The other day, I received an e-mail saying, in part:
i wanted to know how you got into yale. what classes did you take in high school? i know i am only 12, but i still want to know. thanks for your time!
First of all, I love that at 12, she’s already thinking about college and focusing on Yale.
I wrote back with the meager advice I have to offer, and then I realized that kids read my BLog and that one of the questions I am most frequently asked when visiting schools is “Where did you go to college?” So I thought that my little bit of advice might be helpful to a wider audience.
But first: Realize that if you are reading this BLog and contemplating applying to college that I graduated from college years before you were born. (I put that bit in italics not merely to draw your attention to it, but also to remind me of my own mortality.) Any advice I have will be dated at best. I have no idea what the application is like these days nor do I have any particular insight into what the admissions folks are looking for.
At one point in time, I did have such insight. Or thought I did, at least. For a few years, I acted as an alumni interviewer for Yale. Which meant that for kids in my area applying to Yale, I was the person they sat down with to conduct an interview. I would then fill out a questionnaire for each applicant, as well as write a brief statement either recommending or not recommending the student in question.
Sounds like a lot of power, doesn’t it? Especially for someone as irresponsible as yours truly. But it really wasn’t. For one thing, the interviews were entirely optional. You could (and many did) apply to Yale and skip the interview and still get in.
For another thing, I don’t know what the hell the admissions committee did with my reports, since they never seemed to matter. In one instance, I thought a particular student was exactly the kind of kid Yale should take. I wrote an effusive, glowing recommendation report. And she didn’t get in.
In fact, the only kid I interviewed who did get into Yale was the one kid I thought absolutely didn’t deserve to go there. So that just goes to show how much pull I have/had.
But I did learn a little bit about what Yale was looking for, and I imagine it applies to a broad swath of colleges you all may be considering.
Now, sure, I got good grades in school. Not gonna lie about that. Did well on the SAT, too, and had some cool/fun/interesting extracurricular activities…and then I wrote a decent essay, I guess.
For all that, though, my advice really only boils down to two things:
One — you have to have great grades/scores. That’s just the basics, of course. Everyone at Yale is going to have great grades, so that’s the minimum you need to even be considered.
But great grades won’t be enough. Because — like I said — everyone will have them. Which brings us to my second point: You need to stand out.
I think I stood out to the admissions committee circa 19881 because I was from a not-rich family. Because I lived in rural Maryland, a part of the country not exactly known for sending its sons and daughters to the Ivy League. Because I went to public school. And because I wrote a novel at the age of 15.
Now, notice I didn’t say I published a novel at 15. And I never said it was a good novel. (It wasn’t — it stank.) But I imagine when the admissions folks read my application essay about what I learned from writing a novel at 15, they thought to themselves, “Well, it probably sucks, but how many teenagers have the attention span to do something like that? This guy seems sort of interesting.”
Which is the crux of the second point: Be interesting. Be unique. There will be thousands and thousands of straight-A students applying to Yale when you apply. You want to have more than a bunch of As to show them. Do cool/funky extracurricular activities. Capitalize on your interests. If you like — I dunno — skiing, then start a ski club and write a skiing app for the iPhone or something like that. Something that you can put on your application that will make the admissions committee say, “Oh, this kid isn’t just smart — she’s also interesting.” Yale likes interesting. And, again, I imagine most colleges feel the same way.
I hope that small bit of advice helps. Oh, and don’t forget to enjoy whatever you do. Glomming onto extracurriculars and the like just to get into college sucks. Life’s no fun if you’re just grinding to get ahead. Be the best, most interesting version of you that you can be. The rest will take care of itself.
- OMG! That’s last century! Lyga’s old!↩