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Remember, there are thousands of orchestras and bands in the country, each with their own concertmasters, drum majors, and section 1 st chairs. If I were to optimize purely for college applications, I should have spent that time on pushing my spike even further — working on more Olympiad competitions, or doing even more hardcore research.

But this problem can be a lot worse for well-rounded students who are stretched too thin. First, developing a Spike requires continuous, increasingly ambitious foundational work. From the beginning of high school, each step was more and more ambitious — my first academic team, my first research experience, leading up to state and national competitions and more serious research work.

Second, it is important to do things you enjoy. Finally, note that most of my activities were pursued over multiple years. But this guide is already super long, so I want to focus our attention on the main points. Please describe which of your activities extracurricular and personal activities or work experience has been most meaningful and why. I chose RSI as my most significant activity for two reasons — one based on the meaning of the work, and another on the social aspect.

This is only the beginning of my cringe-y writing - wait until you get to my Personal Essays. I chose to spend this clarifying my extracurriculars even further. My main motive in this section was to add more detail around my most significant activities: The only parts the reader underlined were the name of my research supervisor, and the fact that my research was then a Siemens-Westinghouse Semi-Finalist.

Both of these legitimate my research. I highly recommend you take the time to write an Additional Information section. Here you have an extra words to add more color around your life and accomplishments — DO IT. Along with Activities, Academic Honors is the other major area where you can really shine and develop a big Spike.

The higher the level of competition and the more prestigious the award, the more the honor is worth. This has an exponential relationship, because of how quickly the field is narrowed at each stage of competition. This can also mean an international ranking is worth x that of a regional ranking — again, why a big Spike is so impressive. Academic honors and awards are a great, quantifiable way to show that. By far, the biggest academic honor I had was competing in the US National Chemistry Olympiad , where I ranked 6 in the country in junior year, out of roughly 11, students who took the first round test.

At the highest international level of competition, countries send their top students to wage battle against each other, just like the sports Olympics. The best known subjects are Math , Physics , Chemistry , and Biology in order of descending prestige, among nerds. I ranked at the national level, before the US selected their final team — a study camp of 20 students.

But this was still a national level honor, in a well-known competition. This is why I say a big Spike makes you stand out clearly among a bin of well-rounded applicants. At Harvard in my class, I knew International Math and Physics Olympiad gold medalists, people who were on their national teams for the hardest subjects AND ranked in the top percentiles worldwide.

And there were students with similar level accomplishments in other arenas, from music performance to writing. Earning this kind of honor was nearly a golden ticket to getting into schools like Harvard , because you literally are the best in the world at what you care about.

But remember there are thousands of nationally-ranked people in a multitude of honor types, from science competitions to essay contests to athletics to weird talents. And I strongly believe the 1 differentiator of high school students who achieve things is work ethic, NOT intelligence or talent. Yes, you need a baseline level of competence to get places, but people far undervalue the progress they can make if they work hard and persevere.

Far too many people give up too quickly or fatigue without putting in serious effort. The truth is everyone who achieves something of note puts in an incredible amount of hard work.

My research work took up the next two honors, one a presentation at an academic conference, and the other Siemens a research competition for high school researchers. At the risk of beating a dead horse, think about how many state medalists there are in the country, in the hundreds of competitions that exist. The number of state to national rankers is probably at least There are just too many of them around. On the other hand, if you can get to be nationally ranked in something, you will have an amazing Spike that distinguishes you.

How could anything I write compare to these tales of personal strength? The trite truth is that colleges want to know who you really are. But they do want students who are:. I do think my Spike was nearly sufficient to get me admitted to every school in the country. Back then, we had a set of different prompts:. I chose to write on a topic of my choice, which no longer exists as an option probably for good reason - kids just went all over the place. I also felt a need to be distinctive and thought that a free essay topic might give me more freedom.

The way I saw it, the personal statement was a vehicle to convey my personality and my interests. To build my Personal Narrative, I wanted to showcase my personality and reveal a bit about my life experiences.

The idea I used was to talk about my battle against the snooze alarm. Frankly this personal statement is really embarrassing. Each time I read it, I cringe a bit. I think I sound too smug and self-satisfied. But again in the interest of transparency, here goes:. I want to as well. The theme of the essay — battling an alarm clock — shows this well, in comparison to the gravitas of the typical student essay. The frank admission of a realistic lazy habit — pushing the Snooze button — served as a nice foil to my academic honors and shows that I can be down-to-earth.

So you see how the snooze button acts as a vehicle to carry these major points and a lot of details, tied together to the same theme. So overall, I believe the essay accomplishes my goals and the main points of what I wanted to convey about myself.

Note that this is just one of many ways to write an essay. It worked for me, but it may be totally inappropriate for you. Looking at it with a more seasoned perspective, some parts of it are WAY too try-hard. I try too hard to show off my breadth of knowledge in a way that seems artificial and embellishing. With just words, I could have made the essay more cohesive by keeping the same theme from beginning to end. Some phrases really make me roll my eyes.

A key principle of effective writing is to show, not say. The mention of Nietzsche is over-the-top. I mean, come on. Where in the world did fried rice come from? I could have deleted the sentence and wrapped up the essay more cleanly.

I think it accomplished my major goals and showed the humorous, irreverent side of my personality well. However, it also gave the impression of a kid who thought he knew more than he did, a pseudo-sophisticate bordering on obnoxious.

I still think it was a net positive. At the end of the day, I believe the safest, surefire strategy is to develop a Spike so big that the importance of the Personal Essay pales in comparison to your achievements.

You want your Personal Essay to be a supplement to your application, not the only reason you get in. There are probably some cases where a well-rounded student writes an amazing Personal Essay and gets in through the strength of that. Without a strong application to back it up, your mileage may vary. We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit. We want to get you admitted to your dream schools. This is a really fun section.

Teacher recommendations are incredibly important to your application. The average teacher sees thousands of students through a career, and so he or she is very well equipped to position you relative to all other students. Furthermore, your teachers are experienced adults — their impressions of you are much more reliable than your impressions of yourself see my Personal Essay above. They can corroborate your entire Personal Narrative as an outside observer.

The most effective recommendation letters speak both to your academic strengths and to your personality. For the second factor, the teacher needs to have interacted with you meaningfully, ideally both in and out of class. Check out our guide on what makes for effective letters of recommendation. Starting from sophomore year, I started thinking about whom I connected better with and chose to engage with those teachers more deeply.

The minimum requirement for a good letter is someone who taught a class in which you did well. Beyond this, I had to look for teachers who would be strong advocates for me on both an academic and personal level. These tended to be teachers I vibed more strongly with, and typically these were teachers who demonstrably cared about teaching. This was made clear by their enthusiasm, how they treated students, and how much they went above expectations to help. If you honestly like learning and are an enthusiastic, responsible, engaging student, a great recommendation letter will follow naturally.

The horse should lead the cart. Read my How to Get a 4. She was my favorite teacher throughout high school for these reasons:. All of this flowed down to the recommendation you see here. Remember, the horse leads the cart.

The Common Application now has 16 qualities to rate, rather than the 10 here. You can tell that the updated Common App places a great emphasis on personality. The most important point here: The more experienced and trustworthy the teacher, the more meaningful this is. As you read this, think — what are the interactions that would prompt the teacher to write a recommendation like this?

This was a relationship built up in a period of over 2 years, with every small interaction adding to an overall larger impression. You can see how seriously they take the letter because of all the underlining. The letter here is very strong for a multitude of reasons. First, the length is notable — most letters are just a page long, but this is nearly two full pages , single spaced. The structure is effective: This is a perfect blend of what effective letters contain.

On the micro-level, her diction and phrasing are precise and effective. She makes my standing clear with specific statements: This letter was important to complement the overall academic performance and achievements shown on the rest of my application. My second teacher Mrs. I am not good at writing generally and wanted to ask for writing help with this assignment writing service to write my research paper. They provided me absolutely an outstanding paper.

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Do not feel obligated to fill this space, but some students have used this opportunity to tell us about challenging circumstances in their lives such as illness or other difficulties that may have affected their grades. Supplementary materials art slides, music recordings, research papers, etc. Harvard has a need-blind admissions process and applying for aid is never detrimental to your admissions decision. We ask the question because we want to be able to calculate your financial need in advance of our April notification date so that we can send your admission letter and financial aid offer at the same time.

While we realize that this question is quite similar to the one asked on the Common Application, our own format allows us to fit this information into data fields that Harvard has been collecting for many years. As a liberal arts institution with forty-nine academic concentrations and more than extracurricular organizations, we expect and encourage our students to explore new opportunities.

One of the principal ways students meet and educate each other during college is through extracurricular activities. Your answer to this question gives us a better sense of the interests you might bring to college and how definite your academic, vocational, extracurricular or athletic interests might be. This information helps us understand better how you might use Harvard. Of course, one of the best things about a liberal arts education is that plans may change.

If you have applied to Harvard before, we want to include your previous application with your current one. We also want to have a record of any other involvement at Harvard you may have had, including the Summer School and the Extension School and associated transcripts.

This information adds to the context of your present application. Applicants use this space in a variety of ways: Informational Tooltip Close Legal Name Please fill out your name exactly as it will show up on all materials we receive for your application. Informational Tooltip Close Citizenship Status Citizenship does not in any way affect your chances of admission or eligibility for financial aid at Harvard. Informational Tooltip Close Religious Preference This is an optional question on the Common Application form used by some colleges with a religious affiliation that we do not download from your applications — and we do not maintain records of religious affiliation.

Informational Tooltip Close U. Armed forces status The applications of veterans are most welcome and your service is a positive factor in our admissions process. Informational Tooltip Close Application Fee Payment The fee covers a very small portion of the administrative costs of processing applications.

Informational Tooltip Close Interruption in Education It is not uncommon for students to change schools or take time off during high school. Informational Tooltip Close Grades We always defer to the secondary school report for information about grades. Informational Tooltip Close Highest Level of Recognition This is a place to highlight any achievements or awards you have received. Informational Tooltip Close Career Interest You do not need to have a ten year plan, but getting a sense of what kinds of professions you have considered gives us insight into your current plans.

Informational Tooltip Close Positions held, honors won, letters earned, or employer In this section, please describe the activity and your level of participation. Close Grade Level The grades during which you have participated are important because they help us to understand the depth of your involvement in that activity and your changing interests over time.

Informational Tooltip Close Approximate Time Spent We are interested to know how you manage your time and to understand how you balance your life outside of the classroom. Close When did you participate We know that students are often active both during the school year and the summer — working, babysitting siblings, enrolling in courses, traveling, playing sports, holding internships, etc.

Close Not enough space Filling out the grid is an act of prioritization: Close Plans to participate in college? Informational Tooltip Close Disciplinary History It is critically important for you to be honest with colleges as you start what could be a long- term association. Informational Tooltip Close Additional Information Do not feel obligated to fill this space, but some students have used this opportunity to tell us about challenging circumstances in their lives such as illness or other difficulties that may have affected their grades.

General 1 Academics 0 Harvard Activities 1 Contacts 1 Writing Questions 1 Supplementary Materials Supplementary materials art slides, music recordings, research papers, etc. Informational Tooltip Close Applying for Financial Aid Harvard has a need-blind admissions process and applying for aid is never detrimental to your admissions decision.

Close Future Plans As a liberal arts institution with forty-nine academic concentrations and more than extracurricular organizations, we expect and encourage our students to explore new opportunities. Informational Tooltip Close Activities One of the principal ways students meet and educate each other during college is through extracurricular activities.

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The Common and Universal College Application essay topics are broad. While this might seem daunting at first, look at it as an opportunity to write about something you care about, rather than what you think the Admissions Committee wants to hear.

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