What do top colleges in the U.S. look for in their students – Part 2

What do you need to do for getting into an IVY league college?

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

An excellent academic record and grades, good test scores, participation in research, projects and extracurricular activities, great essays… all these are common to many students who apply to universities in the U.S. for higher education. How then do highly sought-after universities make their selection? And how can students ensure that their application appeals to their dream university? Here is the second part of the article that tells you what top colleges look for, with one prompt each for supplementary essays that helps you align your application with their target profile.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

MIT loves numbers, Science and Tech; and it loves using these tools to change the world for the better. However, it is not looking for a typical raise-some-funds-for-a-good-cause profile but for a unique, quirky person. What is your vision for change? What impact have you made in your own way? A unique, authentic, failed project has more value than a run-of-the-mill successful project.

Supplement: Tell us about a significant challenge you’ve faced (that you feel comfortable sharing) or something that didn’t go according to plan. How did you manage the situation? https://mitadmissions.org/apply/firstyear/essays-activities-academics/

California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

Unapologetically STEM-focussed, Caltech works at inventing technologies of the future, and addressing fundamental scientific questions. If you love Maths, Physics and Chemistry, you could have the makings of a Techer. You need to demonstrate creativity, an appreciation of Humanities and Social Sciences, and a fun, collaborative spirit. Sounds unreal?

Supplement: The creativity, inventiveness, and innovation of Caltech’s students, faculty, and researchers have won Nobel Prizes and put rovers on Mars. But Techers also imagine smaller scale innovations every day, from new ways to design solar cells to how to 3D print dorm decor. How have you been a creator, inventor, or innovator in your own life? https://www.admissions.caltech.edu/apply/first-year-applicants/supplemental-application-essays

University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)

While Penn Science and Engineering is among the top 20 programmes in the U.S., the institute is best known for Life Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, Business and Humanities. UPenn is looking for leadership in every field, and extra-curricular activities weigh strongly beyond stellar academic grades. Service and community impact is another key value across eight domains: physical, social, emotional, financial, spiritual, environmental, occupational and intellectual.

Supplement: How will you explore community at Penn? Consider how Penn will help shape your perspective, and how your experiences and perspective will help shape Penn. https://admissions.upenn.edu/how-to-apply/what-penn-looks-for/essays

Columbia University

Be bold and unique, have the courage to speak up and be heard. Columbia looks for confident innovators, people who have the confidence to share their own perspective and act on it to create change. Individual critical thinking is a core value. So who are you really? Demonstrate courage, confidence, competence and commitment to your own passions inside and outside the classroom.

Supplement: In college/university, students are often challenged in ways that they could not predict or anticipate. It is important to us, therefore, to understand an applicant’s ability to navigate through adversity. Please describe a barrier or obstacle you have faced and discuss the personal qualities, skills or insights you have developed as a result. https://undergrad.admissions.columbia.edu/apply/process/columbia-questions

Princeton University

Princeton puts higher value on academic excellence, compared to other top schools. It looks for course rigour and how much you have challenged yourself through additional courses, awards and contests beyond the school curriculum. Princeton even requires a graded paper as part of the application. With extracurricular activities, again, Princeton values depth over breadth. Sustained commitment and high levels of achievement in one area – sport, music or community service – is valued more than a medley of activities with school-level achievements.

Supplement: Princeton values community and encourages students, faculty, staff and leadership to engage in respectful conversations that can expand their perspectives and challenge their ideas and beliefs. As a prospective member of this community, reflect on how your lived experiences will impact the conversations you will have in the classroom, the dining hall or other campus spaces. What lessons have you learned in life thus far? What will your classmates learn from you? In short, how has your lived experience shaped you? https://admission.princeton.edu/apply/princeton-specific-questions

Cornell University

Cornell is looking to nurture students with potential into community leaders. And it is a fun, outgoing place where people balance a lot of activities along with studies. Cornell’s mission is to educate the global citizen and it fosters a culture of broad inquiry and curiosity. Highlight the element of curiosity in the application.

Supplement: In the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War, Ezra Cornell wrote, “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” For over 150 years, Cornell University has remained deeply committed to Ezra’s vision. Explain how your life experiences will help inform your contributions to a learning community devoted to “… any person … any study.” We encourage you to think broadly about your life experiences, including how local (e.g., family, school, neighbourhood) or global communities you’ve been part of have helped shape your perspective. https://admissions.cornell.edu/how-to-apply/first-year-applicants/cornell-first-year-writing-supplement-prompts

The writer is Founder and CEO, Inomi Learning, a Gurugram-based career and college guidance firm. info@inomi.in

The original article was first published in ‘The Hindu’ on August 20th, 2023.

With inputs from Anjana Anand.