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I was accepted to Yale. Here's everything I included in my successful Ivy League application.

Brian Zhang   

I was accepted to Yale. Here's everything I included in my successful Ivy League application.
  • I got into Yale University after submitting a successful college application.
  • I included my SAT score and high GPA in the application, along with an essay about my culture.

I recently reviewed my Yale admissions file after being a student there for three years. It was strange but enlightening to read what the admissions officers really thought of my application.

Since then, many people have respectfully requested to hear about my stats, extracurriculars, and essays.

I believe that everyone's college application journey is unique and that mine is just one sample, but I equally understand the urge to hear about other people's experiences. I devoured hundreds of college decision reactions on YouTube just three years ago, hoping to find that secret formula.

So, I'm now sharing a deeper look into my college application. But I want to first emphasize that as complicated and stressful as the process of applying to college may be, the best application you can ever show others will be the one you enjoy writing the most. I know I enjoyed every second of writing mine.

My GPA and standardized test scores were important factors in my application

With colleges such as Yale and Dartmouth reinstating standardized testing requirements, the reality is that academics will always be the first line of assessment for admission.

The GPA I submitted to Yale was 98.23/100. An admissions officer commended my GPA in the context of my financially underprivileged upbringing.

I also tried to take the most rigorous workload possible while also prioritizing my mental health, ultimately sending in six AP test scores. My SAT score was 1590.

I credit a lot of my academic achievements to the fact that I surrounded myself with peers who were very serious about their education.

My pre-calculus teacher's recommendation — the one that the admissions team rated higher — emphasized that I held the second highest grade in her class over her 20-year teaching career.

I tried to highlight my passions in my extracurriculars

My activities were a confusing mosaic of interests and impulses, but one that perfectly captured this 17-year-old boy who was still very unsure about who he was and what he wanted.

I researched human visual perception at a local community college, I performed spoken word poetry, and I hit about 80% of the notes in the choir (on a good day).

My primary extracurricular, however, was the one I connected with most. At the start of the pandemic, I founded a language-learning program for children called "Spanish Meets You." I used the proceeds I made from the program, which featured tutoring and pen-palling services, to host community giveaways of essential health supplies — such as masks, face shields, and hand sanitizer.

"Spanish Meets You" evolved from my experience growing up in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, which was predominantly Hispanic and Asian. I loved going to cookouts and finding a diligent spread of both spicy tamales and fried rice. Despite our cultural differences, the two groups were united in our challenges and our respect for each other.

When I submitted my application, I worried that I didn't have a coherent theme for my extracurriculars, nor enough leadership — but based on the admissions team's comments, my genuine passion for one or two activities mattered in the end.

I wanted to capture who I truly am in my college essay

When I started drafting my essay, I knew I wanted to capture what was unextractable from my résumé: my curiosity, thick skin, and mistakes.

I decided to make the topic of my college essay about Chinese New Year, a holiday I celebrated with my 14 floormates in this tiny Brooklyn apartment building that we all called home for two decades. Every year, I would wait for my father by the door with mandarins, only to be disappointed by his absence.

Ultimately, however, I learned to enjoy this holiday — even if my celebration was unorthodox. My 14 floormates and I are unrelated by blood, but I remember we would gather over food every holiday, tell stories, and play a game of JENGA. Their laughter still ricochets in my ears hundreds of miles away as I now sit in my college dorm room, wrapping up my junior year.

I tried not to overthink the other essay questions

I would jot down whatever came to mind in the first 30 seconds, asking myself: "How would 7-year-old Brian answer this?"

Whenever I took too long to craft a response, it was a sign that I was probably sacrificing genuineness to make a false good impression.

One of the essays asked about my favorite intellectual concept. Instead of showing off by detailing some obscure scientific theory, I moved forward with writing about the diversity of motherhood in the animal kingdom, tying it back to my close relationship with my own mother.

My application was focused on proving how I would fit into the Yale community

Colleges are searching for those who will enrich the lives of their peers in different ways.

Therefore, in my application, I tried to highlight all the parts of me that would prove to Yale I would benefit their campus and their students. In doing so, I was accepted and met students doing just that.

One of my friends, for instance, is studying law. She also loves to rap and surprise her friends with midnight ice cream. Another is a science journalist who gives the best dating advice.

I would say Yale wouldn't be home even if one of them were missing. Everyone is here; everyone ends up where they are.

For students applying to Ivy League schools, I implore you to tell your dynamic, unique story — to think about how your rhythm will fold into a community's song.

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