So, you’re aiming for an Ivy League university? Good for you! You’ve probably worked very hard to get to where you are now and have one step left to go: your application. A huge piece of your application is your personal statement or Ivy League college essay. In this post, we’re going to give you tips on how to write an Ivy-League-level Common App essay. But first, let’s back up a bit.
Which schools make up the Ivy League?
There are 8 prestigious universities in the Ivy League. They are:
- Brown University
- Columbia University
- Cornell University
- Dartmouth College
- Harvard University
- Princeton University
- The University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)
- Yale University
It’s well-known that Ivy League universities have highly selective admissions processes. Thousands of students apply to these schools each year, but only a small group gets accepted. For example, in the 2023 admissions season, Harvard’s acceptance rate was 3.41%, and Yale had an acceptance rate of 4.35%.
How do you apply to the Ivy League universities?
These universities use the Common Application system for their admissions. The Common App is an online platform that allows students to apply to multiple colleges and universities using a single application. You can apply to the Ivy League schools, along with as many other universities as you’d like (but you have to pay for each application, of course).
As part of the Common Application, you are required to respond to one of several essay prompts in 250-650 words. The prompts for the 2023-2024 application cycle are:
- If you have a background, identity, interest, or talent that holds significant meaning for you and you feel that your application would be incomplete without it, we encourage you to share your story with us.
- Reflecting on the challenges and obstacles you’ve faced can often pave the way for future success. Please share a personal experience of a time when you encountered a setback, challenge, or failure. How did this experience impact you, and what important lessons did you learn as a result?
- Think back to a time when you challenged a belief or idea that you held. What prompted you to question this belief or idea? And what was the outcome of this experience? Please share your reflections with us.
- Consider a time when someone did something unexpected that brought you joy or gratitude. How did this act of kindness affect you, and how did it motivate you? Please reflect on this experience and share your thoughts with us.
- Describe an accomplishment, event, or moment of realization that led to personal growth and a newfound understanding of yourself or others. Please share your thoughts on how this experience impacted you.
Going from college essay to “Ivy League college essay”
Writing an Ivy League-level personal statement requires a higher level of quality, creativity, and attention to detail than writing an average college essay. The competition is fierce, and the admissions officers are looking for candidates who stand out from the crowd. Here are some difference-makers that can elevate your essay to an Ivy League level:
A unique and compelling story
Your essay should tell a unique story that showcases your personality, values, and experiences. Write about something truly meaningful to you. What has formed the person you are today and who you aspire to be in the future?
Your essay should demonstrate why you are unique and what makes you stand out from other applicants. The tricky part is you need to avoid sounding cliché. How can you provide a unique perspective? That’s the key.
Clear and concise writing
Your essay should be well-written and free from errors in grammar and punctuation. It’s crucial to proofread multiple times! You can also have friends, family, or other mentors read your essay to double-check.
Admissions officers want to see that you can express yourself effectively. Use simple, clear language along with vocabulary to stand out.
Your essay should demonstrate your passion for a particular subject, activity, or cause. Admissions officers are looking for students who are passionate and committed to making a difference in the world.
The caveat is that you should not write about something that appears in another part of your application. “But, what do you mean by that?!”…keep reading!
Your common app personal statement should reflect thoughtfully on your experiences and how they have shaped you. Don’t write about something that is easily found in another part of your application or anything someone could find on the internet. We’ll explain.
Admissions officers want to see that you have taken the time to reflect. They want you to explain the insights you’ve gained so far in your life.
For example, maybe you list in your resume that you volunteer at an animal shelter after school. You should not only write about what you do when you’re there and how it makes you feel. Instead, go deeper.
So, did you have an experience as a child that led you to care a lot about animals? Is there a particular relationship with a specific dog that has been special to you and shaped why you want to become a veterinarian? These are the parts of you that you should show in your personal statement.
The topic you write about should demonstrate that you are a good fit for the Ivy League university you are applying to. All admissions officers are looking for students who can positively contribute to the university’s community and culture.
Ivy League admissions officers are especially looking for how you can add to the diversity of the university’s community and culture.
Don’t be afraid to take risks and show your creativity. Make sure your essay is authentic and reflects who you truly are.
Crafting and telling an effective story
Writing a compelling story in an Ivy League-level college essay requires creativity, authenticity, and a unique perspective. Here are some tips to help you write an engaging essay that tells your story effectively during college admissions:
1. Take your time brainstorming ideas
Start by brainstorming ideas for your personal statement. Pick a few of the prompts and jot down notes about whatever comes to mind. You’re not trying to pick a winning idea at this moment. You simply want to get as many ideas out as possible.
Think about experiences, people, or events that have significantly impacted your life. Consider how these experiences have shaped your values, beliefs, and goals. Then, think about how these connect. There’s a story there!
2. Start with a hook
Your introduction is the first impression of your personal statement. Make sure it is attention-grabbing and compelling. You could start with a quote, a question, a surprising fact, or a vivid description of a scene.
For example, here’s an example introduction from an essay that makes up 50 successful Ivy League application essays:
3. Use concrete details and sensory language
Use concrete details and sensory language to bring your story to life. This will help the admissions officer visualize your experiences and connect with your story on a deeper level.
4. Show, don’t tell
Instead of telling the reader about your experiences, show them through expressive descriptions and examples. Use dialogue, action, and descriptive language to make your story come alive.
5. Use a creative format
Consider using a creative format to tell your story, such as a letter, poem, or dialogue. This can make your essay stand out and demonstrate your creativity and unique perspective.
6. Be authentic
This is so important. Write in your voice. Be you! Don’t sound dry or generic like an AI tool (*cough cough* don’t use ChatGPT to write your whole essay). Your essay should reflect your true personality and experiences.
Tips for editing and proofreading your Ivy League college essay
After you have written a draft of your essay, ask others for feedback. This can help you identify areas that need improvement and make your essay more compelling and memorable.
Here are some tips to help you edit and proofread your essay or personal statement effectively:
- Before editing, take a break from your personal statement for at least a day or two. This will help you approach your essay with fresh eyes and a clear mind.
- Reading your essay out loud can help you identify awkward sentences, repetitive phrases, and other issues. This will also help you get a sense of the flow and pacing of your essay.
- Use grammar and spellcheck tools like Grammarly to help you catch errors and improve your writing. However, don’t rely solely on these tools. They may not catch every mistake.
- Cut unnecessary words and phrases to make your essay more concise and impactful. Look for ways to express your ideas more clearly.
- Ensure your essay meets the formatting and requirements. In the Common App, the word limit is 250 minimum and 650 maximum. You should use the word count to the max!
The big picture
In conclusion, crafting the perfect Ivy League college essay requires time, effort, and a whole lot of creativity. However, if you follow our tips for success! Make sure to research some Ivy League college essay examples (like these college essays that got the students into Harvard) before you start writing.
If you need help with crafting the perfect essay, book a writing or review lesson with a Lessonpal College Essay Writing tutor.
Best of luck on your Ivy League journey!