How To Stand Out To An Ivy League School

The College Talks & More podcast, brought to you by, sheds light on different college related matters. Today’s topic is “Ivy League School Admissions”. This blog tells all the do’s and don’ts for filling out your applications to make Ivy League schools notice you. Co-hosts Hanna and Cari speak with newest guest, Brian Taylor, and he shares his thoughts and opinions with us…

Hi, Brian, welcome to the show. Why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit more about your college and professional background.

Brian Taylor is the Managing Director for, a college consultant website.

Thanks for having me. At Ivy coach, we help students earn admission to their top choice school. If they don’t know what their top choice school is, we let them know what it should be. If they have expectations of getting into Harvard and they have no shot of getting into Harvard, we’ll tell them where they can get into in the early rounds so that they don’t waste their early card.

If somebody wanted to get more information about your service, where would they go?

To our website:

What does the college consultant do?

We help students tailor their stories so that they showcase a singular narrative. Many students, when they apply to highly selective colleges, present themselves as well rounded, being good at lots of things such as sports, music, community service, and leadership. It’s a misconception that these schools are looking for kids who are good at lots of things. A big part of what we do is we help them figure out what their singular hook can be, and how they can demonstrate that hook through their activities, their storytelling. Come the time we apply, we also correct mistakes to their courses and to their testing. A lot of high schools don’t know what highly selective colleges are looking for. They recommend students take certain courses that aren’t going to help their case for admission. In some cases they’re going to preclude their admission. As an example, if a high school counselor recommends that a student take AP statistics as a senior, as their math course, well, highly selective schools like the Ivy league schools, they don’t want to see AP statistics as math. It doesn’t count as math to them. Essentially, they’re missing math in their senior year classes, and that’s really going to hurt them.

Why hire a college counselor and why should someone use IvyCoach?

Not everyone needs a college counselor. There are students who get into top schools with lousy applications or with average applications all the time, but if you don’t want to leave things to chance, you want to give yourself the best case possible for admission, then you should work with a great college counselor. We happen to be a great college help.

I saw that with your reviews, you do have outstanding reviews. What are your criteria for choosing to work with a student with their admissions process?

They have to be reasonable. We help students get into reach schools. Schools that they would unlikely get into without our help. If a student wants to get into Stanford and they have C grades, we’re going to tell them that they have no shot on God’s green earth of getting into Stanford. But if they listen to us, then maybe they have a chance of getting into, say, Tufts, even though Tufts would obviously be very hard with C grades too. I’m just trying to say that if they’re more reasonable, we can help them get into reach schools. If they have unreasonable expectations, we’re not going to work with them. Students can have any grades or scores. As long as their expectations are reasonable, we can help them get into schools they would likely not get into.

Is there a specific age range or a grade that you start working with students?

There are parents who reach out to us when their children are in kindergarten. We tell them to come back in eighth grade. Eighth grade is typically the year that we love for students to come to us, because then we can map out everything that they should be doing all through high school so they can take the right courses and do the right testing before it becomes mistakes that we need to correct. Ultimately, we can work with students at any stage in the process. We work with a lot of students who come to us for the first time after they don’t get in to their early decision or early action school around December 15th, and in those two weeks before the regular decision. The early round, at that point, there are some things we can’t correct. You know, we can’t correct necessarily their senior year courses. We can’t correct which tests they took, but there’s still a whole lot we can correct in terms of how they’re telling their story. So people can come to us at all stages. The earlier you come to us, the better. We always love it when students come to us in eighth grade, but we definitely don’t want you to in Kindergarten.

This question is for all the parents out there: At what age should a parent start discussing college with their children?

You don’t need to discuss which specific colleges students should be applying to until junior year.

How big a part does the athletic ability play in getting accepted into an Ivy league school?

It can play a big part if you’re a recruited athlete. If you’re getting recruited by Brown‘s baseball coach, then that can make a huge difference in your case for admission. Most sports have slots in admissions and these coaches have a lot of weight. Although there are certain coaches that have more weight than do others. An example being, the basketball coach is, of course, going to have more weight than say the swimming and diving coach. Many students are not getting recruited by these colleges, and they play sports in high school. A lot of parents are under the misconception that simply by participating in sports, it shows leadership, it shows commitment, it shows the kind of things that highly selective colleges are looking for. But that’s not, in fact, the case. What participation in these sports showcases to colleges is a student who is well-rounded. If they play a sport, but they’re not good enough to get recruited by that college for that sport, then you have to remember that if you can’t serve the college, then they could care less. If you love a sport, by all means play it. There’s obviously great benefits to playing sports, but from a college admission standpoint, unless you’re getting recruited, it’s of no value to your case for admission. I would argue it will actually hurt your case.

In the case of being recruited where you’re good enough to play for the college, do the grades need to be as good, or is there some leniency because you’re a good athlete?

There’s leniency. There’s an academic index, a formula for admission to Ivy league schools that athletes need to meet. The academic index was created for the admission of athletes, so that schools couldn’t admit a great quarterback with D grades who had a horrific sat score. There are some benchmarks that students need to meet, but is there a leniency? You bet. For a recruited football player, do they need to have the same SAT score as does a kid who’s not getting recruited? No.

Do you find that top schools look at men’s and women’s sports abilities the same?

It’s not about their abilities. It’s about the weight that these coaches have in the admissions process. Does Coach K (a famous basketball coach at Duke University), for instance, have more clout than does the incoming women’s basketball coach at Duke? You bet. So sure, they have the same number of slots in admissions, but if Coach K really wants someone, Coach K is going to get that kid.

What are the biggest criteria that Ivy league schools look for when viewing applications?

The biggest criteria is grades. It’s always been grades. It remains grades, but it’s not just about grades. Harvard’s Dean of Admissions, William R. Fitzsimmons, is famous for saying, “We receive classes worth of applications for kids with perfect grades and perfect scores. The fact is, there’s so many kids with perfect grades and perfect SAT or ACT scores and subject test scores. It’s not just about the grades and scores. It’s about admitting kids who are interesting. Who are going to make major contributions to this campus. It’s about those essays. It’s about the storytelling in those essays. It’s about the letters of recommendation. It’s about the interview.” That’s why it is a holistic admissions process at every highly selective school.

After admissions, do Ivy league schools ever rescind their offers, and why would a school do that?

They do. I would say that every highly selective school rescinds some offers but it’s not often. Why would they do it? A student’s grades could have dropped significantly. Maybe they had all A’s prior to their admission, and then they started getting C’s. That’s grounds for the revocation of an admission. Every offer of admission comes with language that stipulates that this offer is contingent upon certain things. It could also be behavior. There have been students who have had their admission revoked because of online posts that are racist or homophobic. Harvard rescinded a number of offers of admission in the last couple of years because of online posts like that. Cornell rescinded this year. We can only speak to the ones that are in the press, because people shine a big light on these stories otherwise. A Cornell football player was pushed to not come because of what he posted online.

Let’s say a straight A high school student gets accepted into a top school, but their freshman year their grades drop to B’s and C’s. Does that matter in the eyes of the college?

Do you mean their freshman year grades at the college after they’ve earned admission? No. Their grades in college have nothing to do with their admission. They’re already admitted to college. Just because they get B’s and C’s, that’s not going to stop them from graduating at this school. They’re just not going to graduate with a very high GPA.

What are some of the biggest mistakes that students make in their application process?

I would say they make themselves well-rounded, even though students and parents may seem to know, these days, that students should not showcase themselves as well rounded. They, nonetheless, present themselves as well rounded. They are the kid who does national honor society and plays two sports and a musical instrument, but that’s not what these schools want to see. Another big thing that students do wrong is they brag, and they don’t show their love for the individual schools to which they’re applying. When they’re asked, “Why do you want to go to Penn?”, and they say, “I want to go to Penn because they offer a great liberal arts education.” Well, Penn knows that that student cut and pasted that same sentence for Dartmouth and for Cornell, because it’s not a sentence that applies only to Penn. Your task when applying to these schools is to convince each school to which you’re applying that they’re your first choice. You don’t do that by saying, “This is the school I most wish to attend.” Nobody believes that. You need to show them through your storytelling, and how you’re going to contribute your singular hook to that.

Is it harder to get accepted into an Ivy League school now than let’s say 10 to 15 years ago? If so, why?

I would say yes. Is it harder to get in this year as compared to last year or the year before? I would say last year, it was easier, because there were fewer applicants. More recently in the last several years, other than last year, they would say this is the most competitive class ever. It gives a lot of anxiety to a lot of people that it’s getting harder and harder to get into these schools. I would argue that it’s not getting harder and harder to get into these schools year to year. These schools are just getting better and better at getting students to apply. More students applying to Princeton does not make the Princeton applicant pool more competitive. The fact is, these schools care deeply about their U.S. news and world report ranking. Even though they’ll tell you that they don’t care about it. One of the things that influences their ranking is how many kids apply, because, invariably, the more students who apply, the lower the admission rate will be. They encourage a lot of students to apply who don’t really have a shot at getting into these schools, even though they’ll tell you that they don’t do that. Is it harder this year as compared to two years ago? Well, probably yes, because there are a lot of students this past year who were going to be taking gap years and they’re going to eat away slots from next year’s class. There are also international students who can’t come, and we’re going to postpone their enrollment until next year. This next year will be harder, certainly, than last year. But in general, is it on a year to year basis? Is it more difficult to get into Ivy league and other highly selective schools? No, that’s over-hype.

Do all schools let you postpone for a year if you need to, or is it once you get accepted, you’re expected to show up the following year?

Well, this year is very different because of the pandemic. Each school has issued certain requirements that students must meet. In some cases, the school is very lenient. If you wish to take a gap year, you can. In some cases, you don’t have to have such great plans for what you’re gonna be doing this upcoming year. If you wish to take a gap year, they will understand. In general, do schools allow gap years? Yes. A minority of students end up taking gap years. It’s not common, but this year it’s certainly going to be more common. Although I would argue that it’s been over-hyped a bit. I think the press was writing so much about how so many kids are going to be taking gap years this next year. Are they really though? What are these students going to be doing if they’re not taking online classes? Is it ideal to start one’s college experience from your childhood bedroom? No, certainly not. What alternative do they have? It’s not like they can do a service trip in Nicaragua. They’re not going to be able to go to Nicaragua. What alternatives do they have other than to take these online courses? At least they can remain engaged. At least they can remain productive.

How has the COVID pandemic affected the emissions process?

This past year it didn’t affect the early round of admission because the early round came out in mid December, but it did impact the regular round. I would say this past year was one of the easiest years in highly selective college admissions in recent memory. When colleges are uncertain, they’re more inclined to offer admission. You always want to apply when they’re uncertain. That’s why the early round is so advantageous. These colleges don’t have the advantage of seeing their total applicant pool, because regular decision applications don’t come in until January 1st. When you apply early on November 1st, and hear your decision on December 15th, these colleges are insecure. They don’t know who they’re going to get. They don’t know if they’re going to have a great applicant pool. You always want to be applying when they’re insecure. This past regular round, they were insecure. Were our international students even going to be able to come? Are all these kids going to take gap years? These kids couldn’t even visit the school, in many cases this year. It was a great year to apply to college. This next year, however, will not be a great year to apply to college.

Now let’s get personal. Do you know anyone who has been involved with the college scandal relating to college counseling services?

I mean only the ones involved in that major scandal in college admissions, with that college counselor in California, but I don’t know them personally.

Do you think that there should be any changes to the admissions process?

There should be many changes to the admissions process. A couple of examples: legacy admissions should be done away with. Legacy admissions offers an outrageous advantage to students whose parents and grandparents went to the school, but there’s drawbacks of eliminating legacy admission now as well. These schools started admitting underrepresented minorities and over-represented minorities too, such as Asian-Americans in large numbers over these last 20 something years. You have to think that these Asian American and African American parents, their children are going to be coming of age and applying to schools. One could also argue why eliminate legacy admission now, when it finally rightly offers advantage to Asian American African/ American Latin applicants? I’m in favor of eliminating legacy admission, because I think it offers an unfair advantage to the children and the grandchildren of alumni, but at the same time eliminating it now… it’s six of one half dozen of the other.

Do you have any other admissions advice for students that might be listening?

Make yourself interesting. If tons of kids at your school are doing one thing, that doesn’t mean that you should do it. If you’re playing a sport, because you think it will improve your case for admission to college, but you’re not getting recruited, stop playing the sport, unless you really love it. You want to think of how are you going to make yourself interesting. How are you going to dare admissions officers not to admit someone who’s going to change the world in one super specific and often small way. Our task with our students is to figure out what that small weight can be and how they can demonstrate that through the course of their application.

I guess students nowadays need to find their way to be an individual and make that stand out rather than doing a little bit of everything.


Thank you, Brian, for coming on our show and offering all this valuable insight on college admissions, we love hearing from a professional’s perspective on how to be accepted into an Ivy league college. We are all about professionals helping students, parents, and all of our listeners. We hope you will join us again in the future for another episode.

My pleasure.

We’ll be reading your blog to hear about any new admissions tips that you may have for us. Thanks, Brian.

Alright. Thanks Hanna. Thanks Cari.

Here’s to another informative episode of College Talks and More. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, subscribe to our podcast and YouTube channel to stay up to date on any new episode. Check out our blog and be an insider to receive our newsletters so you can follow anything and everything College Talks and Mybookcart.

This episode is brought to you by, a textbook buyback service where you can sell back your books for fast cash.

Shopping Cart