Earlier this week, high school seniors across the country submitted early decision and early action applications to their dream colleges and universities. Many students choose to apply early in hopes of a boost in the increasingly competitive admissions process.
Early application acceptance rates remained extremely low last year. Of the 7,288 students who submitted early applications to join Yale’s class of 2026, only 800 were offered admission, according to the Yale Daily News. That’s a 10.9% early acceptance rate. And yet this number is more than double last year’s acceptance rate of 4.46%.
Most students believe that applying early is a surefire way to increase your chances of admission.
However, this does not necessarily mean a higher chance of admission. If a student has below-average grades or test scores for their intended school, don’t fall into the trap that applying early will help offset a weaker profile. In fact, they will most likely stand out less in the early round, given that it is a more qualified pool of candidates than in the regular decision round.
Top schools reject thousands of highly qualified applicants every year. If students with high GPAs and excellent test scores are rejected, then what exactly are Ivy League schools looking for?
The answer is anything but simple. If you want to get into top schools, a competitive GPA and test scores are the “foundation” of a strong application. But the less concrete, more qualitative aspects of an application—what a candidate has done outside of school—often mean the difference between acceptance and rejection.
Extracurricular profiles consist of qualitative elements, including intellectual curiosity and inquiry, authentic and demonstrated passions, community leadership, and how the student has made the most of the resources available to them. Has the student demonstrated a genuine passion for the subject or cause? Have they invested time and energy into building something impactful out of their passions? Have they made a difference in their communities? These are the questions that admissions officers at top schools consider as they filter through thousands of qualified applicants.
To better understand exactly what a successful application looks like, here are three examples of students who have successfully worked with Command Education, an elite college consulting firm based in New York and Miami, to gain admission to their dream school. Names and details have been changed to protect student privacy.
- Michelle came to Command Education as a sophomore at a top private school in Connecticut. She was an academically competitive student with a rigorous coursework, but had a few B’s on her transcript. She also played on her school’s lacrosse team and had several volunteer experiences in her hometown. Her academic interests were history and politics, and she wanted help developing and expanding those interests outside of school. Under the guidance of her mentor from Command Education, and after much consideration and personal experience with the issue, Michelle decided to focus on the Syrian refugee crisis. She developed a non-profit organization that raised money to support the dreams of refugees who had fled their homeland and used the funds to support several refugee families. She continued to develop her project in her junior and senior years and even produced a short film about refugee issues the summer before her senior year. She was finally accepted to her dream school, Yale University.
- Arjun was an international student who started working with Command Education during his first year of boarding school. He was an excellent student, top of his class, with a 4.0 GPA and a passion for business and finance. His dream schools were Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania or NYU Stern. With his mentor, he began thinking about ways to use his passion for finance to impact his community. After some consideration, Arjun decided to start a financial literacy project to teach the youth about the importance of understanding how to handle money. His project ended up partnering with dozens of schools across the country and helping educate hundreds of students about financial literacy. Academically, Arjun continued to get top marks in high school and eventually graduated as valedictorian. He was accepted early to Wharton.
- Maggie was in her first year at a competitive Los Angeles school when she started working with Command Education. She loved to surf, was interested in marine biology and had a passion for environmental awareness. Under the guidance of her mentor, she founded an organization dedicated to educating teenagers about climate change and environmental damage, and organized events in her community, such as beach cleanups. She eventually managed to grow her organization to five chapters across the country, culminating in a promotional video of her organization’s members encouraging teenagers around the world to take action. Last year, she was accepted on Early Decision at Brown University.
Although they all have very different profiles, the students showed particularly convincing “qualitative” components in their applications. Most importantly, none of these students participated in activities that did not interest them. They all joined clubs they liked and started projects on subjects they were passionate about instead of focusing on activities they thought would appeal to admissions officers. It’s a key differentiator between successful and unsuccessful applications to top schools—Ivy League admissions officers have fine-tuned radars for fake or inauthentic profiles. The best way to ensure that an application doesn’t get flagged is simple: Have students focus their time and energy on topics that actually interest them. It takes a lot of work to build a successful project and make a real impact on the community. In order for students to pursue these endeavors, they must actually be passionate and care about the work they are doing. Couple that with good GPAs and test scores, and students can dramatically increase their chances of seeing that sought-after “Congratulations!” on their admissions decision.
Learn more at Command Education.