7 Tips to Getting Into Your Dream University That Are Often Left Unsaid.

Adam Rybko
6 min readAug 17, 2019


These are tips that helped me a great deal when applying to LSE. I found some of these out the hard way. Fortunately, you don’t have to.

Photo from Unsplash by Emma Mathews

With an acceptance rate of 8.9% and a global top 2 ranking for social sciences, the application process for LSE was extremely competitive [1]. These are the things I wish someone would have told me when I was applying. Use them wisely.

1) Be careful who you ask for a recommendation letter.

It is not uncommon for students to cruise through their last years of high school or undergraduate without creating a meaningful connection with a teacher.

The short-term solution will then often be to ask the first readily available professor or teacher to provide you with a last-minute reference.

This, in turn, will result in a shallow, lackluster recommendation that is more likely to hurt than help your application. Especially since you’re unlikely to read the letter yourself, this course of action is extremely risky.

As Paul Krugman would have liked to say:

Such an attitude is likely to be spectacularly useful at best and positively harmful at worse.

There are plenty of opportunities to spend time with professors. If your university offers teaching or research assistant positions, this is a golden opportunity for some quality time.

However, just going to office hours, being engaged with the material, and asking questions is a great start.

Tip 1: Make a meaningful connection with a professor.

2) Extracurriculars are unlikely to compensate for poor grades.

We all know that someone who got into an amazing university despite mediocre grades and poor test results. It happens, these cases exist.

However, this is very unlikely and you should not be counting on this. The vast majority of students accepted at top universities (hell, even those who are rejected) have stellar grades and test scores.

You don’t have to be a genius to get high grades, you have to be willing to put in the work. Here are some tips to start you off.

  • Studying is a habit. Make sure you study every day and schedule your studying time.
  • Find efficient ways to study. Copying your textbooks is very unlikely to help. If you study well through writing, paraphrasing the most important information is a better alternative.
  • Make all the past exam papers you can find. It’s often the best preparation for your actual exam. Through this method, I once received a perfect score on a test without actually buying the book!
  • Studying in a group can be very helpful, but make sure that you and your partners’ objectives are aligned.

Tip 2: Study effectively, and be realistic in your expectations.

3) Be genuine.

Students often think that every admissions officer loves volunteer workers. While volunteering is indeed often perceived admirable, it is currently teeming with students who claim to have volunteered at a non-existent homeless shelter in South-Africa.

Do yourself a favor, don’t be that person. Admission officers screen students for a living. If you lie, they will likely find out.

When you decide to volunteer, you should do it because you want to. This way, it can be a genuine and rewarding experience that you can, sincerely, write about in your essays.

Of course, not everyone will love doing 1000 hours of volunteer work. Luckily, there are plenty of other things you can do to make your CV stand out. Just make sure it is something you like doing.

Tip 3: Be genuine about what you do. Whether it be teaching, helping with research, or growing a student society.

4) Take a long time to write your essay and personal statement.

Your essay and your personal statement are both vital components of your application.

It is important to spend enough time writing and rewriting them. Don’t try to do this in a few hours or a few days, but give it a few weeks. When I was writing my own personal statement, I finished my first draft within a few hours. Believe it or not, I thought it was looking great.

Next, I wrote six additional drafts over the next weeks before deciding on my final version. With every new draft, I asked multiple people to read it for me while I looked online for new ways to polish it. By the time I had produced the final version, my first draft looked horrendous in comparison.

Don’t focus exclusively on why you want to enter a certain program. Everyone is doing that! Remember to emphasize what you aim to do with your new degree in the future, and how you can add value to the community in other ways. In a nutshell, make sure that you stand out.

Tip 4: Your personal statement is a critical component of your application. Don’t take it lightly.

5) If you decide to work, make sure it adds value.

It is very common for students to work next to their studies. Whether you have to work to pay your rent or just want to earn some extra pocket money, try to find a job that contributes to your CV and personal brand.

While working at a farm or as a cashier in a fast-food restaurant are valuable experiences that can teach you self-discipline in their own way (I should know!), it is unlikely to give your application a real boost.

Not only does it tell little about your academic or technical prowess, but it will also make it hard to distinguish yourself from the millions of others doing the same.

Try to find a job at your university to help a professor with his or her research, or attempt to establish a tutoring company. These kinds of jobs are likely to earn you more money, while simultaneously strengthing your CV.

Tip 5: Try to find a job that adds academic or professional value to your application.

6) Stellar test scores and a high GPA only help until a certain degree.

Studying is a concept that displays diminishing marginal returns, no matter how clever you might be.

This means that, for every additional minute you spend studying, you will raise your final grade for that particular subject by less and less. Increasing your GPA from a 2.5 to a 3.0 is likely to be much easier than raising it from a 3.5 to a 4.0. Academics are important, but only up until a certain degree.

Imagine you are an admissions officer at a top-tier university. You have to choose between Chip and Dale.

Chip is an amazing student who currently holds a 4.0 GPA and a 1600 SAT score. Unfortunately, Chip does not have any other experiences to mention in his application as he spends all his time studying in the library.

Dale, on the other hand, holds a 3.6 GPA and a 1500 SAT. While these are incredible results, they pale in comparison to Chip’s scores. However, because Dale spends less time in the library than Chip, he still has time to be on the swim team and tutor his peers in mathematics. In addition, he likes to volunteer at the community center during his days off. Which one of this iconic pair would you choose?

Make sure you have a solid GPA and strong test scores. But remember that academics are often a prerequisite rather than a perk.

When you pass a certain bar for academics, other things start to matter more. Perhaps that extra hour in the library is better spent elsewhere. No one likes a boring person, stand out a little!

Tip 6: Study hard, but make sure to also free up time for other experiences.

7) Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

After reading online that MIT has the best engineering program or that LSE has the best economics professors, you don’t want to go anywhere else anymore.

While everyone has a favorite university they would like to get into, you should never put all your chips on red. The admissions process is often a rather opaque process.

Perhaps the applicants you are competing with a stronger this year. Or perhaps the admissions officer did not like your essay as much as you thought he or she might.

Even if you are the perfect candidate for this particular university, no one can guarantee that you will be accepted.

Luckily, there are plenty of amazing universities and colleges. Do your research and you will most certainly find multiple institutions that are a good fit for you.

Tip 7: Have multiple options available. No one can guarantee you admission to a certain university.

Keep these tips in mind during your next application process, and you will already have a much better shot than the average candidate.

Always remember to work smart (not hard!), be genuine, and do what you love.




Adam Rybko

MSc Development Economics @ LSE. I’m a high-achieving graduate student who writes about productivity, university admissions, and financially smart collecting.