even the professor will know who truly is in his/her class, and neither will the students.

To summarize, your main difficulty will be figuring out where/when classes are being taken, not getting in.

What is the easiest major at Harvard University?

July 20, 2019 by Veritas Essays Team | Harvard, College Life, Ivy League

Yes, if you go to Harvard you’re relatively smart.

Yes, every major can be difficult at times.

And yes, some people are better at some things.

But if you’re actually a student here, it’s pretty obvious which of your peers are staying up till 4am every week finishing a CS problem set and which Economics concentrators are partying 5 days a week.

Basically, almost every Science or Engineering major will be harder/require more time every week than a Humanities/Social Science major.

Mean student-reported workload for classes in 2015, sorted by major (Image Source)

According to this really interesting statistical analysis (chart included above), OEB (Organismic and Evolutionary Biology) was also one of the lightest workload majors, which I honestly hadn’t realized, but the major does have this reputation among pre-meds and bio majors.