Chess in College: How to Turn Your Mastery of Chess Into an Ivy League Acceptance

By Rubin Caco, Digital Content Marketing Specialist at InGenius Prep








To get accepted into an Ivy League school is a competitive and highly selective process. Many passionate chess players aspire to study at their dream school, but in the modern college admissions landscape, hundreds of thousands of applicants across the US and the world will all be vying for limited spots in their class years. Each college can only accept so many students, and the competition at Ivy League schools can be especially daunting. Many of these schools will have minimum qualifications students must surpass before they are seriously considered for acceptance, and even then, applicants will still be measured against their peers by college admissions officers.

However, while the process may be daunting, it can be manageable. With a careful plan , students can turn their mastery of chess into a solid advantage to dramatically increase their chances of acceptance into an Ivy League school.

The College Admissions Process Decoded

Many high school students are familiar with the process of applying for college, but what happens after the applications are sent out? How are they processed, and who is processing them?

By and large, much of the review process is done by college admissions officers — representatives of the university, whose job it is to review incoming applications. Many of these admissions officers receive thousands of applications annually, so upon initial review, they decide within approximately 12 minutes whether to reject or accept a student. Admissions officers are often divided by region, so it is likely that students from the same city, state, or county will all be seen by a handful of admissions officers from that university.

There are still strategic actions aspiring chess players can take to optimize their college applications, leverage their skills and passion for the game, and increase their overall chances of acceptance into an Ivy League school. This begins with knowing the significant pieces of one’s college application.

Chess Players’ Advantage with Test Scores

One of the most common ways that colleges will gauge a student’s chances at success in their institution is through a student’s standardized test scores. While having perfect marks is not a requirement for acceptance, many colleges will have a minimum threshold students must surpass to be considered for approval.

As an intellectual sport, chess players can have an advantage in this area, as many of the qualities instilled by chess translate well into many other academic subjects, and studying for tests is not unlike learning the different chess formations and openings. Nick Strohl, a Former Admissions Officer at Yale, who is now with InGenius Prep, said, “A student who loves chess is probably a student who enjoys logic games and puzzles. These skills are transferable to many stem fields, including math and engineering, as well as business and even to places like philosophy.

Like chess, proficiency in a subject is not always about rigid memorization of every single pattern and outcome but about thinking logically and finding intelligent ways to deal with emergent events. This skill can also be applied to other subjects by learning how to study smartly for tests and getting help from teachers and advisors.

Making an “Application Persona” for Chess Players

In addition to high school grades and standardized test scores, many of the top Ivy League schools will go beyond the numbers and assess everything about a student: their character, personality, goals, and ambitions. It’s a holistic review, and part of it is the “application persona.” It’s a snapshot of the student’s character that admissions officers can recall at a glance.

Application Personas are important for the same reason that openings in chess are so important. Having a good application persona will set a student up for success, take space in an admissions officer’s mind, and increase their chances of receiving an acceptance letter.

The best application personas are unique and compelling, and they will stick in an admissions officer’s mind long after they’ve finished reading the student’s application. Often, they can be expressed in a single sentence that tells all about a student in just a few words.

A student passionate about chess can be a prime candidate for a compelling application persona due to the myriad of positive traits that chess players develop naturally over mastering the game. Qualities such as strategic thinking, decisiveness, risk assessment, and creativity that chess players gain from learning the game are also the characteristics that admissions officers look for in their applicants. By leveraging these traits and positive connotations that come from being a skilled chess player, students can create a persona in their applications that is not only easy for admissions officers to recall but will be compelling enough to make those admissions officers argue for those students during committee.

Here’s are some examples of Application Personas for students with different majors and how they relate to their passion for chess:

  • For computer science majors: “A creative innovator at the intersection of chess mastery and computer science, leveraging his deep understanding of strategy and problem-solving skills from chess to excel in app development and tackle real-world challenges.”
  • For economics majors: “A dynamic individual who blends the strategic thinking cultivated through competitive chess with a deep intellectual curiosity for economic theories and historical narratives, showcasing a multifaceted approach to problem-solving and learning.”
  • For finance majors: “A strategic thinker with a passion for finance, leveraging his analytical skills and intuitive mindset developed through chess to excel in understanding and navigating complex financial systems.”

Chess Extracurriculars

Another critical aspect of a student’s application that admissions officers will be very interested in is their involvement in clubs, competitions, and extracurricular activities. Extracurricular activities are one of the main ways students gain experience and cultivate their Application Personas. In addition to traits that display solid character, admissions officers also value industrious, proactive applicants who exhibit leadership qualities. Many of these traits can be expressed in the actions a student takes and the activities they engage in.

Chess players will also have an advantage in this area compared to other sports and activities. Not only is chess a very popular activity that is growing in player count year over year, but it is also highly accessible to a wide range of players, no matter their age, background, or location.

Students passionate about chess can find plenty of extracurricular events and groups to get involved in. And if no such activities are available, that is also something that can be taken advantage of; students can coordinate their own chess events and activities independently. A student creating and running their own chess club at their school, if none are present, is an excellent opportunity to show leadership and initiative that will stand out in the eyes of college admission officers. Leadership, especially, is one of the more overlooked yet essential traits for college applicants. To learn more, read Leadership Experience: The Missing Piece in College Applications.

Strategies to Get Accepted Into Your Dream College 

With so many advantages at chess players’ disposal, strategizing and building one’s candidacy throughout their time in high school will be paramount in making the most of their skills, experiences, and motivations in the eyes of college admissions officers. Just like in chess, thinking ahead is vital to reaching your goal. To get accepted into the top schools, students must plan their applications carefully and build their candidacy over time for the best chance at success.

Leveraging the Positive Traits of Chess Players

For application personas, grades and test scores, extracurriculars, personal essays, and nearly every aspect of the college application process, skilled chess players would benefit from putting the positive traits from their time with chess at the forefront of their application. Focus on the skills and experiences that have shaped and been shaped by your experience with chess.

Roscoe Nicholson, another Former Admissions Officer from the University of Chicago, said, “Chess involvement as an extracurricular or Application Persona component is generally viewed positively due to the strategic thinking, logical reasoning, and intellectual challenges that are part of chess. This can be a great way to highlight the student as a flexible thinker as opposed to someone whose academic success is more a result of skills and memorization and regurgitation of facts in their school and work setting.

Characteristics such as forward-thinking, strategy, perseverance, resolve in the face of adversary, leadership qualities, and intellectual and creative thinking should all be pushed to the forefront of one’s application. Leaning into those traits and using them as leverage can go a long way in giving chess players an advantage in their college applications.

Creating a Compelling Chess Signature Project

Student projects are another way of determining a student’s eligibility for an Ivy League school. Admissions officers take great interest in student projects as they are yet another way students will express their experience and their capabilities. Passionate chess players can create a capstone or signature project based on chess and use it to showcase their exemplary qualities in leadership, perseverance, and community initiative.

Ryan Creps, a Former Admission Officer at Brown, now with InGenius Prep, said, “Chess serves as a compelling extracurricular activity [because it] showcases qualities like strategic thinking and discipline, which admissions officers value for a variety of different academic majors. We have found that chess provides students with excellent material for application essays, offering insights into problem-solving approaches and personal growth. Participation in chess demonstrates intellectual engagement and offers a unique way to develop leadership skills and contribute to a community. For example, one of our students, an international chess master, created “the chess effect,” which strives to make the game of chess and the knowledge of chess strategy accessible to all. Through his participation in our Leadership and Innovation Lab, the student took his idea and turned it into a multi-state organization with 20+ chess coaches and hundreds of members.

In addition to having a personal accomplishment and compelling experience to highlight in their resumes, chess players can also leverage their student projects to solidify their application persona and further stand out to admissions officers as prime candidates for college admissions.

How to Begin Setting Yourself Up for Success

For students who want to learn more about the college application process and get guidance from Former Admissions Officers and industry experts, InGenius Prep is equipped to help students stand out amongst the competition and earn acceptances into the top US colleges. Its Candidacy Building and Application Counseling programs are designed by college admissions experts to give students the best chances of acceptance into their dream schools. Call today to schedule a free consultation with one of InGenius Prep’s college admissions advisors.

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