Demonstrate ‘College Readiness’ for admission to Ivy Leagues and elite Universities


The last year has been stressful for high school students and their parents. It has been impossible to predict when various competitive exams like JEE, NEET, CLAT will be conducted. Additionally, the board exams have been even more unpredictable with CBSE, ICSE and several state boards postponing and finally deciding to base their scores on internal assessments. The uncertainty gets amplified when it comes to the university admissions. With the existing high competition and multiple postponements, it is difficult to say with confidence when a student will be admitted to their dream university.

In the last few months, we have spoken with several students that are considering foreign universities as a credible backup for their higher education plans. Unlike a uni-dimensional admission process based on an entrance test, the process for admissions to the Ivy Leagues and other elite universities worldwide is holistic and considers multiple factors.

At the highest level, colleges want ‘College Ready’ students who will succeed in their studies and beyond. If admitted, will you be able to handle the academic rigor of their classes? Admission Officers also assess your potential as a graduate of their school. Are you someone who could become a CEO? Win the Nobel Prize? Become a Prime Minister? The top universities use your grades, academic interests, extracurricular activities, application essays and your letters of recommendation to judge your ability, focus and future potential. The following factors are crucial for demonstrating your ‘College Readiness’.

1. Academic Performance – No surprises here. Since you are seeking admission to a higher education institution, the top universities like to see your past performance and make sure you have the intellectual capacity to manage their curriculum. This is a necessary and a crucial factor in a strong application.

2. Favorite Subjects – Are you good in certain subjects? How have you demonstrated your passion and interest in your favorite subjects(s) beyond what is taught in the classroom? Have you studied certain subjects at a higher level? Have you appeared for advanced placement (AP) exams in your favorite subjects? Have you secured a position in reputed events like the Math Olympiad? Have you differentiated yourself through research papers or college credit courses?

3. Standardized Tests – Students preparing for admissions to US universities are well aware of the Standardized Achievement Test (SAT). This is a 1,600-point test of English and Math. It helps universities compare thousands of applicants from across the world on two subjects crucial for higher education.

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4. Extracurricular Activities – Any activity that you have pursued over an extended time period, is a part of you. Extracurricular activities are not something you should pursue just for your admission applications. These activities help you become a well-rounded individual and prepare you for life. Some examples are provided below:

  • Leadership: Being in the student council. Prefect, College Captain, Sports Captain etc. Holding a leadership position shows that you are respected by your peers and/or teachers.
  • Sports: Excelling in any sport, basketball, soccer, martial arts, cricket etc. You should have done it consistently over several years. For example, if someone is a black belt in Judo, it means that they have invested 6+ years along with everything else that they have done. This shows a significant amount of effort and commitment.
  • Music, Dance or Arts: If you have consistently participated in music contests, learnt an instrument, learnt dance etc. it is of interest to universities. Likewise, for fine arts and crafts.
  • Competitions: If you like participating in quizzes, debates, MUN’s and have won prizes at various levels, it helps your application.

5. Community Service– Recognizing that many people are less privileged and relatively small efforts can have a positive impact on others is a sign of humility and responsibility. If you feel strongly about certain causes and have invested your time in helping others, it would be of interest to the admission officers.

6. Letters of Recommendation – What do your teachers, counsellors and other seniors that have observed you over the years have to say about your work ethic, energy level and intellectual curiosity? Is there something that distinguishes you from your peers?

7. Admission Essays – The admission essays help you bring all the above sections together. This is your chance to explain to the reader, who you are, what motivates you, how you have dealt with setbacks, what your aspirations are, and the events that have shaped you. This is the section where you address your strengths as well as any obvious weakness in your profile. Everyone is unique with different life experiences and capabilities. This is your soapbox where you get a chance to present your best self. While students are expected to ‘blow their own trumpet’ in the admission essays, you still need to be careful that the examples are relevant and convey your message appropriately.

The holistic admission process identifies high performing ‘College Ready’ students that are likely to succeed in college and beyond. While several students start pursuing their extracurriculars only in Grade XI or XII for the purpose of university admissions, these activities impart essential life skills relevant for career and professional growth. Early awareness of what you would like to study in college and pursuing the relevant activities is crucial for getting admitted to the Ivy Leagues or other elite universities. To develop a balanced, ‘College Ready’ profile, students should pursue extracurricular activities and hobbies from an early age.

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About the Author:

Vivek Bhandari is the Chief Executive and Co-founder of Scholarly.co. He is an engineer from IIT Delhi and an MBA from IIM Kolkata. Vivek has worked extensively in financial services, real estate and mortgages space in USA, Europe, and India.

Scholarly helps ambitious international students locate the right universities and courses to pursue their education. We provide college credit courses and research papers to students that want to learn more and differentiate themselves. We help students develop their profiles and present their best version to their dream university.

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