Is Sophomore on Track for the Ivies et al?

Question: I am an upcoming sophomore at my high school and I would like to attend a private university (e.g. Vanderbilt, Emory), a private liberal arts school (e.g. Rhodes, Williams), or an Ivy League (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or Columbia specifically). I am currently in my school’s Pre-IB program with a 4.1 GPA. I am in a criminal justice program called Law Academy and plan to join the Mock Trial Team next year. I also plan to join the National Honor Society and Ambassadors Club junior/senior year. Do you have any other advice? How hard is it to get into an Ivy League school? Do I have a chance? Thank you for your time and please answer my question, I am really worried if I am on the right path or not.

It sounds like you are on the right track academically, especially if you keep up your good grades, you continue to choose the most challenging classes you can handle, and you score well on the SAT or ACT when the time comes.

However, the Ivy League colleges (and their hyper-competitive counterparts) are besieged by applicants with top grades and test scores. So grades and tests alone aren’t often enough to get a candidate admitted. Instead, the admission folks say, “What’s special about this kid?”

So, while all of your activities sound very worthwhile (Mock Trial, National Honor Society, etc.), none will come close to helping you to stand out in a crowd. Admission committees at the “elite” colleges see these things on applications all the time. Thus, in addition to (or instead of) some of your current undertakings, think about what you can do that might make you different. For instance, if you’re interested in criminal justice, how about starting an anti-bullying initiative in your community?

But don’t add or delete activities from your docket just because they may “look good” (or not) on your applications. It’s much more important to do what you like. And keep in mind that, if your grades and test scores are strong, you will have tons of great college options, whether or not the Ivies are among them. (And plenty of students do everything “right” and still don’t get into Ivies … there is a huge chunk of luck involved as well.) Moreover, Vanderbilt, Rhodes, and Emory are quite competitive but they’re not as cut-throat as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Williams, and Columbia. So with tip-top grades and test-scores, you should be fine at these places, without having to bend over backwards to create unique extracurriculars.

Whatever you decide, try not to stress over what lies ahead. Do the best you can in your classes and activities but make an effort to enjoy them, too, and don’t just view them as stepping stones to a prestigious college.