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Ivy League Admission Tips: Getting Familiar with the SAT and the PSAT

Start preparing for the SAT exam, which is an important factor in determining Ivy League admission success.

The precursor to the modern SAT was developed from a U.S. Army intelligence test and was first administered in 1926. The test’s name and scoring have gone through several iterations, but the SAT remains one of the foremost aptitude tests used in the college admissions process. The College Board owns and administers the SAT.

Test Dates

The SAT is currently administered approximately seven times each year. The registration deadline for each date is about four to five weeks prior to the test date, though late registration (with a late fee) is also available. Registering late, however, is not recommended; test center spaces fill up quickly.

Location & Format

The SAT is administered only at specified test centers to ensure testing integrity. The SAT is offered in paper form, but students with disabilities are eligible to use a computer word processor for essays and short answers. Use of a computer is limited and must be approved. Students who are approved to use a computer on the SAT must take the exam at their own school rather than one of the designated test centers.

Services & Fees

The current SAT fees and services are listed on the College Board’s website.

Subjects Tested

The SAT is comprised of three sections—Reading, Writing and Language, and Mathematics. The SAT formerly had an optional essay component, but it has since been discontinued.

  • Reading: Assesses your English comprehension and analysis skills, knowledge of English vocabulary and usage in context, and your command of evidence.
  • Writing and Language: Assesses your understanding of standard English conventions (e.g., grammar and vocabulary) and the expression of ideas.
  • Mathematics: Assesses your problem-solving and data analysis skills as well as your knowledge of algebra and advanced math.


For scoring purposes, the Reading/Writing and Language portions of the SAT count as one section. Therefore, you will receive two section scores ranging from 200 to 800, and the total composite score is the sum of both section scores, yielding a range of 400 to 1600.

When to First Take the SAT

You should take the SAT during junior year, preferably after taking the Preliminary SAT (PSAT), since this practice test gives you an extra opportunity to prepare in a real testing environment.


Familiarity with the PSAT is one of the most important elements of successful test taking, and so you should consider this pretest as part of your test strategy.

The PSAT is slightly shorter and easier than the SAT, but it assesses students using the same content and format, providing valuable experience and a baseline for estimating potential SAT scores. More than that, the PSAT is also used as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT), which is why you may see the test referred to as the PSAT/NMSQT.

High school juniors should take the PSAT in the fall since test results are used by the National Merit Scholarship Program to determine eligibility for scholarships and recognition.

One of the advantages of taking the PSAT is that your scores will not be reported to colleges. Since the PSAT is inexpensive and risk-free from an admissions standpoint, this practice test is an ideal way to gauge where you stand with regard to the SAT.

For more information on how to ace the college admissions exams, schedule a free meeting with Ivy League Prep.

Ivy League Admission Tips: Applying as an Underrepresented Minority, Part 2

In the first blog post of this two-part series, we defined underrepresented minorities in the context of college admissions. This group of applicants is usually made up of black, Hispanic, and Native American applicants, who have historically experienced low admission rates. Other ethnic minorities, such as Asian-American applicants, are not included in this group because they enjoy high enrollment levels at top colleges.

In this post, we explain why top colleges strive to promote diversity through unrepresented minority admissions and provide Ivy League admission tips for unrepresented minority applicants.

Diversity, Equal Opportunity, and Affirmative Action

The key factors driving underrepresented minority admissions on top college campuses are a desire for diversity and equal opportunity coupled with affirmative action policies.

Of course, colleges value diversity on campus. But top colleges seek to balance diversity with an admissions process built around principles of equal opportunity and merit.

On the one hand, colleges strive to carefully shape each class into a diverse group of premier students. At the same time, these schools strive to promote an admissions environment of equal opportunity. These two goals, along with the special priority given to legacy applicants, are often in conflict. Selecting students based on how they will make a college more diverse tends to result in stronger consideration going to one applicant over another equivalent choice. And prioritizing legacy applicants both affects a class’s diversity and demonstrates a lack of equal opportunity.

To confound the situation further, affirmative action also plays a role in admissions. Affirmative action policies favor neither diversity nor equal opportunity—these measures seek to remedy past and current discrimination, particularly against African Americans.

The result of these conflicting priorities is a somewhat messy, relatively subjective system, and admissions officers cannot typically provide substantive rationale for why some students are admitted over others.

Minority Recruitment and Admission

Top colleges are concerned with keeping a high enough level of underrepresented students, and so they actively recruit black, Hispanic, and Native American high school seniors. Recruitment efforts involve paying for qualified underrepresented minority applicants to visit the college and maintaining admissions staff specifically for recruiting such students.

The admissions process for underrepresented minority applicants is the same as the process for all other students, but like athletes, legacies, and other applicants with hooks, underrepresented minority applicants are evaluated using different standards. This doesn’t mean that underrepresented minority applicants have a lower standard or are not otherwise qualified to attend a top college, but it does mean that the diversity these applicants bring to the college is counted as an asset.

Strategic Considerations for Underrepresented Minority Applicants

Like the other hooks in college admissions, an applicant cannot control whether they are part of an underrepresented minority group. But applicants can choose how to use that in their admissions profile.

The key strategy for underrepresented minority applicants is the same strategy for all applicants: develop the strongest possible academic record by taking advantage of every possible opportunity for rigorous course work, score well on entrance exams, engage in relevant extracurricular activities, and create a compelling personal narrative.

Beyond this, underrepresented minority applicants can emphasize aspects of their lives that add to the diversity of top college campuses.

And if you identify as part of an underrepresented minority group, you should indicate your ethnic background on the college application.

As we’ve seen, the basic strategies for all college applicants—including minorities—are essentially the same. Contact Ivy League Prep for personalized guidance on how to get admitted to the school of your choice.

Ivy League Admission Tips: The Academic Index

The eight Ivy League schools use a numerical ranking system known as the Academic Index (AI) to rank students. The Ivy League originally developed the AI to ensure athletic recruits met a minimum academic standard that was relatively uniform across the eight schools.

In this article, we briefly discuss the AI—what it is and why it matters.

What is the Academic Index?

Essentially, the AI is a score from 60 to 240 derived from an applicant’s GPA or class rank and SAT scores. The AI is then used to determine a recruited athlete’s eligibility for admission. The minimum score changes from year to year, and some exceptions can be made.

The primary function of the AI is maintaining a high academic standard for recruited athletes at Ivy League schools. The average AI of any given team must be no more than one standard deviation below the average AI of the entire student body.

Modern computing has made calculating an applicant’s AI relatively simple. So, while the AI was created to compare recruited athletes within the Ivy League, several of the eight schools also use the AI to determine the academic rank of all applicants. Not all of the Ivy League schools determine applicants’ academic rank directly from the AI, however, and some don’t even calculate the AI of every applicant.

Does the Academic Index Matter?

For athletic recruits at Ivy League schools, the AI is an important metric since it is used to determine whether the recruit is eligible to play on a team.

Again, no team at an Ivy League school may have an average AI of more than one standard deviation below the average AI of all students at the college. The average U.S. college athlete has a significantly lower AI than those of Ivy League athletes, so this policy effectively limits Ivy League schools to recruiting only exceptional student athletes whose academics are strong enough for the rigors of a top-tier college education. Other schools are not limited in this way and may recruit athletes with lower academic performance.

While the team average has to fall within one standard deviation of the school’s average AI, this does not mean every athlete has that high of a score. Some student athletes have AIs two or more standard deviations lower than the school average. Such students are recruited for their athletic abilities, and teammates with higher AIs bring the average up to where it needs to be. In some cases, students are recruited to Ivy League teams specifically because they have higher AIs, and they may never actually play. While this doesn’t happen at all the Ivies, it does happen occasionally.

If you are seeking to be an athletic recruit, the main reason you should be aware of the AI is this: being an exceptional athlete is not enough to get into an Ivy League school—and many other top schools, even if they don’t use the AI. You must be academically competitive.

If you are not planning to pursue Ivy League sports as an athletic recruit, your AI still matters, but not as much. In either case, you should focus on getting the best grades possible while taking the most demanding courses you can handle, scoring well on the ACT or SAT, and creating a compelling narrative to tie everything in your admissions profile together.

One final note: the AI is not a reliable predictor of admissions success. Your academic record does matter, but other factors can influence your chances of being admitted a lot more—such as strong teacher recommendations that recognize you as truly exceptional, significant achievements in extracurricular activities, and prestigious third-party recognition.

Ivy League Admission Tips: What Role Does Geography Play?

As you prepare to apply for college, you’ll likely be considering your academic record, extracurricular activities, and other factors that will make you a strong candidate. However, your geographic region, an often-overlooked component of admissions profiles, may also give you an edge.

Top colleges generally do not release statistics on how many students apply from each state or how many of those applicants are admitted. As a result, it’s difficult to say precisely how much of a difference it makes to apply from an underrepresented geography—however, doing so certainly can make a difference.

Why Geographic Diversity Matters

Top colleges strive to build a diverse incoming class, and that includes geographic diversity. At the end of the admissions process, every school wants to be able to claim it has students from all 50 states.

Geography matters to top-tier schools for various reasons. While admitting students from every state is a matter of pride, it is also about brand and image—being seen as ubiquitous and diverse.

If a student from an underrepresented geography is admitted to one of the most selective colleges in the nation, other students—for instance, those in their peer group, those who look up to them, the student’s siblings and cousins, etc.—are more likely to consider applying to that college. By admitting a single student, a college can influence an entire community.

The Admissions Impact of Geographic Diversity

As with any single element of an admissions profile, being from an underrepresented state will not get you into the most selective colleges. While top schools won’t admit unqualified students, every state is likely to produce at least one qualified applicant—even if only barely qualified. And admissions officers are looking for at least one qualified applicant from each state so they can maintain the college’s “freshmen from all 50 states” status. For many top colleges, leaving a single state unrepresented would be unconscionable.

Generally speaking, though, top colleges receive a geographically diverse pool of applicants, so filling the incoming class with students from every state tends to work itself out.

However, an applicant’s geographic location can be a deciding factor when admissions officers must choose between two equally qualified students. In fact, location can even result in a favorable decision for less qualified applicants. The lower the number of qualified applicants from a single state, the higher their chances of being admitted to a top college. On the other hand, states with vast numbers of applicants—like New York and California—are much more competitive. A less qualified applicant from an underrepresented state has a higher chance of being admitted than a more qualified student from a highly represented state.

Still, keep in mind that coming from an underrepresented state does not guarantee a higher likelihood of being admitted. The quality of an applicant’s admissions profile does matter, and in the rare event that no qualified applicants apply from a given state, a top college might admit no one from that state. But if an applicant is the only one qualified from their state, the likelihood of that one student being admitted is fairly high.

Strategic Considerations for Geographic Diversity

Just being from an underrepresented state gives you a slight admissions advantage. The more you can demonstrate how where you live sets you apart from other applicants, the better. You should consider what environmental factors and experiences give you a unique perspective.

An applicant from Wyoming, for instance, might include details in their personal essay that hint at the unique perspective they gained from living in that state. Such a student could flavor their essay with words and phrases describing the small ranching community where they live, the distance between their house and the nearest grocery store, an economy built on natural resources, and other details. This would not need to be the central focus of the essay, but it can be used to create an interesting atmosphere for the narrative.

Clearly, coming from an underrepresented geographic region can work to your advantage in the admissions process. To find more Ivy League admission tips, be sure to check out our blog.

Ivy League Admission Tips: Applying as an Underrepresented Minority, Part 1

At top colleges, the term underrepresented minority (URM) is used narrowly to refer to black, Native American, and Hispanic applicants; admissions rates among these groups have been historically low. Top colleges strive to create racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse classes, so URM applicants tend to have improved chances of being admitted.

Of course, the pursuit of diversity affects more than just URM applicants. Top-tier colleges give special consideration to serious applicants from rural, low-income backgrounds as well as to all first-generation college applicants, regardless of race. Admissions officers tend to weigh these applicants’ test scores and academic records against the resources, support, and opportunities they have.

It is important for you to consider these factors when compiling an admissions profile. Even if you are a nonminority applicant, the principle of diversity still applies to you. By emphasizing what sets you apart from the norm, you can improve your chances of admission. Of course, this is especially true for URM applicants.

Therefore, if you are black, Native American, or Hispanic, your chances of admission to a select college will be somewhat higher, but by no means guaranteed. If you are a URM applicant, the best thing you can do is develop a strong admissions profile that stands out on its own. The more you add to campus diversity, the stronger your profile will be.

Below, we examine how the term “underrepresented minority” departs significantly from the term “minority.”

“Underrepresented Minority” Versus “Minority”

The terms “minority” and “underrepresented minority” are often conflated. The former term is well-understood by most people, while the latter requires some context.

In the context of college admissions, not all traditional U.S. minorities are considered URMs. URMs are black, Hispanic, and Native American applicants—often including Alaskan Natives, Hawaiian Natives, and Pacific Islanders. For example, Asian Americans, while a U.S. minority, are not considered URMs because their enrollment levels at top colleges are relatively high.

Also, African Americans are a U.S. minority, but black international students from Africa are not. And while colleges should classify students from Africa as international—not minority—this isn’t always the case. The same issues arise when considering Hispanic students—Central and South American international students may be presented as minority students to make the college appear to have a higher minority count.

Note that while such international students would not be viewed as URM applicants during admissions, top colleges may classify them as minority students once they have been admitted. These colleges generally want to have as high a level of diversity as possible.

It is important to understand the distinction between URM applicants and U.S. minority applicants: unless you are a URM applicant, minority status will likely have little impact on your chances of admission. On the other hand, being a URM applicant can significantly increase your odds of being admitted.

As mentioned earlier, the key to being admitted to a top college is to make your admissions profile stand out. Therefore, you need to craft a unique, personal theme and narrative. All of the elements of your admissions profile—the essay, transcript, extracurricular activities, and more—should complement your theme and narrative. We would be happy to guide you throughout the college application process; our Ivy League admission strategies have helped students gain admission to prestigious schools such as Harvard, Columbia, Yale, and more.

Ivy League Admission Tips: Regular Decision, Early Decision, and Early Action, Part 2

In our previous blog post, we examined the differences between applying regular decision, early decision, and early action. These three ways to submit college applications can, if used strategically, increase your chances of being admitted to a top school. Of course, every applicant’s situation differs, and you’ll have to evaluate the benefits and disadvantages of each application type carefully.

As we learned in our last post, regular decision applicants are evaluated against all others in the general application pool. Early decision applications are weighed against a far smaller pool of applicants, and this application type is binding—if a college accepts your early decision application, you will have to attend that school. Finally, early action applications are also weighed against a smaller pool of applicants but are nonbinding. Keeping these differences in mind will help you determine which application type is best.

Application Strategies

The increased acceptance rates for early applications are significant, so if you are able to prepare a compelling admissions profile in time for an early application, you should apply early wherever possible. Doing so will make your application even more effective. Below, we’ll discuss some Ivy League admission tips for applying early decision, early action, and regular decision.

If Financially Possible, Apply Early Decision

Unless you cannot afford to pay full tuition and have to examine each college’s financial aid offer, you should apply early decision to your top choice if that school offers an early decision program.

Also, if you are planning to apply as a recruited athlete or legacy student, you should research whether the college requires you to do so through early decision. At some colleges, for instance, legacy applicants are given more consideration if they apply early decision. And many top colleges require athletic recruits to apply early decision.

Apply Early Action

Whether or not you apply early decision, you should consider applying early action to one or more schools. If you apply early action, you will not only have a higher chance of being admitted, but you will also be able to review financial aid packages and consider additional scholarships and grants before enrolling.

Check for Special Deadline Policies

Once you have refined your college list, you need to examine the application deadlines and policies and be aware of special requirements. For example, some colleges have priority and preferred deadlines, which are earlier than the standard regular decision deadline. To remain competitive, you should submit your application by the priority or preferred date.

Some colleges have a rolling admissions policy, which means that application decisions are made as applications are received. If you are applying to a college with a rolling admissions policy, applying early is in your best interest.

Don’t Apply Early at the Expense of a Strong Application

If you plan to apply early for any reason—such as participating in an early decision or early action program, meeting a priority or preferred date, or being competitive at a school with a rolling admissions policy—carefully weigh the advantages of being early against the quality of your application. In other words, make sure that the quality of your application doesn’t suffer. If, for instance, your essays aren’t in top shape, you should take the time to polish them.

Still, starting the application process early is usually the best option. While you shouldn’t apply early at the expense of a strong application, you should start preparing your application with enough time to make it stand out and submit it early. Admittedly, it can be challenging to know when to start preparing for college admissions or how to do so. Ivy League Prep offers personalized consulting services, helping college applicants gain admission to the best schools in the United States.

Ivy League Admission Tips: Regular Decision, Early Decision, and Early Action, Part 1

When the time finally comes to send in your college applications, you’ll have to choose when and how to apply. Usually, high school students can choose between applying regular decision, early decision, and early action. It is important to be aware of the differences between these college application types and use them to your advantage.

Application Deadlines

Not all colleges have the same application deadlines, so you should research the specific deadlines for each school on your list. At some colleges, regular decision deadlines are at the end of November. At others, the deadline is as late as the middle of January. For most top colleges, however, the deadline is January 1.

All the parts of your application—the transcript, test scores, essays, and recommendations—should be in motion long before the deadline. Some of these elements, like test scores, can be completed during junior year, while others, like essays and short answers, might not be done until late in the summer before senior year. But by the fall of senior year, you should be putting the finishing touches on your application, not getting started.

Starting late and rushing into the college admissions process can result in unnecessary errors, poor decisions, lower-quality recommendations, and missed deadlines. Starting early is key. Once you have determined to apply to a college, you should start preparing application materials specifically for that school.

Regular Decision

Regular decision applications undergo the normal admissions process during the spring of an applicant’s senior year. Such applications are weighed against all others in the general application pool and offer no distinct admissions advantage.

Early Decision

Early decision applications are binding: if you are accepted into the college, you must enroll. As a result, a student can submit an early decision application only to a single college. If you choose to apply early decision, the school should be your top choice.

Fewer students apply early decision, so your application will be weighed against a smaller pool of applications. Most admissions officers at top colleges, however, have higher standards for early decision applications. Still, applying early decision will generally give you a significantly higher chance of being admitted.

Colleges typically send notices to early decision applicants by the middle of December. In addition to being either accepted or rejected, a student’s application may be deferred to the regular decision application pool and will be reconsidered through the normal admissions process.

If admitted through early decision, you must notify the other colleges to which you applied of your enrollment to the early decision school.

Applying early decision does have certain financial ramifications; if accepted, you will have to enroll regardless of how much financial aid is offered.

Early Action

Early action applications have similar deadlines and notification periods to early decision programs, but, unlike early decision, early action applications are nonbinding. So, even if you are accepted to a college through an early action program, you will still be able to apply to other schools and ultimately decide which one to attend.

Single-choice early action, a variation of this system, allows applicants to submit an early, nonbinding application to one school only. If you submit a single-choice early action application, you may not apply early decision or early action to any other school; but if you are accepted, you can decide whether to enroll in that school or in the colleges you applied to regular decision.

These Ivy League admission tips will help you use regular decision, early decision, and early action applications to your advantage. In our next blog post, we’ll examine various strategies that will help you choose between the three application types.

Ivy League Admission Tips: Pursuing Entrepreneurism

One of the foremost characteristics college admissions officers look for in applicants is the ability to innovate. Top colleges want students who know how to identify problems or opportunities and formulate solutions. As a high school student, you have many opportunities to show your ability to innovate, and entrepreneurism is an ideal way to accomplish that goal. The following Ivy League admission tips will help you use entrepreneurism to craft a strong admissions profile.

Entrepreneurism Can Strengthen Your Admissions Profile

Being entrepreneurial is a powerful way to demonstrate value to colleges; it combines a number of desirable traits, such as leadership, innovation, determination, and commitment.

Top-tier colleges want students who are the future leaders in their respective fields, and in today’s competitive marketplace of products, services, and ideas, being a leader means investing time and resources into something, taking risks, and learning from every experience.

Whether or not you are naturally entrepreneurial, taking the seed of an idea and growing it into a project, business, or organization requires a great deal of drive, effort, and perseverance. Admissions officers favor applicants who display these qualities.

The Benefits of Social Entrepreneurism

Exhibiting an entrepreneurial spirit is good and will certainly set you apart from many other applicants. Still, being a social entrepreneur—someone who seeks to use entrepreneurial means to develop solutions to social issues—can add an additional layer of depth to your admissions theme and narrative, making it truly exemplary.

Top colleges are community minded, and they want a student body that cares about the issues facing our world. Graduates that solve social problems reflect well on a college. As with every other aspect of your application, past demonstration of social entrepreneurism is the best indicator of future engagement.

You should consider your interests and passions, drawing inspiration from them to make something bigger happen. For example, if you have a passion for helping erase the stigma associated with autism, you might start out by advocating for this cause. Then, you might consider starting a community project in partnership with a local organization and maybe even starting an organization of your own.

The key is to accomplish something through what you say and do. You should strive to make a measurable difference. Try to communicate the tangible results of your efforts. How many people does your blog reach? How much money was raised? How many people were served? What did your organization accomplish?

Is It Too Late to Start?

If you are close to finishing high school, you might feel it is too late to start pursuing some kind of entrepreneurial activity. Every student is different, however, and admissions officers understand that people begin to discover their passions at different times in life. Ingenuity often requires some kind of catalyst, and almost any experience can awaken the entrepreneurial spirit within you.

If you are truly passionate about something, a nudge may be all it takes to start transforming that passion into a project, business, or nonprofit. And the experience you would gain pursuing a social project or starting a business will likely prove invaluable.

Admittedly, it can be hard to decide what extracurricular activities to pursue to strengthen your admissions profile, and each student is different. An admissions consulting firm such as Ivy League Prep can help you craft an outstanding admissions profile and pursue activities that will impress your target colleges.

Ivy League Admission Tips: Topics to Avoid in the Personal Essay

The personal essay is one of the most important components of the Common Application—it gives you a chance to show the admissions officers who you are and how you will add value to their schools. Your personal essay should tie in with your overarching admissions theme and narrative, showcasing your unique story.

Certain content, however, is generally inappropriate for a college admissions essay. And some kinds of content, such as misrepresentations of the truth, are simply unacceptable.

The following 10 kinds of content are usually inappropriate for the personal essay. Still, depending on your unique circumstances, it may be appropriate for you to write about some of the content that appears on this list—be sure to use your good judgment.

General Biographical Content

Since the rest of your application contains the biographical information required by the admissions officers, the personal essay should not be a regurgitation of your résumé. Any biographical information in your personal essay should be presented in narrative form, not as a description of what you have accomplished.

The more narrowly focused your essay is on a specific experience or series of events, the easier it will be to avoid writing generalized biographical content.

Outstanding Assignments

Your personal essay should not contain a classroom assignment you are particularly proud of. If a research paper, literary analysis, or some other writing assignment fits your theme and narrative and is truly exceptional, it should be submitted as supplemental material to the appropriate college department.

Minor Health Problems

If you have faced a serious illness, you might draw on that experience when drafting the personal essay. But you should be careful not to trivialize health problems by writing about a mild illness or condition; exaggerating a minor illness into a life-altering experience may strike admissions officers as immature or even dishonest. Write about a non-life-threatening illness only if it is a key part of your narrative.


Your personal essay should have an overall positive tone and should not come across as complaining or pessimistic. Of course, you can still write about problems, difficulties, or circumstances that you believe to be wrong or unjust; instead of complaining about those unwanted circumstances, you should address them with maturity and insight.

Lies and Misrepresentations

Your application, including everything in your essay, must be truthful. In the essay, however, being honest means more than simply portraying the facts and events accurately: your personal essay should be an honest reflection of who you are. Feigning interest in a subject, exaggerating your abilities, or hiding behind pretense is unethical and likely to be discovered.

Disrespect and Bias

Top colleges value strong convictions and passion, but they don’t tolerate disrespect, bias, intolerance, and bigotry. If writing about a firmly held belief, you should take care to avoid coming across as inflexible and closed-minded—after all, college is about learning from others, sharing insights, and broadening perspectives. Open-mindedness is a virtue.

Deeply ingrained biases have a way of working their way out in writing—even unconsciously. You should carefully check your essay for racism, sexism, politically charged language, use of stereotypes, disrespectful statements, profanity, and vulgarity.

If your essay relates to community service, missions work, people from underserved or underprivileged backgrounds, or people from other cultures, you should be especially careful to write in a thoughtful and compassionate way.

Illegal Activities

You should not write about any illegal activities in which you have engaged. Writing about pranks or ethically questionable actions is also unadvisable. Depending on your narrative, however, an essay related to illegal activity may be totally appropriate. For example, if you plan on studying criminology, a compelling essay might focus on an experience that piqued your interest in that subject.

Keeping these Ivy League admission tips in mind as you write your personal essay will allow you to focus on compelling, relevant content and avoid portraying yourself in a negative light. Even though it can do much to impress the admissions officers, the personal essay is just one of the elements of a successful college admissions profile. Ivy League Prep can guide you throughout each step of the admissions process and help you impress the admissions officers of your target schools.

Ivy League Admission Tips: Choosing the Right Courses

Most high school students are aware that their academic performance will be one of the decisive factors in the college admission process. As a result, some college applicants try to achieve the highest GPA possible and pay little attention to the quality of their course load, thus ignoring this important component of their high school transcript.

Even though academic performance is certainly important, your course load is just as relevant—college admissions officers are on the lookout for applicants with a focused and challenging course load. Therefore, you should aim to take on a challenging yet doable course load instead of concentrating only on your grades; doing so will show the admissions officers that you will be a hardworking and focused asset to their schools.

How to Select Core Courses

Your high school will have specific requirements that generally include four years of English and three to four years of foreign language, math, science, and social studies.

The graduation requirements of your high school may not, however, match the expectations of selective colleges. For example, some top colleges prefer four years of English, two or more years of a single foreign language, and four years of math. The key is to take the most challenging courses available and, once you have a list of potential colleges, find out those schools’ preferences regarding core courses.

Selecting Advanced Courses

Taking advanced courses during high school will make your transcript competitive. If you succeed at advanced courses, you will show the admissions officers that you are ready for the academic rigors of college.

Following are the most common types of advanced courses.


Generally, honors courses are the lowest tier of advanced courses, but admissions officers may consider honors courses in context. For example, a high school’s honors course may be more challenging than an equivalent AP course. Or, on the other hand, honors courses may be the most rigorous academics offered at a particular high school. In either case, regional admissions officers generally understand these school-specific dynamics and consider them when reviewing an applicant’s academic record.

Advanced Placement (AP)

AP classes are some of the most demanding courses offered and are a decent gauge of college preparedness. One advantage to AP classes is that they can result in college credit depending on end-of-year exam scores. Another advantage is that AP scores provide colleges with another standardized indicator with which to evaluate and compare applicants. And while these courses are not as difficult as their equivalent classes at top colleges, they do offer challenging coursework and help develop many skills vital to college success.

Dual Enrollment

In some ways similar to the AP program, dual enrollment programs give qualified high school students the opportunity to enroll in specific classes at local community colleges, granting both high school and college credit. Dual enrollment classes are particularly useful if your high school lacks equivalent honors or AP courses, but they can also be a way for you to take classes that aren’t offered at your school.

Keep in mind that every college has its own policy regarding honors, AP, dual enrollment, and other opportunities. Some accept college credit based on AP exam scores, for example, while others base college credit on AP grades. Some colleges don’t award credit for advanced coursework in high school but do allow students to skip college prerequisite courses such as a first-semester English class.

How Many AP or Advanced Courses?

As a general rule, you should take as many AP or advanced courses as you can handle without letting your grades slip. These courses should fit in with your admissions theme and narrative.

Moreover, admissions officers will gauge the rigor of your course load against the typical course load of top students at your high school. In other words, if you take two AP and several honors courses during junior year but the typical top student at your school takes four or five AP courses, you will not seem as competitive.

Keep these Ivy League admission strategies in mind as you select your course load for each year of high school. Evidently, succeeding in the college admissions process takes more than just high grades: every aspect of your applicant profile—including your course load—must reflect your personal and academic abilities. Ivy League Prep would be delighted to help you craft a strong admissions profile. We provide our clients with personalized guidance throughout high school.