The Road To The Ivy League

What Does It Take To Get Into Colleges In The Ivy League+?

While the name Ivy League refers to a collegiate athletics league in the US, over time this group of schools has become synonymous with academic excellence. With some of the most prestigious and competitive universities in the world among its members, the Ivy League is comprised of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown, Dartmouth, and Cornell.

Students who apply to Ivy League colleges also apply to similar-caliber universities like Stanford, MIT, UC Berkeley, Duke, and more. As such, these schools are commonly referred to as the Ivy League+

Chances of admission to these schools may fall as low as 2.4%. Getting into these schools will require more than just excellent grades and a well-rounded profile.

So, what does it take?

The Ivies+ And You

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?

Academic Qualifications

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.\

Extracurriculars

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.

Ideal Application Timeline

The Ideal Timeline

Getting into an Ivy League college requires a multi-year plan. The earlier you start, the better.

9th & 10th Grade


Create a 4-year high school plan. Think about what you’d like to achieve in high school and meet with your consultant to make sure you’re taking the best classes for your goal. Think about what you’d like to achieve outside the classroom too. What kind of voluntary work and paid job experiences are you interested in? What are your interests? Gear your interests toward exploring extracurricular activities in your school. Start investigating the PSAT & SAT.

11th Grade


Take the SAT and/or the ACT. Maintain a good set of extracurricular activities and start polishing your communication skills. Do you have good leadership skills? How do you perform in group settings? Take on new roles and become more involved in community service projects and other volunteer opportunities that interest you most. Now is also the time to keep up with your reading and practice writing. It will help you in writing a promising college essay. Start your college search by making a list of factors that are important to you, and start creating a list of colleges. Reach out to those colleges to request for more information on their academics, programs, and activities that interest you. Utilize your summer holidays by writing initial drafts of your college essay.

Senior Year


Take an SAT/ACT and any SAT subject tests if required. By the start of your senior year, you should decide if you will be applying to colleges for early decision/early action. Create a Common App profile and start adding colleges to your dashboard. Meet with your counselor and other teachers who will write your letters of recommendations and give them a heads up. Start polishing your college essays and complete writing any supplementary essays. Keep track of deadlines: are you applying to early decision/action schools? What are the deadlines for regular decision? If you are applying for financial aid, keep track of FAFSA/CSS profile deadlines. Keep your grades up even after you have finished submitting your college applications.

Sample Successful Profile

This profile is based off a real applicant whose details have been changed to protect their privacy.

Vidya L.

Yale University
Academics
  • GCSE: 9 A*s, IB: 44
  • SAT: 1570, SAT Math II: 800, SAT Chemistry: 780

Extracurriculars
  • Started own local volunteer organization
  • Science Olympiad, top 20 internationally
  • Lab research intern
  • Publication credit in regional science journal
  • School dance team, Captain
  • Interact Club, President
  • MUN, Conference Organizer
  • Piano, ABRSM Grade 8
  • School Track Team
  • Organized Tech symposium for Robotics Club

How Prep Zone Academy Can Help You

Given the competitive and holistic nature of Ivy League school admissions processes, it is easy to become overwhelmed and confused about how to proceed with an application.

At Prep Zone, our comprehensive package’s unlimited structure allows us to dedicate the time necessary to an application to make sure the student has the highest chance of admission. 

Amongst other things and depending on sign-up time, our Ivy League package offer includes help with:

  • Finding the right schools to fit your profile and interests;
  • Coming up with an application timeline for profile building and standardized testing;
  • Brainstorming and editing college application essays and all other materials;
  • Individual interview preparation sessions;
  • Assistance assembling school transcripts, financial documents, and other application materials;
  • Alumni chat (subject to availability)

Our qualified admissions consultants, many of whom are Ivy League alums themselves, will be able to assist you at your convenience and provide flexible scheduling opportunities.

Our Recent Success Stories

StudentSchool
BelindaPrinceton
AseyBrown
AnhStanford
XWHarvard
FengHarvard
AmandaUC Berkeley
AkshatUPenn
AditU of Michigan
CeciliaUCLA

The consultants were fantastic in helping me with my US essays; the feedback was always on time and very detailed. Furthermore, my mock interview practice with the consultants was invaluable for my UK medical interviews. Overall, I had a great experience with Prep Zone's professionalism and would highly recommend any applicants world wide to use their services.

R. A.Admitted To: Manchester, Medicine; Imperial, Medicine: King's, Medicine; UCL, Cancer Biomedicine; UPenn, Biology; Berkely, Biology; UCLA, Biology; Tufts, Biology; NYU, Biology; Wisconsin, Genetics and Genomics; George Washington, International Affairs and Politics; Yale-NUS, Life Sciences

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