In today’s episode of “College Admissions Real Talk”, Dr. Aviva Legatt talks about the essentials of becoming a competitive college applicant.

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VO: Welcome to College Admissions Real Talk with Dr. Aviva Legatt, a podcast for students seeking to get admitted to top-tier colleges. Each episode will feature an important tip for your college admission success, delivered with candor and love. If you’ve ever wanted to take a peek inside the mind of a college admissions officer, this is your chance. Have a question? Text Dr. Legatt at 610-222-5762. So, what’s your dream school? 

AL: Welcome to College Admissions Real Talk. This is Dr. Aviva Legatt, founder and Elite Admissions Expert at Ivy Insight and author of “Get Real and Get In”. Today, we’re going to be discussing what are the essential elements of a competitive college application. The application you submit should be a unique reflection of your character, your accomplishments and your dreams. While no two applications look the same, we want to give you a few essential elements to stand out for the Ivy League and elite colleges. First, academic tips. For course taking, you should aim to take the most challenging course load that you can manage. For STEM fields and business, it is important to advance yourself in mathematics. AP Calculus BC or its equivalent is the bare minimum to attain by senior year for one of these fields. For engineering, make sure that you maximize, not only your math classes, but also your physics classes. It’s critical to plan out your course schedule in advance to assure your you have enough time to meet these requirements. Many students will choose to take extra courses over the summer, if needed, to balance out the load, but don’t needlessly add on courses which don’t have any direct value to your goals. Also, make sure you maximize the classes available to you at your high school before adding on anything extra outside of school. This is because you want your academic achievements to be reflected on your transcript. You don’t want them to be outside of that. Test scores. So SAT or ACT is required even during the pandemic. While many colleges have said they are “test-optional”, What they leave out is the fact that these tests are really quote “optional” but preferred. Meaning that, if they have a choice, the colleges would rather see the scores than not have them on the record. Don’t believe colleges when they say they’re “test-optional”. Only believe them if they say they are “test-blind”, which means they’re not looking at anybody scores. And, new as of 2021, AP tests will round out a completed, top-tier application. AP tests are pretty much the expected replacement for SAT II subject tests, which were recently done away with by the College Board. Before applying, students should plan to take 3 to 5 AP tests and time their test-taking with high school course-taking. For example, if you take physics in your sophomore year, you can take the physics AP test after sophomore year in May when it’s offered every year. I recommend picking up an AP prep book at the beginning of your high school course. So you can follow along with relevant topics as needed. For SAT or ACT, before you sit for the formal exam, take a diagnostic test for each one. This will help you see which test is a better fit for you. Maybe you don’t like, either of them but one of them may be a little bit easier on you. And even though it’s more expensive, if you can, I recommend that you get tutoring over taking a prep class because you can maximize your time getting help in the areas where you need rather than sit through a bunch of material that you don’t need. An investment in tutoring and test prep can also later translate to scholarship awards which can be very helpful. Now, I didn’t have a tutor in high school and raise my own score by 100 points just through daily practice. So this is always an option if tutoring is off the table for you. What is my biggest piece of advice for students who are applying to selective schools? In addition to what I’ve already shared, and you should also check out my episodes on how to maximize your extracurriculars, You should take the opportunity to develop relationships with people at the college. This might sound like strange advice you’ve never heard before. because you may have heard that there should be a wall between you and the other people at the college, but trust me. It’s worked for me and my students who have sought out research mentorships, coffee chats, and interviews with faculty at top colleges. Reaching out to people at the college and developing relationships is a super strategic step you can take to stand out. Why because most people are afraid to do it and won’t do it I’m not just talking about admissions officers and coming up to somebody after an info session. I’m talking about people who you can envision yourself working with when you get to that college. It could be people from resource centers like those for underrepresented students or those that offer service opportunities or writing club. There may be other special interest groups you’d like to plug in with athletics. But make sure if you are an athlete that you follow any NCAA rules regarding outreach. When you reach out to college resources that you envision yourself taking advantage of, You’ve got a great way to learn about a college in a personal manner that you can use for your essay. All you have to do is send a template email with a couple of questions and a request for a 10 to 15-minute phone call. Not everyone you reach out to will respond but if you’re earnest, prepared, and kind, many people will. These efforts might even result in an extra letter of recommendation for your file, which I’ve seen happen time and again. Building these types of relationships is a big opportunity that most applicants miss out on. Don’t miss out on yours.

VO: College Admissions Real Talk is hosted by Aviva Legatt, edited by Stephanie Carlin, and produced by Incontrera Consulting. I’m Caroline Stokes and this has been your daily boost of college admissions insight. Have a question? Text Dr. Legatt at 610-222-5762. For more information on Dr. Legatt and Ivy Insight visit www.ivyinsight.com. And you can pick up Dr. Legatt’s book, “Get Real and Get In”, at major retail outlets across the world. Insight out.