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  1. #1
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    Default Tips for getting into an elite college/university?

    My niece has decided she wants to go to Princeton. She has the grades and test scores, but I know more is needed. She has led an interesting life, lived in several different countries for example. Her "extracurriculars" likely need beefing up; she has done a bit of volunteer work but not much, and is on a local equestrian team. Any ideas on how she can beef up that application in a hurry (she is a junior)?
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  2. #2
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    No real advice, but just wanted to wish her well. :-)



  3. #3
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    Is she prepared to PAY for Princeton? I would never advise someone to go to such an expensive school for undergrad unless they have extensive scholarships or deep pockets. Student loans are no joke.


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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by CatPS View Post
    Is she prepared to PAY for Princeton? I would never advise someone to go to such an expensive school for undergrad unless they have extensive scholarships or deep pockets. Student loans are no joke.
    Good advice. :-)



  5. #5
    kcmel is online now Grand Prix Premium Member
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    Actually, Princeton (and many other elite schools) have great financial packages with all their endowments. So it actually should be quite affordable.
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  6. #6
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    Why Princeton? I mean it is a great school but I am curious as to why. What does she want to major in? What is this investment in time and money going to produce?

    There are many great schools that can get her to the same place and she should be trying to get into all of the schools that can support her goals. There is also competativeness between schools to get the best students and that can help form financial packages.



  7. #7
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    Yes, the top elite schools have HUGE endowments which mean they can offer very generous financial aid packages (though, they don't offer merit aid I believe).

    Not that my kids are going to elite colleges, but since Princeton can probably fill its freshman class three times over with kids with perfect scores and grades, she needs to set herself apart from all the other perfect kids. Meaning -- what makes her different? What are her passions? Can she fit what makes her different into one of the essays?

    It doesn't have to be something like she's cured cancer; it can be some everyday part of her life that sets her apart. For example, my son wants to go to school in an urban area; he wrote about how he helps around the farm and what that is like, and how he cannot wait to get to a new, different, environment. Because there won't be very many kids applying to his schools that come from a farm background (and of those that do, how many are going to be writing about it?)

    My son's passion is "current events" -- i.e. he's a news junky, reading various websites every day. He's lit up by things like wikileaks, where he read the original leaked documents. Now, that's unusual, but does not fit into a traditional "extracurricular activity". He managed to write about this in an essay that I'm pretty certain no other kid wrote about in a similar way.

    Your niece has to be the only kid who not only has perfect scores but is the only one who is passionate about XYZ in a way that rings true.

    Well, that's my advice :-) who knows if I'm right or not?!


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  8. #8
    kcmel is online now Grand Prix Premium Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by skykingismybaby1 View Post
    Why Princeton? I mean it is a great school but I am curious as to why. What does she want to major in? What is this investment in time and money going to produce?

    There are many great schools that can get her to the same place and she should be trying to get into all of the schools that can support her goals. There is also competativeness between schools to get the best students and that can help form financial packages.
    I'm not sure why Princeton is at the top of her list. I know she is also interested in Swarthmore (among others), but that will probably cost more. Of course I am enabling both of these since she will be close to me
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  9. #9
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    ^exactly. Depending on how she does it, "beefing up" could be the last thing she needs to do. Princeton probably gets hundreds, if not thousands, of applications just like hers. She needs to find a way to stand out by virtue of who she is, what she's interested in, rather than piling on more of the same stuff that every other high achiever has on their extracurricular list.



  10. #10
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    Well I think she needs to tell Princeton "why Princeton"



  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Natalie A View Post
    ^exactly. Depending on how she does it, "beefing up" could be the last thing she needs to do. Princeton probably gets hundreds, if not thousands, of applications just like hers. She needs to find a way to stand out by virtue of who she is, what she's interested in, rather than piling on more of the same stuff that every other high achiever has on their extracurricular list.
    That bears repeating. I have been a student and also taught at some Phat, Princeton-caliber Universities on both coasts. From this perspective, some things to keep in mind:

    The Ivies and similar are now accepting under 10% of applicants. Do not wig out if you don't get in. You are in fine, fine company. As I and many profs at these Ivies will tell you, *they* couldn't get into the places they were teaching if they had to apply today as the losers they were in high school. And clearly, professors working at these schools had the goods as undergrads that any university would want. After all, universities must reproduce the professoriate.

    The "beefing up" strategy is bad. If you think you are going to game an admissions officer, and one that takes the top 7% or so of the applications he/she sees, and does that year after year, you have another thing coming. It cannot be done by a senior trying her hand at this for the first time.

    Also, it should not be done. Given the cost of these Phat Universities, there is absolutely no point in trying to pose as someone they'll like. It's your time and debt. Go as you or don't go.

    And along these lines, I wouldn't choose Princeton (among, say, Harvard or Yale, or even among some of the elite liberal arts colleges, or going in a different direction, Stanford). My impression of Princeton is that it is pretty pleased with itself, more so than the other schools I have named. IMO, that's a really bad (both dangerous and socially unhelpful) attitude for an elite institution to have.

    But who cares? If your niece wants to go to Princeton, then she should be able to explain why that school as opposed to any other, and what she can do with the kind of education that school offers**. In the process of doing that, she will also figure out what she wants/can give back from any college. And then her choices will be broadened.

    ** I like it that Princeton requires a Senior Thesis of everyone. I wrote one of these as an undergrad (it was optional and a PITA to get the option) and I have advised these at Phat University. It really is an uber-academic experience I think an undergrad should get for the quarter-million dollar price tag.
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  12. #12
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    First, she needs to be prepared for the idea that she won't be admitted. What are her back-up plans? And then -- she may want to think about this. What if she did two years at a local school, and transferred to Princeton as a junior?

    But then, she needs to be prepared to go after Princeton full-force. Look at their admissions policies now. See if there are chatrooms and discussions boards for Princeton freshmen and sophomores (there are for Oxford) that she can join and ask questions. Also, I think she should open up a dialogue right now with Princeton's admissions department, and also the program she wants to be admitted to. What qualities are they looking for in their applicants?

    Volunteer work -- especially in the field she wants to study -- is probably going to be a must. The big schools want to see a lot of involvement along with good grades. What clubs can she join in high school? If she wants to go into medicine, she needs to be a a candy-striper or volunteering in a nursing home. If she wants to go into education, she needs to be volunteering in schools. They also want to see leadership, so she needs to be creating and spearheading projects as well.

    Good luck to her! I'm pursing my own dream of Oxford right now, too, so I know what she's going through.



  13. #13
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    mvp, if I could like your post more than once, I would.



  14. #14
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    Having known many Princeton grads, I would not encourage a family member to apply to Princeton on a bet. If you aren't already unsufferable upon entry, you will be at graduation. Maybe there's a way to escape pompous-ass syndrome and still attend Princeton, but I don't know what it is. I hope she changes her list around.


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  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by merriment View Post
    Having known many Princeton grads, I would not encourage a family member to apply to Princeton on a bet. If you aren't already unsufferable upon entry, you will be at graduation. Maybe there's a way to escape pompous-ass syndrome and still attend Princeton, but I don't know what it is. I hope she changes her list around.
    I live.....what...two miles from campus and could tell stories upon stories of arrogance and entitlement but that probably wont deter her choice.


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  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by mvp View Post
    Go as you or don't go.
    THIS! Along with everything else mvp said. I went to a top-10 liberal arts college in the last 10 years. Much to my (competitive) mom's dismay, throughout high school I refused to do ANYthing just to put it on my college application. I was pretty dead set on being me and colleges could take or leave it. In retrospect I don't know how I had the gumption to do it, thinking about what other friends/classmates went through to get into The School, but it really did work out! I did things because I liked it, or because it made me a better person, but never because it would look good on college applications. I even tried not to join the National Honor Society because they didn't really do anything but provide a resume line (I somehow ended up with a certificate anyway, despite not turning in my form). I hardly did any clubs at school, but I ran a small series of in-barn dressage schooling shows because that was something I really cared about. And so forth. It helped me escape the college admission insanity, but it also made me a pretty strong and different applicant (with, of course, good grades and test scores)

    I would caution your niece to have a list of schools, not The One - with admissions the way they are now, it does become a crap shoot and having The One School can add so much unneeded stress to the process. Try to become the best person you can be. At the end of your college application cycle - no matter how it turns out - you should look back at a list of things you are really glad you did, and not think 'I wasted my time on X just to put it on my college application.' Do things that interest you, have a summer job you're excited about, volunteer somewhere meaningful for you, find a way to fund your own exotic trip (independence is better than family plunking down money for an exotic service trips abroad, a recent trend). Do things that are hard for you! I did 4 years of orchestra - in fact, it was the one B+ that kept me from being valedictorian - when cello was really hard for me. I still have no rhythm, but you prepare better for college and life by really struggling at something, and accepting that you aren't going to be great at everything. Set big goals and run after them, whether you succeed or fail you'll still get a good experience!


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  17. #17
    kcmel is online now Grand Prix Premium Member
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    Thanks for all the advice! I kind of agree about the smaller liberal arts school. She can always go Ivy for grad school (like I did); I think that is more important anyway. As far as Princeton snobs, I have only known a few grads but they have been wonderful people!
    Last edited by kcmel; Dec. 31, 2012 at 02:26 PM. Reason: clarity
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  18. #18
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    You sign up with these people-

    http://www.getintocollege.com/

    It's that easy.
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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alex and Bodie's Mom View Post
    Also, I think she should open up a dialogue right now with Princeton's admissions department, and also the program she wants to be admitted to. What qualities are they looking for in their applicants?
    150 years ago when I was applying to schools, admissions offices were

    A) not terribly helpful with their publicly-given advice. It was way too general.

    B) Not into personal contact-- parents or applicants calling with questions about polishing one person, or calling after the fact to ask/complain about why So-n-so didn't get in.
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  20. #20
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    I went to an ivy league school and my background was very similar to hers (lived in multiple countries, riding, etc.) I did a few other extracurricular activities, but nothing extreme -- I didn't go about trying to be anybody other than myself. I graduated 10 years ago, though, and the admissions process may have become more insane than it was back then.

    I read once that people misinterpret the idea that schools want to see well-rounded kids who do a lot, and that actually they want their *student body* to be diverse and well-rounded. Individual people who are intensely dedicated to a few things are not necessarily penalized.

    A lot of it really comes down to luck, so she should be applying to a whole bunch of schools.

    Quote Originally Posted by skykingismybaby1 View Post
    I live.....what...two miles from campus and could tell stories upon stories of arrogance and entitlement but that probably wont deter her choice.
    The Princeton grads I know are all nice folks. I think kids in college tend to behave at their worst, and while there were some spectacularly arrogant and entitled douchebags at my school, I would bet most of them have grown out of it.



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