In years past, the answer was fairly straightforward: just be a great student. In the past, if you took challenging courses in high school, got very high grades, and topped it off with glowing teaching recommendations and strong SAT scores, then you were practically guaranteed to get into a top 30 university. It was that simple.
More than anything else, leading universities were looking for pure academic scholars. And as long as you had a few extracurricular activities on your resume to prove that you didn’t spend all of your time hiding out in the library, then you were a shoo-in for a top school.
But times have changed. These days, star students are everywhere. Overachievers are everywhere. With 20,000 high schools in America, there are 20,000 valedictorians graduating every year. A good portion of them apply to Harvard, but Harvard only has room for 2,000 freshmen. That means 90% of these “perfect students” are not getting in.
Being a great student just isn’t enough anymore. It’s impressive, yes, but it’s also fairly common. You need something more.
That means you have to accomplish something remarkable outside of class, something that positively and profoundly impacts those around you. You have to demonstrate that you’re an interesting person, who’s a leader willing to take the initiative, with an insatiable intellectual curiosity, a resilient never-say-die spirit, and a really compelling passion for something that speaks to you on a deeply personal level.
Just showing up to school every day and earning good grades isn’t enough; there are too many applicants like that. You have to show that in addition to doing well in class, you have a side of you that is unusual, admirable, authentic, unexpected, and pretty darn cool. You’ve got an undeniable personal spark: what some might call an X-factor. In fact, this is typically far more important than having a perfect GPA. A perfect GPA, by itself, is quite boring.
Maybe you launched a business that nobody had ever thought of. Maybe you solved a problem in your community that no one else could seem to fix. Maybe you have a strange hobby that you turned into a massively popular online course for underprivileged students. The trick is demonstrating that you’re actively engaged in the world, and that you’ve had a profound impact on your community. And what’s most important is that it’s not something common, or something that anyone could have done. It’s something rare and distinct that makes you extraordinary. It’s signature proof that you’re not like anybody else… because you’re not! And that’s what every college wants: someone smart, yes, but also compelling and unique. That rare gem who’s going to add immediate value to their campus, and then go on in life to make their university proud.
Okay, you might be saying. But how am I supposed to achieve something like that when I’m only a teenager? That’s where we come in. Our job at Ivy Scholars is to help you become the very best version of yourself, so that you tap into your full potential and accomplish something remarkable that only you could have done. That’s something that’s well within your ability. That’s a great story. And that’s what grabs the attention of every admissions officer. When you get ready to apply to college, you’ll be competing against other applicants who have those types of remarkable stories. And if you want to compete with them, you’ll need a great story of your own. Ready to get started?
One of the single best ways to differentiate yourself from the tens of thousands of other applicants you’re competing with is to come up with a signature capstone project. The idea is to tap into your natural strengths and interests, and to focus your time and energy on one big project that will provide the perfect showcase for your leadership abilities and your social values and the profound impact you’ve made on your community (whether that’s your school, your town, the scientific community, an online community, or some other group you’re involved with).
The good news is that there’s an infinite number of possibilities for what that project can be. And more than anything, you want it to be something that’s deeply meaningful to you. This is important not only because the project will take a lot of time and effort and you don’t want to lose steam, but also because college admissions officers want to know the real you, and what makes you different from everyone else. Copying someone else’s capstone project won’t help your true self shine, so it’s key to think about what’s something you’re uniquely positioned to achieve. What’s something that’s perfectly suited for your combination of strengths, interests and abilities? That’s the project for you.
If you’re a STEM student planning a career in computer science, a compelling capstone project might be to conduct independent research on bias detection using existing AI data sets, and then publish your paper in a top-tier IEEE journal, which demonstrates you’re already making contributions to the scientific community on-par with graduate and PhD students.
If you’re a budding entrepreneur, you might launch a profitable business that collects recycled waste products from schools and then sells them back to the state to be recycled into sustainable products. If you’re an aspiring immigration lawyer or social activist, you might spearhead a local campaign to provide food, shelter, and educational opportunities for disenfranchised groups or displaced communities, and perhaps you speak before your state legislature on behalf of a new hate-crime bill. If you’re a music enthusiast, you might launch a popular web channel where leading musicians provide free instructional tutorials to anyone interested in that instrument, regardless of where they live around the world.
Our job as mentors is to guide you every step of the way with your capstone project so that you’re never at a loss for ideas, support, connections, or encouragement. We help you with every phase of development: from skills assessment, to project ideation, to time management, to expert outreach, to impact evaluation, to project completion. We want you to tackle a project that excites you, but maybe even scares you a little bit, because it will challenge you to grow and develop in new and unexpected ways. And make no mistake: the ups and downs of your personal journey will provide excellent fodder for a gripping, original, persuasive college essay.
There’s no substitute for experience. College admissions officers know that one of the best ways to demonstrate intellectual vitality and explore a career interest is to participate in an internship program, either in-person or remote (both are valuable). But not all internships are created equal. The best internships are the ones that provide opportunities to do meaningful work and make significant contributions to an organization, rather than relegate you to busy-work. Helping to file papers, fetch lunch or simply answer phones can certainly teach responsibility and professionalism. But it’s not going to challenge you intellectually or stimulate your curiosity, and it’s certainly not going to lead to a professional reference letter that makes colleges sit up and take notice of your accomplishments.
Ivy Scholars offers select high school students the opportunity to intern (either remotely or in-person) at a variety of hand-picked, cutting-edge startup companies that provide the student with the rare opportunity to engage with senior-level staff and conduct meaningful work. From the heart of Silicon Valley to the East Coast, exciting opportunities abound for ambitious students who are hungry for a challenge. Students might be assigned to perform data analysis, create infographics and Powerpoint presentations, draft a plan for revenue expansion, or build the company’s social network platform from scratch. The possibilities are endless, and they’re all based in real-world applications, happening in real time.
These are not simulations or theory. This is you joining a small team of highly-educated professionals who are all bright, ambitious business innovators. Many of them obtained their undergraduate and graduate degrees from the same schools you’re hoping to attend. In success, you will gain enormous insight and experience into the business world, and ideally, you will earn a glowing reference letter from a senior member of the company, if not the founder personally. As mentors, we will match you with an appropriate internship, track your progress and contributions, and learn feedback from your employer to maximize the benefits of your experience. We will also assist you in obtaining a world-class reference letter that underscores your unique skills, personal traits and contributions, and adds impact to your college application.
How This Works
Here are two examples from past students, and how we helped them find success through internships.
Student 1 approached us with a keen interest in machine learning. With a strong desire to learn more about the field, as well as some experience in programming, this was the perfect role for him. However, he was looking specifically to implement his ML interest in a field where he would be able to write a meaningful essay about community service in the field of education. We found him an internship with a United Nations-backed startup founded by UC Berkeley and the University of Waterloo alumni. They accelerate the learning process for youths in developing regions through a gamified adaptive-learning interface, and have won numerous awards.
Student 1 is working directly with the CTO of the firm to gain mentoring on the technical side, learning about ML while developing a project that will directly impact 1000s of underprivileged students in Indonesia.
Student 2 approached us looking to learn more about either the worlds of either finance or medical technology – two of his primary interests. Rather than settling for one or the other, we sourced him a role with a private equity and venture capital investment firm based in the San Francisco Bay Area, which would allow him to explore both fields by working with industry experts in leveraged buyouts and MedTech SAAS acquisitions. By combining his interests in an interdisciplinary manner, Student 2 can learn more about two of the most prestigious industries to break into. He is likely one of just a handful of high schoolers with real work experience at a private equity firm. Not only will his work be used to evaluate investment decisions in the order of seven figures, but he is on track to obtain a fantastic letter of recommendation that will allow him to stand out in any finance-related role he may apply to in the future, beyond just his college applications.
We start by learning about each student. Specifically, we want to know what makes you “you.” What makes you different from everybody else on the planet? We all have different strengths and skills, even if we haven’t identified them yet. What are your hidden superpowers? What things come to you far easier than they do to most people? What are your deep-seated passions, joys, or personal causes?
Once we’ve identified your core strengths and interests, we help you build them into formidable skill sets. By tapping into what you love, and what you’re naturally good at, we come up with challenging projects that push you outside of your comfort zone, and provide you with golden opportunities to grow, learn, and flourish. Not only will you be growing as a person, but you’ll be developing into an impressive candidate who shines. And when we identify your weaknesses, for example time management or public speaking or creative writing, we’ll work with you one-on-one to turn them into newfound areas of strength.
More than anything else, leading universities are clamoring to find college applicants who are naturally curious about the world, and have an insatiable appetite to explore and learn. The first evidence of this is your mastery of high school course material, but that’s not enough. Top universities are looking for students who go above and beyond the courses offered at their high school to find opportunities for intellectual enrichment. We help you make this a key part of your extracurricular involvement. Whether it’s publishing research in a top journal, securing a patent on a new invention, or earning an exhibit in a leading gallery, we help you rethink what’s possible and mentor you every step of the way.
What kind of impact do you want to have on the world? Top universities are betting that the impact you have in high school is a preview of what you’ll accomplish later in life. So we help you identify a social cause that’s near and dear to your heart, and we help you map out a plan to accomplish something substantial that helps other people. No one expects you to cure all the world’s ills as a teenager. But if you’re conscientious and concerned, and you apply the skill sets you have to make a meaningful difference in someone’s life, then that’s a remarkable story that speaks to your values, determination, and capabilities. You want universities to get the sense that once you set your mind to something, you’re unstoppable.
At the end of the day, our most critical job is to help you identify where you should be investing your valuable time, money and energy, because those are precious and limited resources. Should you take summer classes at Columbia? Should you join a mission trip to Mexico? Should you study for the SATs if most schools are test-optional? Many students spend untold hours, weeks, months and years on seemingly worthwhile pursuits that either won’t help their college candidacy, or worse, will rob them of valuable opportunities to accomplish something impactful. We are your partners and guides, and we are all personally invested in your long-term success.
more likely to get into their top-choice school.