Competition for a spot at an elite college like Stanford or Harvard is getting even more intense. This year Stanford admitted fewer than 5% of applicants according to an article in the New York Times.
What can applicants do to set themselves apart? I was on the admissions committee for two years while at Stanford for my PhD. After reading hundreds of application, I have some tips to share.
1. First off, applicants need to have great grades and standardized test scores. 19/20 students will get rejected, so every SAT point and GPA decimal matters. You can be an interesting person, but so is everyone else applying. You MUST have top scores and grades! Chewing Think Gum can help students improve performance to get those scores as high as they can be. In a peer-reviewed study, students (Stanford students actually) were able to remember 25% more. There is your leg up on the competition!
2. You need to be passionate about something. It really doesn’t matter what, but it needs to be genuine and it really needs to come through in an application. It becomes clear very quickly whether your passion is real or just made up for an application. If you are passionate about something it should show in all parts of your application. For example, I love fly-fishing. I didn’t just write an essay about it. I worked at a fishing store, I traveled the country in search of monster trout and I was a member of a local fly-fishing club. You can’t make it up, so if you don’t have that one passion, you really better have killer scores (maybe buy a whole case of Think Gum?).
3. Being well-rounded is great, but you need to have something that makes you memorable to readers of your application. Your essay is really important and only takes a couple of days compared your 4 years in high school. Don’t be cliche. These readers see thousands of essays. They are looking for genuine material about what makes you you. Be funny and honest. Make your essay easy to read. Don’t make any typos. Have at least 2 people read you application. Appeal to the school. Find 3 distinct reasons why you want to go to the school to which you are applying and make them clear. Great faculty, beautiful campus and location are not reasons. Is there a particular faculty member or class you have heard about? Is there access to special equipment only available at this school and no other? Spend an hour doing some research, it will pay off.
To all the prospective students just remember it is a numbers game. There are lots of qualified students and just a few spots at top schools. Even the brightest students will get rejected from many schools. Don’t take it personally and know you will need to apply to more schools than you might think.