Acceptance rates to these schools range from just 2.4% for Harvard’s Class of 2022 Regular Decision round to 10.3% at Cornell, making them amongst the most competitive institutions to enter. With almost 43,000 students applying to Harvard in any given year, what does it take for a candidate to stand out?
Perfect grades and test scores alone are not enough to gain admission in these top schools, but neither is a lack of them an automatic disqualifier. Though top US colleges practice “holistic admissions” without strict testing or grade cut-offs, academic qualifications are still the first indicators that a candidate has a chance.
Anything less than straight As on A Levels, a 38-39 in the IB, or a 3.7 GPA is a liability. For example, the average GPA of incoming students at Princeton is 3.84 out of 4.0, and almost 93% of incoming students at Stanford and Harvard have at least a 3.75 GPA. Typically, this means that applicants need to be the top of their class: 97% of MIT freshman graduated as top 10th percentile in their cohorts.
Applicants are also required to take standardized tests such as the SAT or ACT to be eligible to apply. Out of 1600, the 25th to 75th percentiles of SAT scores are 1460 to 1590 at Harvard, 1420 to 1560 at University of Pennsylvania, and 1420 to 1590 at Yale. Similarly, for the ACT, they are 32 to 35 out of 36 for all the aforementioned universities.
Lastly, two SAT Subject tests, though sometimes optional, are all highly recommended at top schools. Especially for international students, they demonstrate subject-area expertise on a standard scale against domestic applicants.\
Ivy League colleges are institutions where a student with a 4.0/4.0 GPA and a 1600/1600 SAT score might still receive a rejection letter. The holistic admissions process means that applicants need to show they are more than just smart test takers – that they have the personal and leadership qualities to thrive at an Ivy League school.
The ideal Ivy League admit would be able to demonstrate continuous, engaged, and committed involvement in clubs, societies, and/or extracurricular activities. Often, students will excel across multiple areas – sports, science clubs, debate societies, community service, or others.
Universities like Columbia and Harvard also expect to grow the future leaders of the world. Casual membership in school extracurriculars does not make the cut – successful applicants often hold more than one leadership role in their clubs or school communities.
Finally, students are encouraged to demonstrate their independence and passions outside of assigned work. Volunteering, personal business ventures, independent research projects, and charity work help applicants stand out and verify their potential to become changemakers who take matters into their own hands.