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How To Get Into An Ivy League School? The Essential Guide

27 APR 2022

Getting into one of the Ivy League schools almost seems like a dream. Who really gets that coveted acceptance letter? If you’ve always dreamed of attending one of the Ivies, but you don’t have perfect test scores, excellent grades, dozens of extracurriculars, and a stand-out essay, you’re in luck!. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to Ivy League admissions. This blog will go over key requirements, what you need to submit, and six ways to make your Ivy League application stand out from the rest!

How hard is it to get into an Ivy League school?

The schools in the Ivy League are notoriously difficult to get into, even more so in the last couple of years. Harvard and Princeton continue to top the list with acceptance rates as low as 3.19%. The Class of 2026 acceptance numbers at all eight Ivies were some of the lowest in history. You can find out your chances of acceptance with our free college admissions calculator!

Will applying early boost your chances of acceptance?

Comparing the acceptance rate numbers between regular decisions and early decisions, the Ivies seem much more attainable. While no proof applying in the early decision round will tremendously increase your chances of getting into an Ivy, showing interest in specific universities early on will definitely help you.

Ivy League universities want to feel special, and one of the only ways to make them feel special is to apply early. If you are sure you want to go to an Ivy League, apply early but keep in mind that early decision applications are binding. If you get in, you have to go.

Ivy League Class of 2026 Acceptance Rate
IviesRegular Acceptance RateEarly Acceptance Rate
U Penn4.4%15.6%

What is the easiest Ivy League to get into?

While it's debatable which Ivy League is the easiest to get into, comparing acceptance rates of Ivy League Schools is the simplest way to figure this out. According to the table above, Cornell and Dartmouth are the easiest Ivy League schools to get into, with the highest acceptance rates for the class of 2026.


Key Components of Ivy League Applications

The critical components of your Ivy League application include:

  • Academic performance (grades)
  • Test scores
  • Personal essays
  • Extracurriculars
  • Recommendation letters

1. Academic Performance

Top universities like the Ivy League look at your academic performance while assessing your application

Grades Still Matter

Ivy League schools expect you to have outstanding grades, and it’s practically a prerequisite to applying. Unless you’ve experienced an extreme illness or a life-changing experience, Ivy League schools expect you to have a good GPA of at least 4.0.

Tip: Choose Coursework Wisely

When you take a holistic approach to your application, it’s still important to choose courses that challenge you academically and personally. But, keep in mind that if your strengths are math and science, you may not be an exceptional English scholar. It’s better to take AP, Honors, or IB courses that showcase and define your passions than struggle through one that lowers your GPA and doesn’t help your overall objective.

While grades are important, they don’t tell everything about you. Don’t focus so much on grades that you neglect the other pieces of the puzzle.

Average GPA for Ivy League Schools
IviesAverage GPA
Brown University4.08
Columbia University4.16
Cornell University4.04
Dartmouth College4.06
Harvard University4.1
University of Pennsylvania3.93
Princeton University3.9
Yale University4.19

Use our GPA Calculator to find out what your High School GPA is and see where you currently stand!

2. Test Scores

Most universities have adopted a test optional policy but top universities like the Ivy League schools will still look at your test scores as part of your application if you wish to submit

What SAT/ACT Scores do you need for Ivy League Schools?

SAT and ACT scores matter, but not as much as you think. Students who get accepted into Ivy League schools have very high test scores, but most are far from perfect. Only 300-500 students who take the SAT score 1600.

Tip: Submit your SAT/ACT scores

Many universities are also going test-optional, meaning you may choose not to submit test scores. While skipping the tests may seem enticing, remember this means the rest of your application needs to shine. Submitting your test scores is an excellent way to stand out in your application.

Average SAT/ACT Score for Ivy League Schools
UniversityAverage Composite SAT ScoreAverage Composite ACT Score
Brown University148533-35
Columbia University150533-35
Cornell University148032-35
Dartmouth College150032-35
Harvard University152033-35
University of Pennsylvania150033-35
Princeton University150533-35
Yale University151533-35

3. Personal Essays

Personal essays allow you to tell a compelling story and showcase your personality to Ivy League Schools

The personal essay is just that - personal. A well-written essay can capture the authenticity of an applicant better than any other part of the Ivy League college application. Students can communicate personal motivations, share more about their passions, showcase leadership qualities, and build trust through a personal essay.

A personal essay also helps admission officers determine if you’re a good fit for their campus community. They want to know that you not only care about your goals but are also capable of furthering the university’s mission.

Tip: Check out our free eBooks on acing your personal essay

4. Extracurriculars

Ivy league schools look at your extracurricular activities to learn more about you and your passions

Strong extracurriculars are critical if you want to get into the Ivy League. Ivy Leagues are not looking for applicants who have participated in dozens of extracurriculars, and they discourage dabbling in many activities. They prefer you dig deep into a subject, dedicate significant time to it, and use this experience to help the school propel you into a world-changing career.

Tip: Find an extracurricular activity that showcases your passion

Remember, it’s ok if your extracurriculars change later. Show them you’re capable of achieving big things now because what you accomplish now is a good indicator of what you will do in the future.

Check out the table below for some awesome extracurricular ideas that will stand out in your Ivy League application.

Extracurricular Ideas for Ivy League Schools
Extracurricular Examples
Science- Participate in original research at a local college - Compete in the Science Bowl or the Science Olympiad
Arts- Find a national level art competition and rank well - Win speech/debate competitions
Writing- Publish a book - Start a writing club and critique each other’s work
Tech- Create and sell a successful app - Start and successfully run a coding business for young people in your community
Athlete- Be the captain of your sports team - Compete at a national level
Business- Start a club or non-profit and raise awareness using social media or Kickstarter - Raise awareness for an important cause and help people in a quantifiable way
Hobbies- Start a YouTube channel and gain a large following - Mentor others in your hobby

For more extracurricular ideas, download one of our free eBooks to help you build your extracurricular profile!

Extracurriculars Around the World

5. Letters of Recommendation

Recommendation letters help build your holistic application by allowing influential people in your life to give their personal and professional opinions about your academic performance, character, and drive

Recommendation letters help build your holistic application by allowing influential people in your life to give their personal and professional opinions about your academic performance, character and drive. If you want to receive favorable and convincing recommendations, establish strong relationships with teachers, key staff, and leaders of your extracurricular activities.

Tip: Ask a school teacher that knows you well for a recommendation letter

The best way to ask for a recommendation letter is to request in person. Doing so allows your teacher to talk with you about any questions and prepare themselves to write a detailed letter that showcases your strengths in an academic setting.

Read more about how to ask for a recommendation letter or watch the video below for more tips!

5 Tips for Getting the Best Letters of Recommendation

What are Ivy League Schools Looking for in your Application?

While exceptional credentials don’t hurt candidates, it might come as a surprise that Ivy League universities are not looking for perfect students or even someone who looks perfect on paper. They’re also not looking for well-rounded students. The application pile is filled with students who participate in everything but don’t shine at anything.

Ivy League schools are looking for world changers

Ivy League schools are looking for people who stick out from the crowd, experts in their area of interest. They're searching for students who have transformed their big dreams into even bigger realities. Ivy League colleges want world-changers who are making positive marks on society with their resources.

We look for students with intellectual curiosity, who have pursued and achieved academic excellence. We also look for students with strong personal and extracurricular accomplishments.

- Princeton University Admissions

World-changers drive change. They know what they want and go for it. They also know success doesn't happen overnight. Ivy League universities like to see growth, even if it means failing before succeeding.

Ivy Leagues are also looking for world-changers who can positively contribute to their university community. They’re looking for humble leaders who will bring accomplishment and recognition to the school and those who are willing to share their knowledge to help fellow students accomplish their goals.

How do I become a world-changer?

Ready for the most exciting (and easy) part of the puzzle? Being a positive world-changer starts with discovering what you love, learning everything you can about it, and giving it all you’ve got.

It doesn't mean dabbling in a hobby. It means taking that hobby, talent, or expertise to the next level and using it to change the world. If you think you have to pursue a specific path because it’s what an Ivy League wants to see, you’ve missed the point altogether, and your chances of getting in are exponentially lower.

For example, maybe you were forced to take piano lessons as a child. You may have mastered the technique, but you lack the passion. When you pursue a path only because you believe it will get you in, you're doing it for the wrong reasons. There will be students who are just as talented as you and more passionate about this path, and their applications will shine because they are doing what they love.

It’s so much easier to pursue something you already love. Your passion will shine throughout your Ivy League application if you do what you love.

Hint: Do what you love first. The rest will follow.

How Crimson student Peyton got into Princeton!

Let passion drive your profession.

- Oprah Winfrey

How do I discover my passion?

What excites you? What drives you to keep wondering, exploring, and learning? Start there. Then, dive deep. When you discover your passion, spending time on it is not an obligation. You’re not doing it for someone else, to make your parents happy, for the grade, or because you think it will get you into the perfect college. You’re doing it for you and because YOU love it.

Ivy Leagues are not looking for students who participate in dozens of extracurriculars or receive a bunch of awards. They’re looking for students who display leadership, dedication, and genuine interest in their chosen extracurricular.

How Crimson student Dasha got into Columbia University!

What if my passion changes?

Don’t worry if you eventually decide to pursue other passions. Ivy Leagues understand you’re still figuring it all out. They want to see that you chose a path, spent time in the pursuit, encountered and overcame obstacles, and found success in the end. If you can show diligence and perseverance even when it gets tough, they know you’re capable of impacting the world, no matter what you choose.

Choose something you love and pursue it like crazy! Your passion and drive will be evident throughout your application.

It’s a beautiful thing when a career and a passion come together.

- Unknown

Our 6 Tips for Standing out in your Ivy League Application

Selection committees review thousands of student applications with high SAT scores, perfect GPAs, and countless AP courses. Even your deep passion for extracurriculars alone won’t get you into an Ivy League school. You have to stand out from the rest. Here are some tips on how to stand out in your Ivy application. 

1. Take a holistic approach

Show the admissions committee you’re not one-dimensional. Highlight your strengths throughout your application. 

2. Clearly define your goals

Use your grades, test scores, letters of recommendation, and essay to complement your present and future career goals.

3. Take challenging courses that inspire you

If you take difficult courses that inspire you and may lead to future goals, academic committees may favor a B in that course over an A in an uninspiring easy one.

4. Choose leadership positions

Choose one or two extracurricular activities and aim for leadership positions. Ivies love to see you strive toward leadership roles and how you challenge yourself in those roles.

5. Don’t be afraid of your challenges

It’s ok to make mistakes. Your application should show you’re a relatable person who’s driven, has experienced and overcame challenges, and is ready to make a positive imprint on the world.

6. Come alive on paper

It’s easy to think the admissions committee is looking for a specific type of applicant. If you fall into the trap that you have to be someone you’re not, you’ll miss the opportunity to showcase who you are and what makes you unique. Tell your story and why the school would be crazy not to admit you.

Instead of only looking at test scores and grades, the highly selective American universities deploy a holistic admissions process. Each admissions committee is trying to get as full a portrait as possible of the applicant including his activities outside the classroom.

- Jacques Steinberg, former senior editor at The New York Times and author of “The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College.

Caution: Don’t try and fit into their mold

While the Ivy Leagues all share similar entrance objectives, their cultures and learning styles are not the same. Many applicants fail to get into certain Ivy League schools because they try to fit the university’s mold instead of finding one that fits their values and goals.

  • Do your research. Which college excites you?
  • Does it offer programs and classes that will challenge you and help you grow?
  • What’s the campus like?
  • Do you prefer a college in a large city or a suburb?

Communicate your answers throughout your application, and your passion for your dream school (or schools) will shine.

How Crimson Pathfinder can help you get into Ivy League Schools

Crimson recently released Pathfinder - a comprehensive in-app tool that not only helps you stay on track but helps you quantify the value of activities you do in preparation to apply to Ivy League schools.

Contained within the Crimson app, Pathfinder is a master list of everything you can do during high school to increase your chances of admission to top US universities. Pathfinder includes over 280 goals, each with an assigned point value based on how much admissions officers will value that achievement. 

Pathfinder ensures you stay on track between now and when you apply to college. It accurately predicts your admission results (based on your achievements) with unbelievable accuracy. Combined with guidance from your personalized strategist, you’ll become a master of your college applications. 

Crimson’s U.S. Pathfinder — Student Introduction

Pathfinder is a groundbreaking tool designed exclusively for Crimson Education’s students. Check out the Crimson Pathfinder introduction video to learn more about this innovative and exciting new tool.

Getting into Ivy League schools can be an incredibly difficult process. Our college counselors are here to help you! Book in a free consultation to learn more about our US College Application Support program, Pathfinder, or any other questions you may have!

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