How To Get Into An Ivy League School: A Step-by-Step Guide Featuring Testimony From a Real, Live Silver-Spoon Legacy and a Racial Minority!
IvyGate’s Guide to Admissions: Part II
Getting into an Ivy League school can be likened to winning the lottery: Pencil in a bunch of scantron bubbles, cross your fingers, pray to be struck by lightning. But instead of winning millions, you’re rolling the dice for the opportunity to impoverish your parents. (Or ruin your credit rating, or both!) Nevertheless, aspiring Ivy is a time-honored American pursuit, and no matter how improbable, impractical, and ultimately unpleasant the prize may be, thousands attempt it every year. Mostly, we do it for the free t-shirts.
What follows is IvyGate’s foolproof, guaranteed, 100%-success-or-your-money-back step-by-step guide to swindling your way into the school of your dreams.* Be warned: It isn’t always pretty, and a few of these steps (#3, section ii, second option) might make you go to hell.
1. Have perfect SAT scores, an off-the-chart GPA, amazing extracurriculars, leadership positions in everything, and the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Duh. This one is a given, a prereq, if you will. Even the richest kid in the world won’t get in if he’s apt to flunk (or, more likely, drop) out.
2. Be from an insanely wealthy and/or well-connected family, preferably one with an Ivy League legacy. Apply early. While legacy admission standards aren’t as hilariously low as they used to be, a study by Princeton SOC professors Espenshade and Chung equates legacy status with a 160-point SAT boost (on a 1600-point scale) to the privileged few who definitely need it least. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. To guarantee admission, you need to be the child of a major donor, the kind who write seven-digit checks to their alma mater and have buildings named after them. One such Ivy Leaguer, the grandson of a prominent university trustee, told us about his admissions process, starting with an unconventional and star-studded campus tour:
my grandad flew to meet my dad & i [at the university], and i just figured that it was going to be a regular day of tours & walking around. however, when we got there we were met by a super friendly admissions guy. he took us on the regular tour, but then we ditched it because he said “it’s completely useless” (ironic, considering how much energy & money the university pumps into those tours) he took me around campus, and then brought me to meet a representative from the most popular department at the school, which i claimed to be interested in it. (later, i realized that he was one of the senior professors and chair of the undergraduate program) then they shuttled me over to the president’s office. i didn’t really GET that it was the president until they told me after we met. the meeting was brief, but looking back, it was quite an unbelievable opportunity. after lunch, we wandered around campus with another admissions rep, who told me all about undergraduate life.
After the jump: Anonymous Silver-Spooner (ASS) (Don’t be mad, ASS! We tease because we love/hate) continues his story and we offer five more tips for getting in.
As for his literal, ink-on-paper application, it was the same as anyone else’s:
[my grandfather] was definitely noted as an alumnus on my application – but not in any special way, just in that box where they ask you to denote any alumni relations. i submitted my application via Registered Mail (like everyone else…to make sure it got there), so there were no special addresses or markings on it.
This fits accounts from the Daily Beast’s admissions-side account. The admissions officer received ASS’s application was probably already familiar with his name, and knew to flag his app for whatever special treatment the Dean of Admissions prescribed. Would ASS have gotten in without his trustee grandpop?
i mean duh… there is no question that my connection helped me out. (i remember being worried at the time, but but looking back it was like “why was i ever for a SECOND concerned about not getting that ‘YES!’ letter?”) at the same time, i don’t think my grades & sat scores could’ve prevented me from getting in.
i don’t think i really had any special treatment once i got in (living in [shitty dorm] freshman year really drives home that point) i think the only ‘special’ thing was that my adviser was eventually switched to the guy who chaired the department that i was, at the time, interested in. however, he was so useless that i would say that he made me a lot less interested in pursuing that path – i ended up choosing a totally opposite major.
3. Exploit your minority status, hide your white background, avoid being Asian. Espenshade and Chung estimate a 230-point boost for African-Americans, 185 points for Hispanics, a 50-point deducation for Asian-Americans, and nothing for Whitey. Currently, the Common App allows students to self-identify multiple races or none at all; thus, the following guidelines:
- i. Non-Asian Minorities: List your race in the section provided for it and devote at least one essay to race-related “grappling.” If possible, join an organization (preferrably a charitable one!) that focuses on your ethnic background and/or related backgrounds: Not only does this allow you to bring up your race more than once, it’ll help with all that grappling! Since you’re an Ivy-aspiring young’un, you should already be introspective and caring enough to do these things on your own. But if you’re among the dispassionately aggressive multitude that manages to take every Ivy League class by storm, you’ll be wise enough to fake it.
- ii. White folk: You have two options. The first option is to be honest, check off the “White/Caucasian” bubble, and move on. The second option might make you go to hell, but if you want to go to Harvard, you’re probably into fiery torture, anyway. So: Fudge the truth. This could mean checking off the “Other” bubble. (Race is a social construct! We’re all “out of Africa,” anyway!) Alternately, you could take advantage of that one great-great-grandmother who might have been part Iroquois because she had the most gorgeous cheekbones. We spoke to a white, US-born child of Apartheid-era South Africans who identified himself as “African-American” on his application. No word on whether it ever came up. Of course, we’ll never know if it mattered, or if he got in on merit.
- iii. Asians: You’re screwed. It’s not the negative-50 SAT points that will get you, it’s the nebulous world of underhanded anti-Asian discrimination that upper education can’t quite shake, of late. Part I of our guide saw an admissions officer snorting at “another Asian math genius with no personality.” This time, let’s try the account of a Yale student from the West Coast:
My interviewer complimented me as a breath of fresh air because he sees a lot of really smart Asian fellows come in with absolutely no personality, who just do well in school, and he laments that they don’t seem to have lives outside of school, making for really boring interviews. The funny thing is that I was pretty much exactly that throughout high school (except of Mexican heritage), but he just happened to catch all the wrong, “not-an-academic-recluse” signals from me.
While interviews are generally irrelevant (see #4) the sentiment is startlingly pervasive. Asians who want to beat the odds can decline to name their race, but it’s not like they won’t notice if your name is, say, Jian Li. If you feel like going to hell, try the fudging techniques listed in section ii. (As a mixed-Asian girl with a white name, I should probably note that race denial can turn its subjects into depressed, addled un-people and probably isn’t worth it. Then again, the sandblast of time may have dulled my memory of how it feels to be a desperately ambitious, upwardly-mobile eighteen-year-old, so my risk/reward calculus could be off.)
4. Know that your alumni interview is meaningless. Did you really think Admissions cares about the opinion of some old guy who blathers about his roles in the campus comedy troupe and how much ass he got in college? Alumni interviews serve two purposes:
- 1. Weed out total psychos (so avoid brandishing lethal objects and keep that theory about being the second coming of Jesus to yourself)
- 2. Keep alumni enthusiastically involved (and paying their dues) in Alumni Clubs
5. Pimp your athletic skills, especially in sports that barely exist outside of upper education (crew, we’re looking at you). Apply early. Espenshade and Chung estimate a 200-point SAT bonus to recruited athletes, which is roughly the same as Insider Higher Ed’s recent data on non-Ivy universities’ athletic admissions. Once admitted, you don’t even have to stay on the team—admissions are “merit-based” and financial aid is “need-based,” which means they can’t take away your admission or funding should you cut and run halfway through preseason training. A former varsity rower tells us recruitment is an easy game to play:
recruitment’s honestly a joke. i became a serious recruit at both brown and dartmouth just by emailing the coach. otherwise, coaches catch onto people at national regattas or whatever, but for the most part, smaller sports like crew are pretty easy to get recruited for if you’re any good at all and have the academics to back you up. i was recruited at dartmouth, brown, harvard, and colgate. i also reached out to yale and princeton but they didn’t seem too interested.
You might have to apply early, though. An article in yesterday’s The Dartmouth notes
“Coaches have a roster that they have to fill, so if you apply early, they know months in advance who they are getting and what positions they still need to fill,” Lauren Goodnow ‘12, a recruited track athlete said. “When I had recruits staying with me, they were all pressured to apply early decision.”
Recruited athletes make up 30 to 35 percent of the students admitted early decision to Dartmouth, according to Parish. Also, 18 to 19 percent of each incoming class are recruited athletes.
6. The Un-Legacy: First-generation college students as trendy new minority? A growing interest in first-generation college students has reached the Ivy League: Brown, Cornell and Dartmouth recently added special resources for first-generation students, which means admissions awareness must also be increasing. From an admissions standpoint, first-generation students are attractive: They are likely quite self-motivated and parental education tends to correspond with socioeconomic status, which is among the many statuses Ivy League universities claim to care about these days. (Of course, the easiest way to quantify socioeconomic status would be to plug in everyone’s financial aid applications backwards, but for many reasons, some of which could—maybe—be related to step #2, they don’t do this.)
* IvyGate in no way endorses or accepts responsibility for applicants who take any of this advice, especially if they actually get into an Ivy League school, in which case they will likely spend the next four years of their lives in a self-hating funk, surviving on nothing but coffee, stale beer, and stress.