Have you ever thought, “How do I get into Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Yale, Columbia, or any of the ivy league colleges?” or “What do I need to do to get into Harvard?”, or “How do I stand out to ivy league colleges?”
In our latest podcast episode, “How to Get into an Ivy League?”, on Let’s Learn with Ostaz, we spoke to Chirine Mouharam, a Harvard graduate, who currently works as a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), about what it takes to get into an ivy league college. By the end of the podcast episode, Chirine also answered the most pondered questions by everyone who wants to get into an ivy league.
When it comes to getting into a top school, there are certain preconceived ideas that people associate with, like getting a perfect SAT score or having a perfect high school GPA. Chirine shares her insight on what college admission officers are really looking for from students and their applications.
Top schools receive thousands of applications per year. How can you stand out to the admission officers?
The fundamental questions you need to ask are, “What story do you want to tell?”, “Who are you as a person?” “How are you going to fit in on campus?” “What contribution will you bring to student life?”
Top schools aren’t searching for robots; they’re searching for humans who will contribute not only to their university but also to the world, post-graduation.
Chirine states that your college application should paint a picture of who you are. College admission officers can get an idea of who you are through your standardized test scores along with your high school GPA, the classes or curriculum you took and followed in high school, letters of recommendation from teachers or mentors, extracurricular activities, and personal essays or ‘college essays’.
A lot of students place a lot of emphasis on grades and SAT scores and consider them as the most important piece of their college application. However, little do they know that they are only a very small piece of the puzzle that colleges look at to make a decision.
SAT scores are the first filter for narrowing down the pool of applicants. The SAT is instrumental but not the only metric used for university admission. School transcripts and high school grades are instrumental, too.
You can think of grades and scores as minimum qualifiers. That still leaves college admission officers to choose among a big pool of qualified students. So, high grades and SAT scores alone are not enough to get into an ivy league.
Chirine says, “at the end of the day, grades are important; they’re not all that matters; colleges want to make sure students won’t fail and will keep up with their academic responsibility.”
Chirine advises students to ask a teacher who really knows them to write their recommendation letter. These teachers who know you really well- maybe even on a personal level- will be able to describe you in a unique way and reaffirm the skills and qualities about yourself that you mention in your college application. Hence, Chirine recommends that students ask a teacher or a mentor who has seen you interact with others or knows your personality to write their letter of recommendation.
Chirine, having grown up in Lebanon, mentions that in the MENA region, little emphasis is placed on extracurricular activities. Ivy league colleges look for students who are driven and show passion, dedication/consistency, and leadership skills. Admission officers are also looking for a diverse student body. So, it’s important that students don’t feel compelled to fit into a certain mold or fit a stereotype of who they think ivy league students are, what they think they do or are interested in. So, what matters is that you (student) show consistency in the activities you pursue. Whether you’re passionate about chess or dancing or horseback riding, show continuity, consistency, and dedication. Dedicating your time to certain pursuits shows you’re capable of being dedicated to something. Remember, you have to demonstrate that you are passionate, dedicated, hard-working, and have leadership skills.
Chirine states that to demonstrate leadership skills, get involved in activities where you can be a leader, whether it’s being class representative, student body president, or editor of your school newspaper.
The essay is a fundamental part of a student’s college application.
Chirine mentions that before writing your essay, students should ask themselves the following questions: “What story am I trying to tell?”, “What do I want to share with these admission officers?”, “What is core to understanding who I am?”
The purpose behind keeping these questions in mind is to ensure that upon reading your college essay, someone who doesn’t know you would have an accurate representation of who you are as a person.
What do you want to say about yourself?
How can you say it in a story form?
Will the readers be able to tell the kind of person you are?
If you’d like to highlight that you’re an empathetic person, write your essay in a way that the reader can infer this quality about you. By the end of the essay, you want the reader to infer character traits about you that you’d like to be known.
Teachers who know you really well would have also mentioned and validated certain character traits about you in the reference letter.
When you bring together these four separate pieces, ivy league colleges can get an idea of the kind of person you are. Your essay would reinstate and complement what teachers will have written about you in your recommendation letter. And that’s when pieces of the same puzzle come together to form your portfolio as a person: your achievements, performance, interests, goals, personality, vision, life perspectives, etc.
By the end of going through your college application, your story will all come together in a cohesive manner. Your college application is really the story you’re telling the reader, so, if the reader is compelled by the story you’re telling, you’re in. Your grades, extracurriculars, reference letters, and essay are all pieces of the same story. If college admission officers find your application’s narrative suitable for their university, you’ll get accepted.
To get the insider scoop from a Harvard grad herself, Chirine Mouharam, and to know more about everything Chirine had to say about how to get into an ivy league university, click here to listen to our latest podcast episode, “How to Get into an Ivy League?” on Let’s Learn with Ostaz on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anghami, or any other podcast streaming service.