To the average Indian applicant or parent, Ivy League admissions appear both mysterious and yet somehow attainable. Perhaps those with money and connections get accepted easily, while those without settle for a toss-up. Or perhaps those who work really hard, score well, and write impact fully just might sway the gatekeepers.
Here are some ways Indian students can break common assumptions about getting into Ivy League, as explained by Rahul Subramaniam, Co-Founder, Athena Education
High School & Standardised Testing
Of course, your academics and standardised testing form the foundation of your profile, yet not in the way you think. Where the Indian education system focuses almost exclusively on test performance to assess candidates’ readiness for undergraduate education, the American system values a bit more nuance. What they are gauging is not just aptitude but also curiosity and drive.
Your transcript must reflect that you are excelling in the quantifiable metrics (what admissions officers call “hard factors”) of high school marks and standardised tests like the SAT while also pursuing the most challenging, advanced coursework possible. Advanced Placement (AP) coursework is a great means if your school offers it. Otherwise, you can still give the exams to demonstrate this rigour.
Extracurricular & Relationship-building
Yes, your student profile also comprises critical “soft factors”, yet, again, not in the way you think. Everyone understands that activities and projects are necessary to demonstrate what you do outside of class. Unfortunately, the Indian education system’s focus on academic performance tends to discourage extracurricular development: enthusiasm, competence, and social skills. American admissions officers know this, which is why they are trying to weed out the applicants who approach learning and living mechanically. You have to take your interests beyond the course syllabus, or beyond the school walls, and make a tangible, concrete impact on your environment.
Everything above must be channelled into your actual application. Students who succeed with the Ivies have a deep sense of their personal brand, the interestingly unique value-add they will bring to campus, and understand how to show it. Demonstrating passion, leadership, and service during high school will translate to strong letters of recommendation (LORs), a critical application component that most students ignore. Many Indian high schools are too overburdened to offer much individualised attention to LORs, so prioritising their quality will help give you an edge.
Follow your intuition
Overall, the “hacks” for ensuring Ivy League admission exist and don’t exist. Focus on the factors you can control. Because, fundamentally, getting in is a state of mind. It’s how you demonstrate alignment with your destination, not how you colour within the lines.
(This column by Athena Education is part of a series of articles by the Free Press Journal, Mumbai’s Study Abroad Guide for August 2022.)