How To Prepare Your Child for Ivy League Schools

Preparing your child for ivy league schools
June 7, 2024
5 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/24/24

Parents, we know you’re doing everything you can to set your child up for success. To that end, we’ve prepared a step-by-step guide on how to prepare your kid for the Ivy League. 

As parents and guardians, we know that you only want the best for your children. If your child is in high school, you know the time to send off college applications is fast approaching. The college application process is exciting, albeit sometimes a stressful experience for high school students as they navigate where they want to attend school and potential majors. 

It’s crucial to support your child through the process and offer to help them decide which schools may be best suited for them. Some students may have dreamt of attending a particular university long before they entered high school—often, these dream schools are part of the Ivy League. 

If your child has expressed interest in attending Ivy League schools or you want to ensure they have a better chance of admission when the time comes, it’s never too early to begin Ivy League prep. This guide will teach you how to prepare your child for Ivy League schools. 

Although nothing guarantees admission to these prestigious institutions, you can help guide them through strategies to give them the best chance of acceptance. 

What Are the Ivy League Schools? 

Eight schools make up the Ivy League:

  1. Brown University
  2. Columbia University
  3. Cornell University
  4. Dartmouth College
  5. Harvard University
  6. Princeton University
  7. University of Pennsylvania
  8. Yale University

Although the phrase “Ivy League schools” is associated with some of the nation’s most prestigious and competitive institutions, the Ivy League’s inception had nothing to do with academics. It started as a collegiate athletic conference established in 1954 by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1. 

Since then, the meaning of the Ivy League has evolved. Today, we associate it with a high-caliber, outstanding education at a reputable school. 

Benefits of an Ivy League Education 

Reasons why choose an ivy league school for your child

So, why go to an Ivy League school? Accepting an offer of admission from an Ivy League school will open a world of opportunities for your child. After all, these schools are popular for a reason. Maybe your child is already asking, “should I go to an Ivy League school?” Let’s talk about it. 

Below are some of the benefits of an Ivy League education. 

Abundant, World-Class Resources 

The Ivies have excellent funding programs, meaning your child can access multiple high-quality resources. Students have access to various research and study materials simply unattainable at less competitive schools. 

Ivy League instructors are well-educated leaders in their field, some of whom are Pulitzer or Nobel Prize winners. Class sizes at the Ivies can be relatively small depending on the course, allowing for a more intimate learning experience

Networking Opportunities With Alumni, Peers, and Professors 

Gaining an expansive professional network is a huge advantage of an Ivy League education. Every Ivy has an alumni network filled with accomplished graduates that can help your child access new and exciting opportunities, offer advice, or help them navigate the college experience. 

Many schools offer applicants alumni interviews, meaning your child can take advantage of an alum’s insight even before acceptance. Along with the alumni networks, your child will interact with their peers and professors almost daily. 

Not only can they forge meaningful relationships (and maybe lifelong friendships!) with their classmates, but they can also help and inspire each other to reach their maximum potential. Interactions with their professors can help them learn about new resources, events, internships, and much more. 

Name Recognition Can Lead to More Opportunities 

The Ivies are household names and are easily recognizable by most people worldwide. While attending a prestigious school by itself won’t guarantee your child an internship or employment opportunity, it certainly helps. Employers will likely look at the education on your child’s resume and may view them as a more competitive job applicant

However, studies suggest that “selectivity and prestige are not a one-way ticket to financial success, let alone a happy and fulfilling life.” Your child must also exhibit personal growth from their college experience, like problem-solving abilities, compassion, and communication skills. 

High Starting Pay 

Ivy League graduates typically enjoy high starting salaries. Because these schools are so selective, employers know Ivy graduates have the tools necessary to succeed in any industry they choose. Here is what median wages can look like within five years after graduation from each Ivy:

Ivy League School Median Salary for Alumni: Early Career Median Salary for Alumni: Mid-Career
Princeton $93,000 $189,400
Harvard $91,700 $171,400
UPenn $89,100 $171,800
Yale $89,700 $168,300
Dartmouth $89,000 $173,300
Brown $85,200 $155,000
Cornell $86,100 $155,400
Columbia $89,300 $156,000

Ivy League graduates can double their earnings within ten years after graduation. 

How to Prepare Your Child for College

Tips on how to prepare your kid for college

Let’s discuss our top tips on how to prepare your child for college. Getting your child ready for an Ivy League education requires effort and time. Preparation well before their senior year can help them eventually submit a stellar college application ready to be well-received by whichever school they hope to attend. 

Focus and Develop Interests

Ivy League schools want to admit students with diverse and unique interests. Remember, getting into college isn’t contingent only on your child’s grades and test scores. Admissions committees want to see applicants’ interests and how they may contribute to the school’s culture.

Your child’s passion for a specific subject, activity, or club can translate to later success. It’s important to let them explore different things until they find what they love to do. Not only will they have a more well-rounded application, but identifying their niches can help them grow and gain the skills they need to tackle college life. 

Interests come in all shapes and sizes, and none are better than others. For example, your child may love chemistry and playing the saxophone. Nurture both these interests and show your child what they love to do matters to you—maybe you offer to enroll them in a summer program, take them to a jazz performance, or visit a lab.

Showing interest and involvement gives them the confidence they need to explore their interests and even develop new ones along the way. 

Encourage Them to Boost Their GPA 

A nurtured, healthy motivation for completing school work and learning starts young. Admissions committees use GPA as a measure of your child’s academic aptitude. 

Your child must strive for a high GPA through their high school career to help strengthen their college applications. However, not everyone is naturally invested in their academic performance, and some children have difficulties navigating the education system’s demands. 

Your child’s GPA is not a measure of their overall intelligence, but they may need your help if their grades are lower than they anticipated. Gently encourage them to seek out resources to help them boost their GPA, whether through the help of a tutor, after-school program, club, or any other way they can get the support they need. 

Prepare for Standardized Tests 

Standardized tests, including the SAT and ACT, are another integral part of any college application. Colleges use these exams to evaluate high school students’ math, reading, and writing aptitude. Performing well on the SAT or ACT shows your child has the foundational knowledge they need to succeed in college. 

The SAT and ACT are relatively challenging tests requiring effort and preparation. Your child may need your support to stay on track and set them up to succeed. Ensure they develop a study schedule that matches their other commitments and downtime. 

SAT and ACT tutors can be valuable resources to prepare for exams. Tutors can empower your child to work smarter, not harder, and develop a plan around their learning style and specific needs. 

Research Specific Schools 

College research is an important step to figure out which school is best suited for your child. Although all the Ivies are prestigious, high-quality schools, they may not all be the best fit for your child’s personal and professional goals. They should research available programs at each school and see how each offering aligns with their passions and interests. 

Academic programs are not the only metric you should use to gauge potential best-fit schools. Your child should evaluate what clubs, programs, and other extracurricular activities are available to nurture their interests. 

If possible, your child should visit the campuses they might want to attend to get a feel for the school’s culture. They should try to talk to current students, sit in on a class, and take a campus tour. 

Focus on the Essays

Most colleges use a holistic review process while evaluating applications, meaning all parts are considered before they reach an admissions decision. Personal statements and supplemental essays carry a lot of weight in the admissions process because they go beyond the quantitative measures of GPA and test scores. 

Essays humanize applications and let the applicant's personality shine. Your child’s essays should uncover things about themselves that they haven’t already shared in the rest of their application. 

Truly excellent essays are compelling, immediately capture the reader's attention, and use descriptive imagery to tell a story. While your child has undoubtedly written many scholarly papers in their high school career, application essays focus on their experiences and should be written in the first person. 

Encourage your child to create multiple drafts of their college essays, but don’t put down their writing skills if the first draft is less than perfect. After all, even the best writers require editing before reaching a finished product. 

Foster a Spirit of Independence 

Parents and guardians want to do everything possible to ensure their children achieve their goals and live satisfying, happy lives. While you should show your child support for their academics, interests, and the admissions process, make sure you don’t push them too hard. They need their autonomy and the opportunity to make decisions they think are best for them. 

Nurturing their independence begins at an early age, but you can empower them to make their own choices throughout their high school career. Unless you live in the same city as your child’s dream school, they will likely be moving away from home. 

Living in separate cities can be just as nerve-wracking for you as it is for your child, and it’s okay to feel apprehensive about them moving away. Preparing them for living on their own as early as possible can help make their college transition smoother. 

Start Early and Meet Deadlines 

There’s nothing worse than rushing to submit all documents in the college application process or completely missing a deadline. You and your child should begin discussing college applications in their sophomore or junior high school years. 

Starting early is imperative and ensures they have enough time to complete all parts of their application, especially if they are interested in applying to any school through an early decision program. 

Application deadlines are typically sometime in November, and most regular decision deadlines fall sometime between January and February of senior year. Missing deadlines can spell a sorry fate for applications, so ensure you and your child stay aware and on top of all deadlines. 

Follow a College Prep Checklist

Take a look at our free college prep checklists below for middle and high schoolers.

Consider a College Admissions Consultant 

A college admissions consultant can help boost your child’s chances of admission to any school they choose. Consultants understand the nuances of college admissions processes at top-ranked schools and ensure your child’s application is tailored to what they seek in applicants. 

Your child has the power to request a review of their entire application or to focus on fine-tuning specific parts like their essays. Admissions experts can help with the university application process by editing applications to perfection and ensuring your child has the best chance of admittance.

Because acceptance rates at Ivy League schools are historically low, anything highlighting their candidacy can help. 

Best Extracurricular Activities for Ivy League Schools

Ivy League schools like to see extracurricular activities on your child’s application, especially if they’re related to your child’s prospective program of study. While there are no specific extracurriculars that are better than others, here are some examples of extracurriculars that look excellent to Ivy league Schools.

  • Playing an Instrument (band/independently)
  • Volunteerism and community outreach
  • Starting a small business
  • Team sports
  • Student government and/or debate team

The key to choosing extracurriculars for Ivy Leagues is pursuing your genuine interests both in and out of school. You want to demonstrate your unique qualities through your extracurriculars. For example, an interest in team sports demonstrates teamwork, resilience, discipline, and time management skills. 

Participating in a debate team or student government showcases an ability to think critically, take on leadership roles, and adapt to new information. In contrast, starting a business on your own or learning an instrument demonstrates your ability to self-motivate, and shows perseverance. 

You could also get your child involved in community outreach. Volunteering is a great way to serve your local community and show Ivy League schools that your child is caring, compassionate, and willing to help those less fortunate. 

There are no specific extracurricular activities that are best for the Ivy League. It’s less about which activities your child is involved with, and more about what your child learns along the way. 

Should I Send My Kid to an Ivy League School? What to Consider 

Deciding whether or not to send your child to an Ivy League school can be a puzzling choice. However, there are a few factors that may make your decision easier. Here are some considerations for sending your kid to an Ivy League school.


One of the top reasons many students choose not to apply to Ivy League schools is the cost. Each of the Ivies come with a heavy price tag for tuition and fees, which you should consider when making your decision to send your child to one of these schools. Below are the first year tuition costs and fees for each school in the Ivy League.

Ivy League School Tuition
Harvard $56,550
Yale $67,250
Columbia $68,400
Cornell $65,204
Brown $65,656
Dartmouth $66,123
Princeton $62,400
UPenn $60,920

As you can see from the table above, you can expect to spend anywhere from around $230,000 to $300,000 on a four-year degree at an Ivy League school in tuition and fees alone. However, each Ivy League school has financial aid options for students. The cost shouldn’t be the only determining factor, although it’s important to consider. 

Child’s Ambitions

The most important question to ask yourself is, “does my child want to go to an Ivy League school?” This may be a challenging question to answer for your child, as they may not yet understand the benefits involved. However, an easier way to tell if an Ivy League school is the right move for your child is to consider their career ambitions. 

For example, if your child shows leadership qualities and/or wants to participate in a profession where having an Ivy League education would be a major asset (ex: doctor, lawyer, politician, etc.) then it may be smart to set them up for success in those fields. However, there are many valuable professions where having an Ivy League education is of little to no importance.

The best way to go about this decision is to listen to your child. Kids are more in tune with their likes and dislikes than we often think, and it’s important to be considerate of their opinion as they may end up dropping out if they are uninterested in their degree.

FAQs: How to Prepare Your Child for College

Do you still have questions about getting your child into the Ivy League? Read on below to find the answers to all of your questions and more. 

1. Should My Child Only Apply to Ivy League Schools? 

Regardless of your child’s GPA, test scores, and other achievements, they should apply to other schools besides the Ivies. Your child should apply to a mix of safety, target, and reach schools.

Safety schools are essential to apply to if your child is not accepted at their first-choice universities. To be considered a safe school, your child should “be in the 75th percentile or above for a campus to be considered a safe bet.”

Target schools are institutions where your child has a chance of admission, and their GPA and test scores are approximate to the incoming class. If their GPAs and test scores fall within the middle 50% range of the incoming class, they have a shot of admission into these schools. 

Reach schools have low acceptance rates and high admissions standards (i.e., Ivy League schools). Even if your child’s application is unique, polished, and shows their academic aptitude, there is never a guarantee they’ll be accepted to an Ivy League school. However, crafting a perfect application can certainly boost their chances! 

2. When Should I Prepare for College?

College preparations should start as early as possible to give yourself and your child ample time to compile the application. If your child has started asking, “should I go to an Ivy League school?” It's safe to say you should start preparing your child for college. 

While your child is still in high school, start enrolling in extracurricular activities that best suit the Ivy League and your child’s interests. 

3. How Can I Afford an Ivy League School? 

Tuition is expensive, but there are resources available to help you figure out how to afford it. Ivy League schools often provide support to level the playing field for lower-income families. 

For example, “20% of Harvard families pay nothing for their students to attend.” Princeton University offered financial aid that covered 100% “of tuition, room and board for students in the most recent freshman class whose families earned up to $65,000.” 

Visit school websites to check out financial aid availability. 

4. When Will I Know If My Child is Accepted?

Admission letters are typically sent out in late March or April if your child applied under regular decision and December to January if they applied under early decision. 

5. Who Should My Child Ask for a Recommendation Letter? 

Letters of recommendation vouch for your child’s character and offer admissions committees third-party perspectives. Colleges typically want recommendation letters from teachers who taught your child a core subject in their junior or senior year. 

Your child should select a recommender they’ve spent a lot of time with, performed well in their classes, and if they’ve forged a deeper relationship with their teacher through multiple courses or extracurricular activities. 

6. What Extracurricular Activities Highlight a College Application? 

Extracurricular activities show your child has interests outside the classroom and that they’ve contributed to their community, school, or organization. Community service is an excellent way to demonstrate your child’s compassion and commitment to their community. It indicates their presence will add to the school’s culture. 

Examples of community service include volunteering at an animal shelter, organizing a charity event, or starting a new initiative at their school. If your child engages in community service related to their preferred major, that’s a bonus. 

7. What Happens If My Child Doesn’t Get Into an Ivy League School? 

If your child is rejected from their dream schools, it can be a tough pill to swallow for you and them. Comfort them by helping them understand they weren’t rejected because they weren’t good enough, but because there are limited seats to fill at these prestigious schools. 

For the next steps, your child has two options: they can accept an offer at another school or choose to take a gap year. If they want to attend a different school, let them know they can have the opportunity to apply for transfer to their dream school later. 

If they take a gap year, they can fill it with meaningful experiences that can make them a more competitive candidate. Encourage them to pursue extracurricular activities that will give them their best shot at the Ivy League next year. 

8. What Makes Ivy League Schools So special?

Ivy League schools are world renowned for their educational programs, facilities, opportunities, and staff. Attending an Ivy League school ensures a top-notch education and makes acquiring high-level jobs much more accessible. 

Get Your Child Ready for the Ivy League One Step at a Time

Ivy League schools have a long-standing reputation for offering high-quality education. If your child’s dream is to attend an Ivy, be sure to support their endeavors at every step. Preparing your children for an Ivy League education starts with nurturing their academic career, priming them to make their own choices, and honing their writing skills. 

An Ivy League education can help your child blossom into a capable leader of tomorrow in any field they choose. While there is no such thing as guaranteed acceptance at any school, following the advice in this guide can help you prepare your child for university and give them a better chance of acceptance. 

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