How to get into (your) Harvard
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By The Veritas Admissions Team

Who we are, and why you can trust this document

This document was planned, written, and edited by a team of Veritas Tutors’ finest tutors and admissions consultants, a staff which includes a former Assistant Director to Admissions at Yale University – that’s right, we are equal-opportunity Ivy League supporters here at Veritas. (We’d tell you his name but he is currently enrolled in the Admissions Officer protection program and we don’t want to risk his cover.) The point is, we have an intimate understanding of the entire college admissions process, and we would like to share some of that insight with you.

Getting More Out of the Application Process

At a recent meeting here at Veritas Tutors, we talked about the sense of purpose in the organization. One of our tutors had a client who brought up the question of money and access—to good schools, good colleges, and the tutoring many students utilize for a leg up for the competitive admissions process. She was getting help with her college admissions essay, and wondered about others who could use but could not afford the same kind of help.

Doesn't getting this kind of help cheapen my essay? She wondered

The answer was simple. First, equal access to great tutoring is not her responsibility; it’s ours. Therefore, we have created this free and informative document to help students who can’t otherwise afford our services. Beyond that fact, the student still had a legitimate concern. The help she received on her admissions essay would have cheapened her words if we were only trying to help her write a college admissions essay, if we were only getting her essay to strategically speak the unknown discourse of the admissions officers.

What's that mean?

It means that when we tutor, we’re not limiting ourselves to the meager limit of the assignment at hand. It means we strive to create conditions for real learning. It means we aren’t teaching her to write a knock-out college admissions essay—we’re teaching her about writing, about its difficulties, about the necessary loyalty to words, about pledging herself to work at what she says and how she says it.

In other words: the work we do, and the goals we have, see past the small exigencies of today to understand how tutoring, knowledge and information can help change attitudes toward learning—and about ourselves.

That’s the attitude you need to take when applying to places like Harvard—and by places like Harvard I mean to say that everyone has their Harvard. Everyone has that one school they’d love to get into, believe they are modestly competitive for, but which still represents a long shot.

It's not about getting into Harvard, but into yourHarvard

The only way you’re going to do that is by being sincere. An overwrought strategy—indeed, any strategy for getting into college—is a sure way to call attention to an otherwise heartless pursuit of knighthood. It immediately reveals its own inadequacy when suddenly faced with an otherwise honest and peculiar mind.

That is to say, you simply can't fake sincerity

Given this supposition of sincerity, the best we can do is unmask the admissions process, to pull back the blind veil of decision. Agencies that offer certainty, that have developed tactics meant to get you into top colleges, or that give a breakdown percentage chance that you’ll get in to one college or another—they rob education of, well, education. The best bit of advice we can give is to discover purpose in what you do that blows past the meek and ugly perimeter of accolade. Doing something you believe in requires you to find something you care about.

That's the best and surest way to call attention to yourself

But, once you’ve accomplished something, you still need to convey that achievement. And, in order to best do that you should stop thinking about the application process and start considering the admissions process. One only takes into consideration the veritable and unquestionable uniqueness of the self. The other takes into consideration that you are among more than two million students who applied to college last year alone.

In the months-long grind of reading all of those applications, it becomes pretty clear which students are the real deal and which are going down a checklist of what supposedly makes the best high school student.

Newsflash: You don't want to be the best high school student. You want to be the best college student.

There is no potion that competes with the hard work of sincerity. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know how admissions officers use the information you give them. You should. And you should know this so you can begin developing your applications HOLISTICALLY. Doing so will ideally teach you a number of bigger lessons than the slim envelope of rejection or the thick wick of acceptance: you’ll learn to see the connective tissues in the otherwise variegated life you lead; you’ll learn how to forge a voice that is unique even if you’ve done what all high school students have done; and you’ll learn who you are and, hopefully, who you might become.

College applications are an opportunity to take honest stock of yourself, to reflect honestly on what you have done as an indicator of what you will do.

The information you put into the admissions process: it’s pretty slim. Of the nineteen pages currently on the Common Application, which Harvard accepts, only the first four will be filled out by you. The rest are school reports, recommendations and the like. In total, after you write your “short answer” and two-page personal statement, you’ll have distilled your complex life into no more than seven pages. That’s it. That’s all the officers have. So, make every word count.

Admissions officers will read every application they receive—that much is true. How much time they take to read your application, however, is the million dollar question. Will they glance at it? Look at it? Read it? Consider it? The relative value of attention in those verbs reflects your relative proximity to getting accepted.

It takes no more than 30 seconds, for instance, to glance at your grades and SAT scores to confirm if you are in the “admissible range”—if not, the rest of your application will also get a glance to confirm what those numbers imply. It only takes a minute or two to look at your extra-curriculars. (Hint: everyone is “involved,” but not everyone takes on leadership roles.) Your essay—does it recycle the tired vocabulary common to most application essays? Your answer to that question determines whether your application will be read.

To know how an application will actually get considered, you’ll have to read on.

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« Back to Tips and ArticlesBy The Veritas Team | Mar 17, 2009