Q&A: What can students do to prepare to apply at an elite university?
Elite Advantage Prep College Admissions Consulting knows that many people have many questions and we will start to tackle the questions we receive in our blog so that the answers can be shared. You can also find us on Quora.
As a college admissions consultant who helps students navigate the stress of college admissions, I can tell you its not one specific activity that gets you into a prestigious school. Most people think schools are looking for well-rounded students. I used to be an interviewer for Georgetown University and when asked what sets them apart from other applicants, many candidates answered "I'm well-rounded. I am involved in...." The truth is, schools are looking for a well rounded student body, not student. Therefore, they are looking for students who have passion in commitment in their interests. Students don't need to be involved in 10 different activities, but rather pick a few and really excel at those. For example, if a student liked music, they could be in the school band, participate in the state orchestra, and create and lead a volunteer organization that teaches music to students whose families can't afford traditional music lessons. It's really about the quality of your involvement and not the quantity.
That being said, I would say pick activities that you enjoy and can stick with for all four years of high school. Typically, if you start as a freshman, you should have a decent chance of obtaining a leadership position by the time you are a senior. Perhaps it is because I ended up attending a Jesuit school, but I think volunteer activities are really important as well as activities that can demonstrate teamwork. Don't pick an activity, just because you think it'll look good on a resume. In addition to activities at school, make sure you do something during the summer. It could be volunteer work, a job, internship, classes in the field you are interested in, etc.
Aside from activities, if you are really genuinely interested in a school, make sure you do your homework and research the school. Visit the school and connect with alumni if you can. A common question on the college application these days asks about your exposure to the school. It shows demonstrated interest and a school wants to know that you'd really go to that school if you were accepted. Sign up for their mailing list as soon as you can. After visiting, contact your admissions officer for the college and introduce yourself. It's networking and its a life skill, so you might as well start sooner rather than later.
In addition to networking with the school, be sure to network with your teachers and guidance counselor in high school. They will one day write your letters of recommendation. Make sure they really know who you are, especially if you attend a large school.
Lastly, you are asking how to get into a highly rated university. Don't pick a school purely based on rating. Rather, pick a school based on the academic and professional opportunities available to you as well as your own preferences. You'll be a lot happier in college if you weigh other factors. :)