Developing Specialized Extracurriculars: The Arrowhead Strategy

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A high percentage of the application pool to elite colleges is made up of students with a vast array of extracurricular projects, awards, and accomplishments. Computer science applicants have hackathons; pre-med applications have hospital internships; math majors have summer camps; humanities majors have award-winning essays; the list goes on and on. Colleges have seen it all, and while that doesn’t mean that it is a bad thing to have these sorts of extracurriculars, it simply isn’t enough to gain admission to a top university anymore. 

While these types of extracurriculars demonstrate ability, they do not demonstrate vision or a goal. That’s why Ivy Scholars has developed what we call the Arrowhead Strategy, a way of developing and framing your extracurriculars so that they have the specificity and clear-cut motivation that separates a high-achieving candidate from the rest of the equally high-achieving application pool. In this article we’ll explore what this strategy entails, and how to make it work for you.


The Arrowhead Strategy

The fundamental idea behind the strategy is to detach the arrowhead from the body of the arrow in your college apps. The arrowhead is what you aim with – it’s what allows the arrow to penetrate the target and stick there. On the other hand, the body of the arrow is the mass that gives the arrow the momentum to reach the target in the first place.

So how does this connect to your application? Let’s say you have an interest in computer science, as an example. The body of your arrow contains all your computer science awards, hackathon participation, your AP CompSci scores, etc. This is all of the stuff that proves you know how to code, thereby adding ‘momentum’ to your application, just like the body of an arrow. However, the body of an arrow alone won’t “stick” in the minds of admissions officers without the arrowhead. 

The arrowhead of your application is a highly specific niche you will develop in order to direct the arrow. This niche really depends on your interests, environment, and, to some extent, circumstantial factors. However, what matters is that it is a specific subfield, related or unrelated to your ‘arrow body’, that you can apply your passion toward. It’s easier to explain this idea with examples:

One student we worked with, who was accepted to multiple T20s and a couple of Ivy+ institutions including Harvard, decided to direct his passion for computer science toward solving urban issues in his hometown and improving infrastructure. By doing so, he developed a niche, and he fired his ‘arrow’ of computer science knowledge into developing a startup, working at internships, etc, all in the ‘arrowhead’ niche of urban development. Because he had such a specific area to focus on, his field was niche enough that it made getting an internship at his local construction agency much easier. His use of the strategy made for more memorable essays and stories compared to the average computer science major, and he even had a backup major when he was applying, urban studies, which tied into his narrative and is much less oversubscribed than computer science. 

Another student we worked with successfully used the arrowhead strategy to his advantage for his business application. Applying to Wharton, the most competitive undergraduate business program in the nation, our student knew that he had to find a way to stand out. He had the ‘momentum’ in the body of his arrow – in this case, that consisted of a profile that demonstrated a strong interest and skillset in business, such as taking part in entrepreneurship clubs and captaining his school’s debate team. However, as is often the case with Ivy+ institutions, this simply wasn’t enough. We therefore helped him channel his extensive business experience and extracurricular profile by developing an ‘arrowhead’ for him to focus his goals on. Coming from an Asian heritage, equipped with bilingual proficiency, and with experience studying different cultures and nations through his AP courses and Model UN experience, he focused his business background on cultural studies and international relations. Applying to the extremely competitive Wharton Huntsman program, which specializes in the intersection between international communication and business, our student wrote essays about real-world examples of how businesses struggled due to a lack of the cultural perspectives that his ‘arrowhead’ offered. By adding this cultural edge to his business profile, he was able to sharpen his overall application into a more tangible, specific, and memorable one. The student was ultimately accepted to the Huntsman program.

For a final example, let us say that you’re hypothetically interested in physics. For an application to have physics as both its body and arrowhead and gets admitted to T20s, the student would most likely have to be a stellar, gifted physics prodigy who’s won every physics Olympiad out there. This is very difficult and very few people can achieve this without a natural talent for physics. However, if you change your arrowhead to something like, for example, architecture, while keeping your ‘body’ of extracurriculars surrounding physics, your application instantly gains an edge over other physics applicants. For example, you might use your physics knowledge to improve the structural stability of your local housing projects, or gain an internship at a real estate engineering firm and design their projects. This instantly makes your application more focused and directed than a normal physics applicant.

Using this strategy is particularly effective for standing out if you are applying for an oversubscribed major or you’re from an overrepresented demographic. You don’t have to know which industry you want to apply your passions to for your entire career and life, but you should try to have one for the sake of developing an arrowhead in your college applications. If you have an arrow body with the right extracurriculars and stats to add momentum to your application, and a unique yet sharp arrowhead to aim with, you’ll be sure to hit the bullseye with your college applications. 

Final Thoughts

College applications are incredibly competitive, as each student strives to demonstrate their inherent value in a very limited space. The purpose of the arrowhead approach is to focus your application specifically, allowing the point to stick in the minds of admissions officers, supported by the weight of activities behind it. 

Of course, we realize this is often easier said than done. Many students come to us with great backgrounds and amazing accomplishments, but uncertainty about how best to present them to admissions officers. If you want to hear how we can help you tell your story, and make sure your application flies straight and true, schedule a free consultation with us today. We’ve helped hundreds of students get into their dream schools, and are always happy to hear from you.

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Wendy Y.
Below is my son's review. He was accepted to his dream Ivy League school!

From an admitted student's perspective, I am incredibly grateful to have met Sasha - he has been instrumental in helping me achieve my educational dreams (Ivy League), all while being an absolute joy (he's a walking encyclopedia, only funnier!) to work with.

Many people are dissuaded from seeking a college counselor because they think they can get into their desired college(s) either way. Honestly, going that route is a bit short-sighted and can jeopardize your odds of acceptances after years of hard work. The sad truth is, the American education system (even if you attend a fancy private school and ESPECIALLY if you go to a public school) doesn't really tell students how to write a compelling and authentic application. Going into the admissions process alone, without speaking with an advisor, is like going to court without a lawyer - you put yourself at a significant disadvantage because you don't have all the facts in front of you, or the help you need to negotiate the system.

That said, you need a good lawyer just like you need a good college counselor. And that's where Sasha distinguishes himself from the crowd of people claiming they'll get you into Harvard. I came to Sasha worried about and frankly dumbfounded by the college admissions process. I was unsure what to write about and how to go about drafting the essay that perfectly captured my passion, interests, and self. And I was highly skeptical that anyone could really help me. But, damn, did Sasha prove me wrong. From the beginning, Sasha amazed me with his understanding of the process, and ability to lend clarity and direction to me when I desperate needed it. After interviewing me about my background, experiences, activities, outlook, and vision, he helped me see qualities about myself I had not previously considered 'unique' or 'stand-out.' This process of understanding myself was so incredibly important in laying the groundwork for the essays I eventually wrote, and I'm certain I would've drafted boring, inauthentic essays without it.

Looking back, Sasha's talent is that he can see where your strengths lie, even when you don't see them. The truth is, although we don't always realize it, everyone has a unique story to tell. Sasha helped me see mine, and with his big-picture insight I was able to write the application that truly encapsulated my life and vision. He inspired me to dig deeper and write better, challenging me to revise and revise until my essays were the most passionate and authentic work I had ever written. As clichéd as that sounds, that's really what universities are looking for. In retrospect, it makes sense - in the real world passionate (not simply intelligent) individuals are the ones who make a difference in the world, and those are the individuals colleges would like to have associated with their brand.

In the end, I was accepted to the college of my dreams, a feat I could not have achieved without the direction Sasha lent to me. Essays (and the personal narrative you develop through your application) matter so much, and can literally make or break your application. I have seen so many of my 'qualified' friends receive rejections because they wrote contrived essays that didn't truly represent who they were; conversely, I have also seen so many friends with shorter resumes accepted because they were able to articulate their story in a genuinely passionate and authentic way - I fall into the latter category.

As a former admissions officer at Johns Hopkins, Sasha knows what types of essays jibe well with universities, an invaluable asset to have in the admissions process. He is responsive, flexible, creative, positive, and witty. For anyone who is serious about going into the college admissions process informed and prepared, I highly recommend Sasha.
Arda E.
I used Ivy Scholars to mainly help me with college applications. Within weeks of using this service, Sasha was able to simplify the already complex process. When it came to writing the Common App essay, Sasha didn’t just help with grammar and syntax, he brought my essays to life. Sasha also worked tirelessly to help solidify my extracurricular activities, including research and internship opportunities. Without his help, I would have never had an impressive resume.

Sasha is not only an extremely knowledgeable tutor, but also a genuine brother figure. His guidance, throughout my last two years of high school, was everything I needed to get me an acceptance letter from my dream schools (UC Berkeley, Tufts, Emory).

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Working with Sasha, I didn’t just become a good student, I became a genuine scholar.
Samson S.
We worked with Ivy Scholars during my son's senior year. I was concerned that we may be too late to take advantage of college advising but the Ivy Scholars team quickly and confidently directed us through the steps to ensure no deadlines were missed. Sasha's knowledge about schools, what they looked for in candidates, and how to maneuver the application process was invaluable. Mateo and Ryan worked with my son to help him create an essay that would get noticed and I am so appreciative he had their guidance.

Prior to securing Ivy Scholars, we tried using a less-expensive online service which was a terrible experience. As a parent, Ivy Scholars brought peace of mind to an area that was frankly overwhelming. This service was invaluable in the knowledge that we gained throughout the process. He has also met with my freshman daughter to provide guidance for her high school courses, career paths, extracurricular activities, and more.

Prior to signing with Ivy Scholars, I tried a less expensive online service and was very disappointed.

As a result of our work with Ivy Scholars, I am pleased to say that my son will be attending Stern Business School at New York University this fall! I highly recommend Ivy Scholars. Highly recommend!