How To Get Into Ivy League Schools: A Complete Guide

all eight of the ivy league school crests surrounding cnetral text whcih reads "tips to get into ivy league schools"
March 20, 2024
10 min read


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 7/26/23

Hoping to land a spot at one of the top schools in the U.S.? Read on to learn how to get accepted into the Ivy League.

Ivy League schools are considered some of the country’s most prestigious schools. Many applicants dream of enrolling at an Ivy League school, with many parents even preparing their children for this opportunity. 

These schools have highly selective admissions processes, reflecting that Ivy League schools generally accept just 4.96% of applicants. Although that number can seem discouraging, this guide will teach you all you need about strategies for getting accepted to Ivy League colleges.

What Is the Ivy League? 

Surprisingly, the commencement of the Ivy League 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. If you’re wondering which schools are in the Ivy League, the list includes: 

Today, the Ivy League has over 8,000 student-athletes competing annually 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 institution dedicated to academic excellence.

List of Ivy League Schools

Infographic listing the ivy league schools

This list of Ivy League schools provides a brief overview of each school and its respective admissions requirements. Each section details program options, tuition, school-specific requirements, GPA, and test scores. This list is ordered by each school's national university ranking – read on to learn how to get into the Ivies! 

How Hard is It to Get Into Ivy League Schools? 

Ivy League schools are challenging to get into; based on acceptance rate data, 7% of applicants or less are admitted annually, depending on the schools they apply to. Here’s a breakdown of Ivy League school acceptance rates:

School Name Acceptance Rate
Princeton University 5.8%
Harvard University 3.41%
Yale University 4.35%
UPenn 4.1%
Dartmouth College 6%
Brown University 5.08%
Cornell University 7%
Columbia University 3.9%

This list of Ivy League schools briefly overviews each school and its respective admissions requirements. Each section details program options, tuition, school-specific requirements, GPA, and test scores. This list is ordered by each school's national university ranking – read on to learn how to get into the Ivies!

Ivy League School Rankings and Admissions Requirements

Below is a concise table presenting the U.S. News rankings of each Ivy League school along with their respective acceptance rates, average SAT and ACT scores, and average GPAs.

College U.S. News Ranking 2023 Acceptance Rate Average SAT Score Average ACT Score Average GPA
Princeton University 1 4% 1490-1589 33-35 3.9
Harvard University 3 (tie) 4% 1480-1580 33-36 3.9
Yale University 3 (tie) 5% 1460-1580 33-35 3.9
University of Pennsylvania 7 6% 1480-1570 33-35 3.9
Dartmouth College 12 6% 1440-1560 33-35 3.9
Brown University 13 6% 1460-1570 33-35 3.9
Cornell University 17 9% 1450-1560 33-35 3.9
Columbia University 18 6% 1460-1570 34-35 4.1

These are the most up-to-date stats for Ivy League colleges. Note that these schools are extremely competitive, so ensure your application is as strong as possible.

Ivy League Requirements

Below is a list of application requirements for the Ivy League schools: 

You must look at each school's application requirements. Some schools may require additional application requirements as well.

How Hard Is It to Get Into Ivy League Schools?

Getting into Ivy League schools is incredibly challenging due to their low acceptance rate and competitive admission process. The acceptance rate for Ivy League schools is between 4-9%.

School Name Acceptance Rate
Princeton University 4%
Harvard University 4%
Yale University 5%
University of Pennsylvania 6%
Dartmouth College 6%
Brown University 6%
Cornell University 9%
Columbia University 6%

Based on these stats, the average Ivy League acceptance rate is around 5%. While these low statistics can be discouraging, there are many ways to boost your profile and your chances of acceptance!

How to Get Into Ivy League Schools

Half the battle of getting into an Ivy League school is knowing how to stand out. Here, you’ll find tips for attending your dream Ivy.

What Do Ivy League Schools Look for in Applicants?

What do Ivy League Schools look for graphic

So, what does it take to get into an ivy league school? First, Ivy League schools are looking for students dedicated to academic excellence. Strong test scores and a high GPA can help bolster your application and show you can handle the rigor of a top-ranked college curriculum. 

Ivy League schools seek kind, passionate applicants who have contributed to their community. These contributions can be anything from taking on a leadership role in a school club, babysitting your neighbor’s children, or volunteering your time to causes you care about deeply. 

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 you’re good at? 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. 

It’s important to note that applying to Ivy League schools is a different process for international students. Although most of the application requirements are the same for domestic and international applicants, there are some additional requirements for international students. 

Grades Needed to Get Into Ivy League Schools

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:

School Name Average GPA
Princeton University 3.9
Harvard University 3.9
Yale University 3.9
University of Pennsylvania 3.9
Dartmouth College 3.9
Brown University 3.9
Cornell University 3.9
Columbia University 4.1

Even if your GPA is lower than these statistics, you still have a fair chance of getting into an Ivy League school, but we recommend working hard to boost your GPA. Here are some actionable steps to ensure you do your best.

  • Attend all your classes. 
  • Improve your time management skills. 
  • Take advantage of school resources. 
  • Practice good study habits
  • Try not to overwhelm yourself. 

These tips will help you achieve your high grades for admission into these prestigious schools.

Test Scores Needed to Get Into Ivy League Schools

Like a high GPA, high SAT or ACT scores demonstrate your academic aptitude to the admissions committee. Submitting test scores is now optional at Ivy League schools, but evaluating admitted students' middle 50% test score data can help you decide whether your scores could hinder or help your application.

This table amalgamates test score data from each Ivy League school:

School Name Middle 50% SAT Scores Middle 50% ACT Scores
Princeton University 1490-1589 33-35
Harvard University 1480-1580 33-36
Yale University 1460-1580 33-35
University of Pennsylvania 1480-1570 33-35
Dartmouth College 1440-1560 33-35
Brown University 1460-1570 33-35
Cornell University 1450-1560 33-35
Columbia University 1460-1570 34-35

Here are some general tips to help you ace your SAT or ACT: 

  • Start studying and take tests early. 
  • Make a study schedule, and don’t cram.
  • Determine your strengths and identify improvement areas. 
  • Practice under the same conditions as test day. 
  • Hire a professional SAT or ACT tutor

You must start studying for these exams well before the test dates. You should start studying two to three months before your official test date. 

Types of Classes that Impress Ivy League Schools 

Ivy League schools like to see 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 you’ve gone above and beyond and are trying to prepare yourself for the rigorous coursework an Ivy League school offers. 

The Best Extracurricular Activities for Ivy League Schools

Extracurricular activities are a fantastic way 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.

Although many applicants want to know what’s 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. 

Maybe you started a school club, you’re the sports team captain, or you direct your research. Think of activities that showcase your initiative; they’re sure to give you a leg up over the competition in the admissions cycle. 

Strong Letters of Recommendation for Ivy League Schools for Ivy League Schools 

Ivy League schools often ask for one counselor and two teacher recommendations. Although you may not have many choices for your counselor recommendation, you should choose your teacher recommendations wisely. 

You’ll want to ask teachers who know you well; think about who you interact with most besides doing well in their class. The better your teacher knows you, the more likely they’ll have many wonderful things to say about you in their letter. 

If the admissions committee feels you’re a joy to have in class, studious and diligent, and take the initiative, you’ll have a much better chance of getting accepted.

How to Write Application Essays That Impress Ivy League Schools 

Although every Ivy League application part is crucial to your success, the essays humanize you and can send your application to the “accepted” pile. Below is a video by a Cornell graduate who provides effective essay writing tips. 

Choose a Meaningful Topic 

If you’re in a position where you can choose the topic, read carefully through your options, or come up with a topic if that’s also an option. When choosing a prompt, pick something you know you can respond to with a great story. 

If you’re contemplating what to pick, jot down potential experiences, narratives, or events that effectively answer the prompt. You probably shouldn't pick that one if you can’t develop anything for a prompt. When you lay things out visually, you’ll see which prompt you have the most substantial content for. 

Get Personal

Academic essays are detached, like a third-party 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 shouldn’t consider your admissions essays an academic paper where you, the author, are positioned behind your content. 

Telling a personal story can show your vulnerability but 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.

Use Imagery and Colorful Language, But Make Sure It’s Clear 

Imagery is a great way to transport your reader into your story and remove them from whatever place they’re reading your application. Think about when you read a 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 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 on the other side. Using colorful language doesn’t necessarily mean pulling out a thesaurus – it means getting descriptive! 

Edit, Edit, Revise, Revise — Tedious But Worth It 

Hopefully, you like your chosen topic because you’ll likely 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 slightly tedious). 

The only pitfall of consistent editing is that some errors or holes in your narrative may not jump out at you anymore because you’re too close to your work. When this happens, having someone else, like an admissions consultant, read and edit your work can be an extremely valuable asset to your application.

Ivy FAQs

Still have more burning questions about getting into Ivy League Schools? Take a look at our answers to these frequently asked questions.

1. What’s the Easiest Ivy League School to Get Into? 

While all Ivy League schools have a low acceptance rate, Cornell’s is the highest at 9%. You should apply to whichever Ivy League schools would best fit you, not just which one you have the best chance to attend. 

2. What’s the Most Difficult Ivy League School to Get Into? 

According to recent data, the most competitive Ivy League schools are Harvard and Princeton University, with an acceptance rate of 4%. 

3. Do I Have a Better Chance of Acceptance If I’m an Early Applicant? 

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 decisions

However, U.S. News notes that the reason for this is that “early applicants tend to have more competitive credentials than applicants who submit their materials later, according to Ivy League admissions officials.” 

4. Are Other Top National Universities as Prestigious as the Ivies? 

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, you can attend many other great schools.

5. I Am Not a Student-Athlete. What Are My Chances of Acceptance? 

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, being an athlete often means the applicant is involved in extracurricular activities or has a special talent. 

6. How Much Do My Grades Matter to Ivy League Schools? 

The short answer is that your grades are crucial to your application. Consider that among all Ivy League schools, most admitted students ranked within the top 10% of their graduating class. Grades certainly may not be everything, but higher grades always work in your favor to give you a better chance of acceptance. 

7. What GPA Do You Need to Get Into Harvard?

The average GPA of admitted students is 3.9, but an even higher GPA will bolster your chances of acceptance. There is no GPA cutoff at Harvard. 

8. Do Ivy Leagues Require SAT?

All Ivy League schools are currently test-optional. 

9. Can an Average Student Get into the Ivy League?

No, an average student can’t get into the Ivy League. The acceptance rate for these schools is extremely low, with admitted applicants having an average GPA of 3.9. To ensure you’re gaining admission to an ivy league college, you must have an extremely competitive application.

Final Thoughts

Ivy League schools have a reputation for academic excellence and educating brilliant minds. Now that you know how to get into the Ivy League, you’re better informed about what school may align best with your passions and interests. 

Whether or not you apply to an Ivy League school is up to you; however, 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, apply to the Ivy League school of your dreams!

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