How hard is it to get into a top university?

It’s clear from the college admissions headlines and data that it’s harder than ever before to get into elite universities. For example, take a look at the top 15 universities with pre-professional programs (e.g. engineering, business, and healthcare) using data from US News and Report and National Center for Education Statistics. You will see that over the 10 year period from 2003 to 2013, total applications to these schools soared by 71% while total student body growth grew by a modest 9%.

The bottom line: demand is outstripping the supply of available seats at top universities.

So how do you get into these elite universities? Find out by going straight to the source.

We had the opportunity to do exclusive interviews with a number of current and former admissions officers and readers from Yale University, Washington University in St Louis, Yale-NUS, and a Top 10 undergraduate business school. We talked with them bout the importance of demonstrating passion and how to distinguish yourself to colleges.

What does “holistic approach” mean?

Top universities take a holistic approach to evaluating a candidate. Let’s see what that means for you:

  • GPA and test scores are important, but only one part of the evaluation
  • Your application is evaluated within context, such as:
    • What high school did you go to?
    • What resources were available to you? How did you take advantage of them?
    • What life circumstances did you encounter?
  • It’s better to go deep in a few areas of passion than broad in many interests
  • The essay and interview are the best place for you to tell your story and distinguish yourself.

And most importantly, you can write college applications that significantly increase the likelihood of being accepted!

Quick Assessment Framework

Based on our research, we developed a framework of questions that has been helpful to students who are thinking about applying to elite universities. The more “Yes” answers, the stronger your application will be.

  • Are you stretching yourself academically and taking challenging courses?
  • Are you excelling in your academic coursework?
  • Do you have a sense of the type of colleges you want to apply to and what you want to study?
  • Are you adequately preparing for your standardized tests? Or have you already achieved your desired scores?
  • Do you care passionately and deeply about something?
  • If yes, have you acted on it and made an impact?
  • Does your passion reflect in how you spend your free time (outside of the classroom)?
  • Do you have a clear understanding of your personal values?
  • Do you have significant experience collaborating with others (outside of the classroom and athletics)?
  • Are there people who can enthusiastically write you a recommendation?

How many “Yes” answers did you get?

More Insights from Elite Universities

We’ve pulled together our recent interviews in an exclusive free ebook for you. You can grab it here:


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