Hoping to land a spot at one of the top schools in the US? Read on to learn everything you need to know to get into the Ivy League!
Ivy League schools are considered to be some of the most prestigious schools in the country. When it comes time to start applying to universities, many prospective applicants dream of enrolling at an Ivy League school to complete their undergraduate degrees.
These schools have highly selective admissions processes, reflected by the fact that Ivy League schools on average accept just 7% of applicants. Although that number can seem discouraging, this guide will teach you all you need to know about how to get into Ivy League schools.
You will find valuable information about each school, what steps you can take to boost your chances of acceptance, and how to write application essays to impress and captivate the admissions committee. If your dream is to make it into the Ivy League, this guide can help you rightfully claim your seat at any of these world-renowned institutions.
The commencement of the Ivy League surprisingly had nothing to do with academic excellence. The Ivy League is a collegiate athletic conference established in 1954 by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1.
Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University are the eight Northeast schools that make up the Ivy League.
Today, the Ivy League has more than 8,000 student-athletes compete each year in the “most diverse intercollegiate conference in the country.” Although the Ivy League of the past referred to excellence in collegiate sports, today it connotes an exclusive, high-caliber educational institution dedicated to academic excellence.
This list of Ivy League schools provides a brief overview of each school and its respective admissions requirements. Each school’s section details program options, tuition, school-specific requirements, GPA, and test scores. This list is ordered by each school's national university ranking according to U.S. News.
According to U.S. News, Princeton University ranks #1 among the top national universities. Founded in 1746, Princeton is the fourth-oldest college in the United States, offering high-quality instruction to students for over 270 years.
Unlike some universities that require you to pick a department or concentration in your application, Princeton believes that “students apply to Princeton University, not to individual departments, programs or schools.” Once you enroll, you can choose to pursue either the Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) or Bachelor of Science in Engineering (B.S.E).
Within both of these degree programs, you can choose from 27 concentrations and over 50 interdepartmental certificates. In either program, students in their junior or senior year conduct independent research in the senior thesis, in which students work one-on-one with a professor.
Because Princeton’s student to faculty ratio is 5:1, you can benefit from a smaller class setting with more discussion, engagement, and exploration of course material.
Princeton is one of the most competitive schools among the Ivies, with an undergraduate acceptance rate historically trending on the lower end at 7%. Princeton’s annual tuition rate, including fees, is approximately $57,410.
In addition to the standard admissions requirements, Princeton requires that you submit a graded written paper as part of your application.
This is a requirement that you won’t see at other Ivy League schools, but Princeton asks for it to “help the admission office assess the student’s written expression in an academic setting. This will further the holistic understanding of the student’s application and help admission officers evaluate the student’s potential contributions to and ability to thrive in the University’s rigorous academic environment.”
The paper must be completed as part of your coursework, and the admissions committee would prefer that it was written for an English, social studies, or history course sometime within your last three years of high school. The school is interested in evaluating your expository writing, not creative writing.
You also need to complete the Princeton Supplement, which requires you to write one general application essay, three responses that showcase your personality, work, and extracurricular achievements, and three short questions that illuminate your individuality.
Although Princeton doesn’t explicitly state what their cut-offs are for GPA or test scores, it’s valuable to look at data reflecting students’ GPA and test scores to see how your scores compare to admitted students:
Harvard University is ranked #2 among the top national universities and was established in 1636, making it the oldest university in the country. Harvard’s name recognition adds to its prestige and reputation for overall student excellence.
The undergraduate Harvard College’s mission is to:
“educate future leaders…woven throughout the Harvard College experience, inspiring every member of our community to strive toward a more just, fair, and promising world.” The school’s academic focus is to provide students with a comprehensive liberal arts and sciences education.
Harvard College offers over 3,700 courses in 50 undergraduate concentrations, meaning that you will have a great degree of choice over what courses you take in your time at the college. Concentrations are grouped into categories like Arts & Humanities, Engineering and Applied Sciences, Sciences, Social Sciences, and more.
Harvard College has a student-to-faculty ratio of 6:1. Although some of the introductory courses at Harvard College have much larger enrollment, the median class size is 12. Coupled with the high volume of faculty, Harvard College allows you to forge relationships with your professors beyond surface-level for a genuinely comprehensive education.
Besides standard admissions requirements, Harvard College requires you to submit a personal essay and answers to the Harvard Questions. There are several prompts that the school lists for you to choose from, or you can select your own topic.
The Harvard Questions ask you about things like your preferred start term, admission plan, and residence for your first year. This section also asks whether or not you intend to pursue need-based financial aid and if you plan to submit additional materials with your application.
Below are the reported numbers for student GPA and test scores who have been admitted to Harvard College:
Columbia University, located in New York City, claims the #4 spot among the top national universities. This prestigious school has offered world-class education to its students for over 260 years.
Columbia has three undergraduate schools: Columbia College, Columbia Engineering, and Columbia School of General Studies. Columbia College and Engineering only serve full-time students, while the School of General Studies is best-suited for those who have taken a gap year or want to complete their undergraduate degree on a part-time basis.
Columbia has a reputation as being one of the world’s most important centers for research, and it “seeks to attract a diverse and international faculty and student body, to support research and teaching on global issues, and to create academic relationships with many countries and regions.”
Due to the university’s appetite and reputation for research, Columbia offers numerous opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in research programs, student publications, and more.
As part of your Columbia undergraduate application, you will need to answer Columbia-specific questions. These questions allow the admissions committee “to better understand your intellectual curiosity, habits of mind, love of learning and sense of self.”
The first round of questions asks you to list required readings you most enjoyed in high school and books, essays, poetry, short stories, or plays that you read outside of required course materials that you liked best. Columbia also asks you to list “resources and outlets” that you enjoy, from museums to social media and beyond.
Columbia also asks you to complete short answer responses revolving around why you want to go to Columbia, how you’ll positively impact the school’s culture, and what attracts you to your specific area of study.
While there is no confirmed data from Columbia, there are numerous estimates about admitted students’ average high school GPA on various websites. It is safe to assume you need a pretty high GPA, considering 95% of admitted students in a recent admissions cycle were in the top 10% of their graduating class. Below is more information about test scores:
Yale University is tied with MIT for the #4 spot among the top universities in the country. Undergraduate students attend Yale College, which is described as “an intimate learning environment offering instruction in the liberal arts and sciences.”
Yale’s mission is to be:
“committed to improving the world today and for future generations through outstanding research and scholarship, education, preservation, and practice. Yale educates aspiring leaders worldwide who serve all sectors of society.” Communication and the free exchange of thoughts and ideas amid the Yale community is how the school aspires to recognize this vision.
Yale College offers the option to choose between a B.A. or a B.S. and offers over 80 different majors. Students must also complete “distributional requirements," which are required courses meant to give all students the foundational tools they need to be successful, well-rounded graduates.
Yale emphasizes the need for students to experience the world in the wake of rapidly increasing globalization. If you’re looking for opportunities abroad, Yale College may be the school for you. Yale encourages students to spend a summer, term, or year studying abroad.
In Yale’s recent admissions cycle, 6.6% of applicants were accepted, which is around the average acceptance rate for all Ivy League schools combined. Annually, the average tuition cost plus fees for a year of study at Yale is approximately $62,250.
Yale College does not have any other mandatory supplemental material or specific admissions requirements besides standard for most universities (i.e., school reports, counselor and teacher recommendations, the Common Application, or the Coalition Application).
While Yale does not release numbers on the average high school GPA of admitted students, the school's competitiveness and prestige indicate that it’s pretty high. Yale College “consistently matriculates students that are exceedingly close to, have, or surpass a 4.0 GPA due to honors and AP classes.” Reported numbers for admitted students test scores are as follows:
The University of Pennsylvania ranks as the #8 top college in the country. Founded in 1740, the school was influenced by Benjamin Franklin, who aimed “to train young people for leadership in business, government, and public service,” an innovative goal at the time.
UPenn has four undergraduate schools to choose from: the College of Arts & Science, the Wharton School, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the School of Nursing. Among the four schools, most students enroll at the College of Arts & Science. Before you apply, research each school and see which one aligns closest with your career goals.
The University of Pennsylvania is dedicated to inclusivity, innovation, and impact. UPenn strives for an inclusive learning environment through increasing inclusivity, expanding financial aid, and offering free online classes. The school aims for innovation through generating discoveries and applying them to the issues of today and wants to impact local, national, and global communities through the school’s “distinctive intellectual resources.”
With a student-to-faculty ratio of 6:1, students can expect to forge deeper relationships with professors and faculty. In a recent admissions cycle, the acceptance rate was 9%, slightly higher than the acceptance rate of all Ivy League schools. The annual tuition and fees to attend UPenn are approximately $60,000.
Beyond the essay you need to write as part of your Common Application or Coalition Application, you will also need to complete two Penn-specific essays. These prompts of these essays may vary from year to year, but they both will revolve around themes, including why you want to go to the school, how you plan to school and how you plan to have it shape you. Some programs may require you to write an additional essay, so be sure to go through your admissions requirements thoroughly before submitting your application.
Below you will find statistics about admitted students’ average high school GPAs and test scores:
Dartmouth College claims the #13 spot among the top national universities. Founded in 1769, Dartmouth boasts a “vibrant, inclusive learning environment where students and faculty respond with research and innovation to the most pressing challenges of our time.”
Dartmouth offers undergraduate students the choice of over 40 departments and programs that constitute a liberal arts core. The reason they focus on liberal arts is to nurture and promote skills like critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration among undergraduate students.
Areas of undergraduate study you can choose from include Art & Performing Arts, Engineering, Humanities, Interdisciplinary, Physical & Life Sciences, and Social Sciences.
Dartmouth imparts a robust set of values within its community, curriculum, and culture to help guide all students, staff, and faculty. These values include striving for academic excellence, supporting professors and faculty, being committed to diversity and accepting students of all backgrounds, and providing out-of-classroom real-life experiences, to name a few.
You will need to complete two supplementary essays as part of your Dartmouth application. These prompts may vary from year to year, but they often revolve around themes about what attracts you to Dartmouth, stories about your life, the impacts you have made or want to make, and anything else that helps demonstrate your character and introduces you to the admissions committee.
Although not necessarily a requirement because it’s an optional document, it’s strongly encouraged that you submit a peer recommendation with your application. This recommendation is not meant to come from someone in a supervisory or oversight role in your life (like a teacher, coach, or boss), but from someone like a friend, teammate, sibling, or anyone else in a similar role.
Although there are some different answers about what the average high school GPA of accepted Dartmouth applicants is, the competitiveness of the school means that you should strive for the highest GPA possible. Keep in mind that a lot of other Ivy League schools report GPAs of around 3.9 and above. Below are the reported numbers regarding test scores of admitted students:
Brown University ranks at #14 among the best national universities. Brown was founded in 1764 and is a leading research university that focuses on innovative, student-centered learning.
The school focuses on the concept of an Open Curriculum, which means that students “develop a personalized course of study — they have greater freedom to study what they choose and the flexibility to discover what they love.” If you’re a little unsure of exactly what you want to do with undergraduate education, Brown offers the flexibility to its undergraduate students to make their own choices as they learn.
Because students are allowed to sample courses in various disciplines, you’re encouraged to figure out where your passions and interests lie before you dive into one of Brown’s 80+ concentrations of focused study. This student-centered learning places your interests and passions at the forefront of your education, helping you stay engaged and participatory in your learning.
Brown University is dedicated to giving students the tools they need to solve today’s problems, whether they’re tackling the opioid crisis, planning another space landing site, or advising world leaders on new political models. The school aims to bring a diverse group together that transcends the boundaries of different fields of study.
Like many other Ivy League schools, Brown requires that applicants write supplementary essays as part of their applications. Although these prompts may change over the years, they often ask you to explore themes like Brown’s Open Curriculum, times where you changed your perspectives in light of new evidence, what your passions are, and what brings you joy.
Like all other Ivy League schools, the average high GPA of admitted students is expected to be relatively high given the school’s reputation as a world-renowned institution. Below you will find more information about the reported test scores of admitted students:
The last but certainly not the least of the Ivy League schools is Cornell University, which currently holds the #18 spot among the best national universities. Founded in 1865, Cornell considers itself to be a private university with a public mission.
Cornell’s mission is to:
“discover, preserve and disseminate knowledge, to educate the next generation of global citizens, and to promote a culture of broad inquiry throughout and beyond the Cornell community.” Cornell strives to impact students' lives, the people of New York, and others through a dedication to public service.
When you apply to Cornell, you have to choose from one of their seven undergraduate colleges. The seven undergraduate colleges to choose from are the College of Arts and Sciences, the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, the College of Human Ecology, and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
Cornell offers undergraduate students the opportunity to choose from almost 80 majors and more than 120 minors. If you can’t find a concentration that speaks to you, you may even have the opportunity to design an independent course of study.
Cornell’s acceptance rate is typically the highest of all the Ivy League Schools, however, recent data shows Cornell “broke records for the lowest acceptance rate in recent years of 8,7%, with 67,830 applicants and 5,836 admitted students.” The approximate cost of tuition and other fees annually at Cornell is $62,456.
Along with your standard online application, Cornell requires you to write a supplemental essay. The prompt depends on what undergraduate school you’re applying to, and you should write your essay in no more than 650 words.
Like the other Ivy League schools, having a high GPA of 3.9 or above will help bolster your application. Below are reported test scores of admitted students:
Half of the battle of getting into an Ivy League school is to know how you can stand out among other applicants in the admissions process. Here you will find tips about what admissions committees are looking for in applicants and how to represent your best self in your application.
Although you should always strive to be authentic, knowing what admissions committees are looking for in applicants can help you put your best forward in the admissions process.
For example, evidence suggests that student-athletes have a better chance of making it into the Ivy League than non-athletes. However, if you’re not a star athlete, don’t fret; there are many other ways that you can leave the admissions committee with a lasting impression.
First, consider that admissions committees are looking for individuals dedicated to academic excellence. Strong test scores and a high GPA can undoubtedly help bolster your application and show that you can handle the rigor of a top-ranked college curriculum.
Ivy League schools look for applicants who are kind, passionate, and have contributed to their community. These contributions can be anything from taking up a leadership role in a school club, to continuously helping babysit your neighbor’s children, to volunteering your time to causes you care about deeply.
If you can demonstrate that you’re willing to engage and participate in the school’s culture through clubs, events, or anything else, you’ll surely make a great impression in your application.
Finally, universities strive for diversity in the application process and want to admit students from various backgrounds. Do you have an exceptional talent or an activity that you’re good at doing? Did you have a lot of interesting things happen to you in your upbringing? Have you dealt with unusual circumstances that have helped shape you into who you are today? Showcasing your diversity and uniqueness can always work in your favor in the admissions process.
Although grades aren’t necessarily everything, a high GPA can significantly improve your chances of admission into an Ivy League school. You should strive for a GPA of 3.9 or higher, given the average high school GPAs for admitted Ivy League students.
Although getting straight A’s is way easier said than done, there are some actionable steps you can take to ensure you do your best.
Similar to a high GPA, high SAT or ACT scores demonstrate your academic aptitude to the admissions committee. An excellent way to gauge if your score is in the ballpark of where you need it to be for your application to an Ivy League school is to check its class profiles. Often, schools will list the average scores of all admitted students.
Consider that the middle 50% of SAT Verbal and Math scores for Ivy League school students ranges from 650-800 and 680-800, respectively. The middle 50% range of ACT scores for Ivy League school admitted students ranges from 30-35. Overall, it’s in your best interest to perform as well as you can on either of these tests. Here are some general tips to help you ace your SAT or ACT.
Ivy League schools like to see that students challenge themselves by taking high-level courses. If your high school offers Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes, taking them can be an asset to your application.
These classes demonstrate that you’ve gone above and beyond and are trying to prepare yourself for the rigorous coursework that an Ivy League school has to offer.
Extracurricular activities are a fantastic way for you to stand out in your Ivy League applications. Extracurricular activity is a broad term that can refer to many things you do in your spare time: maybe you're on a sports team, you’re a tutor, a babysitter, or you volunteer your time to causes you care about in your community.
Although many applicants want to know what is considered “the best” extracurricular activities, the bottom line is that every activity is meaningful to admissions committees if it’s clear that your commitment is meaningful to you.
According to Logan Powell, the dean of admissions at Brown University, it doesn’t really matter if you’re involved in athletics, community service, or school clubs. What he’s looking for is what those experiences taught you and why you chose to do it in the first place. Powell said, “Have they learned time management skills, leadership, teamwork, discipline? How have they grown as a person and what qualities will they bring to our campus?” Try to show the admissions committee the outcome of your time spent in extracurricular activities in your application.
However, it may benefit you if you hold, or have held, a leadership role in any of your activities. All top universities are working toward variants of the same goal; they want to educate students to be leaders that will impact the world positively. Maybe you started a school club, you’re the captain of a sports team, or you direct your own research. Think of activities that showcase your initiative, and it’s sure to give you a leg up over the competition in the admissions cycle.
Although this is one of the components of your application that you don’t have much of a hand in, it doesn’t make it any less crucial to your success. Strong recommendation letters allow the admissions committee to see you from a different perspective and give an overall clearer picture of your academic aptitude, personality, and initiative.
Ivy League schools often ask for two teachers and one counselor to write letters of recommendation as part of your application. Although you may not have many choices for your counselor recommendation, you should choose wisely regarding who you ask to complete your teacher evaluations.
Generally, you’ll want two teacher recommendations in two different courses like English, history, a foreign language, math, or science. You’ll want to ask teachers who know you quite well; think about who you interact with most, besides just doing well in their class. The better your teacher knows you, the more likely it is they’ll have many wonderful things to say about you in their letter.
The outcome of wonderful recommendation letters is the fact that someone has vouched for all positive traits and activities you’ve written about in your application. If the admissions committee gets the impression that you’re a joy to have in class, studious and diligent, and take the initiative, you will have a much better chance of getting accepted than another applicant who provides lackluster letters.
Although every part of your Ivy League application is crucial to acceptance at the school of your choice, the essays are the part of your application that humanizes you and sends your application hurdling into the “accepted” pile.
Here are our tips to make sure that your essays are impactful and cohesive no matter the subject matter.
If you’re in a position where you can choose the topic you write about, read carefully through your options, or come up with a topic entirely on your own if that’s also an option. When choosing a prompt, whether in the Common Application, Coalition Application, or any supplemental essay, try to pick something that you know you can respond with a great story.
If you’re ruminating on what to pick and can’t seem to decide, jot down potential experiences, narratives, or events that would effectively answer the prompt. If you can’t come up with anything for a prompt, you probably shouldn’t pick that particular one. When you lay things out in a visual way, you’ll see under which prompt you have the most substantial content.
In high school, you’ve had to write essays in a very detached way, like a third party simply observing and retelling. Writing in the first person in academic writing in high school is frowned upon for the most part. You only want the reader to be connected to the content, not the author.
However, you should not think of your admissions essays as an academic paper where you, the author, are positioned behind your content. The admissions committee should be able to connect to you as a person and your writing in a beautiful triangulation of understanding and personal content.
Telling a personal story can show your vulnerability, but it can also demonstrate your humanity and humility in a few short words. Remember to get attached to your writing, and don’t try to remove yourself from it. It can feel uncomfortable at first, but it’s worth it in the end.
When we say “make things make sense," we’re referring to the flow of your narrative. Many people benefit from creating an outline before starting essays. It can help keep ideas organized and stop you from straying too far from the main point you’re trying to make.
If you’re presenting a narrative, make sure that things make sense, and the reader isn’t lost. You may understand your writing because it’s one of your lived experiences, but keep in mind that you’re telling this story to someone who otherwise knows nothing about you. Keep that in mind and make sure that your writing is concise, easy to follow, and will leave your reader satisfied.
Imagery is a great way to transport your reader into your story and take them away from whatever place they’re in reading your application. Think about when you read a really great book, and it’s like you’ve been dropped straight in the middle of the action and setting; strive for this feeling in your own writing using imagery and colorful language.
However, remember that you can’t drop your reader into a new world and leave them there. The rest of your writing must guide them through it and see them out on the other side. You should also be sure that you’re still concise; using colorful language doesn’t mean you drop a thesaurus on your essay, shrug, and hope for the best.
Hopefully, you like the topic you chose, because you’re likely to spend a lot of time with it. No one gets an essay perfect on their first try, and you shouldn’t expect to either. Remember that your essay will need editing and revision, which is perfectly normal (albeit a little tedious).
The only pitfall of consistent editing is the fact that some errors or holes in your narrative may not jump out at you anymore because you’re too close to your own work. When this happens, having someone else like an admissions consultant read and offer advice on your work can be an extremely valuable asset to your overall application. Getting a second pair of eyes on your work is never a bad idea!
Whether or not you apply to Ivy League schools is your decision, but if you know that you have a robust application and feel like a school would be a good fit for you, you should apply.
Even if the Ivy League schools would be considered “reach” schools for you, you should certainly pick a few along with your “target” and “safety” schools. While it’s never a great idea to put all your eggs in one basket, not applying to Ivy League schools means that you’ll indeed never get accepted to them.
Keep in mind that your odds of acceptance to these schools are naturally lower than some other schools, but that receiving an acceptance letter isn’t an impossible feat. If you’re confident that your application is robust and one of the Ivies is your dream school, applying is always in your best interest.
While all Ivy League schools have a low acceptance rate, Cornell University has the highest acceptance rate among them. Cornell’s acceptance rate is 11%, but try not to get too hung up on the numbers. You should apply to whichever Ivy League schools would be the best fit for you, not just which one you have the best chance to attend.
According to recent data, the most competitive Ivy League school is Columbia University, with a 5% acceptance rate, followed by Harvard University with a 6% acceptance rate.
The short answer is yes, but it’s not necessarily because applicants apply earlier. Early applicants to Ivy League schools tend to enjoy higher acceptance rates than those applying under Regular Decision.
However, U.S. News notes that the reason for this is because “early applicants tend to have more competitive credentials than applicants who submit their materials later, according to Ivy League admissions officials.”
So, while early applicants have a better chance of acceptance, this is because their applications are impressive, and they likely started thinking about university earlier in their high school careers.
Yes, they certainly can be. Many other top-ranked schools are not a part of the Ivy League, including MIT, Stanford, and the University of Chicago. The Ivy League originally started as a collegiate athletic conference, and while they have excellent reputations, there are many other great schools you can attend outside of them.
While data suggests that a student-athlete has a better chance of admittance than a non-athlete with similar or even slightly better academic credentials, remember that being an athlete often means the applicant is involved in extracurricular activities or has a special talent.
Realistically, your chances of getting into an Ivy League school aren’t crushed by not being great at sports. What you can do is simply strengthen your application with extracurricular activities that are meaningful to you, and you’re sure to give yourself a better chance of acceptance.
The short answer is that your grades are a crucial part of your application. Consider that among all Ivy League schools in 2019, “the average share of freshmen who ranked in the top 10% of their high school class was nearly 92%.”
Based on this information, your grades certainly may not be everything, but higher grades will always work in your favor to give you a better chance of acceptance.
Rejection sucks. There’s no better way to say it. However, it’s an unfortunate part of life that everyone experiences at some point. If you’re rejected from an Ivy League school, you can choose to accept an offer from another school and try to transfer at a later date.
Another option is to take a year off. Retake your SAT or ACT if you want to, travel the world, get a job or internship, or volunteer with a cause you care about. If you reapply with new experiences and more skills in the next admissions cycle, you’re sure to have a better chance of acceptance!
Ivy League schools have a reputation for academic excellence and educating brilliant minds that positively impact the world. Now that you have an overview of each Ivy League school, you’re better informed about what school may align best with your passions and interests.
With the information in this comprehensive guide about GPA, test scores, extracurricular activities, and recommendation letters, you can take actionable steps to ensure your application is in the best shape when it’s time for submission.
Remember to make your essays personal and easy to follow, and you’re sure to captivate the admissions committee with your narrative. While whether or not you apply to an Ivy League school is up to you, remember that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take (thank you, Wayne Gretzky, for the wise words). If you’re confident in your application and yourself, go forth and apply to the Ivy League school of your dreams!