The journey to college acceptance is one best told by the experts: high school seniors who've just completed the process. Learning how others got into college can help inform your own effort, so we asked students from the Class of 2011 at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md., to relate their experiences, tips, and observations.
Eli Okun's search strategy entailed finding a medium-size school that offered lots of resources and course options but still had an intimate feel. He applied to eight schools: Harvard University, Yale University, Brown University, Columbia University, the University of Maryland, the College of William and Mary in Virginia, Pomona College in California, and Tufts University in Massachusetts.
His strategy was to present himself as a leader: president of two school clubs and op-ed editor of the school newspaper. A top-notch GPA and perfect SAT scores didn't hurt. He got into six schools, with a full ride to Maryland, and picked one of the two Ivys that picked him, Brown. (The other: Columbia.)
GPA: 4.0 unweighted
SAT scores: 800 math, 800 critical reading, 800 writing
Extracurriculars: Theater, Model United Nations and Jewish Culture clubs, internship with the Washington Post editorial board, National Honor Society
Essay topic: Overcoming a disabling stroke at age 7
Biggest stressors: Being wait-listed, not knowing when he would hear back, and writing his essays
[Read what to expect if you get put on the wait list.]
Biggest help: Visiting six schools during spring break of junior year to get a sense of their offerings and feel
Distinguishing factors: He wants to write for the student paper and Brown has a daily; compared to Columbia, Brown has a more community-centered campus.
Second thoughts: "I fell out of love with Pomona and Columbia after I applied."
Tip: Do what you really love while in high school.
More Montgomery Blair High School student profiles:
Searching for a college? Get our complete rankings of Best Colleges.
Corrected 9/26/11: An earlier version incorrectly stated the number of schools into which Okun was accepted.