How to Get Accepted by Stanford and Ivy League Universities (Webinar)

Being accepted by Stanford or an Ivy League University is becoming more and more difficult every year. Admission rates at these top colleges have collapsed by on average 50%. Watch the webinar to learn how to navigate the Stanford and Ivy League admissions process, position your application, and market your candidacy.

Read below for a transcript, and watch the previous webinar on the same topic at the bottom of the page for even more context on the topic.

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Introduction to College Admissions Webinar

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us today for our complimentary webinar, “How to Gain Admission to Stanford and Ivy League Universities,” presented by Solomon Admissions Consulting. My background includes significant experience in college admissions, including as the former Director of Admissions at Cornell University. Today, I’ll provide insights into the admissions strategies for top-tier universities, which have increasingly selective admission rates.

Understanding the Competitive Admissions Landscape

This webinar, while focused on Stanford and Ivy League schools, is broadly applicable to any top university facing ultra-competitive admissions scenarios. Admission rates at these prestigious institutions are often below 10%, with some even under 5%. We at Solomon Admissions leverage our extensive experience—having worked across top 20 institutions—to guide students and families through this challenging landscape. Our team, comprised of over a hundred consultants, brings a depth of knowledge from having been directly involved in the admissions processes at these competitive schools.

The Importance of Staying Current in Admissions Strategies

The landscape of college admissions is ever-evolving. Rates of admission continue to decrease, reflecting heightened competition. For example, when I began at Cornell in 2004, the admission rate was 23%, which has since dropped to below 9%. Factors such as the Common Application’s ease of use and test-optional policies have driven up application numbers significantly. Moreover, recent changes like the Supreme Court decision on race in admissions have also led to increased application volumes.

Strategic Admissions Consulting

At Solomon Admissions, we pride ourselves on understanding the nuances of what different top universities are looking for in their applicants. Our approach is comprehensive; we stay updated through regular professional development and by maintaining strong connections within the admissions community. This allows us to strategically guide our students through their applications, ensuring they present themselves in the most favorable light possible.

Quantitative vs. Qualitative Evaluation

Colleges evaluate candidates both quantitatively and qualitatively. While stellar grades and perfect test scores might get a student initially noticed, these alone are insufficient for admission. For example, schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford reject a significant number of applicants even with perfect scores. Thus, the other half of the application—comprising essays, extracurricular involvement, and recommendations—plays a crucial role.

Admissions Trends and Insights

We closely monitor trends in college admissions, helping our students adapt their strategies accordingly. For instance, despite some schools maintaining a test-optional stance, many are reverting to requiring standardized tests. We advise our students to aim for scores within the top 25th percentile of the admitted cohort to strengthen their applications.

Application Review Process

The review process at highly selective schools like Stanford involves a detailed evaluation of a student’s academic rigor, extracurricular depth, intellectual vitality, and personal qualities. Stanford, for example, assigns ratings in six distinct categories, which significantly influence admission decisions. We help our students understand these metrics early in their consultation process, enhancing their potential ratings through targeted activities and thoughtful application crafting.

Conclusion and Q&A

In conclusion, gaining admission to top universities requires more than just excellent academics; it requires a strategic and well-rounded application. At Solomon Admissions, we equip our students with the insights and guidance necessary to navigate this complex landscape successfully. Now, I’d be happy to take any questions you might have about college admissions and how we can help you or your student achieve your educational goals.

Here is a previous recording of our webinar on the same topic, for additional context:


Welcome to our webinar on how to get accepted by Stanford and Ivy League universities. I’m Dan Lee and I’m here with Vitaly Borishan, we are the co-founders of Solomon Admissions Consulting. As we go along, if you have any questions, please feel free to send them to us in the chat boxes. We will answer them at the end of the presentation. Vitaly and I are both graduates of Georgetown University Law Center and have over a decade of admissions consulting experience, getting applicants into Top-20 schools. Our success rate is over 90 percent, with most of our students getting into one of their top three choices.

Why you should care:

Why should you care? Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford reject over 60% of applicants who have a perfect 4.0 unweighted GPA and a perfect 2400 on the SAT. Stanford in particular rejects over 70% of students with perfect SAT scores. In the first column, you will see the average acceptance rate at universities about a decade ago in 2005. The second column is the acceptance rate this past year and the third column is the acceptance rate of the students we work with. For instance, Columbia University had an acceptance rate of 12% about 10 years ago, 6.9% this past year, and 28.2% of the students we worked with last year got in.

Most elite universities evaluate applicants both academically and personally. A lot of universities determine your academic score based largely on your SAT/ACT scores, SAT subject scores, which make up about 25% of your overall rating, as well as your grades, class rank, and course difficulty, which also make up about 25% of your rating (depending on the school you’re applying to). About 50% of your application is improvable and can be vastly improved at the time you apply.

25% of your overall application is generally composed of your personal statement and supplemental essays. Every school you apply to will have a school-specific supplemental essay asking why you want to go to UPenn or Cornell. In cases where you have lower grades, you often need to explain that away in an addendum, which is in the additional information section of the Common Application. The other 25% of your overall rating is typically based on your activity sheet, detailing your extracurricular activities, your interview (if required by the school), and most importantly, your recommendation letters. Recommendation letters, especially for top schools, are very important.

How does Stanford evaluate applicants?

Now, I will talk briefly about how Stanford evaluates applicants. Keep in mind that Stanford and the Ivy’s evaluate applicants very similarly, but with some distinct differences. The first thing to know is that when you apply to Stanford, they recalculate your GPA using a formula that takes into account only your grades from 10th and 11th grade. Stanford only looks at your academic courses and uses a flat grading system to recalculate your GPA. This means that if you have an A-, that’s great because it becomes converted to an A. On the other hand, if you have a B+, it’s bad because it gets downgraded to a B.

Stanford assigns every applicant three separate ratings, each on a 1-6 scale, with 1 being the highest score and 6 being the lowest. Stanford gives you an academic rating, an extracurricular rating, and an intellectual vitality rating. For students rated at the highest level (academic 1, extracurricular 1, and intellectual vitality 1), those are extremely rare and comprise less than 1% of the applicants at Stanford.

Intellectual Vitality

The Stanford academic and extracurricular ratings are similar to the way the Ivy’s rate applicants, but what sets Stanford apart is the separate intellectual vitality rating. Intellectual vitality measures a student’s curiosity, creativity, and love for learning, even outside of a classroom environment. A student wanting to be accepted by Stanford needs to keep this in mind.

Stanford evaluates applicants based on three ratings: academic, extracurricular, and intellectual vitality. The intellectual vitality rating is considered the most important and assesses the applicant’s love of learning for its own sake, their potential to enrich the learning of other students, and their passion for learning. Stanford evaluates this through the Intellectual Vitality supplemental essay, which asks applicants to reflect on an experience or idea that has been important to their intellectual development. The ideal answer to this essay should show the applicant’s genuine love for learning, as opposed to just aiming to get into Stanford. Unlike Ivy League schools, the most compelling applicant is more likely to be accepted by Stanford, not necessarily the most qualified on paper. Stanford tends to be more forgiving of SAT scores and weighs GPA more heavily.

Supplemental Essays

Stanford places much more emphasis on its supplemental essays than the Ivy’s do. This is because they are often looking for the most compelling applicants, not necessarily those who are the most qualified on paper. Additionally, Stanford weighs legacy status and athletic recruiting more heavily than the Ivy’s. A much larger percentage of Stanford’s incoming class is composed of legacies and recruited athletes, whereas the Ivy’s have a smaller percentage. Furthermore, Stanford assigns applicants a separate intellectual vitality rating, which the Ivy’s do not. Instead, the Ivy League schools incorporate the intellectual vitality rating into their academic rating. It’s important to note that Stanford does not give as much of a boost to early-action applicants.

Regarding independent research without a college professor leading to a publication, the intellectual vitality rating is what’s most important. The fact that you learned at a high level outside the classroom is very impressive and would definitely count towards a high intellectual vitality rating. However, it is often good to do research with a professor because recommendation letters from professors carry a lot of weight, especially if you have done research with them.

The Ivy League Rating System

The Ivy League evaluates applicants using a similar rating system, which assigns every applicant two different ratings on a scale of 1 to 9. They give an academic rating and a personal rating. The academic rating is based on class rank, GPA, SAT, and SAT 2 scores, with the latter being a major factor in the academic index score. The personal rating is based on essays and extracurricular activities.

A personal rating of 9/9 is awarded to someone who has achieved great things in a specialized area, such as being a published author, Intel STS finalist, Olympic medalist, or having a patent pending. On the other hand, a personal rating of 7/9 is typically awarded to someone who is driven by competition more than a true love of learning.

It is important to note that the Ivy League typically does not award academic 9/9 ratings to many applicants, with most falling in the 5 to 7 range. An academic 7/9 rating is awarded to someone who is in the top 5% of their high school class, with SAT and SAT 2 scores above the 95th percentile and strong recommendation letters. However, what really distinguishes the academic 9/9 from the 7/9 is not necessarily test scores or GPA, but a true love of learning.

Strategic Positioning for Stanford and Ivy League Schools

Now we’re going to talk about strategic positioning and crafting one’s narrative. What is strategic positioning? Strategic positioning is simply making your application stand out by positioning your strengths against an institution’s weaknesses. A tennis analogy would be if you were a tennis fan watching the upcoming US Open and Rafael Nadal is left-handed with a wicked left-handed forehand, while Roger Federer is right-handed with a weaker one-handed backhand. Nadal structures points so the shots go to Federer’s weaker backhand. This is how you line up your strengths against an institution’s weaknesses to make you stand out. For example, it would be more advantageous for an engineering whiz with science awards to market his strong background to Yale, where not as many engineering majors apply, versus marketing it to MIT where he would blend in.

Admissions committees are often concerned with building a class. Top colleges are looking for well-rounded incoming classes, but not well-rounded students. They’re looking for specialists who are the best at one thing. The key question to ask is: Who you will be in the incoming class? and what talent or perspective do you bring that no one else does? Additionally, the committee wants to see if you have the potential to be a future leader in your chosen field.

Many applicants who come to us in their junior year of high school tend to be well-rounded students with great grades and high test scores, but not the best at one thing. Unfortunately, these students often end up getting rejected, even with straight A’s and high test scores. Admissions committees at top schools want students who are focused on one or two areas and are specialists. To overcome this, we center the personal statement on a singular passion or pursuit that makes the applicant seem more focused.

Special considerations for Asian American and Indian Applicants

The last thing we will briefly cover is special considerations for Asian American and Indian applicants. Approximately 50% of the students we work with are high-achieving Asian American and Indian applicants who are held to a much higher standard at Ivy League and other top private universities. A 1997 study by the New York Times, The Boston Globe, and the Los Angeles Times found that, given similarly qualified applicants in terms of GPA, SAT scores, and extracurricular activities, similarly qualified white applicants were three times as likely to be admitted to elite colleges as similarly qualified Asian applicants. Similarly qualified legacy applicants were six times as likely, and similarly qualified recruited athletes were twenty times as likely to be admitted. To be accepted by a top private university, Asian American students typically need an SAT score 140 points higher than white students, according to a 2009 study.

Common perceptions

One common perception of many Asian and Indian applicants is that they are pre-professionally oriented and often major in the same fields, such as medicine, engineering, and investment banking. Elite colleges are looking for a diversity of future interests, so the majority of high-achieving Asian and Indian students who come to us with these interests are not what the top schools are looking for.

Another perception is that Asian American students have homogenous extracurricular interests, such as tennis, violin, and math. This – combined with the stereotype that Asians are quiet, diligent, students who don’t rock the boat – can harm their chances of being admitted. Far too many essays and recommendation letters reinforce this stereotype.

A legacy applicant is an applicant where either their mother or father went to undergrad at the school they are applying to. For example, at Harvard, a legacy applicant must have a parent who went to Harvard College. Other universities have a more liberal definition of legacy and allow an applicant to be considered a legacy if their parents or relatives went to grad school at the university.

Case Study

We had an Asian male student who applied to Columbia Engineering on his own, was deferred and then rejected. He had a perfect 4.0 GPA, was ranked number one in his class, took the most difficult AP course load, had a 2340 SAT score, was a Siemens semi-finalist, published research in engineering, and was an Eagle Scout, class president, and founder of the ecology club at his high school. Despite all these achievements, he was rejected because of weaknesses in his essays, packaging, and presentation.

All of our blog posts are written by Former College Admission Officers who serve as members of our admission consultant team.

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