I was at a Masters party last weekend watching the pro’s battle it out at Augusta National and this question came up again, “How did you get in the Ivy League?” The mystique behind the Ivy League is intriguing to me because I used to feel the same way.
There is something about these eight schools that captures peoples attention. No doubt it has to do with its distinguished alumni – 15 U.S. Presidents, 37 Supreme Court Justices, and an impressive 996 Rhodes Scholars.
Or maybe its athletic achievements…like 46 college football national championships (most came from Princeton and Yale in the 1800’s when the sport was first played). What’s even more impressive is the conference no longer plays in bowl games and doesn’t give athletic scholarships.
The most obvious reason is the low acceptance rates. It’s not easy getting in the Ivy League. I’d hazard a guess and say the acceptance rates would be MUCH lower if more people applied, but they don’t – only the students who think they can get in apply.
I’ll use Brown as an example, since that’s where I’m going. It’s the 7th hardest school in the U.S. to get into with an 8.5% acceptance rate (not including music schools, like Julliard, who are ranked along side traditional schools). 30,397 kids applied to the undergraduate program in 2015 and 2,580 got in. I guarantee at least two to three times as many kids wanted to apply, but were told not to for many reasons (namely academic).
I’m not attending the undergraduate school. Those days are long gone. I applied to and was accepted in one of the graduate programs. I don’t have the acceptance figures because they’re not published, but I think it’s safe to say it’s competitive.
So…how did a “normal” guy with an undergraduate degree from a state school get in the Ivy League? Here’s how:
- I wanted it…badly. Nothing can happen unless you want it more than anything else.
- I believed I could. More than wanting something, you have to believe you can get it.
- I tried. It’s one thing to want something and believe you can get it, it’s another to try.
- I got creative – like really creative. Read below…
When I discovered the program I was interested in I reached out to a few students who were enrolled. I found them on LinkedIn. One, in particular, was very kind and over the course of a year we became friends. She answered all my questions and eventually told me who else to talk to.
I started this blog to document the process; all the while not knowing if I’d get accepted. When representatives from the program I was interested in came to Atlanta I scheduled a meeting. And this is where things got interesting.
To be honest, I was really nervous to meet with these folks. I mean after all, this is the Ivy League, right? I wasn’t sure what to expect. But, I was pleasantly surprised to meet people just like myself. After an hour of talking I was encouraged to apply. This, and this alone, was the single most important part of the process. I was on cloud nine. You gotta understand, my undergrad grades are not Ivy League material – not by a LONG shot. This is when Brown University started showing its colors.
It would have been easy to look at my academic transcripts and resume and say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” But, they didn’t. Brown looks at the individual and gets to know him. I had an honest story to tell and they were willing to listen. Brown got to know who I am and what I’m about. And for that I’ll forever be grateful.
I eventually drove to Brown from Atlanta to meet students, professors, and administrators. They were kind enough to not only extend an invitation to visit, but to sit in on a full day of classes. Again, this is where Brown and the Ivy League shows their true colors. If you’re willing to do your part (which by no means is small or easy) and have a compelling story, they’ll at least listen. It goes without saying that most schools won’t.
So I drove to Brown and sat in class from 8am to 4pm and was treated like a regular student. It was great! As stated in an earlier post, I met with Jay Flannigan, the Assistant Dean of the program I was interested in. Jay, in my opinion, exemplifies what the Ivy League is about. He listened to my life story and understood why I wanted to attend Brown. I mean really…who does that?! Again, I’ll forever be grateful.
Looking back I can see how Brown puts a cohort of students together. It’s not about grades (although I’m sure everyone is intelligent and accomplished), where you went to school before, the title on your business card, etc. It’s about assembling the best minds who can learn from each other. Lord knows they have the applicant pool to choose from. My particular story and life experiences fit a space they needed to fill. So yes, when a Ivy League school sees 30,000+ applications, most of which are valedictorians, and only a few percent are let in, it’s safe to say they know EXACTLY what they’re looking for.
I ended up applying and after several months of waiting I received my acceptance letter (see post 49). And that’s how I got in the Ivy League.
I firmly believes it starts with knowing what you want, believing you can get it, and doing everything possible to find a way. It wasn’t easy and it took a few years, but I did it.
Sincerely, The Graduate (at Brown)