How to Get into an Ivy League School: Top Tips Revealed

Joining elite universities such as Stanford, Yale, Cornell or Harvard is a dream for many high school seniors. Often, how to hack the rigorous application process is a mystery to many parents/guardians and learners. Unfortunately, plenty of unclear and awkward advice abound. The sad thing about the whole thing is that vague advice comes from folks that have never been admitted to the Ivy League themselves.

On this guide, we feature tips, strategies, and stories from guys who applied, were accepted and attended an Ivy. Ultimately, you will learn what most applicants do wrong and how to avoid making the same mistake.

Before digging in, it is important to note that Ivy League admissions panel looks for these two attributes in a student:

  1. Ability to change the world. You must demonstrate that you will achieve world-transforming things.
  2. Have a positive impact on the community while at the university. You need to have a good heart and assist other learners to attain inordinate things.

Do the following to stand any chance of joining the Ivy League:

What Matters the Most for Ivies; GPA or Test Scores (SAT/ACT)?

GPA is the foundation of your academic triumph in secondary school. Your GPA demonstrates to the university three main things:

  1. Your drive, perseverance, and dedication
  2. Your focus and attention on duties with achievable goals
  3. Your capability to process things critically

However, having said that, it is important to note that GPAs are no longer that vital as they were initially. There is more that an admissions panel considers than just the GPA. GPAs constitute around 30 percent of your application.

Test scores, on the other hand, are quickly becoming more essential in the modern university application world. Today, your application’s test score element is highly important. ACT/SAT scores are standard. Universities and colleges can compare all students in the country against each other on the same scale using test scores. This is unlike GPAs that might be different from one institution to another. In addition to this, GPA inflation has messed things up.

A perfect example of a student whose applications were accepted at Princeton University is Isaiah Nieves, a Puerto Rican native. He mostly got A’s in high school. His SAT scores stood at 2110. On top of his impressive grades and scores, he was involved in athletics – track and cross country. During his application, he was a member of the National Honor Society and president of the school’s Spanish club. Moreover, Nieves was involved with the institution’s choir. To sum it up, he was a church volunteer and helped out in Sunday school. All these played a big role in getting him admitted to Princeton.

There’s more to getting admission than just good grades. It is important to demonstrate interests in other areas as it is evident with Nieves’ case.

What Are You Passionate About?

Are you into sports? Do you like soccer? Does music tickle you? What about theater, are you into it? Do you own a business? All these can make a difference in your application.

The admission panel is looking for applicants that demonstrate a passion for something. Take Camille Rapay’s, a Dobbs Ferry native, case for instance. She joined Penn University. One of the things that made her application win the hearts of the interview panel is the fact that she demonstrated passion in different areas. In addition to being the captain of her lacrosse team, she also played volleyball. On top of that, Camille was also an active member of the debate team. To add icing to the cake, she also plays ukulele, guitar, and piano.

As a freelance visual illustrator, Camille runs a business where she gets to meet different people. She’s into telling stories that evoke emotions.

When she submitted her application to Penn University to be considered for visual studies, the panel was impressed by her portfolio. Her passion and interest in the field, coupled with other ‘pluses’ in her application, made her stand out from the rest. This is despite having low test scores (28 on the ACT).


Universities care so much about your life outside the classroom. In addition to good grades, the panel wants to establish whether you impact your local community positively. A great way to impact society is through volunteering and community service. You do not need to do it to ”look good.”

Through community service, you can be able to demonstrate your depth, creativity, leadership, and compassion. This study just shows the value that being a volunteer or taking part in community service gives to your application.

Quantity vs. Quality

Now that we have established the essential nature of community service or volunteering when applying to the Ivy League, does it mean that you join countless projects? Not quite! The admission panel can quickly notice those who genuinely take part in community projects and applicants that just fill their activity list just for the sake of it.

Instead of participating in many activities, how about you only involve yourself with those that you find interesting or are passionate about. Quality is significant than quantity in this regard. Quality activities give your application an additional context.

These tips will help you get started in community service:

  • Network – Have you been an intern? Any activities you have taken part in in the past? Did you form any networks in the two scenarios? If you did, use your networks to inquire about any prospective service opportunities. There is more to networking than just finding opportunities or work. You can use your networks to get additional information regarding a particular field.
  • Interest matters – What are your interests? What do you love doing? For instance, you can be into filmmaking. If this described you, why not join the media department at your institution? Alternatively, you can form a filmmaker’s club and together with your members, research various industry aspects. By knowing what you like, you can use take advantage of it to give back to the community.

Volunteer Hours

How many volunteer hours matter to an Ivy? Well, approximately 50 – 200 hours is impressive. Do not focus so much on volunteer work hours. Note: When applying to the Ivy League, the important thing is to strike a balance on all areas of the application. Do not overlook one aspect over the other.

Wondering where you can take part in community service? Check out this list.

Harder Courses Pay

University courses get more intense and rigorous as the years advance. This is the main reason why the admission panel desires students that take harder courses in high school. It demonstrates to them that you can handle the pressure that comes with the always-changing university education.

As you choose courses or classes to take in high school, it is important to note that there are various difficulty levels. IV or AP level is the hardest. Pre-AP comes as the second hardest. The third hardest is honors. Non-accelerated or on-level happens to be the least difficult.

Taking hard courses brings with it the following benefits in addition to spicing your college application:

  • It helps you push yourself to the limit academically. This goes miles in keeping your schoolwork exciting and interesting.
  • It equips you with the stamina and skills to handle the pace and rigor of university courses. It shows in your transcript thus giving you an edge over other applicants.
  • Because you have chosen harder courses does not mean that you will not get impressive grades. Provided you give it your best shot, there is no limit to the grade you can get. Impressive grades are still possible.
  • If you opt for the IB/AB class, chances are high that you will get university credit provided you pass your examinations.

What If My Application Gets Rejected, What Do I Do?

So you have submitted countless applications to elite schools, but rather than receiving an acceptance letter, you get a rejection one. Countless thoughts abound! What did you do wrong? What do you do now? How best can you pick up yourself? Do you still have a shot at a top school?

In 2008, Hannah received a rejection letter from Stanford. It was her top choice. Although it hurt, she learned plenty of lessons from the experience. She later on applied to the Michigan University and got accepted.

From her rejection experience, we can establish that rejection happens for two major reasons:

  • Applying to a highly competitive school
  • Inadequate or poorly done application

First things first, is your main choice competitive? The low acceptance rate is a common factor among the Ivy League. Check out these acceptance rates of top universities in the country to have a clue on where you need to apply and the schools to avoid.

Secondly, an admission panel can reject your application because of a poorly done application. An impeccable application to the Ivy League should have these features:

Having looked at the two main reasons why you can get rejected, so what next? Here’s what you need to do:

  • Take ample time to ‘grieve’
  • Be enthusiastic about other top institutions
  • Consider a gap year. Reapply later
  • Challenging or appealing rejection is an option

Having looked at the various points that an admission panel considers when reviewing applications, let us now look at why you should join an Ivy League university and not just any other university:

Why an Ivy and Not Just Any Other University?

The institution and rich history are some of the reasons that make these schools stand out. They attract the crème de la crème of students, professors, and scholars.

Vast and Helpful Networks

Due to the institutions’ historic roots, their graduating class date back to the 17th century. The League’s powerful alumni network is among the top reasons to enroll in these schools. While some learners might not understand this, alumni relationships are highly impactful particularly after graduation when looking for employment.

The alumni network of these institutions is welcoming and incredibly strong. In addition to receiving a world-class education, you constitute a leading graduate group. Being part of the network has a big impact on your future.

Quality Study Materials

When you are enrolled in an Ivy, you enjoy effortless access to an array of studying and research materials created by top minds in the world. On top of being well-educators, professors are knowledgeable and passionate regarding specific issues and topics. Ivy League tutors are always coming up with new theories on various topics.

Impressive Statistics

According to this study by the Education Department, a degree from an Ivy League is highly valuable. While attaining a degree raises your salary prospects, graduating from an Ivy increases it some more. Here are the numbers:

  • Brown University – $67,500
  • Dartmouth College – $75,500
  • Cornell University – $77,200
  • Columbia University – $83,300
  • Yale University – $83,200
  • Pennsylvania University – $85,500
  • Princeton University – $74,700
  • Harvard University – $89,700

By studying in an Ivy, you enjoy the potential of earning a salary that is above average. Harvard graduates earn the highest of all graduates of the Ivy League.

Gives you an Edge

Education from an Ivy gives you an edge in competitive fields like business consulting, law and finance. Often, top companies globally hire directly from the institution.

These impressive stats just paint a picture of how Ivy graduates are usually in demand:

  • Pennsylvania University has produced top students in the field of finance to companies like Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.
  • Out of the 100 startups featured by CNN, 34 CEOs attended Harvard.
  • Over half of the one hundred and fourteen Supreme Court Justices schooled at an Ivy.

Studying at an Ivy League institution is an added advantage to graduates.

Also Read: 3 “Easiest” Ivy League Schools to Get Into: Is Brown the Easiest Ivy?

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