Angela Sun Consulting particularly specializes in admissions consulting for high performing students seeking admission to Ivy League plus universities. (This moniker includes the literal Ivy League colleges -- Harvard, Princeton, etc. -- but also similar top tier universities like Stanford, MIT, Caltech, and University of Chicago).
Perspective students to these universities with the highest probability of admissions typically have some combination, ideally all, of the following attributes:
Let’s dive deeper into these requirements, and how Angela Sun Consulting can help.
Disclaimer: colleges use holistic admissions and evaluate the entire application. That said, to maximize your chances of admission, we recommend the following. There will be always exceptions to these rules-of-thumb, e.g. your friend with a 3.3 GPA got into Harvard, but they’re just that: exceptions.
Grades are the prerequisite to getting into these universities. Unless you’re a star athlete getting recruited, you must have perfect grades to even be considered since these universities are especially known for their academic rigor. You need to show you can keep up at the high school level to stand a chance in college.
Think about it this way: 3.7 million high schoolers will graduate in 2021 in the US alone. If even just 0.1% of these high schoolers have perfect grades, that’s 3700 students. Meanwhile, Harvard admitted 2015 students for the class of 2024. There are than enough high achieving students for Harvard to consider without even having to look at students without perfect grades.
Notably, we’re talking about unweighted GPAs; it’s not OK to get Bs in AP classes just because they’re weighted at 4!
Colleges want to admit students who will thrive on their campuses and contribute to their communities. That means actually doing well academically when you’re there. If you can show colleges you can take and excel at college-level courses in high school, your APs and IBs, they’ll be a lot more confident in your abilities when you step on the quad. And on the flipside, if you’re having trouble today, you’ll be very stressed even if you get accepted into an Ivy League school when things will get ever tougher.
We generally recommend students to take as many high level courses as they can during high school. If your school doesn’t offer them, you can self-study for the test and take them at one of your local high schools or even take classes at a community college.
As we said above though, grades are what matters, and there’s no point in maxing out on your honors classes if you’re just going to end up getting C’s. Don’t bite off more than you can chew! If you do need help, Angela Sun Consulting offers academic tutoring for all non-foreign-language APs and IBs. (Angela got 19 AP 5’s during her high school career, a state record.)
Standardized tests aren’t a lot of fun, but they’re useful to colleges because they’re… well, standardized. They give colleges a meter stick to compare students against one another, especially since different schools will have different grading methods and educational opportunities. Standardized tests give everyone a level playing field.
These aren’t be-all-end-all but just like grades and college-level courses, SAT or ACT scores can show colleges that you’re ready to perform at a high academic level. If you don’t have perfect grades, performing well on these tests is one way to compensate.
Stanford helpfully breaks down their admissions by SAT score. As you can see, most students score 700+, corresponding to ~95 percentile, and the higher the SAT score, the better chances of admission: Students getting 800 on reading had a 12% admissions rate compared to the 4.8% admissions rate for students overall.
One thing we’ve noticed: students tend to look at a school’s average SAT score for admissions, but don’t forget, you don’t want to be average! You want to be near the top to maximize your chances of admission.
Okay, so you have all of the above: a perfect GPA, 10 AP 5’s, and 1550+ on the SAT. Is that enough? Not quite.
As we said above, at least 3700 students will have a perfect GPA. 500+ people get perfect SAT scores a year. That’s a lot of competition. You’ve shown colleges you can succeed academically, but these signals don’t show colleges what you’ll bring to their community.
That’s why colleges employ holistic admissions, looking beyond just the academics. Yes, they’re important and almost prerequisites. But you need to show colleges why you and not the other person with the same scores.
Extracurriculars are the best way to do this: colleges want to see passion, dedication to something beyond academics, showing that you have a life outside studying. This could be anything, really. For example, I’ve had students:
Regardless of what it is, you need to dedicate time and do it extraordinarily well. We call this the “spike project” and a big part of our college consulting process is helping students figure out what that project is and helping them figure out how to do it well.
In your college app, colleges will hear a lot from you in your essays. The recommendations, usually from a councilor and several teachers, give colleges a less biased point of view about you.
In order to recommend you, these recommenders need to actually know you! Most students haven’t ever spoken to their councilor. In these cases, how could they possibly write a strong recommendation for you?
Forming strong bonds with your recommenders is essential to getting a good recommendation. We recommend being an active student in class, participating in class discussions and asking good questions.
As early as possible, especially on the extracurriculars. The best students have found their spike projects well before high school. Think students who are black belts in taekwondo or who compete in regional piano competitions. These aren’t accomplishments you can achieve during 4 years of high school. These students start early, show passion, and dedicate time to their fields.
Barring that, we ideally start in the summer before the start of high school, when we’ll figure out a high level, 4 year plan on how to achieve your college goals.
We normally advise students to apply to between 8 and 12 schools. That does not mean all 8 Ivy League schools plus Stanford and MIT. No matter how good your application is, you’ll never be guaranteed admissions to the Ivy League Plus; these schools are reaches for everyone, and your application list should never be all reaches.
For students considering this caliber of school, here are some match and safeties we recommend:
During the consulting process, we’ll work with you to personalize your school list.
Students in this area face unique challenges, living in Silicon Valley with many parents in the tech field and most students aspiring to enter as well. Consider how you can differentiate yourself against this crowd. Just imagine how many Columbia applicants are from Silicon Valley aspiring to be a CS major with an application full of hackathon participation.
Angela Sun Consulting specifically specializes in helping San Francisco Bay Area students in their college admissions journey.