Read Part I.
Ok, my advice for this post is:
TAKE LATIN AND GREEK
Why am I featuring this advice so prominently? Because, if I were going to advise a kid who really, really wanted to get into the Ivies what to do, this would be my best advice. A hundred years ago, all the students at these schools took Latin and a lot of them took Greek. Then the students grew up and gave money back to their dear old Classics departments. But now Latin isn’t a requirement, and the result is that a lot of these schools have well-endowed Classics departments, and not enough students to fill them.
..At least, that was the situation when I went to these schools 20 years ago, and I’m pretty sure it’s still the case now.
So, what you do is, take Latin in high school. Your high school is not going to offer Ancient Greek, but You are Passionate About Classics! So try to find a local college professor and ask her to tutor you in Greek in the summer. Or ask if your school could give you credit for an independent study with her during the school year. Be an All-Classics-All-the-Time type of kid. Write on your application that you desperately love Classics and you want to major in Classics. You will have a huge leg up on the kid who’s taken 5 years of French.
This doesn’t mean you have to actually major in Classics when you get to college. Just that you intend to, at the age of 17. Kids change their major intentions all the time once they start college. But do check with your school, because there are a few programs across the country where you actually have to make a commitment before you start. These are rare, but it never hurts to read all the fine print regardless.
Three other points:
1. I am a strong believer in a Classical education. If you devote yourself to it, you’ll have an advantage for college admissions, but you’ll also be better prepared for education in general, and even for life. It gives you a really strong foundation in many ways.
2. While I do literally mean “take Latin and Greek,” you could also use this advice as an analogy. The reason it helps with elite colleges is because they have a lot of resources already invested in this area, and not enough students. Maybe there’s some other category that fits the same criteria. Maybe the school you want to go to has world-class Astronomy professors and not enough students in the major. Or they’ve got a huge squash program, but it’s hard to find enough students to fill it.
So if you do a bunch of research, and figure out that your top schools are all desperate for squash players, then by all means, play squash.
But also take Latin and Greek. Did I mention that I got into Harvard, Yale, and Brown? Yeah. That’s cause I took Latin and Greek. And was Good at it.
3. What if you’re a super genius in some other area? You’re already spending summers working in a graduate research lab? Should you stop and use that time for Greek?
No! If you’re already crazy-super-smart in some area, that’s your strength. The point is, to have something about you that makes colleges really want you to go to their school. If you already have that, focus on that strength. But if you’re regular-good-student-smart and you don’t yet have a special niche, this can be your niche that makes colleges want you.
Next: Part III.