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How to Get Into an Ivy League School

So, how do the Ivy League colleges decide who to admit to their schools? How can a high school student understand what they need to do to stand out amongst the countless applicants to the world’s most selective colleges? Here’s what you need to know about getting into Ivy League and other top-ranked universities, like Stanford University, Duke University, Johns Hopkins, University of Chicago, Northwestern and MIT to name a few.

What GPA do you need into an Ivy League School?

With over a decade of experience helping students get into Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University and Brown University, it is very clear that there is a desired GPA range that will get the admissions officers to put you in the pile for consideration or not. While we generally see students with unweighted GPAs between 3.88 to 4.0 get admitted, the closer you are to a 4.0, the more likely you are to get admitted. Yes, that means getting all A’s or very close to all A’s in high school.

We mentioned unweighted GPA because weighted GPAs become messy. We’ve found that every high school weights differently and so it is very difficult to interpret a weighted GPA. However, as you can imagine, Ivy League colleges care a great deal about the difficulty of classes you are taking. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Dartmouth, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University and Brown University are going to want to see that you have challenged yourself to the greatest extent possible at your high school by taking the hardest classes available to you. This means that you have taken as many AP classes as your high school allows and that you have also taken honors and advanced classes as well. Colleges will look at the difficulty of your courseload and will give you a rigor score to go along with looking at your unweighted GPA.

What SAT and ACT scores do you need to get into an Ivy League University?

The SAT and ACT ranges for successful applicants to Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University and Brown University and other top-ranked colleges, such as Stanford University, Duke University, University of Chicago and Northwestern University. However, what is important to understand is that being at the higher end of the range is always going to help you to increase your chances to gain admission. What this means is that an Ivy League school will expect that you get a 35 or 36 on the ACT or a 1550 or higher on the SAT. Yes, there are definitely some students who get admitted with lower scores, but it becomes increasingly difficult.

Can you apply to Ivy League colleges as test-optional?

Yes, in the last several years, Ivy League colleges have been accepting test-optional students. With that said, it is much easier to gain admission if you have a test score. Ivy League colleges will be more likely to accept a test-optional student if they are socioeconomically underprivileged or if they have other important qualities that the university is seeking.

What makes a student get admitted to an Ivy League college?

We bring this question up again because high grades and high test scores are not enough to gain admission to Ivy League and prestigious schools like Stanford, Duke, Johns Hopkins, University of Chicago, Northwestern and MIT. Yes, high grades and high SAT or ACT scores will get you into the pile for consideration, but there is a lot more you need to do to stand out to Ivy League admissions officers. Here are some of the key factors that will help you to get into schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Cornell.

The Importance of Leadership for Ivy League Admissions

Ivy League colleges want to see that you are a leader. This can mean many things, but the more leadership positions that you have in your high school community, the better. With that said, the quality of your leadership is also important. You want to have leadership positions in the most important clubs or organizations in your school. You also want to be the president or head of these groups and not have a lower level leadership position. Colleges are looking to see how your peers are viewing you. Do they view you as a leader?

Academic Focus is Key for Ivy League Admissions

Do you have an academic area of interest? Having developed an intellectual commitment to a particular area of study is crucial for Ivy League admissions. This is often the most crucial part of an Ivy League application, as admissions officers will want to see that students have deeply explored an academic area of interest in high school through many different channels, such as through courses, internships and clubs, among other ways. Demonstrating the level of academic curiosity that Ivy League schools expect takes years of building a strong resume and narrative. At Spark, we help students to develop high school resumes in a way that will help them stand out to admissions officers. We cannot underscore enough how important this academic narrative is for Ivy League admissions.

Community Service is a Must for Ivy League Schools

Being a positive influence in and caring for a meaningful part of the community is crucial for Ivy League admissions or for admission to any top colleges. What is most important is showing a long term, regular commitment to a particular organization. It is not about earning community service hours. It is about getting deeply committed to an important cause. Ivy League colleges and other top universities want students who are deeply invested in the welfare of others and will continue to show this dedication in their college communities and after college as well.

The Importance of Personal Traits in Ivy League Admissions

Students’ personal qualities are probably the most distinguishing factors in deciding who Ivy League schools admit. At Spark, we work with students throughout high school to help them develop these very-important personal traits. So, how do Ivy League colleges evaluate these traits?

Ivy League colleges have a tremendous amount of school-specific essays and many of the schools conduct interviews or ask for a 2-minute video. The essays, interviews and videos are probably the most important ways a student can try to stand out to Ivy League colleges. Their questions are aimed at better understanding a student’s personal qualities, which can make them stand out among the greater pool of applicants. Some of the qualities Ivy League and other competitive colleges want to see in successful applicants are:

  • Being an open, considerate member of the community who is willing to embrace the diversity of their peers on campus;
  • Showing that your intellectual curiosity is great enough that you can share interesting ideas with others in the classroom and beyond;
  • Demonstrating that you will get involved on campus and be a large contributor to some of the many student organizations and extracurricular activities on campus;
  • Exhibiting that you are empathetic to others and would be a good roommate;
  • Discussing how you hope to impact society with your leadership skills and individual interests.

Summarizing How to Get Into an Ivy League College

This post has given a comprehensive understanding of what you need to do to get into Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Dartmouth, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University and Brown University. Each of these schools, as well as other competitive colleges, want you to demonstrate all of the areas that were covered, this includes:

  • Academic excellence reflected by a high GPA while taking the most rigorous classes offered at your school
  • A high SAT or ACT score (though sometimes schools can be test-optional)
  • Demonstrated leadership in your high school community
  • Evidence of a deep academic focus in your college application materials
  • A long-term commitment to community service
  • Positive personality traits evident in your application materials and essays

As you can see, there is a lot to accomplish to get into a top-ranked college or university. Spark’s acceptance rate at Ivy League colleges is 8 times the national average acceptance rate . Please feel free to schedule some time with one of our admissions counselors to help you navigate the admissions process and reach your college admissions goals.

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