What Gets Ivy League & Top-tier College Admissions Officers to Say YES

So it’s time to start writing your essay for your college application. This is it. The ONE that’s going to get you into your dream Ivy League/Top-Tier school.

As you start typing your first draft, you have so much you want to say.

Or maybe you actually have nothing to say.

With your college essays, you want to make sure the admissions officers are convinced that you’re an exceptional student. Because you are. You just don’t know how to say it.

How can I possibly highlight all of my achievements and involvement in just one essay?

Should I just restate what’s already on my resume?

And how could all of this possibly fit into my word count?!

It’s easy for this writing process to raise doubts about your ability to compose a complete and thoughtful essay that showcases exactly who you are. 

So, don’t think of it as just another essay.

Think of it as a chance to tell your story.

Ever since you can remember, you’ve probably been telling stories. To your friends and family, on your social media channels, on the stage or screen. Maybe you’ve even penned a few!

Regardless of the medium, we as humans love a good story. 

So, if you’re going to share your story with college admissions officers, what should you be doing right now to make sure it’s a good one?

(One tip: You must start thinking about your story now. Not two months before your application deadline.)

Are You Still Trying To Check Off

the Right Boxes?

First, you’ll want to start really thinking about your application theme. 

When determining what to include in a college application, many students fall into the trap of trying to check all the right boxes. 

Get a good GPA — check.

Get good SAT/ACT scores — check.

Attend two or three summer programs — check.

Get 400 volunteering hours — check.

Try to think, what are all of these things really saying about you?

These accomplishments are great and are certainly qualities of a hardworking and qualified student. But they are also the same qualities apparent in every other hardworking and qualified student.

Just making sure you have all of the basic attributes of a “good student” doesn’t really make you stand out. If anything, it dilutes your application and makes it difficult for college admissions officers to identify your personality, individual strengths and values, and how you would be a great fit for their school.

For Ivy League and top-tier colleges, you’ll need to go above and beyond just checking those boxes.

And the best way to do so is by creating a Passion Project that aligns with your academic theme.

A Passion Project can be any number of things, like completing a research assistant position, starting a YouTube channel on a certain subject or topic, or offering a service.

While your other achievements may just check all the right boxes, it is important to consider what your achievements are saying about YOU.

With a Passion Project, you are making a statement about your own passion, values, and interests.

Once you start on your Passion Project, you’ll realize that your application is gradually becoming a beautiful story.

Don’t just show college admissions officers that you made the grades or did the work — tell them why these things shaped who you are and who you want to be.

Quality over Quantity

A lot of students participate in fairly traditional extracurricular activities. 

There’s Model UN, DECA, robotics club, physics club, math club, summer programs, tutoring programs — the list goes on and on.

And more often than not, these activities are a great experience for students who want to explore their interests in those fields.

But when students sit down to write about what they got out of their involvement in these activities, they all tend to sound the same.

“In this summer program, I learned so much about this field of study and am interested in learning about it more.”

While I’m sure college admissions officers are glad you learned something during your involvement in an extracurricular, they’re left wanting more.

They want to know what that newfound knowledge made you discover about yourself.

Consider each extracurricular activity a chapter of your story. 

Ultimately, it’s not about how many traditional or nontraditional extracurricular activities you sign up for. It’s about how you took what you learned from those activities to the next level.

How did you leave your comfort zone? How did you take a risk? How did you challenge yourself?

In working on your Passion Project, you will find that you can begin to answer all of these questions. You will be able to demonstrate to college admissions officers that you challenged yourself to take initiative and do something not every other hardworking student was doing.

Always take your involvement in traditional extracurricular activities to the next level. Make sure it is something you would want to write about.

Come to a Crescendo

Imagine you’re reading a book where the plot remains the same the entire time. The characters live the same experiences day after day and, ultimately, they end up unchanged at the end.

I imagine you’d put that book back on the shelf relatively quickly!

The thing is, a story isn’t a good story when nothing changes.

As readers, we want a story to come to a crescendo or climax. We want conflict. We want rising action. We want to see our hero overcome their obstacles to reach their goals!

In a similar way, your college essay should come to a crescendo. It should be a culmination of what all of your hard work and involvement moved you to do.

When you reach this climactic moment, it’s time to start writing about your Passion Project!

Maybe it enlightened you to think about an issue in a new way. Maybe it helped you discover something you were truly passionate about. Maybe it even changed your perspective on your own life.

Whatever it is, college admissions officers are going to be more excited to read about your climactic moment than a restatement of your resume.

We as humans are wired to listen to stories and relate to them. If you’re passionate about telling your story, people are bound to listen.

If you’re unsure of how to make your story a good one, sign up for my 7-Day ACCEPTED Challenge!

You’ll participate in new challenges each day to define what you are passionate about, start shaping your Passion Project, and determine how you can use those passions to really stand out so that you can open that acceptance letter from your dream Ivy League & Top-tier colleges!

Your college application is your story. So make it a bestseller.


Want to know the “exact” framework my students used to receive acceptance letters from Princeton, Duke, U of Michigan, Rice, Columbia, and so many more Ivy League & Top-tier colleges? Click here!


By Julie Kim Ed.M Harvard University