College Confidential’s Guide to Admissions


Dear College Confidential community,
Well, the 2016 application season is upon us! I remember where I was last year—sitting in a ski chalet with Matt Damon and Al Gore, still so surprised at my early acceptance to Harvard University. If you have already gotten in, congratulations! You’re well-rounded, academically strong, and/or an athlete. But if you’ve just submitted your applications, don’t fear! I’m here to offer you some advice from my own experiences.

Academics: This is the one area of my application that I thought might disqualify me from admission. Full disclosure: I had an 8.5 unweighted/10.9 weighted GPA. I had taken all 38 AP classes available at my high school in addition to three years worth of college coursework at my local community college (Yale). Unfortunately, I had received a score of 4 on my Italian Language and Culture exam (I thought I knew enough Spanish well enough to get a perfect score. Stupid idiot mistake). Fortunately, that didn’t totally disqualify me for admission. Here’s my advice to you: if you have a dark spot on your academic record like that, be sure to include a FOUR-PAGE, SINGLE-SPACED letter to the dean of admissions explaining exactly what got in the way of perfection.

Standardized testing: I took my first SAT in January of my second grade year. Perfect 2400. Everyone told me I was done—parents, my college guidance counselor, President Obama. But one day, I went into full panic attack mode: how would it look to Harvard that I only took the test once? So that morning in September of seventh grade, I registered for the next eighteen administrations of the SAT. In my acceptance letter, Harvard indicated that they never had an applicant with NINETEEN perfect scores on the SAT. I felt so validated.

Extracurriculars: In addition to being the captain of 10 different sports teams (including girls volleyball), I had already won a Pulitzer Prize (for my short story collections about a boy who retreats into the woods after only getting a 780 on his Modern Hebrew SAT subject test) and two Nobel Prizes, one in math for inventing an entirely new type of calculus (sorry, Newton and Leibniz) and one in physics for a mathematical modeling system to visualize the force of a girl’s hand on my face when she slaps me.

Essay: I just couldn’t begin to narrow down what I would write about. The time I was bullied by my school principal for throwing basketballs at people walking to class? The time I went on a date with Malala? I struggled so much in the early stages but eventually settled on the perfect topic: my traumatic and slow recovery from hypothermia after the ALS ice bucket challenge.

Look, I can’t say exactly why I got into Harvard. Maybe it was the two Nobel prizes. Maybe it was the fact that my family founded the university. Who knows? All I can say is that you should try to put together the very best application you can and remember that going to Princeton isn’t the worst fate you could possibly suffer.

Sincerely yours,
HarvardBoy5, J.D.