What do top colleges in the U.S. look for in their students

The first of a two-part article that gives an overview of what top colleges in the U.S. look for when vetting student applications

July 16, 2023 12:06 am | Updated 04:10 pm IST

How can students tell a story that appeals to their dream university?

How can students tell a story that appeals to their dream university? | Photo Credit: Freepik

We can select three excellent cohorts from the same applicant pool; the entire pool is full of incredible students from all parts of the world,” said an admissions officer from MIT. With acceptance rates near and often below 5%, what do Ivy League and other Top 20 universities look for in their students? Academic excellence, stellar school grades, good test scores, research papers, projects, excellent essays, and extracurriculars are common across a large pool of students.

So how can a student tell a unique story that appeals to their dream university? Martin Walsh, former Deputy Director of International Admissions at Stanford University, says, “Imagine that these universities are planning a dinner party list. Who would they like to invite?” So, here’s a look at the student profile some of these highly sought-after universities are looking for with one prompt each for supplementary essays that helps you align your application with their target profile.

Harvard University

Harvard sets the standard for residential Liberal Arts and Sciences education and aims to offer an exceptional and transformative educational journey at the intellectual, social and personal levels. “Exceptional” is the keyword to demonstrate in your application along with a commitment to intellectual exploration and liberal studies.

Supplement: Write about an intellectual experience (course, project, book, discussion, paper, poetry, or research topic in Engineering, Mathematics, Science or other modes of inquiry) that has meant the most to you. (Source: https://shorturl.at/krLT6)

Stanford University

“Intellectual vitality” and “academic excellence” is key to being a Stanford aspirant. This means a student with consistent grades at the top 5% of their class with a challenging course load, and a student who has demonstrated innovativeness through self-led research or new initiatives that accelerate the creation and application of knowledge. Community impact plays a big role as Stanford recognises the need to forge deeper partnerships in the community and the world to move ideas into action. Focus on the impact you can showcase through initiative and recognition at the national and international level.

Supplement: The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning. (Source: https://shorturl.at/gEP19)

Yale University

Yale educates aspiring leaders worldwide who serve all sectors of society, with a mission to improve the world through remarkable research, education and practice. Note the word “aspiring leaders”. The university is known for its Political Science programmes that focus on policy, law, business leadership and governance.

Supplement: Reflect on a time when you have worked to enhance a community to which you feel connected. Why have these efforts been meaningful to you? (Source: https://shorturl.at/yCHS4)

University of Chicago

UChicago expects quirkiness, going beyond the obvious, and is highly academics-oriented. It loves students with their head in the clouds and their feet on the ground, whose ideas outstrip their age, who are thought-leaders, unafraid to think and share the wildest ideas. Equally well-known for STEM, Social Sciences and Humanities education, UChicago fosters “a calibre of teaching and research that regularly leads to advances” in all fields of study.

Supplement: “Vlog,” “Labradoodle,” and “Fauxmage.” Language is filled with portmanteaus. Create a new portmanteau and explain why those two things are a “patch” (perfect match). (Source: https://shorturl.at/ekmQY)

Dartmouth College

Dartmouth looks for striking personalities that walk a unique path beyond academic excellence, a unique intellect fired by independent thought, and a deep interest in interdisciplinary collaboration. Interdisciplinary is key here.

Supplement: Dr. Seuss, aka Theodor Geisel of Dartmouth’s Class of 1925, wrote, “Think and wonder. Wonder and think.” What do you wonder and think about? (Source: https://shorturl.at/dhqx7)

Brown University

Brown sports an “open curriculum” where students design their own degree and even their own major. Naturally, it looks for intellectual independence, initiative, and the confidence to question the norm and drive change. “Independent” is the key term here.

Supplement: Talk about any academic interests that excite you, and how you might use the open curriculum to pursue them while also embracing topics with which you are unfamiliar. (Source: https://shorturl.at/cmwG5)

To be continued

(With inputs from Anjana Anand)

The writer is Founder and CEO, Inomi Learning

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