Ivy League Admissions Game Plan

The road to a fat envelope from an Ivy League school starts in kindergarten. Parents should encourage independent reading and expose children to a broad range of subjects and activities (arts, music, sports, science, computers and more), identifying areas where the child has particular talents and interests. Parents should also build close relationships with teachers, administrators and guidance counselors [source: Berry].

Don't overlook those early standardized tests given in elementary and middle schools. High test scores can open doors to special college prep programs like A Better Chance and Prep for Prep. If you feel like your child has exceptional academic abilities, have him or her take the SAT as early as middle school. A high score could mean a coveted spot at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth or another accelerated gifted program [source: Berry].

This brings up the classic question: public or private high school? With the emergence of magnet schools, charter schools and other independent "public" high schools, that question is more complicated than ever. Research shows that the high schools sending the largest percentage of graduates to Ivy League colleges (so-called "feeder" schools) are almost entirely private schools and highly selective public schools. A 2002 study by Worth magazine found that 94 of the top 100 Ivy League feeder schools were private [source: Coombes].

Don't be thrown by the feeder school statistics, though. The Ivy League isn't stocked entirely with prep school alumni. More than half of the undergrads at Harvard, Princeton and Yale are public school students [source: Coombes]. At the end of the day, Ivy League admissions officers are choosing students rather than their schools, so the right applicant with the right qualifications could come from anywhere [source: Bernstein].

Whatever high school you attend, Ivy League admissions officers want you to take the most rigorous course load possible. This means every available AP or IB course, challenging electives and even summer programs. If your school doesn't offer these courses, do extra work on your own. Read books independently, enter science and arts competitions or take classes at local colleges [source: Coombes].

Study hard for the SATs -- most experts agree that the test is coachable -- and plan to take it several times. Take the SAT II subject exams right after you've completed the related coursework so the material is fresh in your head [source: Berry].

Perhaps most important of all, don't write a generic essay! Ivy League colleges are flooded with applications from students with perfect GPAs and sky-high test scores. The essay is your chance to tell your own story in your original and unique voice [source: Berry]. It's helpful to look at your application from the admissions officers' perspective [source: Steinberg]. They will be trying to determine the unique contributions you will make to their college community. To do that, they need to know who you are, so don't be afraid to take a chance and be yourself.

More and more high school students are hiring private college counselors to give them an edge over the competition. Are they worth the money? Learn more on the next page.