Applying to Ivy League schools is a highly competitive process, with acceptance rates often in the single digits. To enhance your chances of admission, you need to distinguish yourself from thousands of other exceptional applicants. Here are some strategies on how to stand out on college applications, particularly for Ivy League institutions.

Excel Academically

Academic excellence is the cornerstone of a strong Ivy League application. This means not only maintaining a high GPA but also excelling in rigorous coursework.


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Take Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes if available, and aim for top scores. High standardized test scores (SAT or ACT) are also crucial, though many Ivy League schools are becoming test-optional. Demonstrating mastery in challenging subjects showcases your readiness for the demanding academic environment of an Ivy League school.

Showcase Unique Extracurriculars

Beyond academics, Ivy League schools seek well-rounded individuals who have made significant contributions outside the classroom. Engage deeply in a few extracurricular activities rather than participating superficially in many. Leadership roles, long-term commitments, and notable achievements in clubs, sports, arts, or community service are particularly valuable. Highlighting unique passions or skills, such as starting a nonprofit or excelling in a niche hobby, can make you memorable.

Write Compelling Essays

Write Compelling Essays

Your personal statement and supplemental essays are your opportunity to share your unique story and personality. Authenticity is key—choose topics that genuinely reflect who you are and what you care about. Be introspective, honest, and specific. Illustrate your experiences with vivid anecdotes and demonstrate how they have shaped your aspirations. Essays are your chance to connect with the admissions committee on a personal level, so make sure your voice shines through.

Obtain Strong Recommendations

Letters of recommendation provide insight into your character and abilities from the perspective of those who know you well academically and personally. Choose recommenders who can speak to your strengths, work ethic, and potential. Provide them with a summary of your accomplishments and goals to help them write detailed and supportive letters. Strong recommendations can corroborate your achievements and provide a fuller picture of your capabilities.

Highlight Achievements and Awards

Any honors, awards, or recognitions you’ve received should be prominently featured in your application. These accolades validate your excellence and dedication in various areas. Whether it’s academic competitions, sports championships, artistic achievements, or community service awards, showcasing these accomplishments can reinforce your standout qualities.

Demonstrate Passion and Commitment

Ivy League schools look for students who are passionate and committed to their interests. Whether it’s through long-term projects, internships, or independent research, demonstrate your dedication and drive. Show how you’ve gone above and beyond to pursue your passions and how these experiences have prepared you for future challenges.

Engage in Community Service

Commitment to community service reflects empathy, leadership, and a desire to make a positive impact. Consistent involvement in meaningful volunteer work shows that you are proactive and community-oriented. Highlighting your community service activities and their impact can differentiate you from other applicants.

Prepare for Interviews

When considering how to stand out on college applications, don’t forget about the interview. If you’re offered one, prepare thoroughly. Research the school, reflect on your application, and practice answering common interview questions. Be ready to discuss your experiences, goals, and why you are a good fit for the institution. A thoughtful, articulate interview can leave a lasting positive impression.

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