Navigating the College Application Process with College Admissions Expert Dr. Aviva Legatt

Dr. Aviva Legatt is the author of Get Real and Get In (St. Martin’s Press, 2021), which was written to transform the way that students and families view their college admissions journey; from a series of box-checking and hoop-jumping exercises to the belief that this journey can be both empowering and inspiring.

Here is what Aviva had to say when we asked her about the college application process:

What should you do in high school to prepare yourself for the college admissions process? 

From a pragmatic perspective, you have to do basic things. Focus on your academics. Take the tests, even if they are optional. In terms of rounding out your activities, focus on a few things in depth rather than sample everything, and do those things really well. Develop relationships with your teachers and school representatives. If you can get on a college’s radar by connecting with a professor, you will be able to learn more about a university and get a leg up. 

When crafting college resumes and essays, what should you avoid?

In terms of essays, there is the personal essay and then supplement essays. The supplement essays should include your past experience, future goals, and how the university can help you get there. Show that what you have done will be enhanced at the university. The personal essay is a chance to demonstrate your character. If you talk about an obstacle or adversity, don’t focus on the obstacle more than the learning. The college wants to know who this person is and how they will contribute. Resumes are not required by every college, but every student should have one. You can include websites and so on, and extend this into the activities list. Make your resume and activities list as metrics focused as possible by using numbers. Also, don’t assume anyone knows what you have accomplished. Mentioning that you were on Student Council, but with no details, is not helpful. Make it so a toddler knows what you have doing based on your descriptions.

Throughout Get Real and Get In, you encourage students to be their authentic selves when it comes to college admissions. How can you embody this mindset?

The best way to do this is to remember that you are multifaceted. You don’t have to present yourself the same way to every university. Know what’s at a college and what fits you, so you present the best version of yourself.

What are three ways you can stand out when applying to a particular college or university?

All colleges have different definitions of what demonstrates interest. Some college use data. For example, a university may look at email opens and social media likes to see how students are engaging with them. Therefore, one way to stand out is to open emails and engage on social media pages. Another way is to attend a pre-college program, if you can. This gives you the chance to build relationships with individuals affiliated with a university. Finally, try to use personal anecdotes in your essays that relate to the university you are applying to. Did you do research in a university’s lab? How did you feel when you walked on campus?

At Ivy Insight you and your team help students develop the “College Admissions X-Factor.” Can you elaborate upon this concept?

The “X Factor” consists of experience, expertise, and exponential impact. Essentially, you have an initial exposure to something, then you dive deep and get knowledge, and then use that experience and knowledge to give back to other people. For example, you join debate club, and determine that you love debate. Since you love debate, you conduct research with a professor at a university. Based on your experience, you have expertise and knowledge, so you write a paper, publish it, and share it with the other debate teams across the state. 

What is the most important piece of advice you have for students as they navigate the college admissions process?

If you are in the preparation phase, deep dive into what colleges are about. Learn about the college. Build connections with people on campus. Finally, develop that college admissions “X Factor” to learn who you are and what you do best. 

Dr. Aviva Legatt is the author of Get Real and Get In (St. Martin’s Press, 2021), which was written to transform the way that students and families view their college admissions journey; from a series of box-checking and hoop-jumping exercises to the belief that this journey can be both empowering and inspiring.

At her company, Ivy Insight, their consulting and coaching philosophy is grounded in this belief, which is based on her Ivy League admissions experience, higher education expertise, and extensive interviews with thought leaders. What Dr. Legatt found in this research is that the best way for students to gain results and success in the college application process (and in life) is by bettering themselves and their surrounding communities. At Ivy Insight, they call this process developing the “College Admissions X-Factor,” which helps students to develop expertise and to make an exponential impact in 1-2 specific areas, while targeting the best-fit colleges and majors.

Hailed by the New York Times as a trustworthy expert on college admissions, and recognized as an expert in corporate culture and diversity as a faculty member for Coursera and at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Legatt has appeared in numerous news interviews and print articles. A faculty member in Organizational Dynamics at the University of Pennsylvania and at The Wharton School, teaching in-person and online through Coursera, her courses on diversity and teamwork have reached thousands of learners and have been recognized by Poets & Quants as a “Best Business Course.”

Dr. Legatt has a column in Forbes in which she writes about issues affecting higher education today. She has interviewed notables like Olympian Simone Biles, New York Times bestselling author Adam Grant, and Pitch Perfect producer Deke Sharon.

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