By Padya Paramita, InGenius Prep

You might have the best grades in your class, or maybe you’ve struggled with maintaining A’s throughout high school. Regardless of where you stand, you could hold the belief that strong numbers are all it takes to get into schools like Harvard or Princeton. But, hold on a second. Did you know that hundreds of college applicants with perfect scores are turned down from prestigious universities every year? At first thought, it may seem confusing, but remember that grades and scores aren’t the only components colleges evaluate. As you consider the question of how to get into top colleges, consider the other areas of your profile that matter just as much – if not more.

As a candidate, you are more than your numbers. Yes, strong marks reflect that you’re academically fit to keep up with the rigor of a top school. But you also need to show colleges that you can also contribute outside academics and that you’ll bring more than just classroom knowledge to the table. In this blog, we’ve elaborated on how to get into top colleges by going over the factors outside your grades and test scores that can help you get an edge among the competition.

Why Perfect Numbers Aren’t Enough

If you’ve been working hard to stay at or near the top of your class throughout high school, this news might come as a disappointment. But, don’t be discouraged — all your efforts did not go to waste. Grades and scores definitely help you on your road to figuring out how to get into top colleges. Not having a strong transcript or standardized testing would put you at a disadvantage because admissions officers want to see that you’ve challenged yourself in the classroom and are ready to take on college-level courses. However, at the end of the day, many students with perfect numbers do get turned down from top tier universities every year. 69% of students with perfect test scores are turned down from Stanford — because your GPA and test scores are a threshold matter.

While having perfect numbers is great, it is not unique. Your GPA and testing are only two of the factors that colleges take into account, and moreover, they don’t help convey who you are and what you’re like as a person. To catch the eyes of readers at the best schools, you need to offer more than just straight A’s. You must demonstrate what you can bring to the particular college that no one else can. You have to highlight experiences and stories that differentiate you from your peers to show that you can meaningfully contribute to the campus community alongside making your mark in the classroom.

Ways to Build Your Profile

So, if stellar grades aren’t the only components that go behind your admissions decision, what factors into the question of how to get into top colleges? Universities pay a lot of attention to how you spend your free time — they want to know what you’re passionate about and whether you’ve pursued that field beyond more than just joining a club. They also hope to learn more about your story and why you are interested in their college through your essays. Let’s take a closer look at each of these elements.


Top schools pay special attention to the activities list section of your Common Application. Not only do you need to describe what you participate in outside the classroom, but you also have to highlight how you’ve demonstrated leadership and commitment towards doing what you love. These slots shouldn’t just be filled with every club you’ve ever joined. Making a strong impression on colleges involves showing how you’ve stood out as a leader and made an impact in your community. Prioritize involvements where you have achieved tangible feats, whether it’s raising $1,000 through a fundraising campaign or leading a team of 28 coders. Consider what you’re the most interested in and whether it’s music, cooking, or art, and ask yourself whether you have used your curiosity to pursue this activity in a unique way.

If you haven’t done so yet, it’s time to hit the drawing board and plan how you can still take advantage of your passions to show admissions officers that you really care. For example, if you’re a talented guitarist, you could explore this interest beyond just joining the guitar club at your school. You may start classes teaching neighborhood children how to play the instrument. You could create your own YouTube channel and post covers and gain an audience. You might even combine both ideas and publish video tutorials that help others. Think out of the box — what do you want colleges to know about you through your activities? Use your skill sets and extracurriculars to showcase yourself as a community leader!

Personal Statement

The personal statement is another crucial component in your college admissions decision. This isn’t just another essay like the ones you write for school. If you’re thinking about how to get into top colleges, you must use your personal statement to capture your character in a meaningful way within the 650-word limit. Remember that your response should convey a story only you can tell, one that can distinguish you from the others. Admissions officers go through thousands of applicants — what makes you unique?

Spend significant time brainstorming your topic. You could discuss a part of your background that has shaped who you are. You could mention an incident in high school that might have changed your perspective. Go through as many as 10-15 drafts if you’ve got your eye on top schools. This essay not only needs to capture a memorable story, but it should be well-written and polished. Don’t take this essay lightly, as it could make or break your chances at your dream college!


Supplemental Essays

Another factor that plays an important part in whether or not a college admits you is how you write your supplemental essays. Because these are school-specific, it’s essential that you conduct thorough research beforehand for each university on your list before you sit down to write a “why school” or “what can you bring to our school” essay. 

Saying general statements like, “I want to attend Yale because it is an Ivy League school” is far from enough. How can the specific college and its particular resources help you achieve your goals? While many supplemental essays ask you to pinpoint what about a school stands out to you, remember that you must tie it to yourself as well and reference factors that are unique to the university you’re mentioning. Help admissions officers understand that your interest in the school is deep.

The college admissions scene is undoubtedly very competitive. As a strong student thinking about how to get into top colleges, you must strive not just for perfect grades and test scores. Develop leadership in your activities, collaborate with your community members, and brainstorm what makes you tick and what interests you about specific schools through your writing. Admissions officers evaluate your application in terms of what you’ve achieved to get a sense of where and how you would contribute over the next four years. So, go ahead and get involved — and start thinking about unique essay topics — so that you can get started on your way to receiving an acceptance letter from your dream school. 

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