The step-by-step guide to getting into any Ivy League school

January 19, 2017 — by Kyle Wang

Don’t be fooled. This is when it starts — the game, the journey that ends only with that long-awaited thick manila envelope.

Have you started preparing for the Chemistry Olympiad? Have you started drafting that novel you’re going to publish by the end of high school? How about that intensive research you’ve been doing with your Ph.D. dad?

Let your parents talk you into running for Leadership. Maybe even try to lose without looking like it, so you’ll have a story to write about for the “describe a time you failed” section on your college essays. You don’t want to run, but they add that running for Leadership will, however microscopically, increase your chances of getting into Harvard. That shuts you up, because you really like Harvard.

 

Freshman year:

Your parents ignore your complaints about crushes and school dances; after all, emotions are unimportant. They allow you to attend if and only if you are trying to be an “active member of student government.” They explain to you that your time could be spent on more important endeavors, like studying for future classes. Why else did you buy all those calculus textbooks?

They hire a college counselor, and insist to the soft-spoken, bespectacled, elderly private Physics tutor they heard about on WeChat that yes, you have developed both the mental discipline and mathematical skill necessary to tackle the Physics Olympiad. Plus, you live in Saratoga. Your parents have money. They make him an offer he can’t refuse.

Speaking of such offers, you overhear your parents having a word with the school’s math department. You need to be placed in a higher-level math class than your peers, they say to the administrator via the phone. It’s only fair to you and to all the other students who will otherwise feel demoralized by being forced to learn math next to a superior being.

There is a long sigh on the other end, punctuated by an even longer silence. The administrator agrees, and at the start of the second semester, you stride into an AP Calculus BC class filled with juniors and seniors.

 

Sophomore year:

Fresh off a summer internship, which your parents subtly arranged using their connections, you will run into sophomore year with an optimism that your peers find incredibly annoying.

Then, for the first time, you experience academic struggle. Your first B+ will come in Honors Chemistry.

“There must be some mistake!” your father insists as you scroll through Canvas. “I majored in Chemistry! You can’t be getting B’s on your tests!”

They hire you another tutor.

Your first C+ will come in AP World History, a course which exists only because a group of parents (including your own) threatened to sue the school. (Your second C+ comes from Computer Science — C++, to be exact). They suspend your “hanging out” privileges and move your curfew to 8:30 p.m. so you can spend more time studying. When that doesn’t work, they hand you a book entitled “How to Get Away with Cheating.”

There are no questions asked.

You finish the semester with A’s in the classes where you initially struggled except for Chemistry, where you have an A-. But you will be colder, more distant, more removed from your parents than you were before.

They shrug it off. Teen angst, they suppose.

 

Junior year:

Over the summer, while you are off in Ecuador building homes for underprivileged families (and “character”), your parents do some more research. They learn about writing contests and decide that it’s time to pivot. Change the game plan.

When you arrive at the airport, slouched and almost vegetative from sleep deprivation, they announce that they have a brilliant idea. You’re going to spend the rest of the summer learning how to write.

They explain that as a child growing up in Silicon Valley, a few writing awards sprinkled in on your college applications certainly would help you stand out from the horde of STEM-lovers (and humanities-shunners).

Of course, you have to win first, but they’ll see to that.

In the meantime, they expend a little more of their political capital finessing research internships that will last throughout the first semester. This, they reason, will give you the resources to win prestigious science competitions such as Intel (and not Siemens, which is too easy).

Academically, junior year is a breeze for you. With four years of the best academic tutelage that money and threats can buy, your teachers find it very difficult to not give you A+ grades. Besides, you already took all the hard classes last year. You and your four-point-something GPA (darn that Chemistry Honors) are on track for High Honors and maybe even valedictorian or salutatorian.

Socially, everything feels fine until junior prom. After several polite rejections and two (fine, three) hard rejections, you get the message.

You go stag and spend your time chatting up the teachers whom you will be asking for rec letters, come College App season. Girls don’t like you now, but you’re certain that girls will like you in 10 years when you’re rich.

 

Senior year:

Here’s the tally sheet, you think, as you put the finishing touches on your Harvard application:

  1. A 4.5 GPA.

  2. A 36 on the ACT, 1600 on the SAT, 2400 on the old SAT (which you took freshman year), and 1520 on the PSAT. No surprises here.

  3. An Intel semifinalist award for your (/your dad’s) “groundbreaking” research on the effects of Artificial Intelligence and its Application Toward Creating Children.

  4. Seven local- and state-level writing awards, all earned without your parents’ help. (Or so you claim when pressed).

That should do it, you think. There’s no way they can say no — your parents already phoned the admissions counselors at Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Stanford (MIT admitted you early) offering generous donations if they could, ahem, put in a good word for you. Heck, how else would they have the funds for all those new libraries.

Which is why you’re shocked when the thin envelopes come in.

Harvard and Yale are flat out no’s; Columbia and CalTech put you on the waitlist. Only Princeton says yes. You begin to wonder if declaring a philosophy major instead of an engineering major was a mistake. You thought it would help you stand out.

Your parents will tell you that they are proud, so proud, and even though you still have your framed MIT and Princeton acceptance letters hanging in your bedroom, you can’t stop rereading Harvard’s rejection letter, which you keep in a shoebox tucked under your bed. On sleepless nights, you pull out the letter and cry yourself to sleep.

Settle on MIT, your second favorite school after Harvard.

It’s OK, you tell yourself, feeling a little disappointed.

Even if you have absolutely no direction, at least you’re smart. Tell yourself this as you watch your acquaintances party late into the night, wondering why you are never invited.

What’s the point of partying, anyway, you think. It’s not even legal. Who needs friends, anyway?

Months later, as you fly off to MIT, convince yourself that it was worth it — the all-nighters, the dateless dances, the thousands (millions?) of dollars spent on tutoring and textbooks.

Hey, you think as the plane takes off. At least you’ll be in Cambridge. At least you can visit Harvard on the weekends. Things could be worse.

Then a single thought creeps into your mind: How do I get into graduate school? (Stay tuned for The Step-by-Step Guide to Get Into Any Graduate School).

 

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