How To Get Into Vanderbilt: Admission Requirements & Tips

Nashville, TN
November 23, 2023
15 min read


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 9/8/23

Thinking about studying at Vanderbilt University? Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about how to get into Vanderbilt. 

A smiling female student

Vanderbilt University is a private research university located in Nashville, Tennessee. According to U.S. News’ ranking of the top national universities, Vanderbilt claims the #13 spot. The school’s name recognition and prestige make it an attractive choice if you’re building your college list.

In this guide, you’ll find all the information you need to know how to get into Vanderbilt University. Along with an overview of Vanderbilt’s application requirements and class profile information, we’ll also go over the supplementary essays and tips to help you formulate detailed narratives to catch the admissions committee’s attention. 

The valuable information in this guide will help you navigate Vanderbilt’s admissions process and help you give yourself the best chance of acceptance. If one of Vanderbilt’s undergraduate programs inspires you to apply, this comprehensive guide will give you the tools you need for success.

Vanderbilt Acceptance Rate 

Vanderbilt’s prestigious and diverse programs attract students from around the country. Despite being a non-Ivy League school, this school’s acceptance rate is highly selective. Recent data suggests the acceptance rate fell from 6.7% in a past cycle to 5.61% in the 2023 admissions cycle. 

Yield Rate 

Vanderbilt’s yield (or enrollment rate) is approximately 48%. The yield rate can illustrate how competitive a school is and how eager prospective students are to enroll if offered admission. Although this yield rate may not be as high as Ivy League universities like Yale and Harvard, it still demonstrates that Vanderbilt is a competitive and top-ranked university. 

How Hard Is It to Get Into Vanderbilt? 

Many universities across the nation have reported lower recent enrollment rates due to influxes in the volume of applications they receive. Vanderbilt is a highly selective new Ivy school, and you should expend a lot of effort in your application to ensure that it receives the attention and recognition it deserves. 

Considering that Vanderbilt’s acceptance rate has trended lower in recent cycles, the numbers can be discouraging to prospective students. However, don’t get too caught up on acceptance rates and statistics—this is quantitative data that doesn’t account for the quality of other applications or your compatibility with the school.

If you want to apply to Vanderbilt, the best thing you can do is focus your energy on polishing your own application rather than worrying over statistics. Although the application process and the wait to hear your admissions decision can be intimidating, submitting a well-constructed and authentic college application will always boost your chances of acceptance.

Vanderbilt Requirements

To get into Vanderbilt, you’ll need to maintain a 4.0 GPA. You should also aim for high SAT/ACT scores of 1570 and 35. Vanderbilt values academic excellence in their students, so consider taking IB or AP courses and securing recommendation letters that speak to your abilities.

All undergraduate applications require that you compile specific materials for the admissions committee’s consideration. Below we will explore the materials and details that you’ll need to share in your Vanderbilt application before you can hit submit. 

Official Transcripts 

Your official transcripts demonstrate your academic aptitude and show your GPA to the admissions committee. While Vanderbilt reviews applications holistically, it’s always in your best interest to perform as well as you can in your junior and senior years of high school. 

There are no cut-offs for GPA, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to do well and prove your college readiness. Getting a 4.0 can be challenging, but shooting for a high GPA will undoubtedly bolster your application! 

Counselor and Teacher Letters of Recommendation 

Letters of recommendation are a crucial component of any undergraduate application. Your counselor recommendation should come from your assigned guidance counselor, who will have the opportunity to share in what context they know you and describe your character. 

You must provide two teacher recommendations who taught you in a core academic area. Vanderbilt prefers that these recommendations come from teachers who taught your junior or senior years. 

All of these letters help the admissions committee gain a third-party perspective about you—how you adapt to challenges, how you work toward your goals, and your demeanor and personality. 

SAT or ACT Scores 

Vanderbilt implemented a self-reporting and test-optional policy for SAT and ACT scores. You can report ACT or SAT scores on your application, but you must provide your official score reports if you enroll after acceptance. Like your GPA, there is no explicit cut-off for SAT or ACT scores

Personal Essay 

The personal essay will be a component of whichever online application you choose, whether the Common Application or the Coalition Application. Vanderbilt suggests that you keep this essay as personal as you can and that they honestly “don’t really care what you write about, as long as you’re writing about you.” 

Don’t write about what you think the admissions committee wants to hear. Let your passions show through instead. This is an excellent opportunity to talk about something you haven’t already explored in the rest of your application and allows you to demonstrate your individuality and personality. 

Extracurricular Activities List 

The admissions committee will want to see a list of all of your extracurricular activities. Vanderbilt states that “admissions counselors will certainly read the entire list,” so be sure not to leave anything out. Include activities such as babysitting a neighbor’s child, having a part-time job, and any other responsibility or time commitment. 

Application Fee or Fee Waiver 

Application fees or fee waivers are a component of every undergraduate application. Vanderbilt requests a nonrefundable $50 application fee or a fee waiver if you qualify for one. 

Additional Materials for Blair School of Music Applicants

Beyond all the materials listed above, you’ll need to produce extra materials if you apply to the Blair School of Music. 

You’ll also need to provide the admissions committee with:  

  • Two artistic recommendations
  • A headshot or photo (it doesn’t have to be a professional portrait, this is solely for identification purposes) 
  • A music resume 
  • Repertoire list 
  • Prescreening video containing an unedited performance of any selection, whether it be vocal or instrumental

Keep in mind that the application for the Blair School of Music can only be accessed once your  Common, Coalition, or Questbridge applications have been submitted.

Standardized Test Scores 

The middle 50% of first-year students entering Vanderbilt scored between 740 and 780 on the SAT’s Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section and between 780 and 800 on the Math section. Of those who submitted ACT scores, the middle 50% score range was between 34 and 36. 

Several of Vanderbilt’s first-year students were considered National Merit Scholars. 

Financial Aid and Retention Rates 

Out of all undergraduate students, 65% received some form of financial assistance in a recent school year. The average financial aid package students enjoyed was approximately $55,000. 

The average first-year student retention rate is 96%, indicating a high satisfaction rate among students.

Tips To Get Into Vanderbilt 

Because Vanderbilt is a selective school, you want to do everything in your power to make sure that you stand out in the admissions process. Below you will find some top tips to help you put together an outstanding application. 

1. Prepare for College Academics In High School, and Attain Fantastic Grades 

Although the Vanderbilt admissions process is holistic, taking high-level courses and achieving good grades can help your application stand out.

Vanderbilt’s list of recommended coursework includes: 

  • Four units of English 
  • Four units of math 
  • Four units of natural science 
  • Two units of foreign language classes 
  • Two units of social science of humanities 
  • Four units in other areas such as engineering, computer science, science and research, and advanced humanities classes 

This guideline is just a recommendation, but the admissions committee will also be looking at the rigor of your coursework. Although not every high school offers AP classes or the IB Program, you should strive to take the most challenging course load that you can manage without biting off more than you can chew. 

Rigorous coursework can help demonstrate your passion for knowledge and learning, college readiness, and academic aptitude. You may also want to take courses that relate to the field of your interest while you’re in high school. For example, if your goal is admission into the School of Engineering, you may want to take courses relating to engineering, physics, and chemistry. 

2. Request Letters of Recommendation Early and Wisely

Your letters of recommendation are an excellent way for the admissions committee to get to know you through third-party perspectives. 

Remember to request your letters of recommendation as early as possible. Your peers will likely also be looking for letters of recommendation, and you want to allow your recommenders as much time as possible to put together an accurate description of you and your achievements. 

Second, make sure that you choose your recommenders wisely. These people represent you, and you want to make sure that they know you well enough to paint a comprehensive picture of your character. 

The ideal recommender may not be the teacher who gave you the highest grade or a well-liked teacher at your school. Sometimes the best letters of recommendation come from someone who has spent a lot of time with you and can accurately speak on your personal growth, demeanor, and diligence.

Vanderbilt suggests sending your recommenders some additional context surrounding your achievements and activities. While you can’t dictate what your recommenders will write about you, providing them with context can help them write an informed statement about you! 

3. Consider What Vanderbilt Is Looking for in Applicants

While you always want to put forth the most accurate and authentic version of yourself, it doesn’t hurt to consider what Vanderbilt is looking for in applicants and students. 

Vanderbilt is looking for applicants who demonstrate academic aptitude and take rigorous classes, strong SAT or ACT scores, and a list of extracurricular activities that illustrate your initiative and goodwill to positively impact your community. 

Remember to consider Vanderbilt’s mission and values in your application. How have you made an impact on your community and others? What challenges and obstacles have you overcome? Where do your passions and aspirations lie? 

Think about what your presence at the school can contribute to Vanderbilt’s culture and how you would benefit from an undergraduate degree in one of its four schools. 

4. Make Sure That Your Extracurricular Activities List Is Well-Organized and Has Context.

Vanderbilt cares about what you do outside of the classroom and wants to enroll students who contribute to campus culture and participate in various clubs and organizations. 

Make sure that you list your extracurricular activities in order of importance so that the admissions committee knows which of your commitments you spent a lot of time on or where your passions lie. This is also an excellent opportunity to highlight any leadership roles or impacts that you made. 

Although leadership experience can undoubtedly bolster your application, Vanderbilt states that they “know that leadership titles are not the only way to portray success, and we value any type of involvement that demanded considerable amounts of your time and energy over the last four years.”

You may also want to provide additional context to any activity if you feel that the admissions committee should have a little more information about it. In the additional information section of your application, you can explain more about the activity or the scope of your involvement if you feel that it’s necessary.

Vanderbilt Supplemental Essay

A person typing on their laptop

Supplemental essays are a portion of the college application where you have an opportunity to humanize your application and show who you are aside from your achievements and test scores. 

Remember that these essays are all about you, and you’re the expert in your own life. Writing about yourself can be a little uncomfortable for some at first, but below you’ll find Vanderbilt’s supplemental essay prompt and tips to formulate a stellar piece of writing. 

Supplemental Essay Prompt 

Vanderbilt currently has only one supplemental essay for students to complete as part of their application. Unlike most other top-ranked universities, Vanderbilt doesn’t have a prompt explicitly asking why you want to attend the school. Instead, they ask students to answer one of the following prompts in approximately 250 words:

1. Vanderbilt University values learning through contrasting points of view. We understand that our differences and our respect for alternative views and voices, are our greatest source of strength.cPlease reflect on conversations you’ve had with people who have expressed viewpoints different from your own. How did these conversations/experiences influence you? How did these conversations/experiences influence you?
2. Vanderbilt offers a community where students find balance between their academic and social experiences. Please briefly elaborate on how one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences has influenced you.

How To Write the Vanderbilt Supplemental Essay 

Depending on the type of person you are, you may be ecstatic that you’re not faced with a laundry list of prompts to choose from, or you feel a little limited that there are only two supplemental prompts to choose from. No matter how you feel about it, this in-depth, step-by-step guide will ensure that you tackle your short essay with the right tools for success. 

1. Brainstorm All of Your Activities and Work Experiences That You Feel Are Particularly Meaningful

You’ve likely already listed your extracurricular activities in your application. If you choose to write the second prompt, take some time to go back and look through this list and pick out anything that you deem meaningful. 

This doesn’t necessarily have to be the activity you committed the most time to or what you think the admissions committee would find most important (although it can be if you think it’s something that had a significant impact on your character). 

Think about what you got out of each activity and how your contributions made an impact. Write down what you come up with besides each of your activities, and it should shed some light on which one you should pick to write about in this essay. 

2. Don’t Rehash Something You’ve Already Written About in Your Personal Essay

Whether you choose to apply using the Common, Coalition, or Questbridge applications, you’ll need to write a personal essay. If you’ve already elaborated on a particular activity or experience within that role in your personal essay, don’t reiterate it in your supplementary writing. 

Think of this essay as an opportunity to share more; you wouldn’t want to miss out on offering the admissions committee more information about what drives you and how you spend your free time. 

The more variety you can bring to your application, the better the admissions committee will understand you, your goals, and your experiences. 

3. Create an Outline—You Have a Tight Word Limit

Outlines are helpful tools to ensure your writing stays on track, but they can also help you stay concise when faced with a tight word limit. If you map out what you want your introduction, body, and conclusion to look like, it can help you stay within that 250-word limit. 

Your outlines don’t have to be pretty or neat; just write what comes to you and the main points you want to get across in each part of your writing. It also doesn’t have to be super specific; your ideas are allowed to change and evolve as you write. 

4. Create a Punchy Introduction

Your introduction is the hook of your essay that lures the reader in and doesn’t let them go until you’re finished. Remember that admissions officers read thousands of application essays each admission cycle, so you want to make sure that yours stands out in the best way possible. 

Many prospective students choose to drop the reader right into the middle of an anecdote or your role in a position to immerse the reader through imagery and rich description. Others may want to do a bit of scene-setting to set up the narrative or start with a thought or feeling. 

There’s no wrong way to start your essay as long as it’s punchy, accessible, and makes sense. Remember to keep it appropriate, but don’t be afraid to get a little personal. 

5. Expand on Your Introduction With the Body of Your Essay

The body of your essay is where you expand on the concepts and events you described in the introduction. This is where you have the opportunity to share more details. 

Straying off your narrative path is quite common in the body of essays, so try to keep your writing tight and consult with your outline as needed. However, don’t worry too much if your essay ends up going over the word limit because you can always edit for concision later. 

6. Wrap Up All Your Ideas in the Conclusion.

Your conclusion is where you wrap up your story and ensure you tie up any loose ends. Many writers may want to reiterate the main idea of their essay differently in the conclusion. 

You may also want to relate what you wrote about to your outlook on life now if you chose prompt one, or a club, activity, or organization at Vanderbilt if you chose prompt two. This shows that you’re willing to contribute to the school’s culture and community and that your passions and interests would be nurtured if you were accepted. 

7. Revise Your Work Multiple Times

Remember that your first draft is your rough draft and that most writers won’t be left with a finished and polished product on their first try. You’re going to have to spend a lot of time with your writing, whether it be finding spelling and grammar errors, reworking sentences and transitions, or figuring out the right word choice. 

You’ll need to make several passes through your work to ensure that it’s ready for submission. However, sometimes it’s possible to get too close to your own work and miss errors and inconsistencies that someone else may be able to point out the first time they read it. 

A great way to ensure you’re ready to send off your essay is to seek out the help of an admissions consultant. Not only do they add a fresh perspective, but they can offer suggestions that can help elevate your writing and ideas.

How To Prepare for the Vanderbilt Interview 

Alumni conduct Vanderbilt University interviews via Zoom through Commodore Recruitment Programs (CoRPs) or in-person. These interviews are optional and are not a part of the required admissions process to gain acceptance into the school, but it can be helpful to participate in one if it’s offered to you. 

Vanderbilt states, “Interviews are informational and serve as a tool for students to evaluate their fit with Vanderbilt University as well as to learn about the alumni experience.” 

These interviews will not have you on the edge of your seat waiting to answer the interviewer’s next question as eloquently as possible but are meant to give you more information to assess if you’re a good fit and give you insight into the school’s culture. 

Keep in mind that while these informational interviews will not make or break your application, your interviewer will send an evaluative report to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions that will be attached to your file and considered an additional letter of recommendation. You will also not be negatively impacted if you decide not to participate, but it may be in your best interest to learn more about Vanderbilt and the alumni experience if you’re passionate about attending. 

Remember that not all applicants may have the opportunity to participate in an interview due to high applicant volumes and not enough trained CoRPs alumni interviewers. 

Vanderbilt Interview Questions 

Two people preparing for an interview

These interviews are meant to be informational and less pressured than other undergraduate interviews. Your interviewer may ask you questions about why you want to attend Vanderbilt, what program sparks your interest, and how you plan on contributing to the school’s culture. 

They may ask you personal questions about your hobbies, favorite subjects, personal strengths, books, music, and food. As much as your interviewer will ask questions about you, make sure that you come equipped with things you want to know. Below are some great questions you can ask your interviewer to help ensure that Vanderbilt is an excellent fit for you: 

  • Why did you choose to attend Vanderbilt? 
  • What was it like living in Nashville and on campus? 
  • Is there anything specific about the school’s culture or vibe that I should know?

As you move along in the conversation, you may find that you can naturally ask follow-up questions that touch on these themes. Remember to stay engaged and make sure you ask questions, too—you don’t want your interview to be too one-sided!

How To Apply To Vanderbilt 

You can apply to Vanderbilt by using the Common, Coalition, or QuestBridge online applications. Using these online applications, you’ll be able to submit all of your necessary documents and materials in one convenient portal. 

Application Processes and Deadlines 

Application deadlines are crucial to keep in mind as you navigate acquiring all the materials you’ll need to submit. Below is a list of deadlines if you apply under Regular Decision that you must meet to be considered (note that these dates may be subject to change from year to year). 

  • December 4: Preferred last day to take the SAT 
  • December 11: Preferred last day to take the ACT
  • January 1: Blair School of Music Application deadline
  • January 1: Deadline for completed application
  • Late March: Admission decisions available

Early Decision Dates and Acceptance Rates 

Vanderbilt offers two other decision plans: Early Decision I and Early Decision II. Both of these plans are binding and indicate that you’re committed to attending Vanderbilt if you are accepted. The dates for each plan are as follows: 

Early Decision I

  • October 2: Preferred last day to take the SAT
  • October 23: Preferred last day to take the ACT
  • November 1: Blair School of Music Application deadline
  • November 1:Deadline for completed application
  • Mid-December: Admission decisions available
  • December 31: Deadline for matriculation deposit

Early Decision II

  • December 4: Preferred last day to take the SAT
  • December 11: Preferred last day to take the ACT
  • January 1: Blair School of Music Application deadline
  • January 1: Deadline for completed application
  • Mid-February: Admission decisions available
  • March 1: Deadline for matriculation deposit

According to recent data, the admit rate for both Early Decision programs combined was 15.7%. 

Should I Apply To Vanderbilt? 

The choice to apply to any university is ultimately up to you. Many factors can help you decide—how much a particular program appeals to you, if you think you’ll fit in well with the school’s culture, and what an education from Vanderbilt can do to help you realize your goals. 

Vanderbilt is a prestigious school and a great choice to pursue your undergraduate degree. 

Think about what attracts you to Vanderbilt. Does one of the programs match your educational and professional interests? Are there any clubs or organizations that you would love to join? Does the prospect of living in Nashville fill you with excitement? These questions are essential to ask yourself to figure out what you want out of your undergraduate experience. 

The short answer is that if you want to apply to Vanderbilt, you should. 

If you’re concerned about the low acceptance rate, try not to get too caught up in the numbers and statistics. When you apply to any school, your polished and well-constructed application and personality should shine through. Make your application memorable and stand out in the best way possible, and you’ll certainly boost your chances of acceptance! 

FAQs: How To Get Into Vanderbilt

Still have questions about how to get into Vanderbilt? Take a look at our answers to some frequently asked questions to learn more!

1. What Is Vanderbilt Looking for in Applicants?

Vanderbilt is looking for students “who have demonstrated strong academic skills and intellectual curiosity, and who have engaged in activities outside the classroom that have nurtured their growth as leaders.” 

The admissions process is holistic, meaning that your entire application is considered, not just your test scores, GPA, and class rank. 

2. What GPA Do You Need for Vanderbilt University?

Successful Vanderbilt applicants have GPAs of 3.8 or higher. The closer you are to 4.0, the better.

3. Does Vanderbilt Accept Transfer Credits?

Yes, but the eligibility of transfer credits is evaluated on a course-by-course basis. The Office of the University Registrar has more information on transfer credits and the evaluation process. 

4. What Happens if I Don’t Participate in an Interview?

If you don’t participate in an interview, it will not negatively impact your admissions decision. Alumni interviews are offered on an availability basis and are meant to be informational sessions where you can ask your interviewer questions about their personal experiences at Vanderbilt. 

If you choose to participate in an interview, your interviewer will fill out an evaluation form that serves as an additional letter of recommendation to your file. 

5. How Do I Stand Out in the Admissions Process?

There are numerous ways you can stand out from the crowd in your application. Firstly, try to perform well in your high school classes and achieve good SAT or ACT scores. 

Your essays are another component that you should pay special attention to. Because there’s no certainty that you’ll be able to participate in an alumni interview, your essays may be the only chance you have to “speak” directly to the admissions committee. 

6. When Should I Start Preparing for College Applications?

You should start preparing for your college applications in your freshman or sophomore years of high school. Start thinking about meaningful extracurricular activities you can engage in and take your SAT/ ACT early, like in your junior year, to give yourself enough time for a potential retake. 

7. Is There a Difference Between Early Decision I and Early Decision II?

Both of these decision pathways are binding, meaning that if you’re accepted into Vanderbilt, you are obligated to enroll. These decision pathways may be an excellent option for anyone attending Vanderbilt as their first choice school. 

The only difference between these two pathways is the date and deadline changes.

8. When Do Vanderbilt University's Early Decisions Come Out?

Vanderbilt’s Early Decision I notifications come out in mid-December, and Early Decision II notifications come out in mid-February. 

9. When Does Vanderbilt University Release Regular Decisions?

Vanderbilt’s regular admission decisions are released in late March.

10. What Should I Do if I Get Rejected From Vanderbilt?

If you receive a rejection notice, that doesn’t mean that you or your application wasn’t good enough, the school simply has limited seats and thousands of applicants. Take some time to process the news before moving on to actionable next steps. Consider writing an appeal, accepting another offer and then transferring, or taking a gap year to boost your application.

Final Thoughts

Applying to college is a significant change and can offer exciting new avenues for personal and professional growth. Know that assembling your application doesn’t have to be a stressful experience if you start early and take on one task at a time. The information in this guide shows you what to do and how to get into Vanderbilt. 

Now that you know more general information about the school, admissions requirements, supplemental essays, and class profile information, you can confidently put together a stellar application. Every piece of your application shows the admissions committee a piece of you, so make sure that you compile it with care. 

By dedicating yourself and expending effort in your application, you can certainly boost your chances of acceptance into Vanderbilt!

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