Stories that dare admissions officers not to offer students admission, activities that showcase a singular hook, and letters of recommendation that impress — are some ways Ivy Coach helps students optimize their cases for admission to elite universities. From a student who created a simple salivary test to detect early risk of oral cancer to an art historian tracking down stolen masterpieces to an engineer bolstering the bulletproof vests of America’s soldiers with nanotechnology, the case studies below offer a glimpse into how our expert college counselors help Ivy Coach’s students stand out.
Ria came to Ivy Coach in 11th grade. She wanted to be a physician and, as such, intended to apply to several BS/MD programs. She had top grades in fairly rigorous courses, wow AP scores, and near-perfect SAT scores.
Ria presented a profile to Ivy Coach that is all too common in elite college admissions: an Indian American applicant who wanted to be a doctor. It is indeed the single most common profile we see at our firm. Both of Ria’s parents were already physicians. They attended college in India and medical school in the United States — just not top-tier medical schools. To boot, Ria performed classical Indian dance and played tennis — two of the most stereotypical activities for Indian American applicants to America’s top universities.
While Chinese-American and Korean-American applicants have garnered much-deserved publicity for the wrongful discrimination they face in elite college admissions, we at Ivy Coach would argue that Indian American students have it just as bad. Admissions officers discriminate against Indian American applicants, too, particularly when they present profiles associated with wanting to be doctors, engineers, computer scientists, or businesspeople. We didn’t wish for Ria to face this same discrimination.
How Ivy Coach Helped
First, we helped her realize that she needed to go beyond the coursework offered at her high school if she hoped to get into HYPS (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or Stanford) and mapped out how she could do just that. Then we put the kibosh on the BS/MD programs in which Ria had initially expressed interest. We informed her that it would become much harder to get into Brown or Northwestern by applying to their BS/MD programs. And we felt she could do so much better than the other schools on her list that happened to offer BS/MD programs. A student we believed could get into Harvard should not be considering Northeastern — even if it means not having to apply to medical schools and saving a year of schooling.
While it was difficult to convince Ria to think beyond the BS/MD programs, there was one line we said that she told us at the end of her admissions process that stuck with her. We asked, “Would you rather have brain surgery from a doctor with a diploma from Harvard on her wall or from Northeastern?” Sorry, Northeastern. We tell it like it is at Ivy Coach. Besides, medicine is not a major at any highly selective university in America. She could major in whatever she’d like when enrolled at college — irrespective of the hook she chose to run with to get in.
So instead of presenting medical activities that would appear like she’s trying to follow in mom and dad’s footsteps (elite colleges want students who blaze their own trails!), she got involved in several activities we specifically recommended that centered on her interest in art history.
She led a group committed to finding the stolen paintings of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. She worked for an art attorney, fighting to return masterpieces stolen by the Nazis from Jewish households to their rightful owners. And she wrote an unauthorized biography of famed art dealer Leo Castelli.
Ria earned admission to Harvard College in the Early Action round. And while Ria’s now a medical school student, she chose to major in art history — not only because she loves the discipline but also because she knew it would make her a more interesting medical school applicant than a biology or chemistry major. She still took the pre-med requirements. She just happened to become a student of contemporary art along the way.
Jake came to Ivy Coach in 9th grade. His two older siblings had previously worked with Ivy Coach and had since enrolled at Stanford and Dartmouth. During our first few meetings with Jake, getting a word out of him was difficult. As we tried to gauge his interests to zero in on a potential hook — and activities that he could get involved in throughout high school — he kept repeating the refrain, “I don’t know.” On his last utterance of this phrase, he began assuaging his anxieties by petting his dog. “Do you like animals?” we asked. Jake’s face lit up. His hook would be animals.
Jake was a bit stubborn, and despite our advice that he take BC Calculus as a junior and Multivariable Calculus as a senior, he hemmed and hawed and decided against it. He also didn’t take the SAT or ACT even though we told him that test-optional schools, all else being equal, would always favor students with excellent scores over students with no scores.
How Ivy Coach Helped
Jake didn’t listen to us on his math trajectory. And he didn’t listen to our advice on continuing to take the ACT after an early low score. But he did listen to us when it came to getting involved in the specific extracurricular activities we recommended he get involved in through high school, from herding sheep in a nearby town to working part-time at an animal shelter to researching the communication of ants. Jake truly demonstrated his passion for the animal kingdom.
And Jake listened to us on applying Early Decision to Dartmouth rather than Duke. While he liked both schools very much, he had a sibling at Dartmouth — which is always helpful in the Early round. We pushed him away from Duke towards Dartmouth.
But would his wow activities, storytelling, and awards be enough to overcome no SAT or ACT score and other limitations to his candidacy?
Jake earned Early Decision admission to Dartmouth College. The sheepherder also earned Early Action admission to the University of Chicago, though he was bound for Dartmouth (which he preferred anyway!). There are, after all, more sheep in New Hampshire.
Michelle came to Ivy Coach in 10th grade. Her parents were proud that she had gotten into the Stanford Summer Session and the Duke Talent Identification Program (TIP). She also planned to do the New Jersey Governor’s School program the following summer. Michelle wanted to be an engineer; her parents believed these activities would impress admissions officers.
Michelle’s activities and intended activities all reeked of privilege to us. They smelled like the student was trying to impress admissions officers, which would render her less likable. As we told Michelle’s parents, we don’t care how competitive these summer activities are (they’re not that competitive anyway!) — they’re not the kind of activities that wow admissions officers. They’re not the kind of activities that Ivy Coach’s students pursue.
Besides, going to summer camp at Stanford (and that’s what it is — summer camp) will not improve Michelle’s case for admission to Stanford. Additionally, if she ended up in the Regular Decision round, admissions officers would likely assume she applied Early to Stanford or Duke and didn’t get in. We’d much rather admissions officers think Michelle didn’t apply anywhere in the Early round because she was a procrastinator or couldn’t decide.
How Ivy Coach Helped
Michelle wanted to be an engineer. As such, unlike with most other academic disciplines, she needed to know she wanted to apply as an engineer early on in high school so she could get involved in engineering activities. After all, at some (though not all) universities, engineering is a separate school, and it’s challenging to transfer internally. So while a Classics applicant could ultimately major in biology, if a student wanted to study engineering at many top universities, they’d have to express as much when they applied.
Instead of pursuing the fancy schmancy summer programs that Michelle’s parents intended for her to join, we helped Michelle get involved in engaging engineering activities that were all in her local neighborhood. For example, Michelle began researching nanotechnology and its applications to bulletproof vests at Rutgers University. As we at Ivy Coach like to do, we issued a dare to admissions officers not to admit a student who wished to protect America’s soldiers through the power of engineering.
Michelle had four B+s and a 34 ACT. She never had a chance of earning admission to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or Stanford. We told her as much before she applied. She wisely chose to heed our advice. She instead applied Early Decision to Duke, a major reach with her grades and score, and she got in. She also earned admission to the University of Chicago through Early Action, though she was bound to attend Duke.
And while some parents, who are not Ivy Coach’s clients, like to think we regularly push students down, and that’s why we boast such robust admissions statistics, there is a flaw in their logic. Parents don’t pay Ivy Coach’s fees to help their children get into safe schools. Instead, they pay our fees to help them earn admission to reach schools, schools they would unlikely get into without our help. Besides, for every student we push down because their dreams are impossible, there’s a student we push up.
Priyanka first approached Ivy Coach in mid-December of her senior year after being denied admission to Harvard. She signed up for a PostMortem application review to determine what went wrong, so she didn’t repeat her mistakes in the Regular Decision round. During the session, as strong of an application as Priyanka and her father believed she submitted to Harvard, it was glaringly apparent to Ivy Coach what went wrong.
Not-so-subtle brags filled her essays, which rendered her unlikeable. Acronyms also peppered her essays, which were undigestible to anyone who was not an engineer. We had little idea what she was writing about in most of her activities and essays until we asked her for explanations in layperson’s terms. And when she told us, we were wowed. In rural India, she invented a rapid, home-based salivary test to determine if someone had early stages of oral cancer, a leading cause of death in her nearby villages.
Stanford, Yale, Princeton, MIT, and Columbia.
How Ivy Coach Helped
After the PostMortem in mid-December, Priyanka enlisted Ivy Coach’s assistance in recrafting her applications before Regular Decision deadlines. We helped her tell stories about her engineering ingenuity that didn’t require a Ph.D. in engineering to comprehend. At Ivy Coach, we firmly believe in Thoreau’s mantra: “Simplify, simplify.” The essays also became less about her achievements — which should be reserved for the activities and honors sections — and more about her work and desire to continue to fight oral cancer in rural India.
Priyanka earned admission to Stanford along with several other elite universities. In fact, that year, Stanford’s Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid gave special shoutouts to a select few students for their exemplary work — la crème de la crème of applicants, you could say. Priyanka received the first such shoutout, which you can watch at the 10:00 minute mark in Stanford’s virtual admitted students event. It’s certainly not the first time one of Ivy Coach’s students received such a shoutout.
In the middle of December, after colleges sent out their Early Decision / Early Action notifications, we received a phone call from Sam, a student who did not work with Ivy Coach in the Early round and was deferred at Yale. He was interested in Ivy Coach’s PostMortem application review, followed by our assistance in drafting a compelling Letter of Continued Interest to Yale.
While Sam knew he had another shot in the Regular Decision round at Yale, he wasn’t sure if he had made any mistakes on his Yale application that could hurt his chances at other colleges. He also wanted to give himself the best chance of getting into Yale in Regular Decision.
Sam was an orthodox Jewish student coming from a yeshiva. He had a perfect GPA in his school’s most rigorous courses and a 1570 SAT. While his extracurricular activities were ok, they weren’t anything special — Model UN, Key Club, basketball. And aside from being viewed as a well-rounded candidate, Sam’s biggest challenge was that he applied to a school, Yale, with a student body that, at the time, was nearly 30% Jewish. As a result, Yale may have viewed Sam’s application as one that brought no diversity to the incoming class. Yale saw Sam as just another orthodox Jewish student.
Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Penn, Cornell, and NYU.
How Ivy Coach Helped
After reading through Sam’s college admissions essays and his Yale application, we identified several key issues that hurt his candidacy. Chief among them? His activities and admissions essays were all over the place. He failed to showcase how he would singularly contribute to Yale’s community.
While getting to know Sam, we realized that his Jewish faith was fundamentally important to him. Yet none of his activities related to his faith — it was a glaring omission, hidden in plain sight. Yet Sam jabbered away when we asked him if there were activities related to his religious faith that he didn’t think to include on his application.
After helping Sam craft a powerful Letter of Continued Interest to Yale, he signed up for Ivy Coach’s assistance with redrafting his applications over the remaining December weeks before January Regular Decision deadlines. His activities and essays centered on his faith in these new iterations. He never told the same story twice, but he strategically and quite naturally infused his faith into all of his writings.
We also encouraged him to add a few elite universities to his list that we perceived as glaring omissions, universities that received fewer applications than Yale from orthodox Jewish students. Among these schools was Princeton, a school with a distinctly lower Jewish undergraduate enrollment at the time.
Sam was accepted to Columbia, Cornell, NYU, and Princeton. He never did get into Yale. He chose to attend Princeton. He was waitlisted at Harvard and Penn but decided not to pursue either waitlist because he was thrilled to be attending Princeton.
While we can never be 100% certain why he got into Princeton, we have an excellent idea. As an orthodox Jewish student who showcased the depth and breadth of his religious faith that he would add to Princeton’s community, the university likely saw him as a way to add diversity to their class.