How I Got into Top Schools (like Stanford)

September 04, 2018 By Emma
Your College Decision (College Advice)   

  1. Only doing things I wanted to do: My parents encouraged me to follow my interests without putting any direct pressure on me, so I didn’t stay in any extracurriculars or classes just to “look good for college”—instead, I redirected that energy towards doing things that I actually enjoyed. 

  1. Top-notch academics: There’s no way of getting around this one—I was in the top percentile of students in my grade and in the top percentile of SAT test-takers. I also took almost all of my classes at the highest level possible throughout high school, including five AP classes in my favorite subjects. Being a lifelong reader probably helped me do well in school too.

  1. One high-level, unusual extracurricular + a wider range of long-term extracurriculars: I held leadership positions in youth organizations through my progressive church, both in my 50-person youth group and on the interstate/regional level. The latter position often required planning and leading monthly weekend-long conferences with over 100 attendees. Although these weren’t traditional, competitive "achievements,” I loved working with these youth organizations, and my minister was able to write me a strong letter of recommendation. Additionally, I stayed with several interests (Girl Scouts, clarinet, German) from a young age (elementary/middle school), and I took on leadership positions related to these interests in high school.

  1. Writing the right essays for the right schools: Even though I didn’t get into some less selective schools, I got into Stanford because my Stanford essays were way better. None of the questions overtly asked why I was interested in Stanford, but my responses still demonstrated why Stanford specifically was the right fit for me. In my acceptance packet, one admissions officer even wrote that one of these essays was an “outstanding” part of my application.

  1. Employment: I worked as a camp counselor for a couple summers preceding my college applications, which showed responsibility. After being deferred early action, I updated Stanford with my upcoming plan for a more prestigious internship at an NGO at the UN, which might have been what turned their “maybe” into a “yes.”


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