ic S/general/checkmark circled Thanks for subscribing! Be on the lookout for our next newsletter.
ic S/general/checkmark circled Saved to Favorites.
Articles / Applying to College / Advice for Disadvantaged Student With Ivy Ambitions

Oct. 31, 2015

Advice for Disadvantaged Student With Ivy Ambitions

Question: Acceptance into an ivy has been my dream since my younger years. Unfortunately my parents are less fortunate and I have brothers I'd much rather see succeed before my own needs. I know many may say that being a sophomore in high school is extremely too early to be thinking about college but I haven't been able to stop thinking about college since my first day of middle school. Ion enrolled in many honors and A.P. Classes also in clubs and the Advanced Placement Program of Excellence. I need to know what I need to do to get a Ivy League school to even look at me. I will do whatever it takes . I believe success is a mindset that I absolutely possess. Best wishes and hope you reply to this soon (:

You are actually wise to be thinking ahead to college as a sophomore. Of course, you don't want to turn your entire high school career into merely a “dress rehearsal" for what comes next, so I do hope you find time for classes and activities that you enjoy and not just for those that you think will impress admission officials. But, on the other hand, decisions that you make now can certainly have an impact on the college choices you will have later on … and “later on" will be here before you know it.

So, as you look down the road to college, here are a few suggestions:


  1. Keep doing what you're doing now. Take the most rigorous courses you can handle. But make your mental and physical health your priorities and don't OVERdo it. It can be a delicate balance!
  1. Don't just focus on the Ivies. Certainly these colleges are famous and well-respected worldwide, and it's good to have lofty goals. So keep the Ivies on your list but also consider that there are other places where you can be happy and engaged as well. If you land at an Ivy, that's great. But if you don't, you may discover that a different school is really where you were meant to be all along. And if you end up as a big fish in a smaller pond, this can help position you very well for graduate school, job placement etc.
  1. Don't discount a paying job in high school. If you come from a low-income family, you may need to hold a job to earn spending money for yourself or to help your parents with household expenses. Admission officials at the Ivies … and at all colleges … have huge respect for a student who works. Even if a job keeps you out of school clubs or other extracurricular activities, that's no problem. The college folks see gazillions of Model U.N. officers, drum majors, and yearbook editors on applications. Those endeavors are fine but common. A student who puts in long hours at a workplace always impresses, and those who climb the ladder (e.g., get promotions, supervise shifts), even more so.
  1. If you are a student of color or you are first-generation-to college (or both), it's not too early to hone in on a few of the colleges that interest you the most and call their admission offices. Explain that you are a student of color and/or first-generation to college. Request the name and email address of the staff member who oversees multicultural and first-gen applicants. Then write to him or her and briefly describe your background and your goals, much as you did for “The Dean." Ask if there are any summer programs or special school-year opportunities that might be suitable for you. It's not too early to do this, especially if you might be a candidate for a program for this coming summer. (Most of the on-campus programs during the school year are for juniors and seniors, but it can't hurt to get on mailing lists now.)
  1. If you are not already familiar with Questbridge check it out here: http://www.questbridge.org/ The aim of this organization is to facilitate the application and enrollment of disadvantaged students at “elite" colleges and universities. The Web site can be a little confusing, but start slowly. Begin with the “College Prep Scholarship" which is for high school juniors. See http://www.questbridge.org/for-students/cps-college-prep-scholarship (If you look into it now, you'll be ready for next year.) As a Questbridge College Prep Scholar, you will receive personal guidance through the admissions maze (often including opportunities to visit distant colleges for free) and then, as a senior, you will have priority admission (although not guaranteed) into the Questbridge “Match" program which pairs strong disadvantaged seniors with top colleges and provides with full financial aid. So follow that link above and look for the “Join the Mailing List" link. (Right now!!)

The college selection and application process can seem very confusing and overwhelming. But one thing to keep in mind is that, if you are a strong and motivated student, you will have college options, even if your family cannot pay for your education. You also should never worry that you can't attend pricey summer programs, take community-service trips to Third World Countries, or enroll in expensive test-prep classes (although Questbridge helps with that). Admission officials, especially at the Ivies and at other highly selective colleges, are always on the lookout for students who have made the most of what they've been given … even if it's very little.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

More on Applying to College

Can I Reapply After Early Decision or Early Action Rejection?

Can I Reapply After Early Decision or Early Action Rejection?

Question: If I apply to a college through Early Decision or Early Action, but I am not accepted, can I apply again through Regula…

Advantages of EARLY Early-Decision Application?

Advantages of EARLY Early-Decision Application?

Question: I'm applying Early Decision to an Ivy League school. Is there any advantage for me to send in the application mate…

Can I Apply Early Twice?

Can I Apply Early Twice?

Question: I am planning on applying early decision to my first-choice college. I will be notified of my status by December 31st. …

Early Decision or Early Action?

Early Decision or Early Action?

Question: Why should I consider an Early Decision or Early Action college application? What's the difference?

Your level of d…

brett-jordan-POMpXtcVYHo-unsplash.jpg

3 Steps To Writing a Strong College Essay

You brew a cup of coffee, you fire up the old laptop, you take a deep breath and focus your mind on the wealth of significant and…

A-Z College Forums

Browse the College Forums
C1E9D4E7-C4C9-4B28-8946-8F441A6D62B3

Find Your Best Fit

Find your best fit college and track your favorite colleges.