Here’s a collection of questions and answers I’ve given, in a handy sortable table.
Each column is sortable – just click the top row. You can also search for the topic you’re interested in.
|10/18/2020||Coursework - IB||I'm an incoming senior and I've been doing the IB Diploma program for 3 years. However, because of my dad's jobs, we constantly moved, I've attended 3 schools for my high school and this last school just said that I can't be in the diploma program anymore as they have different requirements and classes availability compare to my other school. IB has always been a part of my high school identity and now having to drop it, I've been so sad for this whole week, I feel like my college path just got shut down. How important do you think IB Diploma is to college consider not having it. Also, can you give some brief information about college advices, I'm doing my college essays and SAT now but I'm just clueless, I'm practicing and studying but I don't know where I'm heading. Thank you.||The good thing about college applications is that they take into account your personal situation, rather than just looking at your coursework and credentials in a vacuum. Moving high schools is a jarring transition; doing it twice can disturb any high school student's momentum. Certainly you get leeway for not completing the IB program if a school doesn't offer it. |
What colleges care about is taht you make the most of your situation, whatever that is. Keep trying to push yourself based on what's avaialble to you. You might consider making your own opportunities (for instance, if your school doesn't offer a particular course, try to take it online.)
In terms of your other questions, Google is your best friend. Think of what questions you have, Google it, read the top 5 links, then search for more questions. This will get you very far if you put in the work; many students don't.
|10/18/2020||Tests - SAT/ACT||I'm an international student. I'm taking the ACT test in December. If I decide to retake it in March, will I have to send both results to the school that I'm applying to or can I choose which one to send?||Different schools have different policies for test scores. Most participate in a version of Score Choice, which gives you the option of sending only some of the scores you've received. Some require all scores to be sent.|
I'd make a list of schools you're interested in, research their score choice policies, and then see if that influences your decision. In general, I'd encourage you to take more tests if you're confident you can get a higher score - schools don't really mind your retaking a test if you're showing good improvement
|10/18/2020||Tests - SAT/ACT||Are three months enough to improve my ACT score by 5 points? (specifically English and reading)||An improvement of 5 points isn't unreasonable. Whether you can achieve it in 3 months depends on how much you've studied before (the less you have, the more you'll improve), how hard you study, and how intelligently you study. Here's a guide I wrote on how I recommend everyone study: https://blog.prepscholar.com/how-to-get-a-perfect-act-score-by-a-36-full-scorer|
|10/18/2020||Applications - Special Situations||I struggle with severe depression. I'm currently a junior and know I have the potential to thrive in more prestigious colleges but my current application won't reflect that since I spent the majority of my freshman and sophomore year either in therapy or in my room sick from medications. How would I be able to demonstrate my academic ability and passion for law, while also explaining my lack of accomplishments due to my health history without sounding like I'm using it as an excuse?||Colleges are certainly sensitive to mental health concerns, so you don't need to feel defeated if your application doesn't measure up to students who didn't have the same setbacks. What they really care about is whether you made the most of your situation and opportunities, whatever those are.|
There are a few ways to discuss this:
1) applications have a "special notes" section expressly to discuss personal situations like this
2) your recommendation letter writers can speak to your mental health struggles and how you made the most of it
3) consider writing about your lessons and development in your essays. You wouldn't want to use it as an excuse, as you say, but rather focus on what those experiences meant to you and what you learned
|10/18/2020||Applications - Essays||First off, I would like to thank you for everything that you and your company have done in terms of the college application process. I cannot count how many times I have found answers on your page. I apologize in advance for how long this email is. As a fellow Asian-American, I was hoping you would be able to answer a few of my questions. |
So, I am a big-time alpine ski racer. I have been ranked top 15 in the country, and placed 15th in the nation (for my age group) at US Nationals last season. I go to a public school in NJ, which I leave from in November to attend a ski academy in Vermont (Killington Mountain School) for five months. I then return to my home school in NJ in April to finish up the school year. I have done this since freshman year and will do so again for my senior year. I believe this is my so-called “spike”. I am also a dedicated scholar, and have maintained a 4.4GPA (w/ a 4.6 Junior year) and straight As. I will graduate with 60 AP credits and I look forward to being able to study biomedical engineering in college. I took the ACT last year with no practice and got a 32, which I was not happy with and I have practiced since and I am confident that I will get a 34-36 when I take it later in October. I have taken a look at your college application to Harvard, which is extraordinary.
The issue that I face is that due to my commitment to ski racing, which is year-round with extra training and summer camps to Europe, I have not been able to find the time that I would have liked to participate in extracurriculars. Leaving my school for half of the year presented logistical issues when it came to clubs, etc. as well.
I have a strong desire to learn and I have been eyeing top colleges to apply to. Going through my college essays so far (MIT, Stanford, UCLA), I felt confident that my essays would make me competitive in the admissions process. However, when I looked at the Harvard essays, I found myself stuck in a rabbit hole. I feel as though especially after reading your essays, that I simply am lacking the extracurriculars to write about. For my CommonApp essay, I have written about becoming a pioneer. I first start off with struggles during my childhood of being afraid to be different, then talking about an experience that opened me up to the concept of being different and using that to my advantage. I then go on to talk about committing to go to the ski academy for only the winter when most athletes go full time just so I can maintain my academics at a high level (ski academy academics are terrible). This is a difference that I chose, not one that was unavoidable. I then finish off with an initiative I started to bring my school to volunteer at an organization for disabled people (teaching them how to ski) even after facing opposition. This is where I get comfortable being different and do something completely on my own.
For Harvard, which is my dream school, I have wrote an essay about creating an electric skateboard for the intellectual activities essay. I am looking to write the extracurricular essay on volunteering at an organization for disabled people (helping them ski), which is where my interest in biomedical engineering stemmed from. For the miscellaneous essay, I was going to write about being an adaptive thinker, whether it be creating games to play with other people, solving problems, etc. I looked back at these three essays and I recognized that these would not help me stand out. Thinking back to your concept of the “spike” I started wondering if I should write about my commitment and deep passion for skiing. I was wondering if there is a chance at me being accepted, and if there is, what I should focus on in terms of the essays.
I am very unsure right now and questioning if I should even apply anymore. I am so so so sorry for the long email and I will be extremely grateful if you could provide your insight. I also do not mind if you publish this on your website. Thank you so so much again for everything you do!
|It sounds like you have a strong spike in your athletics. As with many student athletes, it's natural that you haven't had time for much other than school and athletics. That's OK - colleges understand the sacrifice, and they don't expect you to be well-rounded in every dimension. That's the essence of a spike - to put in full-throttle effort, you HAVE to sacrifice other things, which in your case means the typical extracurriculars other students have. Don't worry about it.|
For essay topics - you shouldn't be reading my essays (or anyone else's) and comparing your essays to theirs. You are a unique person and you should write something that is true to you and what you care about. There is no "model" essay to emulate; doing so would make you sound inauthentic. So don't worry that you can't talk about extracurriculars you don't have - write about what you know.
As for chances of getting in, whether someone like me tells you have a chance shouldn't really affect your thinking. If someone told you you have good chances, you should avoid sitting on your laurels - you should keep pushing as hard as you can to exceed your goals. And if someone told you you're a reach, you shouldn't be demoralized - you should brush it off and keep pushing. So my opinion is not all that important - it's what you do internally that really matters at the end of the day. I do generally advise that students apply to every school they're interested in; the cost (in time and money) to do so is usually small, but the gain if you get in is huge.
|10/18/2020||Extracurriculars - Spike||So I have read your article about to get into Harvard. I really loved that article and believe it is a must-read for any high-schooler. But anyway, my question is that for your idea of your idea of a big spike. Is it a good idea to have 2 big spikes? I am saying this because I plan to try to go to Harvard for college and right now I am only a high school freshman. The 2 big spikes I want to focus on are Biology and Latin. So would this be a good idea? Also how do I compete for getting some good competitions in biology. I want to do this because past achievments can stand out in college and it can help develop a good spike.||Generally, the nature of a spike is usually that you pursue something with such focus that you only have ONE major spike. Consider that if someone had 20 spikes, they wouldn't be very "spikey" and instead would look well-rounded. |
As a freshman, though, you have time to figure out what your interests are, so it's ok to hold onto multiple options until you really figure out what you want to do. So it sounds OK for now, though do think about what you're passionate about where you can demonstrate that deep achievement and focus.
The most prestigious competition in biology is the Biology Olympiad (going all the way up to the International Biology Olympiad). There are also research competitions like Regeneron; these require more than just studying and need you to work on research. I'm not as familiar with Latin, but there are probably analogues of spikes there (think - who's someone you admire in Latin, and what have they achieved?)
|10/18/2020||Tests - SAT/ACT||I’m a HS Sophomore in the US. I tend to go through phases of freaking out about colleges, my futures, and grades. I decided to stop being scared and do something about it. I made a plan for my HS years and my starting college years. Right now in my plan, I’m concerned about the SAT. I want to be able to get 1550 or better to give me a fighting chance at MIT. I’ve read your article about how to get a perfect score, and it did help a lot, but I’ve still got some questions. I haven’t done the PSAT yet but I’m going to soon. |
If I study, I believe the English portion of the test should be easier for me. But Math is what I worry most about. In 7th grade, I made the mistake of losing interest in Math (not knowing it would be important to my career path), and I got set back to Alg 1 instead of Alg 2. I’m still highly capable in mathematics, but I’m missing certain classes I from this Sophomore year that I think would benefit me on the SAT (EX: AP Calc). I just need some advice on SAT Math from someone trustworthy. It’s very important for my career path. I’m afraid this could mess up my whole college plan. Anything would be helpful.
|The good news is that the SAT doesn't need math anywhere near as advanced as calculus. It's designed to be a nationally accessible test, which means it doesn't test require math more advanced than standard high school math. So you're not at a disadvantage.|
It sounds like you're pretty scared of the SAT right now, and I think that's because of lack of exposure. I recommend that you take an SAT practice test as soon as you can. Don't worry about how you do - just take it and get a score. You might do better than you expected. Even if you don't, now you know what the nature of the beast is, and you can start tackling your weaknesses to get a good score.
|10/18/2020||Extracurriculars - Spike||I read your article about how to get into Harvard and the Ivy League, I found it really helpful and I really appreciate it. I started thinking about making some achievements as a high school student and I will try my best to develop a huge spike. But I have one question, in the ninth grade I got into the number 1 ranked high school in my country with full scholarship. so, do you think this is an achievement that I can mention in my application? Is this something that universities like Harvard would pay attention to?||Good job getting in! It's a good start, but getting into a high school isn't really an achievement to be listed on your application. If it's a really competitive high school, then colleges already know that; when they see that your application lists that school, you've already "earned" that credit.|
What's important now is what you do AFTER getting in - you have three and a half years to prove this out. It's the same with college - if you meet someone who says he went to Harvard, that's kind of cool, but you really care what the person has done with his life afterward. There are plenty of bozos who get into schools like Harvard but don't make much of their lives, so the fact that they went to Harvard shouldn't impress you much. Same goes with getting in your high school.
|10/18/2020||Extracurriculars||I live in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I learn in ---- school and I am in 12 grade. I was planning to apply to Ivy league colleges. Unfortunately, I couldn’t finish some requirements; (i.e, national and regional science fair), due to the pandemic. And my country doesn’t provide the platform for students to do researches with professors and other researchers. So if you could give me some advice, it will help a lot. Thanks in advance.||Lots of students are in your situation, where their lives were upended by covid. Colleges don't expect you to have as strong of an application as if covid didn't happen. They do however care about how you make the most of the situation and the opportunities available to you. Can you demonstrate your interests in ways other than what you had planned? For instance, is there any way to take your interests online, or to complete the projects you would have done for the science fair even if it isn't happening?|
As you're a senior there might not be a lot of time left, so you might also have to lean on all the work you did pre-Covid to boost the rest of your application, and talk about how you made the most of Covid elsewhere in your application.
|10/11/2020||Extracurriculars||I am looking for advice on my big spike, as my spike is not super traditional.|
My spike is locksport (the sport of locksmithing).
As per achievements, I started the locksport club in my school, and helped start not one, but two chapters of international locksport organizations in my hometown. (TOOOL and Locksport International).
I have been the president for one of them for two years, and I also offer classes in my areas on locksport, and how to pick locks.
In my opinion, this is a good spike. I spend many hours lockpicking every week, and try to bring it to the next level by offering classes, and trying to be a leader in the group.
Otherwise, I do have a small spike that is more traditional. I also do Science Olympiad. I have won first in 3 events in local and state competitions in biology-related fields (disease detectives, microbe missions, and anatomy and physiology).
|You definitely have an interesting hobby that can stand out. There certainly are not that many locksport practitioners, but keep in mind that uniqueness itself is not enough to be a formidable spike. There are many people with unique hobbies out there - let's say archery, whitehat computer hacking, basket weaving, Irish folk dance, stone skipping, Tai Chi, and so on. If you put all of them in a bucket, how would you choose the ones that are most impressive?|
A spike is not just about uniqueness - it's a demonstration of considerable effort, talent, and achievement. A good way to show this in a more quantifiable way is either 1) doing well in a notable, competitive competition, 2) achieving considerable impact.
You have a good start, but keep thinking about how you can push your passion further, either by honing your craft or by deepening your impact. Could you set up larger conferences for your sport? Could you make cool videos (like Lockpicking Laywer) to attract many more people to your sport?
|10/11/2020||Extracurriculars||I have a question. I genuinely have 40 hours of extracurriculars (focusing on two spikes) on top of 6 AP classes. Does that sound unbelievable or like a lie if a college admissions officer were to read that?||Keep in mind that at 16 hours per day and 7 days a week, you only have 112 hours of waking time per week. 40 of these are used in school, probably 10-30 need to be spent on homework (depending on your classes and speed), and some amount should be spent on basic recovery and free time.|
So 40 hours of extracurriculars is reasonable and not outlandish. It would suggest that you have a very packed schedule, but this isn't too surprising (and I was fairly similar). However, anything about 80 hours would be unrealistic and viewed with heavy skepticism.
|10/11/2020||Applications - Chances||Quick question, does creative writing count as an “academic” category for the Harvard rankings? Or extracurricular?||(For background, check out my explanation of Harvard's rating system: https://blog.prepscholar.com/harvard-asian-admissions-lawsuit-application-strategy).|
I'm not totally sure, but I'd guess that it's extracurricular. Academic has more to do with mastery of academic subjects (physics, economics, etc) and indicates future scholarship in the field.
|10/11/2020||Motivation||i've been thinking about the ACT a lot, even though i have 3 years until i actually have to take it i want to be prepared. Growing up nor my mom or dad finished College, and my mother works hard everyday and I see how much physical work she puts in just to provide food for us and I can't help but feel sad because I want to be able to help her out once I graduate College but of course, you need to have good grades to get accepted. I've been seeing a lot of things on the news about people not having the same chances but I have to disagree. There are people who come from India, Asia, the Middle East with nothing but the shirt on their backs and they've become successful. So everyone has a chance, but anyways I'm getting off topic. The reason I emailed you is because I want to know what motivated you and how you felt getting a perfect score, and how you became successful.||You're asking a question about motivation, which is a great thing to ponder.|
The way I see it, the foundation of motivation comes from answering life's greatest questions—what do I want to accomplish in this world before I die? Why is that? Why do I even need to exist?
Once you have this answer, then trace your final goal back to where you are today. What are the steps you need to take to meet your final goal?
Once you have this mapped out, you will find the energy and motivation to tackle all the steps in the path to achieving your goals. On the other hand, if you lack answers to these questions, you'll find it hard to summon the motivation to put in the work (since you don't really care about the work in the first place).
Of course it's too much to ask to have a really solid answer when you're a teenager (I spent much of my 20's figuring this out for myself), but you can at least have certain things you care about that drive you. It sounds like you care a lot about caring for your parents in return for what they did for you. That's a fantastic motivation. You probably want to end up with a great career in some type of field; to get there, you'll need to go to a good college; to go to a good college, you'll need to do well on the ACT, coursework, and extracurriculars.
Personally for me I really wanted to be a doctor/scientist, and that mapped all the way back to excelling in high school. There were other motivations (I loved competing and being the best academically) but the most important was having some direction that I was aiming toward.
|10/11/2020||Applications - International||1) Amidst covid there is rumor going in my country that the acceptance for international students will be extremely low, is it true , what is your take on it?|
2) I read your article about spikes, what is the best way to show your spikes considering the covid cancelled all of my ECAs.
3) Is it true that international students have half the acceptance of a domestic student.
|1) I don't think international acceptance rates will be strongly affected by Covid. There's no good reason I can think of for colleges to accept fewer international students just because of Covid.|
2) All students will struggle with this in some way. You will have to make the best of your situation. On the plus side, the pandemic gives an opportunity for students to show extra creativity where they otherwise wouldn't have had to.
3) Yes, unfortunately it is generally more competitive for international students to get into domestic schools. I believe it is a bit easier if you demonstrate you can pay tuition, but this isn't a big factor at the top universities.
|10/11/2020||Applications - Test Scores||Harvard declared itself as test optional but will not send scores affect my acceptance, I read multiple articles some say it will while others say it won't. I wanted to know what you thought about it.||While schools are test optional, I personally believe good test scores give you an advantage. If you don't send scores, they won't necessarily hold it against you, but there are just fewer points of data they can use to calibrate your performance vs other students. If you have some other notable achievement that convinces them you're in the top 1 percentile of students (like winning a competitive competition), then this can substitute for test scores. But if you don't, then it's easy to fall into the middle of the pack.|
|10/11/2020||Applications - Recommendations||Is it bad to ask a freshman teacher to write your rec letter. I know this teacher who taught me freshman year and for a brief period sophomore year. However, I still talk to him a lot and feels like he knows me best and can write a great letter. The only problem is that he did not teach me junior or senior year. Do you think that will look bad? Thank you||The drawback to a freshman year teacher is that it'll have been over 2 years since he saw you in the classroom. People develop a lot from age 14 to age 17, and so his impression will be a bit outdated. Furthermore, colleges would wonder why it is you didn't develop a stronger relationship with any teacher since freshman year.|
Since you're a senior, you may not have much of a chance now to develop relationships with sophomore and junior year teachers, so if your freshman year teacher can best speak to your personality and interaction with other students, I would choose your freshman year teacher rather than a junior year teacher who doesn't know you as well.
For younger students in this situatino, I would hedge a bit: continue your relationship with your freshman year teacher, but continue trying hard to develop relationships with sophomore and junior year teachers. Then when you apply, choose the best mix of teachers who can paint complementary portraits of you.
|10/11/2020||Coursework - APs||I am a rising sophomore in Canada. I have a few question regarding the AP and IB programs: |
1. Are AP courses in Canada different than AP courses in the US(in terms of difficulty, course material, etc.)?
2. Do Ivy league universities prefer students who complete IB over students who take AP? I have heard that Ivy League's like to accept students who take more challenging coursework. Considering that IB is a more rigourous program than AP, would my chances of acceptance in an Ivy league school be higher if I took and IB? Thank you.
|1. AP _courses_ can vary a lot even within the same school, since it depends on how the school and teacher want to teach the curriculum. AP exams, however, are the same no matter where you are.|
2. I've never heard of a big favoring of IB over AP curricula. I don't know the IB curriculum as well, but I've never heard of it being distinctly and significantly more difficult or challenging than AP - there are just different tradeoffs (e.g. in terms of breadth vs depth). I would choose whichever one you're more interested in or that's more convenient for you and not worry as much about it.
|10/11/2020||Applications - Chances||I have recently become a lot more interested in college admissions, and I have read your guides on getting better grades, SAT/ACT scores, and "How to get into Harvard."|
First off, I just want to say that these guides were awesome. They've given me a clear picture of what I need to do to get to where I want to be.
Post college, I want to work on superconductor research. I think that developing a theory for superconductivity or simply creating new superconductors would be an excellent way for me to utilize my interests in physics and chemistry, and would also be a fulfilling line of work for me. To this end, I want to attend MIT.
The issue here is that I am not confident that I can get into MIT. As a junior, I have a GPA of 3.65, and I have calculated that I can achieve a 3.8 GPA with the classes and time I have remaining at high school. I am also prepared to commit the time it would take to get a perfect score in either the SAT or ACT, or both if required.
However, because I am a junior, I feel as though I might not be able to set up the "spike" that you have said would make me desirable for colleges. I enjoy physics and chemistry, and I have achieved either an A or B+ in AP Physics 1 and Chemistry. I've done a number of programs through an organization called "WCATY" (Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth), which were predominantly 2 years of 3 week long courses at a nearby college, which allowed me to study physics in a much more strenuous environment than normal school.
I've also got a small passion for history - I'm taking AP Euro this year, and was thinking about taking AP Psych in my senior year. Finally, I swim for my school, and am close to making varsity.
My main question is then. - what else should I do? Like I said, I am assuming a best case scenario of a 3.8 GPA (my high school doesn't give more weight to AP classes), and a 1600 on the SAT, as well as a 36 on the ACT.
Given those grades, and 6 AP classes in topics of my interest, how should I develop my spike?
And finally, would it be worth pursuing any of the classes or clubs that I have laid out here?
>My school has a couple of science competitions (Science Bowl and Physics Bowl, both of which extend beyond the school).
>My school has a math team and a robotics team.
>I am eligible for both National Honor Society and the Rho Kappa Soc. Stud. Honor Society.
|Assuming that your academics are in place, I'd encourage you to explore the very interest you suggested: superconductor research. Can you get a research internship in this field somehow? If it's impossible, can you demonstrate your interest in this field another way (say, by making approachable videos teaching the content)?|
Schools like MIT and Caltech appreciate students who have a genuine interest in a field and do actual work on it. This can compensate for imperfect grades and test scores (though you can't fall too far).
Lastly, I also want to stress that you don't _need_ to go to MIT to work on superconductor research. You should aim to get into your dream school, but don't be crushed if you don't get in - you can do cool research at many universities.
|8/16/2020||Coursework - APs||In my school, there is accelerated math 1 as a course and students who take that goes to accelerated math 2 in tenth grade. Then, AP Calculus AB in 11th grade. And, finally, AP Calculus BC in 12th grade. I completed ninth grade already and as a freshman, I took Accelerated math 1. But, the thing is, I really really struggled in that course (I ended up with B+) and I’m not sure if I want to take accelerated math 2 as a sophomore. Personally, I wish to major in the sciences, like biology or physics. So, I have two options here. |
1) take accelerated math 2 as a sophomore although my grades won’t be really good. (I predict it be ‘B’. Maybe lower.)
2) take Algebra 2 trig as a sophomore. Go to precalculus as a junior. Then, go to AP Calculus AB as a senior. As you can see, going to algebra 2 trig won’t allow me to advance too far as a senior. Despite that, I get to have better grades and less stress in my high school life in regards to math subjects.
Note: by going slower in my math curriculum, it won’t stop me from taking other courses that require prerequisites like AP Physics C or AP Chemistry.
Personally, I think that GPA is more important than the courses I’m taking (although that’s still crucial). But, I’m not sure what to choose. What would you recommend?
|I suggest challenging yourself to the point that you'll likely get an A but need to work for it. You don't want it so easy that you could have taken a more advanced course. But you don't want it so hard that you get a bad grade and sterss yourself out a lot.|
It's also good that going slower in math won't block your prereqs for AP courses you want to take.
In general, if your school has a policy for dropping courses by a specific time, you might try the harder course for a few weeks to see if you can handle the challenge. Then, if it's too much, you can drop the course or go down a level.
|8/16/2020||Thanks||I just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU! I am an international student who was studying for the ACT. I scored a 32 on my first test and was struggling to improve my score on the practice tests that I was doing. My parents don't have much money so I couldn't afford any tuition or online packages. I found Prepscholar just by searching up free ACT tips and tricks on the internet and it quickly became my main source of study. Using free practice tests and all your tips, I was able to improve my score in one test from a 32 to a perfect 36. I just wanted to thank you and encourage you to keep growing Prepscholar as I am sure it has helped so many students like myself.||Thank you for your thoughtful email. You put in all the hard work and you deserve your awesome score! This is going to be a huge help for your college applications. |
If you benefited from my advice, the only request I have for you is to pay it forward by helping younger students learn and achieve. Let people know about our resources. Then coach them on how best to improve like you did.
|8/16/2020||Applications - Course Requirements||Do i have to learn a second language in order to get into Harvard or any Ivy League school?||It's not absolutely required, but it is common. Here's what Harvard says: "There is no single academic path we expect all students to follow, but the strongest applicants take the most rigorous secondary school curricula available to them. An ideal four-year preparatory program includes four years of English, with extensive practice in writing; four years of math; four years of science: biology, chemistry, physics, and an advanced course in one of these subjects; three years of history, including American and European history; and four years of one foreign language."|
I also think it's common in state graduation requirements to learn a second language, so your school likely is forcing you to do so anyway.
|8/16/2020||Extracurriculars - Academic Competitions||Today was the day that I received my AP scores, and I was pretty devastated to see a 3 on AP bio, the subject that I studied so hard on. That made me wonder if biology was the right subject for me to pursue, and I came to the conclusion that I either wanted to stay in sciences and do Chemistry and Physics as my spike or do machine learning and AI. As of now, I definitely have more experience in the science category, since I have started to learn Chemistry and have taken a year of Bio along with self studying for AP Bio exam. After reading your article and seeing your application to Harvard, it gave ideas on how to show my interest and passion in the science fields. I have emailed my teacher to ask if I can take AP Chemistry Sophomore year as an exception, but I was wondering if there were any places such as colleges or organizations that can help me excel in this area. I had no idea that there were science competitions specifically on Chemistry and Physics until I read your application, and I made it my goal to be able to compete in the National Chemistry Olympiad. However, as an incoming sophomore, the only thing I've done is study a bit on my own and with a tutor on basic chemistry. However, to be able to compete at the national level, I realized that I needed to know so many more than just basic chemistry. However, my school only offers up to AP Chemistry, and i was wondering if there were any other places that I can go to further my interest in Chem. I was hoping that I could join a professor at a college or watch a lab to see how it works in the real world, but I'm not sure how to do this. If you have any contacts or programs that I can do so that I can be fully prepared for the Olympiad by Junior year or possibly end of sophomore year, please let me know. I used to play a lot of hockey, and recently, I stopped because of the huge time commitment, and a lot of extra time has been offered to me.||From my memory, for the US National Chemistry Olympiad local and national exams, for the most part you need only up to AP Chemistry, with just a bit of organic chemistry. You can see the past exams here: https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/students/highschool/olympiad/pastexams.html|
My best advice would be to take a look at the sample exams and study them like you would any other test. To get into the study camp, you'll basically need perfect scores on both tests. Once you figure out where you're weak, you need to drill those weaknesses.
In terms of resources, you might consider joining online communities around the olympiad (there might be subreddits or forums), or hiring a tutor who specializes in prepping for the olympiad.
|8/16/2020||PrepScholar||I fit a similar profile to your "academic superstar". In 7th grade, I took the SAT through Duke University's TIP, and got a 1570 on it. Now, as a rising freshman, I practice test at consistently 1600. I'm incredibly interested in law and government as well: I took a practice LSAT for fun, did incredibly well, and registered for the August 2020 test. Now, I'm practice testing on the LSAT at anywhere from 176-180, in the top 0.2% of students eight years older than me. I'm working in the campaign for mayor of my city, *******. I have a burning passion for what I believe in and enjoy, and I know exactly what I want to do (and have known since the age of 9 years old.). Could you work with me on college admissions?||Thanks a lot for the note. You're clearly precocious and high-achieving, so you're in a good place. |
I personally don't have the bandwidth to offer college admissions services myself, but I personally created our admissions department here: http://admissions.prepscholar.com/ . You'll be able to find a college counselor who understands you and your background and will help coach you on your way to your future goals, whatever they are.
As you mentioned, it's possible that you don't really need college application help. You have the luxury of not needing to worry about grades or test scores. This means you have plenty of free time to try a lot of things and figure out what you like, then get deep into your areas of interest.
|8/16/2020||Applications - Recommendations||I am currently unsure if my economics teacher is suitable as a teacher recommendation and was wondering if you would be able to give me some advice?|
I was not able to take economics at school because it was during my english periods, which are compulsory. Because I really wanted to take this subject, I decided to take it online without a teacher. However, every fortnight and frequently after school, I meet with my school economics teacher to ask and discuss any questions that I have encountered. He definitely knows my personality better than any other teacher at my school, and I think that out of all my teachers, he would be able to write the best recommendation. However, he has only taught me in Year 8, and since he is technically not my teacher now, would he be appropriate or should I ask another teacher who teaches me every week?
|The important thing for a teacher recommendation is that the teacher knows you well - not just how you do academically, but your personality and how you engage with other students. The point of the recommendation is to touch on the soft skills that are so important to colleges - how you engage socially, how you overcome obstacles, what makes you special among the thousands of students they've taught.|
In your situation, it sounds like the teacher could comment on your curiosity and academic drive well, as well as your personal growth over the years. One weakness is that he might not be able to comment as much on your social interaction with other students. Also, if it's been years since he formally taught you, he might not be able to comment on more concrete aspects of your coursework, like how you did on projects and assignments.
I'd hedge a bit if possible - continue developing your relationship with your Econ teacher, while also seeing if you could develop any relationships with your current teachers. Then, when you're applying, think about who your best recommenders would be and how two of them would complement each other.
|8/16/2020||Tests - SAT/ACT||i’m taking a online ACT prep course, by James Franklin and from this perspective he told me that it’s best to read ACT reading books like for example, The New York Times and etc. He said to try this 3+ months and a lot of his students tried it and it work, did u before also did this or did u just kept practicing on the ACT reading like who most people did. Please let me know thank you !||I think reading well-written material is good for general development, and as a high school student reading The New Yorker and The Atlantic definitely helped develop my sense for good writing.|
However, hour for hour, I still think prepping specifically for the test is more effective. Reading is generally helpful, but it doesn't directly prep you for the test. Think of it this way - if you were training for a swim meet, weight lifting would probably help you, but not as much as using that same time on your swimming stroke. I also say this knowing most students have a finite amount of time and can't do full hours of test prep while also reading everything they want to read.
|8/16/2020||Applications - Essays||I’ve submitted my essay in many peer review websites online. Most have been encouraging and supportive of my essay but one individual struck it down as a “minority’s cliche”. My essay is about how I wear the Islamic headcovering of the hijab and how I used to be afraid of speaking about it but after several events, I now feel empowered and inspired by my religion to stand for justice. Is this too cliche and un engaging of a personal statement?||Online peer review sites have a few major problems: 1) you don't know who's reviewing it and whether they have any credibility, 2) they don't know anything about you or the rest of your application. Even worse, some toxic reviewers might deliberately want to make people feel bad about their applications.|
College admissions readers have read literal thousands of essays. There are only so many experiences people can possibly have in the first 17 years of their life, and they've seen it all.
The important thing about your essay is that it needs to ring true to who you are. You shouldn't write from the mindset of trying to impress the admissions committee - this will come across as inauthentic. As long as you're writing about something you care about, and it demonstrates how you view the world, don't worry about it being a "cliche." Even if other people have had the same experience, how you interpreted it in your way is what matters.
|8/16/2020||Applications - Chances||I am a Nigerian and I am not based in the US. I am 15 years old. I will be done with high school by next year. I will love to make it into any of the Ivy league schools. Rest assured, I'm not the best in my class, but I can say, I'm actually smart. Like you said, being well rounded isn't the thing. I actually don't do much outside the classroom, because over here, there aren't much opportunities. My school doesn't do clubs, I write though (I've represented my school a number of times in external essay competitions). There aren't opportunities for clubs and I don't do sport. I don't actually play any instructions. I bake. I would love to study economics,because that's what I'm passionate about. My country's economy is really messed up, And I hope to come back home some day, and do something big here.I would also like to work in the World bank(actually, thats what i want.My country is an after thought).I would also like to change people's lives.Iuld take the SAT next year, and hope to get a really high score, with help from your platform as well as others. I also hope to do well in my final exam. What do you think are my chances of getting into any of the Ivy league schools? Is there anything I need to work on?Also, I would be applying for financial aid and scholarships because my parents can definitely not afford any of these schools.||Harvard and similar schools of course look for the top students in the world, and they're especially selective for international students (since they have so few slots for them). This means you'll ideally have strong academic performance and demonstrate deep achievement in your area of interest.|
Here's a guide on what it takes to increase your chances of getting into one of these schools. https://blog.prepscholar.com/how-to-get-into-harvard-and-the-ivy-league-by-a-harvard-alum
If you have questions on your chances at getting into any particular school, my advice is to be ambitious and apply as though you have all the chances in the world. Whether someone like me tells you have a chance shouldn't really affect your thinking. If someone told you you have good chances, you need to avoid sitting on your laurels - you should keep pushing as hard as you can to exceed your goals. And if someone told you you're a reach, you shouldn't be demoralized - you should brush it off and keep pushing. So my opinion is not all that important - it's what you do internally that really matters at the end of the day.
|8/16/2020||Applications - Chances||I saw your article on Harvard and how they do their rankings. Because I have some international awards in dance I might qualify for a 1, but I am not certain about that. But my main question is, if I have near perfect Sat/ACT, grades, AP scholar with distinction , PSAT national merit, and French national exam gold medal. Do you think there is even a chance for me to get a 1 in the academic category? I am truly curious, as I definitely am going to focus on dance. I am definitely aware that to get a 1 in academics, it is not only perfect grades and scores.||(For background, check out my explanation of Harvard's rating system: https://blog.prepscholar.com/harvard-asian-admissions-lawsuit-application-strategy).|
A good way to think about a "1" as ranked by Harvard is that it signals a level of achievement that possibly only about 0.5% students applying that year will be able to achieve. And note - this is the top 0.5% of Harvard applicants, not of the entire nation. Only about 200 students per year get this score.
As Harvard defines it, a 1 in an academic rating means: "1. Summa potential. Genuine scholar; near-perfect scores and grades (in most cases) combined with unusual creativity and possible evidence of original scholarship."
Of 40,000 applicants a year, 8,000 had perfect GPAs, 625 had a perfect score on ACT; 361 had a perfect 2400 on SAT; 3,500 had perfect SAT math; 2,700 had perfect SAT verbal.
So generally, perfect grades and AP scores are not enough to earn a 1. It requires some noteworthy original work or achievement that puts you within the top 0.5% of Harvard applicants, and possibly the top 0.05% within the nation
|8/16/2020||Extracurriculars - Research|
I'm a rising junior, and and I'm planning to apply to some summer science enrichment programs between junior year and senior year (RSI, SSI, LaunchX, etc.).
As an RSI alumni yourself, what tips/advice do you have for students involved with science, such as myself, for getting into these competitive programs?
Is it a lot like the college admissions process? What differences are there? For RSI in particular, what test scores do you recommend to show? Outside of academics, what do you recommend students to do to optimize their application to these programs?
|Applying to RSI is kind of like a mini version of applying to college. At a baseline, you should be academically strong, but these are just table stakes - there are thousands of students with near perfect test scores and GPAs. Beyond academics, you should show a special passion for your field of interest and ideally show prior achievement in it. This often means having already done meaningful research, or some other noteworthy extracurricular academic achievement (like national-level academic competitions).|
Your recommendations will also be important - RSI cares a lot about its community, and it doesn't want geniuses who are jerks. Your letters should show that you're an active participant in the classroom and get along well with your colleagues, if not be seen as a leader.
|07/26/2020||Tests - PSAT||I graduated from Harvard in 1993 (old man!) and one observation I made, at the time, was my perceived advantage students had in the admissions process that scored really high on the PSAT!! Nobody ever told me that in H.S. It was just, “this is simply practice for the SAT”. Think I scored 1100 and never thought about it again until I met people at Harvard who scored 1500 and then received letters from top schools! Was a real eye opener for me. I never want to push my kids too much, too early...they’ll be entering 7th and 9th grade, so I was entertaining the thought of your PSAT prep course. Was just wondering what YOUR thoughts were on the PSAT and college admissions.||Personally I think the PSAT/National Merit doesn't add much to the college admissions process - a high SAT score is far more important than a high PSAT score. A good thing about prepping for the PSAT is it preps the student for the SAT in a more approachable way, but for talented kids, it wouldn't be bad to just train on the SAT directly.|
|07/26/2020||Tests - SAT||I struggle particularly with history passages in the SAT reading part, namely either the passage with two passages together or passages that are written by a historical person. It is very hard for me to understand these passages and thus I get a lot of the questions wrong, sometimes even up to half of the passage questions wrong. I have looked through almost all of PrepScholar's SAT Reading articles and have also used PrepScholar's classes and service but I just cannot improve. I know you might not be the most appropriate person to ask but I was just hoping you can give me some advice and tips.||It's hard to diagnose issues like this over email, but my biggest advice is to carefully review every single one of your mistakes. Do you really understand why you missed the question and how to avoid making that mistake in the future?|
If you have trouble with this, a tutor might be able to help. You can find a tutor with PrepScholar, or also through a lot of other sources.
|07/26/2020||Applications - Essays||I am a rising senior in the process of applying to colleges and I am requesting your assistance for the essay writing portion for my college list and potentially college apps as a whole. One of our family friends referred us to you, specifically you, as a great help during the process.||If you feel you could use extra help, you can get help from one of our superstar admissions counselors at http://admissions.prepscholar.com/. I created our admissions program myself, and they'll be the best people to help you with every aspect of your college applications. I suggest you sign up for a consultation to see if we're a good fit for you.|
|07/26/2020||Coursework - Languages||I am a sophomore at Enloe High School. I have been taking Spanish since 7th grade. I just completed my 3rd year of Spanish in Freshman year. In your prepscholar blog, your colleagues mentioned that you should take Spanish all throughout high school. Does that apply to me as well since I'd finish 4 years of Spanish in 10th grade?||Typically 4 years of Spanish equates to something like AP level, so if you could take the AP exam in 10th grade and get a good score, then you've certainly done enough!|
|07/26/2020||Coursework - APs||We have a question re my son (junior) and if he should take ap physics 1 (then ap physics c next yr) or if he should try for physics c this yr. |
his courses are:
AP Calc BC
AP Physics (1 or C)
Engineering Aerospace H (magnet)
Adv Theater H (magnet)
He does XX competitions so that is 2.5-3hrs six days a week and XX which is nutso amount of hours all year. He has been able to pull off A’s but just not sure what he should do for physics. He wants to do C but not sure the work load and I worry because he takes so much on and wants to go to a top college for engineering. I am worried it is all too much n if maybe 1 is easier and will lighten the load? Or if C is necessary to be looked at for his goals. He likes the idea of taking math n science at a college his senior yr.
|I generally suggest taking on whatever courseload is manageable to fit everything else in. Like any other single course, Physics 1 vs C is not a make or break thing. It's nice to have if it's a breeze; it's counterproductive if it sinks his other grades and makes him miserable. He'll ultimately have to see how feasible C is and whether he should drop down to 1. Consider checking out the material during the summer to see if he feels it's manageable or not.|
|07/26/2020||Tests - SAT||I am starting from scratch (even though I got a GPA of 99.10 out of 100), and I am aiming to get a score of 1600 on the SAT. I have 840 hours for that and would like to know the best way to spend every single minute.|
I’m a high school graduate from Saudi Arabia who is planning to start applying to U.S universities by the 1st of August. I registered for the SAT test on December 5th. Now, for your information, as a Saudi student who has studied in the national section, my education was not concerned on preparing me for the SAT and I didn’t have the SAT in mind at all even after I graduated from high school. That said, I am still a student who scored excellent marks in high school subjects ( including maths and English ). Anyways, I am dedicating my full time for the SAT prep now.
So my question is, while having in mind the time I am putting for this, do you think that your online prep program ( with tutoring 995$ ) can build me *from* * scratch * to where I want to be, or do you think that I should pair it with something else, or should I build myself first through Books and then come to you. And then also I don’t know if for example I should focus on maths for two months then reading and grammar for the other two months.
| First thing I would say is take a breath - the stakes are high, yes, but you have time, and you don't have to feel like every millisecond is vital (every hour or day probably is though).|
I suggest focusing less on the materials you want to cram through and more on a dynamic approach - figure out where you are and iterate from there.
First thing I would do is take a full-length practice test, as realistically as possible. What score do you get? If you get a 1200 you will need a different plan from if you get a 1550 the first try. If you don't know where you're scoring you have no business deciding what materials you're using.
If you want a high score, these are the principles to use in your study: https://blog.prepscholar.com/how-to-get-a-perfect-sat-score-by-a-2400-sat-scorer - whether you use PrepScholar, books, or any other resource, these principles always hold true.
Only after that would I worry about what resources to use and how much to study when. Give it a try.
|07/26/2020||Coursework - Research||I currently live in Australia and was reading your 'My Successful Harvard Application' and was just wondering how could I possibly take up research positions at a science laboratory. I mean, wherever I search, I can only find internship opportunities for University students and not high school students. Could you give a suggestion about where and how I can land myself an internship as an year 10 high school student.||As with most things in life, you'll have to ask for what isn't handed to you. If you show interest and dedication and assure the lab staff that you're not going to waste their time, you'll be able to get a post somewhere. Be ambitious and aggressive and just ask, as best you can.|
|07/19/2020||Extracurriculars|| I can get into harvard law or science with music production as my spike, right? I mean if that is so then I’m definitely in luck.|
I know you’re not really familiar with music production like other passions ( science, writing, etc) but do you have any suggestions or tricks that can really boost my achievements in this craft (like opportunities, etc) and making it eye-catching to harvard?
|Harvard doesn't require you to commit to a major like some other schools do, so yeah you can do something notable in any field and get in. In fact they want you to take some time and explore before committing.|
One suggestion for ideas is to think not just about how to be the top 0.1% music producer in the traditional sense and try to be the next Rick Rubin, but to combine it with other passions you have. For example:
-music production x education (e.g. Youtube tutorials)
-music production x community service (e.g. get kids into music production)
-music production x computer programming (e.g. build cool music production tools)
-music production x science (I don't have any ideas here but you can try 🙂
If you can be top 20% in music production and top 20% in field #2, then you're going to do quite well, and that doesn't require you to be a genius 0.1% music producer.
|07/19/2020||Tests - SAT||For a while now I've been studying for the SAT with the goal of taking it this fall. When I first started studying, I used Khan Academy, but after my mom and I read many of your college articles, we decided to give PrepScholar a try. PrepScholar has been helpful for me, I am very thankful for this program you have put together. |
Now that I'm in the 1500 range (1510 at the moment), I have the feeling that my habits and study strategies need to become even more efficient for me to work towards the perfect score, but I don't exactly know what to change moving forward.
I feel a little frustrated at the moment because my family can't afford the full package (in any case I don't want individualized tutoring on every question), but I know I would greatly benefit from a one time meeting which I would use to get advice on improving my methodology, and to set my bearings straight for the last ninety points of my SAT journey.
|My schedule is so booked that unfortunately I don't have the bandwidth to meet with the many students who ask for a meeting, so to be fair to everyone I can't take these meetings. But you've already made huge strides in your SAT score - improving from here on is doing more of the same, but to a higher degree of excellence. You need to be relentless about chasing down every single mistake and logging them so you never make the mistake again. Check out my Perfect SAT Score article on PrepScholar for more of this idea. I promise you that if you study intelligently, you will improve further from here.|
|07/19/2020||Extracurriculars||I’m a grade 10 student currently living in Canada and i can say that I’m pretty good in academics. But as you said, I don’t want to be well-rounded and I want to have a spike.|
My passion was always music, I don’t know how to play instruments professionally, but i started learning music production and audio engineering when i was 12 and i can say that I’m really good at it. Became 3rd place in some local beatbattles, and 6th in a big world-wide competition with over 20,000 participants. But i haven’t achieved something that is world-changing. I don’t know what i can do to achieve something this great.
Now I wanted to know, can this be my spike? If so how can i make this my spike?
I also wanted to know does it matter if my spike is different than what I wanted to study at Harvard? For example spike: music / Harvard law
| In brief, you don't have to do something world-changing in the traditional sense (eg starting a nonprofit). For example, Olympic athletes who win a silver medal arguably aren't changing the world necessarily, but they are extremely good at their craft and one of the world's best at what they do. That's enough for a spike.|
The point of a spike is that you demonstrate you have high potential to achieve in your area of passion. Colleges don't expect you to have found what your lifelong career passion is when you're 16. But you just need to demonstrate that once you do, you have the tenacity, creativity, and execution ability to do it.
So I think your interest in music production definitely fits. Keep exploring that passion, keep developing your craft and pushing your boundaries of what you think is possible. You already seem like you're accomplished in it and passionate about it, and you can keep doing more in the next 18 months.
No, your spike doesn't need to match what you want to study in college.
|07/19/2020||Extracurriculars||I am a student in the U.K. and I’ve always wanted to go to Harvard. After reading your article about your successful application and how to get into Ivy League schools, I’ve realised I do have a spike in science and research. However, when I think about how I could demonstrate that in an application, I’m not so sure it will be conveyed due to my lack of achievements. This is partly due to my high school focusing more on academic achievements or the ‘well rounded’ approach rather than specific specialisation. Seeing as I intend to apply for admission in September 2021, I’m not so sure how I can procure enough achievements to create a successful application, especially under the circumstances of the current global pandemic. I know I have a spike in science and research due to my contributions to class discussions which also led me to start a science magazine in my school. I also read many articles particularly related to innovation and document my opinions on them.||My best advice is to research what other people in your field of interest do to generate their spikes as ideas. You can read up on profiles in places like collegeconfidential (though this is a neurotic and sometimes toxic place, so don't spend too much time there). Once you have an idea, try to see how you can get the most progress on these within one year.|
|07/12/2020||GPA||In seventh grade, I took Algebra 1, this course is a out of a 5.0 in my district. I ended it with an 89, a and do not know my weighted, or unweighted gpa. I wanted to know if I could improve this throughout the course of high schools and eighth grade geometry, or whether, I was stuck with it. I also wanted to know if this was a good start towards an Ivy League. It sounds a little far fetched, but I am only keeping my hopes high and my expectations low.||Generally colleges only look at your high school grades, so your 7th grade grades won't be factored into GPA. Furthermore, you don't need a perfect GPA to get in - they take into account many more factors.|
Here's a guide I wrote on how to get into elite schools: https://blog.prepscholar.com/how-to-get-into-harvard-and-the-ivy-league-by-a-harvard-alum
|07/12/2020||General||I am a rising 9th grader. In 2nd grade I had a dream of going to Harvard. I did not realize that getting into one of the best colleges in the world was hard and took time. Now, as I am getting closer to junior year, I realize that going to Harvard is harder than ever. I read your article on how to get into Harvard and I realized that what I have accomplished is mediocre. I was hoping you could help me out and give me tips and guides. I have accomplished things but not to the national level. I have many piano awards, but all are from regional to state. I did mathcounts but i failed terribly. I did Mock Trial where I received the Most effective attorney at state. I am also on the jv soccer team. I got a 1230 on PSAT and I am deeply worried about my future. My parents are also chinese, and they have high standards for me. If you could contact me and help me out that would be probably life changing!||Every person's path needs to be different:|
-figure out what you're interested in
-think about what kind of impact you'd like to make on the world
-set ambitious goals for yourself
-figure out what you're missing in knowledge to achieve those goals. Get that knowledge
-try and experiment. Fail a lot, but learn from your mistakes and keep iterating
That's the general structure anyone should use to get through life, so it's the best advice I have for you. What exactly you do depends on your interests, and you need to determine that for yourself, not follow what some random person on the Internet tells you.
|07/12/2020||Extracurriculars||My passion in life is providing healthcare to low-income areas because I am a true believer in the fact that with resources and education, ignorance can be disbanded. As someone who has faced discrimination based upon ignorance in the past, this passion resonates with me to the bottom of my core. To create my "big spike" around my passion, I have dedicated my extracurricular activities to be centered around my passion. |
I am currently serving at a hospital as an intern, I hold a position in my schools ASB council as secretary, I created and am the president of debate club at my school, and I am taking college classes in foreign languages such as Arabic. At first, these extracurriculars can seem all over the place, however, they each go hand in hand to help me accomplish my passion. By serving as a hospital intern in a rigorous program, I am seeing the medical field first hand, by serving in my school ASB council and running debate club, I am aiding the next generation in developing critical thinking and disbanding ignorance in our community, and by taking foreign language classes, I am bridging the gap that lack of understanding different language creates, by allowing myself to be able to communicate with all types of people who need my help-seeking medical resources.
However, after carefully reading your articles, I have begun to understand that this alone won't allow me to change my communities access to healthcare, and because of this realization, I have decided that I want to create a non-profit that works to help bridge the gap between low-income areas and their access to quality and formidable healthcare. The reason I am contacting you is that I need advice on how to make my non-profit a success and truly help people.
|There is so much advice out there on how to build an organization and make it successful. My best advice to you is to learn as much as you can, apply what you learn quickly, then keep trying.|
The best book I would recommend for starting an organization is The Lean Startup.
Beyond this, I would literally google "how to start a successful nonprofit," read through at least the top 10 links, come up with more questions, and keep Googling.
Then at some point, actually try to implement what you've learned. You'll fail at some points but that's fine - just keep trying.