Students applying to Ivy League schools find themselves having to wade through a particularly dense morass of conflicting advice.
With Harvard and Princeton denying far more valedictorians than they accept, many students are coming to the the disquieting realization that overwhelming academic achievement and stratospheric scores may be not enough.
Thoughtful applicants focus on how particular schools fit with their social and intellectual aspirations, and good essays mirror such self-awareness.
Elisha Anderson, an Associate Director of Admission at Brown, notes that when he used to work in the admission office of a smaller, nonconformist liberal arts college in Massachusetts, he saw so many essays on protests, filmmaking and the Food not Bombs movement, that, “It wasn’t until I started working at Brown—where I almost never read essays on any of these topics—that I realized how different the self-selection of the two applicant pools must have been.”Unlike the Common Application essay, however, the school-specific supplements do require that students write more targeted essays.
Colleges take what they get.”Admission officers at Ivy schools would agree that in telling their truth, students choose topics that more often reflect the reality of their own lives than they do the ethos of specific colleges: Students’ desire to write an Ivy-inspired essay is also complicated by the nature of the Ivy League itself.
While the league shares a long tradition of academic excellence, exclusivity, and a set of admissions protocols that relate mostly to athletics (such as an Academic index that all Ivy athletes have to meet), the eight Ivies remain very distinctive institutions.It is hard to imagine how to write a Common Application essay that simultaneously speaks to Columbia’s focus on the intellectual value of a core curriculum, Brown’s notion that such value derives from the absence of a core, Cornell’s proud tradition as a land grant school, and Harvard’s exclusivity.Of course, there is an element of self-selectivity that may set the essays of some Ivy applicants apart from others.It is here that the student needs to craft an essay that speaks to his or her fit with that particular institution, and some will ask the question very directly: “Tell us what you find most appealing about Columbia,” for example, or “Why Brown?” Dartmouth avoids additional long essays and Harvard’s is optional, but last year when the Common Application did away with its so-called activity paragraph (“choose one of your extra curricular activities and tell us about it”), these Ivies decided, as did Columbia, that it was useful enough for their purposes to include it in the supplement.Hence, the hope that a perfect essay might be where real distinction lies.It’s been said that there are only two stories we tell each other: a familiar person leaves on a voyage, and a stranger comes to town.At Harvard, 5.2% of the nearly 40,000 applicants – about 2,000 – were accepted this year.These schools look for the right mix of academic achievement and extracurricular activities.He worked with a mentor at College Vine – a junior at Duke University majoring in biochemical engineering – to improve his essay.Kenworthy chose to write about a deeply personal childhood experience.