Vivek Bhandari, Founder and CEO, Scholarly

Vivek Bhandari is the Founder and CEO of edtech company Scholarly. An IIT Delhi and IIM Calcutta alumnus, Vivek is passionate about higher education. A former banker and mortgage expert, he mentors students and professionals for admissions to the Ivy Leagues and top universities globally. Over a two-decade career, Vivek has led large global organisations providing banking products, IT-enabled services, technology services, loan servicing, property management, and other real estate services. He has extensive experience of working in India, the US, and Europe, and a strong understanding of these markets. Based in Luxembourg, Vivek regularly travels to North America and India for work.


Ivy Leagues refers to a group of eight renowned universities located in the northeastern USA. While the term Ivy League originated from their membership of a common athletic conference, it is commonly used beyond the sports context to refer to these universities with connotations of academic excellence, selectivity in admissions, and elitism. These are Yale University, Brown University, Princeton University, Cornell University, Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. 

Apart from the Ivy Leagues, the USA has other equally prestigious universities like MIT, Stanford University, University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, University of California Berkeley, and University of California Los Angeles etc. These highly reputed universities are equally famous for churning out successful entrepreneurs, world class athletes, future Presidents, Nobel prize winners and other high-achieving alumni. 

These universities not only impart excellent education but also provide a head start in highly competitive fields like Law, Finance and Business. In this article, we will answer some common queries that students and parents have about these universities and how to prepare for admissions to these highly selective institutions.

What are the benefits of studying at the Ivy Leagues or other top Universities?

The benefits of studying at these universities are- 

  • The access to their world class infrastructure, exceptional curriculum, high tech laboratories, excellent faculty, libraries, and facilities.
  • Access to their impressive network. This network includes former alumni, affiliated businesses and organizations, and sponsors and donors. Many companies dedicate significant resources to attract and hire graduates from these companies.
  • Excellent brand value that is recognized and respected across the world. 

When should I apply to these universities?

Students should apply to USA universities at the beginning of their grade 12. They can usually apply to multiple universities through the Common App or the Coalition App. Most of the top universities have early decisions and early actions deadlines for the end of October. The regular decision deadlines are usually for the end of December. It takes years of preparation to create a compelling admission application for Ivy Leagues and other top universities. 

How important is academic performance for admissions?

Academic performance plays a crucial part in the admissions process. To get admitted to Ivy Leagues or other top universities, students need to have demonstrated strong academic performance in grades IX to XII. Talented students seeking admission to these top universities usually pursue advanced placement (AP) courses in their respective subjects. Additionally, they should have demonstrated passion for their favorite subject in and out of the classroom. Several students do this by pursuing research papers, courses and projects related to their favorite subject.

Admissions to these universities are highly competitive with acceptance rates of 2% – 4%. These universities want to enroll students that will go on to change the world and make a positive impact on society. As such, students need to put their best foot forward in their admission applications. 

Do I need to appear for the SAT?

         Yes, students who wish to apply to undergraduate courses at top universities in the USA should appear for the SAT. This is a test of English and Math with maximum score of 1600.  Although, there is no single decision criteria for admissions, a higher SAT score does help the admission officers get a better picture of the students’ capabilities. Additionally, recently the SAT has moved away from a paper-based format to a digital format. Students should appear for mock SAT tests on the College Board website and work diligently over three to six months to achieve the best possible score. 

How important are extracurriculars and leadership activities?

Extracurriculars and leadership activities are very important in the admissions process for the Ivy Leagues and other top universities. Maintaining strong grades while enthusiastically participating in extracurricular/co-curricular activities demonstrates the students’ multitasking capability and efficient time management. It shows that the student can plan a course of action, prioritize tasks, and execute them in a timely manner. By participating in sports, seminars, workshops, debates, and social work, students develop great soft skills, which help the admission committee in evaluating their potential. Moreover, students with outstanding extracurricular activities also have a greater chance of receiving scholarships. 

Some students choose to share their experiences and achievements through a visually appealing website. This allows them to showcase their extracurricular activities and achievements through vibrant pictures and lively videos. 

What are personal essays and why are they important?

Personal essays are a crucial part of the admissions process for the Ivy Leagues and the top US universities. This is the opportunity for the student to speak directly to the admission officers and provide a glimpse into their experiences, thought process and motivations. Writing good personal essays requires strong life experiences, good ideas, and a clear thought process. In our experience, students learn a lot about themselves in writing their essays. Students should spend several months in writing and honing their essays and not do these at the last moment. 

How should I prepare?

Admissions to the Ivy Leagues and top universities are holistic and require students to work on their entire profile. Students should pay attention to all of the points mentioned above to create a compelling application. A good time to start the preparation is in grade IX or at the beginning of grade X. This provides sufficient time to plan out various activities that the student will be participating in over the next few years. Students should speak with their counsellors to develop a list of target universities and work accordingly. 

Studying at an elite university is a life changing experience. In addition to getting an excellent education, students get access to amazing mentors and build long-term relationships with talented and driven peers. With timely preparation, planning and effort, students can make this dream come true. 

Content Disclaimer

Related Articles