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MAR 17, 2020 • 11 min read
Well, it depends…
Do you dream of going to Harvard? Only 5.2% of people who do get in.
Yale? 6.9% of students who apply make it.
Princeton 6.1%... the list goes on and believe me, it doesn’t get much more optimistic.
I bet you’re a bit worried now.
But don’t fret just yet. Let’s put these numbers into perspective
Not every student that applies to Harvard has a 5.2% chance of getting in.
It’s important to remember that some people applying have NO chance of getting through the Ivy League admissions process and they know it. They simply apply for the sake of it.
These students boost the number of applications a college receives, make acceptance rates shrink and to top it all off, they add a lot of anxiety to capable candidates around the world.
Therefore, if you have a strong application, you have more than a 5.2% chance of getting into Harvard.
This article will walk you through improving your chances of getting into an Ivy League school. Take each section into account but remember that you’ll need all of these items to really have a great chance.
Sidenote: In order for you to figure out how good your chances are, you’ll need to be honest with yourself as you read through this article. Self-awareness in crucial in the application process and would your talents be better suited to another equally good school somewhere else in the US or UK.
Let’s be honest, everyone and their parents freak about about test scores.
Because apparently without perfect SAT/ACT scores you can’t get into an Ivy.
Or so you thought.
Test scores are just one of a multitude of factors that the Ivy Leagues take into account when assessing your application.
In fact, Ivy League schools are emphasising all areas of your application, rather than just perfect test scores.
Don’t get too excited though. We are not here to tell you can get into Harvard with a 20 on your ACT. However, you definitely don’t need a 36 (although, it doesn’t hurt).
Want proof? Let’s do some quick math.
This past year the Ivys sent out 23,225 acceptance letters combined, let’s assume some students got accepted to more than one ivy.
And we are already way past the number of Ivy acceptances! Over 8,000 students who scored in the top 1% did not get into an Ivy at all.
Want to know what your chances of getting in are without a top 1% score?
Yale admitted 1,972 students this year.
Their ACT range was 32-35
This means that 25% of the class got less than a 32 on their ACT.
You don’t need to score in the top 1%.
However, the lower your test scores drop, the more you jeopardise your chances of getting in.
On the other hand, many Ivys consider the SAT II a much better indicator of future academic success, even if your ACT/SAT scores are relatively low.
Study up on a few of your best subjects and nail the SAT II. Your applications will thank you and your chances of getting in will increase dramatically.
I have some good news for you.
You do not need to have straight As and take 20 AP classes in order to get into an Ivy.
Although, having straight As and taking a ton of AP classes won’t hurt your chances, like test scores, they won’t guarantee you admission either.
While it might be comforting to approach your application in the most objective way possible, the truth is you cannot set yourself apart based on your grades, course load and test scores only simply because thousands of hard-working students all over the world have also achieved the same exemplary numbers.
If you have straight As, that’s great and it will help you but you still need to make yourself stand out.
The best way to differentiate yourself and increase your chances of getting into an Ivy is through your activities outside of school.
A long time ago someone started a rumor that colleges wanted “well-rounded” students. This rumor started a frenzy that resulted in students trying to dip their toes in everything.
We've covered this off extensively in our free eBook: How To Excel In Your Application To US Colleges
Students who wanted to get into the top universities thought they had to be the captain of the football team, the newspaper editor, a background singer in the school play, volunteer at the local hospital and create an app that cured cancer.
They were wrong.
Colleges do not want students who were good at everything and great at nothing.
They want students who they feel will impact the community and in the long run, the world.
The best way for Ivys to assess your potential to make an impact is by taking a look at your past accomplishments.
Ivys want students who are passionate, focused and ethical in their extracurriculars.
Or they want a special kind of talent - someone who does something better than everybody else.
Because of this, one of the best things you can do for your application is to delve deep into your passions.
If you’re passionate about musical theatre, be in the theatre production for all four year. Write and produce your own musical. Set up fundraisers to allow your show to tour in Europe over the summer. Create a musical writing competition and get Lin-Manuel Miranda to judge. Throw yourself into your passions and you will be rewarded.
Consistency is key. The longer you sustain a passion, the more deeply you ingrain yourself in your goals, the better your chances of getting into an Ivy will be.
On top of all of this, you also need to figure out your why.
It’s great to be passionate about something but knowing why you’re passionate about something and why you feel it makes you special is just as important.
If the answer to your why is so I can get into my dream school, admissions directors will know.
Ivys don’t want your ultimate goal to be getting into college, they want you to have the capacity for developing a vision and pursuing it.
You don’t need to cure cancer to get into an Ivy (although, Harvard would have a hard time rejecting you if you did), you just need to find something you love and work every day to be extraordinary at it.
It sounds cheesy but love coupled with hard work, discipline and focus will take you far. I promise.
Now that we’ve covered what goes on your application, we must talk about the actual application itself.
Here is where a lot of students make big mistakes that prevent them from getting accepted.
Surprisingly, a lot of students brush off this section. They pick a few teachers that they think will write them nice letters and they take a deep breath hoping that he or she will not mention the time they got caught ditching in freshman year.
Don’t be that student.
The best ways to secure a glowing letter of recommendations is by creating real connections with a few of your favorite teachers, your counselors and perhaps even your principal.
I’m not talking about sucking up to them last minute in hopes of getting a nice letter.
Take the time to get to know your teachers.
If you had them as a freshman, keep them updated on your progress and achievements. Ask them to help you with a competition you’re applying for or to help you find research opportunities.
When senior year rolls around, you won’t be struggling to figure out who should write your letters and the teachers you ask won’t be trying to come up with nice things to say about you.
It’s one thing to create the next biggest social media app, it’s another to know how to talk about it.
The sooner you start brainstorming and writing your college essays, the better. All of the things we’ve talked about above won’t increase your chances of getting into an Ivy if your essay is terrible. You simply won’t get in.
You don’t need to have a blockbuster life to write a great essay but there are a few things you can do to make your essay stand out.
Proofread your entire application, not just your essay. Have people read over all of your application to ensure you didn’t misspell “weather.” A few mistakes will not hurt you, so don’t worry if a few weeks after you send in your application you realize that you forgot to place one of your commas in your quotes. However, try not to make any big mistakes.
Remember, your application is the only thing admissions officers actually see (sorry, you can’t send in your headshot). They base your acceptance off of whether or not they enjoy your application so the only thing that can truly get you into an Ivy league is your application. Take the time to make a great.
Alright, we’ve come this far and I hope by now you trust me enough to let me tell you a secret.
You have a much greater chance of getting into an Ivy if you apply early.
You heard me right. Applying early can double or sometimes even triple your chances of getting into an Ivy.
Want to know why?
Ivy Leagues know they are competing with other universities for students. Not many people apply to only one Ivy…
However, the Ivys want to retain the highest yield possible. They are less likely to admit a student who they think may end up accepting an offer from another college.
Like someone who is about to propose, they don’t want to get rejected.
If you are certain you want to go to an Ivy League, apply early. They are more 3x more likely to be interested in you if you show them you’re interested in them.
Most Ivys are need-blind so your money doesn’t really matter to them, unless your dad bought the new state-of-the-art science center. If you have that kind of money, congrats your chances of getting into an Ivy just increased drastically.
If you’re a world-class athlete who was actively recruited by an Ivy, guess what your chances of getting into an Ivy also just increased dramatically but your application is still important!
Remember, nothing in life is free.
No matter how incredible your application is, there are just some things you can’t control.
Every year, Ivy League admissions get more and more competitive and the truth is nothing will truly guarantee you a spot at your dream university.
Sometimes you may have it all and still not get in because of arbitrary subjective factors, like what the Admissions Officers want from a class.
Ivy admissions, like most things in life, are somewhat left up to fate. There are many steps you can take to ensure that you give yourself the best chance of getting in but at the end of the day you may still not get in, and guess what, it’s going to be okay.
Keep your head up high and don’t let the low acceptance rates fool you. You know better.
Now, go rock your life so you can rock your application!