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As instructed, my extracurriculars were listed in the order of their interest to me. The most important point I have to make about my extracurriculars: If I were to guess, I assign the following weights to how much each activity contributed to the strength of my activities section:. In other words, participating in the Research Science Institute RSI was far more important than all of my other extracurriculars, combined.

You can see that this was the only activity my admissions reader circled. You can see how Spike-y this is. The RSI just completely dominates all my other activities. The reason for this is the prestige of RSI. Because the program was so prestigious and selective, getting in served as a big confirmation signal of my academic quality.

Now, it took a lot of prior work to even get into RSI because it's so selective. I had already ranked nationally in the Chemistry Olympiad more below , and I had done a lot of prior research work in computer science at Jisan Research Institute — more about this later. But getting into RSI really propelled my application to another level. Because RSI was so important and was such a big Spike, all my other extracurriculars paled in importance. This is a good sign of developing a strong Spike. You want to do something so important that everything else you do pales in comparison to it.

A strong Spike becomes impossible to ignore. Apply this concept to your own interests — what can be so impressive and such a big Spike that it completely overshadows all your other achievements? This might be worth spending a disproportionate amount of time on. As I recommend in my Harvard guide and 4. Each week I spent eight hours on practice and a lesson and four hours of orchestra rehearsals. This amounted to over 1, hours from freshman to junior year. I was pretty good, but definitely nowhere near world-class.

Remember, there are thousands of orchestras and bands in the country, each with their own concertmasters, drum majors, and section 1 st chairs. If I were to optimize purely for college applications, I should have spent that time on pushing my spike even further — working on more Olympiad competitions, or doing even more hardcore research. But this problem can be a lot worse for well-rounded students who are stretched too thin. First, developing a Spike requires continuous, increasingly ambitious foundational work.

It's like climbing a staircase. From the beginning of high school, each step was more and more ambitious — my first academic team, my first research experience, leading up to state and national competitions and more serious research work. Second, it is important to do things you enjoy. Finally, note that most of my activities were pursued over multiple years.

But this guide is already super long, so I want to focus our attention on the main points. Please describe which of your activities extracurricular and personal activities or work experience has been most meaningful and why. I chose RSI as my most significant activity for two reasons — one based on the meaning of the work, and another on the social aspect. This is only the beginning of my cringe-y writing - wait until you get to my Personal Essays. I chose to spend this clarifying my extracurriculars even further.

My main motive in this section was to add more detail around my most significant activities: The only parts the reader underlined were the name of my research supervisor, and the fact that my research was then a Siemens-Westinghouse Semi-Finalist. Both of these legitimate my research. I highly recommend you take the time to write an Additional Information section.

You have so little space in your Yale application or Duke application to express yourself — this is purposely designed so everyone doesn't submit pages of drivel. Here you have an extra words to add more color around your life and accomplishments — DO IT. Along with Activities, Academic Honors is the other major area where you can really shine and develop a big Spike. The higher the level of competition and the more prestigious the award, the more the honor is worth.

This has an exponential relationship, because of how quickly the field is narrowed at each stage of competition. This can also mean an international ranking is worth x that of a regional ranking — again, why a big Spike is so impressive.

Academic honors and awards are a great, quantifiable way to show that. By far, the biggest academic honor I had was competing in the US National Chemistry Olympiad , where I ranked 6 in the country in junior year, out of roughly 11, students who took the first round test. At the highest international level of competition, countries send their top students to wage battle against each other, just like the sports Olympics.

The best known subjects are Math , Physics , Chemistry , and Biology in order of descending prestige, among nerds. I ranked at the national level, before the US selected their final team — a study camp of 20 students. But this was still a national level honor, in a well-known competition. This is why I say a big Spike makes you stand out clearly among a bin of well-rounded applicants. At Harvard in my class, I knew International Math and Physics Olympiad gold medalists, people who were on their national teams for the hardest subjects AND ranked in the top percentiles worldwide.

And there were students with similar level accomplishments in other arenas, from music performance to writing. Earning this kind of honor was nearly a golden ticket to getting into schools like Harvard , because you literally are the best in the world at what you care about. But remember there are thousands of nationally-ranked people in a multitude of honor types, from science competitions to essay contests to athletics to weird talents.

And I strongly believe the 1 differentiator of high school students who achieve things is work ethic, NOT intelligence or talent. Yes, you need a baseline level of competence to get places, but people far undervalue the progress they can make if they work hard and persevere. Far too many people give up too quickly or fatigue without putting in serious effort. The truth is everyone who achieves something of note puts in an incredible amount of hard work.

My research work took up the next two honors, one a presentation at an academic conference, and the other Siemens a research competition for high school researchers. At the risk of beating a dead horse, think about how many state medalists there are in the country, in the hundreds of competitions that exist.

The number of state to national rankers is probably at least So state honors really don't help you stand out on your Princeton application. There are just too many of them around. On the other hand, if you can get to be nationally ranked in something, you will have an amazing Spike that distinguishes you. How could anything I write compare to these tales of personal strength? The trite truth is that colleges want to know who you really are.

But they do want students who are:. I do think my Spike was nearly sufficient to get me admitted to every school in the country. Back then, we had a set of different prompts:. I chose to write on a topic of my choice, which no longer exists as an option probably for good reason - kids just went all over the place.

I also felt a need to be distinctive and thought that a free essay topic might give me more freedom.

The way I saw it, the personal statement was a vehicle to convey my personality and my interests. To build my Personal Narrative, I wanted to showcase my personality and reveal a bit about my life experiences. The idea I used was to talk about my battle against the snooze alarm. Frankly this personal statement is really embarrassing. Each time I read it, I cringe a bit. I think I sound too smug and self-satisfied.

But again in the interest of transparency, here goes:. I want to as well. The theme of the essay — battling an alarm clock — shows this well, in comparison to the gravitas of the typical student essay. The frank admission of a realistic lazy habit — pushing the Snooze button — served as a nice foil to my academic honors and shows that I can be down-to-earth.

So you see how the snooze button acts as a vehicle to carry these major points and a lot of details, tied together to the same theme. So overall, I believe the essay accomplishes my goals and the main points of what I wanted to convey about myself. Note that this is just one of many ways to write an essay. It worked for me, but it may be totally inappropriate for you.

Looking at it with a more seasoned perspective, some parts of it are WAY too try-hard. I try too hard to show off my breadth of knowledge in a way that seems artificial and embellishing. With just words, I could have made the essay more cohesive by keeping the same theme from beginning to end.

Some phrases really make me roll my eyes. A key principle of effective writing is to show, not say. The mention of Nietzsche is over-the-top. I mean, come on. Where in the world did fried rice come from? I could have deleted the sentence and wrapped up the essay more cleanly.

I think it accomplished my major goals and showed the humorous, irreverent side of my personality well. However, it also gave the impression of a kid who thought he knew more than he did, a pseudo-sophisticate bordering on obnoxious. I still think it was a net positive. At the end of the day, I believe the safest, surefire strategy is to develop a Spike so big that the importance of the Personal Essay pales in comparison to your achievements.

You want your Personal Essay to be a supplement to your application, not the only reason you get in. There are probably some cases where a well-rounded student writes an amazing Personal Essay and gets in through the strength of that. Without a strong application to back it up, your mileage may vary. We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit. We want to get you admitted to your dream schools. This is a really fun section. Teacher recommendations are incredibly important to your application.

The average teacher sees thousands of students through a career, and so he or she is very well equipped to position you relative to all other students. Furthermore, your teachers are experienced adults — their impressions of you are much more reliable than your impressions of yourself see my Personal Essay above. They can corroborate your entire Personal Narrative as an outside observer. The most effective recommendation letters speak both to your academic strengths and to your personality.

For the second factor, the teacher needs to have interacted with you meaningfully, ideally both in and out of class. Check out our guide on what makes for effective letters of recommendation. Starting from sophomore year, I started thinking about whom I connected better with and chose to engage with those teachers more deeply. The minimum requirement for a good letter is someone who taught a class in which you did well. Beyond this, I had to look for teachers who would be strong advocates for me on both an academic and personal level.

These tended to be teachers I vibed more strongly with, and typically these were teachers who demonstrably cared about teaching.

This was made clear by their enthusiasm, how they treated students, and how much they went above expectations to help. If you honestly like learning and are an enthusiastic, responsible, engaging student, a great recommendation letter will follow naturally.

The horse should lead the cart. Read my How to Get a 4. She was my favorite teacher throughout high school for these reasons:. By the time of the letter writing, I had known her for two full years and engaged with her continuously, even when I wasn't taking a class with her in junior year.

All of this flowed down to the recommendation you see here. Remember, the horse leads the cart. The Common Application now has 16 qualities to rate, rather than the 10 here. You can tell that the updated Common App places a great emphasis on personality. The most important point here: The more experienced and trustworthy the teacher, the more meaningful this is.

You'll see below how you can accomplish this. As you read this, think — what are the interactions that would prompt the teacher to write a recommendation like this? This was a relationship built up in a period of over 2 years, with every small interaction adding to an overall larger impression. You can see how seriously they take the letter because of all the underlining. The letter here is very strong for a multitude of reasons. First, the length is notable — most letters are just a page long, but this is nearly two full pages , single spaced.

The structure is effective: This is a perfect blend of what effective letters contain. On the micro-level, her diction and phrasing are precise and effective.

She makes my standing clear with specific statements: This letter was important to complement the overall academic performance and achievements shown on the rest of my application. My second teacher Mrs. Swift was another favorite. Emotionally she was a reliable source of support for students. You can see right away that her remarks are terser. You might chalk this up to my not being as standout of a student in her mind, or her getting inundated with recommendation letter requests after over a decade of teaching.

Regardless, I did appreciate the 3 marks she gave me. Once again, as you read this letter, think: Overall, this letter is very strong. She also writes with the flair of an English teacher:. These comments most support the personality aspect of my Personal Narrative — having an irreverent, bold personality and not being afraid of speaking my mind.

She stops just short of making me sound obnoxious and argumentative. An experienced teacher vouching for this adds so much more weight than just my writing it about myself. Teacher recommendations are some of the most important components of your application. If you want detailed advice on how to interact with teachers earnestly, check out my How to Get a 4. The first piece of this is reporting your academic status and how the school works overall.

So it was pretty distinctive that I got a letter from our Principal, compared to other leading applicants from my school. This was also a blessing because our counseling department was terrible. Our school had nearly 1, students per grade, and only 1 counselor per grade. They were overworked and ornery, and because they were the gatekeepers of academic enrollment like class selection and prerequisites , this led to constant frictions in getting the classes you wanted.

But the counseling department was still the worst part of our high school administration, and I could have guessed that the letters they wrote were mediocre because they just had too many students. So how did my Principal come to write my recommendation and not those for hundreds of other students? Come senior year I might have talked to him about my difficulty in reaching counselors and asked that he write my recommendation.

Since I was a top student he was probably happy to do this. Interestingly, the prompt for the recommendation has changed. It used to start with: Now, it starts with: The purpose of the recommendation has shifted to the specific: This letter is probably the weakest overall of all my letters.

It reads more like a verbal resume than a personal account of how he understands me. I still appreciate that he wrote my letter, and it was probably more effective than a generic counselor letter. This is the same application I sent to every school I applied to, including Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford. If you keep reading to the end, I'll have advice for both younger students and current applicants to build the strongest application possible. For most top colleges like Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, and so on, you will need to complete a supplemental application to provide more info than what's listed on the Common Application.

Harvard was and is the same. The good news is that it's an extra chance for you to share more about yourself and keep pushing your Personal Narrative. This section is pretty straightforward and is similar to what you'd see on a Columbia application. Just as in my Common App, I noted that I was most likely to study biological sciences, choose Medicine as my vocation, and participate in orchestra, writing, and research as my extracurriculars.

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I had the space to list some additional honors, where I listed some musical honors that didn't make the cut in my Common App. The reason was that I was actually pretty mediocre at violin and was nowhere near national-ranked.

I wanted to focus attention on my most important materials, which for my Personal Narrative meant my research work. For the most part, the Harvard supplemental essay prompt has stayed the same. You can write about a topic of your choice or about any of the suggestions. Even though this is optional, I highly recommend you write something here. Again, you have so few chances in the overall application to convey your personal voice — an extra words gives you a huge opportunity.

I would guess that the majority of admitted Harvard students submit a Writing Supplement. After a lot of brainstorming, I settled on the idea that I wanted to balance my application by writing about the major non-academic piece of my Personal Narrative — my music training.

Reading it now, I actually think this was a pretty bad essay, and I cringe to high heaven. I used my violin teacher as a vehicle for talking about what the violin meant to me. You can tell I love the concept of the vehicle in essays. You do not need to have a ten year plan, but getting a sense of what kinds of professions you have considered gives us insight into your current plans.

Beginning with the application cycle students applying for Fall admission , applicants may provide self-reported SAT and ACT test scores including Subject Tests, Advanced Placement, etc. Admitted students who decide to enroll at Harvard College will be required to submit official test scores. We ask about the tests here to ensure that you are aware of the testing requirements, and so that we can anticipate the test results we will receive.

You should not submit two Subject Tests in mathematics to meet this requirement. If your first language is not English you should ordinarily not use a Subject Test in your first language to meet the two Subject Tests requirement.

All students are encouraged to submit additional Subject Tests which may include one in your first language , Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate test results, or any other evidence of the breadth and depth of your academic accomplishments.

We take into account your educational background when reviewing your scores. For Regular Decision applicants, we encourage you to submit at least one set of scores from the October test or an earlier series. Doing so enables the admissions staff to begin considering applications in December. We recommend that you complete your standardized testing by the December series and have scores reported promptly.

We have always looked at the best scores of our applicants. These exam scores are additional pieces of academic information which can help us as we think about your preparation and potential for college level work. While we normally require two SAT Subject Tests , you may apply without them if the cost of the tests represents a financial hardship.

If you have the opportunity to take AP and IB exams, the results may be helpful for academic placement, should you be accepted and choose to enroll at Harvard. If you wish to read more about the role of testing in our admissions process, please go to http: Contributions students make to the well-being of their secondary schools, communities and families are of great interest to us.

So indicate for us the time you spend and the nature of the contribution to extracurricular activities, the local community, work experiences and help provided to your family. Activities you undertake need not be exotic but rather might show a commitment to excellence regardless of the activity. For example, a student can gain a great deal from helping his or her family with babysitting or other household responsibilities or working in a restaurant to help with family or personal expenses.

Some students list only activities they feel will appear significant to the admissions office, while others endeavor to list every single thing they have ever done. Neither approach is right for everyone. We realize that extracurricular and athletic opportunities are either unavailable or limited at many high schools.

You should not feel that your chances for admission to college are hindered by the lack of extracurricular opportunities. For additional thoughts on extracurricular activities, please refer to this article in the New York Times.

In this section, please describe the activity and your level of participation. The grades during which you have participated are important because they help us to understand the depth of your involvement in that activity and your changing interests over time.

We are interested to know how you manage your time and to understand how you balance your life outside of the classroom. We know that students are often active both during the school year and the summer — working, babysitting siblings, enrolling in courses, traveling, playing sports, holding internships, etc.

Filling out the grid is an act of prioritization: Harvard is a residential institution, and our students are actively engaged in college life. This section helps us to understand how you might contribute at Harvard.

The Common and Universal College Application essay topics are broad. While this might seem daunting at first, look at it as an opportunity to write about something you care about, rather than what you think the Admissions Committee wants to hear.

The point of the personal statement is for you to have the chance to share whatever you would like with us. The essay is an opportunity for students to provide information that might not be contained in other parts of the application. As an admissions officer, I personally get excited to read through an essay that has a great lead. Think of your opening sentence or paragraph as the hyperlink on your favorite news website. Editing is a critical talent that will become increasingly important as students advance through college, graduate and professional school, and, of course, in their professions.

It can be helpful to have your essay reviewed by another person to check on typos, etc. The essay is not a vocabulary test! We want to get a glimpse of who you are, not who you think we want you to be. Believe it or not, the essay nearly always fits in with the rest of the application. A terrific one can help and a careless one can hurt.

Use the essay to convey more about you and what you value. As we have noted earlier, we realize that students have widely varying help in preparing their applications. Some students have completed the essay entirely on their own. Others have used appropriate amounts of help from family, friends and teachers. Such help would include proofreading and general suggestions about organization as well as brainstorming about topics. Still other students may have been preparing for the essay for many years with too much help from a variety of sources, including borderline plagiarism or worse , using the Internet or various essay writing publications and services.

We look carefully to see how consistent the essay is with other parts of the application, including grades in English courses, standardized tests, and, occasionally, the actual download of the essay that is part of the SAT and ACT.

It is critically important for you to be honest with colleges as you start what could be a long- term association. Please read this section carefully. Do not feel obligated to fill this space, but some students have used this opportunity to tell us about challenging circumstances in their lives such as illness or other difficulties that may have affected their grades.

Supplementary materials art slides, music recordings, research papers, etc.

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My Successful Harvard Application (Complete Common App + Supplement) , College Essays In , I applied to college and got into every school I applied to, including Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and MIT. PrepScholar Admissions is the world's best admissions consulting service.

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The Common and Universal College Application essay topics are broad. While this might seem daunting at first, look at it as an opportunity to write about something you care about, rather than what you think the Admissions Committee wants to hear.

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