Ivy League GPA Requirements: Everything You Need to Know

Picture of student using a grey laptop and white notepad to look up the Ivy League GPA requirements
June 7, 2022
What Is a Good GPA for the Ivy League?Weighted vs. Unweighted GPAs for Ivy League SchoolsIs GPA the Only Factor for Ivy League Schools?FAQs: Ivy League GPA Requirements

”Mary

Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/13/22

Your GPA, or grade point average, is a statistic that measures how well you scored in your courses on average. Colleges and universities commonly use it to determine how academically successful a student is when reviewing an application and whether or not the applicant is ready for a university program. Thus, your GPA plays a significant role in the chances of getting an admission offer.  

This is especially the case for Ivy League schools, which are colleges and universities known for their academic excellence, great career opportunities, revered social prestige, and their highly strict selection process for offering admission. If you’re an aspiring student with any Ivy League schools as your goals, this article will give you the information you need when applying to Ivy League schools.

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What Is a Good GPA for the Ivy League?

Before answering this question, let’s look at what schools we are talking about. What are the Ivy League schools? According to US News, there are a total of 8 Ivy league schools, as shown in the following table: 

As you can see, Ivy League schools include the greatest universities that the USA has to offer, with huge names like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. These colleges and universities are well known for their top-quality education, with many respected and knowledgeable professors and refined academic institutions to guide and aid students in their studies. 

Ivy League schools also have the longest and most glorious histories of American post-secondary schools. Throughout these years, the schools have sent out countless talented individuals, such as future leaders and presidents, well-rounded athletes, Nobel-prize winners, and  many other graduates with impressive achievements under their belt.  

Due to such a highly respectable reputation and excellent education, Ivy League schools are highly selective in their admission process. The admission rates of these schools have an average of merely 7.6%, with only Cornell University’s acceptance rate being greater than 10% (and it’s only up by 1%). 

None of the Ivy League schools have a minimum GPA requirement for applications, which means anyone can apply regardless of their GPA. However, due to how competitive and selective the admission process is, whether or not you’ll get an offer of admission is an entirely different story. As mentioned before, the admission rates for Ivy League schools are very low, but it still is possible if you have what it takes to impress them. 

One influential factor is your GPA, as it shows how well you’re doing in high school. Your GPA is calculated by taking the original grade for each course (either numeric or letter value) and then finding the corresponding GPA value (according to the table below). Repeat this process with every course, calculate the average of all such values, and you’ve gotten your GPA.  

GPA is measured on a scale of 0.0 to 4.0 that typically looks like this: 

Keep in mind that this GPA scale is not universal for all schools. Different schools have different GPA values that correspond to each number or letter grade. In fact, according to US News, universities will often recalculate GPA based on what the actual grades are when looking at the transcript. Nonetheless, despite these differences, your high school GPA will give you a rough idea of how well you’re doing academically.  

So how much is good enough? According to a series of self-reported surveys done by students that use US News, during the application for Fall 2020, more than half of the students admitted to Ivy League schools had a 4.0 GPA. The number of acceptances drastically decreases once you go lower than 3.7, although still a handful can be seen. Any lower than 3.5, however, you’ll have to either have an impressive, relevant achievement or pray for a miracle to get an offer. 

Therefore, it is best to aspire for the maximum 4.0 to play it safe. But as long as you have at least a 3.7 GPA, you can still get a serious chance at consideration for an offer. However, do not treat it as an end goal and stop there. Try to go as high as you can, within your capabilities, so you can further increase your chances—the more the merrier.  

Weighted vs. Unweighted GPAs for Ivy League Schools

The GPA mentioned above is the unweighted GPA, which means it calculates the average of your grade points without considering the difficulty of the courses. 

The weighted GPA, on the other hand, will take difficulty into account by adding a multiplier to individual unweighted GPA for each course, depending on the difficulty, while the rest of the calculation remains the same. Regular courses will have a multiplier of 1, while harder or more advanced courses will have a multiplier greater than 1. Due to the multipliers, the scale of weighted GPA usually goes up to 5.0.  

When looking at transcripts, Ivy League schools will first look at your unweighted GPA to see how well you are doing in the courses you enrolled in. Then, they will look at those courses and take the difficulty of each course into account. Afterward they may look at your weighted GPA as an additional reference.  

But don’t get any wrong ideas. While admission officers look at unweighted GPA before weighted GPA, they still care about whether you’ve been challenging yourself, and striving to accomplish or improve. 

Reviewing applications is a lengthy, careful and holistic process, especially for Ivy League schools. When looking at transcripts and deciding which applicants to accept, Ivy League schools will inspect the full picture rather than simply taking a GPA at face value. The specific coursework you’ve taken is just as important as the grades for Ivy League schools. 

They want to know if you’ve been working hard, if you’ve been pushing yourself, and are you getting the most out of the academic opportunities that your school offers? It’s important to remember that Ivy league schools want to see you living up to your full abilities rather than taking the easy way out.  

Taking more advanced and difficult courses doesn’t just show that you have both the spirit and the ability to step yourself up to advancement and take the challenges that come with it. It also shows better academic performance and more preparedness for the harder university-level courses. This is especially the case if your school offers advanced courses that already cover some coursework of first-year university courses. Taking them and getting a good grade can show Ivy League schools that you are capable and ready to handle their curriculum, thus increasing your chances of getting accepted.  

Unless you’ve already taken a respectable amount of advanced courses, taking a series of easier courses just to give your GPA a boost is typically a bad idea. Remember: taking  challenging courses puts you at a competitive advantage compared to the applicants who don’t. After all, with every challenge comes an opportunity to prove yourself to the picky Ivy League schools, so why not take them to make yourself more convincing? 

So don’t be afraid to take whatever challenges your school offers. Don’t fear that challenging courses will drop your GPA because the increased difficulty will be one reward for that risk. When you hit the sweet spot of having both a high unweighted GPA and a weighted GPA, you’ll only be thankful that your hard work and courage paid off in the end.


Is GPA the Only Factor That Matters? 

Certainly not! As previously stated, Ivy League schools look at your transcript as a whole and not simply how high your GPA is. Your GPA serves as an overall measurement of performance, but when reviewing applications, admissions committees look at specific details like the coursework you’ve taken and the grades within each of them.  

Within your application evaluation, particular course grades matter more than others, depending on what subject you applied to. Admission officers will also put more emphasis on the grades of the subjects that are more related to the subject of your chosen program. For example, if you’re applying for a mathematics program, your grades for math courses will be deemed more important than, say, the grades for music class.  

Your recent grades also matter more than grades for earlier years, so your courses and grades in grade 11 and grade 12 are of utmost importance. Ivy League schools will also ask for your mid-year grades report, so make sure you keep your performance consistently good amidst your application. 

Standardized test scores also play a role. For Ivy League schools, required standardized tests are usually the SAT and the ACT. You only have to submit a score for one of the two tests. But it is recommended that you do very well for standardized tests because many accepted students are within the top percentiles for SAT or ACT scores.  

Any other academic achievements, such as rewards offered either by your school, or other institutions or groups, will all raise your chances of getting an offer, especially if they’re related to the subject of the program you’ve applied to. For example, if you’re applying to a computer science program and you won an award in a programming contest, feel free to include that in your application!  

On top of that, there’s more to your application profile than your academic performance. Remember: Ivy League schools aren’t just looking to see how good you are at studying, but also what kind of a person you are and how their education can help you grow. For example, Harvard, on its application page, lists “interests and activities,” “personal character,” and “contribution to community” as what they look for in a candidate, alongside “growth and potential,” the only one related to academics.  

The non-academic parts of an application include essays, recommendation letters, and extracurricular activities. Extracurricular activities are a particularly crucial point of interest of Ivy League schools for two reasons, they: 

  1. Demonstrate a student’s ability to balance academic performance with life outside of studying 
  2. Show what other talents, skills and passions a student has, outside of academics, and indicate whether or not the selected program will benefit them

However, don’t participate in extracurricular activities just for the purpose of participating. What matters most is  what you’ve learned, accomplished, contributed, and what intrigued you to participate. 

Cynthia Crum, a director of college counseling at The Episcopal Academy, claims that “both ‘pointy’ students with a narrow extracurricular focus and ‘well-rounded’ students with a variety of extracurricular activities” have an advantage for university applications.  

Another factor that you may have overlooked is the timing of submitting your application. In normal conditions, Ivy League schools will open a period for early applications. Applying during this period will increase your chances of getting accepted. Ivy League schools consider early applicants to be more confident, passionate, and ready, as these applicants satisfied the application requirements earlier than the regular applicants. Therefore, be on the lookout for any early applications your dream school offers. 

Bottom line: the decision to make an offer is not made solely by looking at a few numbers on a piece of paper. As mentioned before, there have been applicants that Ivy League schools accepted despite their GPA being low. Why did that happen? Because they had something other than GPA that impressed the admission officers whether it be another academic achievement, or an essay that was extraordinarily insightful or well written.  


FAQs: Ivy League GPA Requirements

1. My high school does not offer any advanced courses. What should I do? 

If your school doesn’t offer any advanced or challenging courses, don’t worry about that. Because admission officers will ask you to submit school reports that tell them your conditions, they will keep that in mind when reviewing your applications. Essentially, take the best opportunities that your school provides, and you should be fine. 

2. Besides SAT scores and ACT scores, are there any other standardized tests I need to include in my application? 

SAT and ACT are two exams that Ivy League schools require for your application. Once again, only one of these two is needed. Unless the specific school requires any other test scores, everything else is optimal to include in your application. However, if English is not your first language, you may be required to report your score for tests like TOEFL or IELTS to prove your language efficiency.  

3. Would you recommend taking any AP/IB courses or programs?  

If you are comfortable with your GPA, then the answer is a firm yes! Both AP and IB programs offer advanced education that teach you first year university coursework at later stages. AP/IB is accepted and recognized by Ivy League schools, so doing well in these programs will certainly increase your chances. Better yet, doing well in these courses will also improve your performance for school courses, subsequently improving your GPA.  

Conclusion

Your GPA is a predominant measurement for your overall high school academic success, and you should certainly put in the time and effort to make it as high as you can. However, do make sure that you leave yourself enough energy for the other parts of your application. 

All of this can certainly sound overwhelming, but remember: Ivy League schools are looking for skillful individuals who are capable of performing well in multiple aspects, and balancing many duties at once. 

Getting accepted into Ivy League schools isn’t meant to be easy. After all, these are some of the most respected and prestigious schools that offer the best post-secondary education that the USA has to offer, so of course admission will be highly competitive. Therefore, please don’t get discouraged by the difficulties you may face, as doing so will only slow you down. Focus on being the best version of yourself and presenting it to the Ivy League schools. 

And, for some encouragement, here is something that Princeton University writes on its application website: “Instead of worrying about meeting a specific set of criteria, try to create an application that will help us see your achievements — inside the classroom and out — in their true context, so we can understand your potential to take advantage of the resources at Princeton and the kind of contribution you would make to the Princeton community.” Good luck with your application!

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