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Welcome to our first ebook! We’ve collected all of our advice on college applications into a single handy guide, which takes you through the process from start to finish, and covers all the finicky steps in between.
We’ve written a lot of advice, exercises, and guides for our students to help guide them through the college admissions process. This Complete Guide collects these, and orders them in the same way we order our curriculum, with instructions to lead you through it just as our students do.
Of course, a written guide isn’t the same as personal guidance through the admissions process, but we have included all the same advice and exercises. Now, we’ll go through what exactly the guide covers, and how you can use it to aid your own college applications. Of course, if you ever want to hear how our coaching can give you a more personalized plan for college applications, you can schedule a free consultation with us. We’re always happy to hear from you
Our ebook contains five main sections. Each section deals with a different phase of the college application process, and parallels the phases we guide our students through in our college application curriculum. Here’s how it works:
In this phase we go through how to build a successful college list, and how you can research colleges to find which ones are the best fit for you. This may be a fast or slow process; some students know exactly where they want to go to college, while others need more time to explore the possibilities. Your list will vary based on your goals; do not expect to have the same college list as your friends. You are different people, with unique wants and needs from your universities.
The second part of this phase covers application portals: the Common App, Apply Texas, the UC Application, and some information on independent portals. We advise our students to fill these out early in the process, so they don’t have to rush at the 11th hour to make sure their applications are complete.
Continuing the trend from phase 1, phase 2 deals with the more “minor” details of an application. While these are incredibly important pieces, students often let them fall by the wayside in favor of essays and the stress they bring. Thus, we introduce them early to make sure everything’s squared away before the essay writing begins.
First, we cover letters of recommendation, and how to ensure you get a good one. Your teachers know your talents better than anyone, but you have to give them a proper chance to discuss them. This includes how to reach out, how to write a brag sheet, and advice on which teachers to ask for a letter.
Next, we cover the activities section. This is often the first thing admissions officers read when reviewing an application, so it’s important to put your best foot forward. We detail what to write about, and how each different application portal wants you to write about your activities.
Finally, we cover the additional information section, and whether you need to include one. This section often trips students up, as they worry about leaving something blank on an application. In the guide, we discuss when you should include additional details, and when they are unnecessary.
The personal statement is daunting for many students, and is the single aspect of applications we spend the longest time on when mentoring our students. This essay goes out to every school you apply to, and is generally the single longest piece of writing you’ll create when applying to colleges.
We begin with some exercises to help you brainstorm what to write about. Picking a topic is a challenge for many, but structured brainstorming helps bring new and interesting ideas to the fore. Once you’ve brainstormed an idea, we have you read and analyze an essay from a past Ivy Scholars student. By understanding what they did well, you can improve your own writing in turn.
Finally, we begin the writing and editing process. This will take time! Often, we’ll go through five or even ten drafts of an essay with a student before reaching the essay’s final form. Don’t get discouraged if the process takes a while; Rome wasn’t built in a day, and great essays aren’t written in one sitting.
After you finish with your personal statement, or more often simultaneously with editing it, it’s time to begin writing the supplemental essays. These are the essays schools ask for independently of each other, and can add up to twenty more essays for you to write, depending on the scale of your college list, and how enthusiastic the schools you’re applying to are.
Fortunately, we have a system called “cross application,” which allows our students to write far fewer essays overall. Many colleges ask the same or deeply similar questions for their supplemental essays, so with a careful approach, you are able to write a single essay and then edit it slightly to apply to multiple schools. We include both a description of the various kinds of essays and how to write them well, and a form to help you organize your own cross-applications.
This phase covers details that occur outside, around, or after the college application process. First, there’s college interviews. Most schools do not require interviews, and some colleges don’t even offer them. That said, interviews can be both helpful and stressful for students, so we’ve included a guide on how to prepare for your college interview, to ensure you make a great impression.
Next, we cover financial aid. How to pay for college is a concern for many students, especially because the financial aid applications are not always self explanatory. We explain how to apply for both government and college aid, and what forms you need to fill out for each. We also touch briefly on where to find reputable third-party scholarships, and how to apply for them.
Finally, we discuss how to go about succeeding once you get to college. We can’t give you advice for every conceivable circumstance, but we include important advice we learned from our own time spent in college, and what we’d wished we’d known before we started. College is a grand adventure, but like all adventures, parts of it are quite challenging. We hope that by fore-arming you with information, you will be well prepared for each and every challenge you face.
Our blog contains articles which cover much of the same information as is in this guide, as well as information on more niche subjects. Our college guides give you information about specific colleges, and include guides to writing the supplemental essays for each.
Our guides go more in depth on niche topics, covering the nuances of college applications for student athletes, business students, international students, artists, and more.
We cover this in our Candidacy Building service (ebook to come), but we have a number of blog articles on the subject as well. We especially recommend checking out our articles on extracurriculars, leadership, intellectual vitality, and summer programs.
While it may be too early for you to begin actually applying for college, it’s not too early for you to start thinking about it.
No, unfortunately. College admissions is incredibly competitive, and there is no way to be certain of the results. There are thousands of bright and talented students competing for a limited number of spots at top schools. This inevitably makes the process competitive, with acceptance rates dropping year after year.
While our process will not guarantee you a spot at your dream school, we will improve your chances of getting in somewhere great. Not every student we help gets into their dream school (though many do), but they all end up attending college at a school which offers them great opportunities.
The SAT and ACT are integral to college applications (though test optional policies have shifted that somewhat). For advice on getting ready, check out our articles on studying for the tests, and on dealing with test anxiety. If you want additional help, check out our test-prep mentoring, or sign up for one of our test prep bootcamps.
You can schedule a free consultation to learn more about how we can help you, or check out our Candidacy Building or College Applications Coaching pages for more info.
You should also check out our pro bono program, which exists to help talented students get the support and resources they deserve, even when they might otherwise be unable to afford them.
Not yet – but keep your eyes peeled!