Most students know they need to achieve superb grades and score well on standardized tests to get into Ivy League Schools. But what else do Ivy Leagues look for in prospective, qualified students? What can high school students do now to make their applications more competitive and help them stand out among other high achievers?
Outside of grades and test scores, many ways exist to create a winning application to Ivy League colleges and universities. We've developed some tips to help you get the best shot at getting into one of these prestigious schools!
Ivy League College Admissions
Before crafting a plan to get into an Ivy League college, you'll want to be sure that you know what exactly that means and why you are striving for it.
Ivy League Colleges
First, what makes a college Ivy League? "Ivy League" refers to eight private colleges and universities in the northeastern United States known for their academic excellence, selective admissions, and social prestige. These schools are Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, and Yale University.
The Ivy League originated as an athletic conference, but over time, it has come to represent institutions that offer a broad range of educational opportunities at the highest level. While all these schools have vital athletic programs, they are more renowned for their rigorous academic curricula, world-class faculty, abundant resources, and extensive alum networks.
Admissions Requirements for Ivy League Schools
While each school has its requirements, averages, and general expectations, all the Ivy Leagues have very high academic standards. Most applicants will have a GPA of 4.0 or higher and get a 700 or higher on each section of the SAT; there is a generally accepted minimum of 31 for ACT scores.
These are considered the most essential parts of an Ivy League application; however, other factors can help you stand out.
Choose High School Courses Strategically
Even Ivy League schools recognize that different schools offer different classes, and none will require you to take any specific high school classes. But they will look for two major things on your transcript: consistency and challenges.
As James W. Lewis suggests in his book College Admission--How to Get Into Your Dream School: Real Students, Real Stories, crafting a four-year plan as a high school student will help you map out your high school experience to become the strongest possible candidate for the school of your choice. This can help you prioritize consistently challenging courses while discovering what you find most fun and exciting about learning.
Consider taking courses in English, mathematics, social science, laboratory science, and a foreign language all four years of high school. This will show Ivy League admissions officers that you have baseline knowledge in all these courses and are committed to your education.
You may also choose a set of electives or activities that can appear on your transcript for all four years, like taking drama or music classes. This can highlight your interest and commitment to an action you will carry to their campus.
Then Challenge Yourself
Along with taking consistent courses, you should also show on your transcript that you have challenged yourself by taking progressively more difficult courses throughout high school.
For example, consider taking AP English next if you take Honors English for a couple of years. Taking challenging AP and IB courses in areas that interest you most will help demonstrate your desire to continue learning at a higher and higher level. Admissions offices usually look for students who took their schools' highest-level courses.
Prepare for Your Admissions Essay Early
Ivy League Schools look for well-written admissions essays that reveal a student’s interests, demonstrate a clear desire to study at a specific college or university, and are fascinating to read. These essays can help you stand out from a pool of similar-looking applications.
Though you do not need to start writing your essay years in advance, you can cultivate all the qualities and experiences you will write about by taking specific steps throughout your high school career.
Once you start drafting, you'll also want to build in time to iterate and have trusted people proofread your essay. You want to write only some things the night before it's due - be sure there's time to perfect your words!
Beyond the writing you complete in high school, you can also practice your writing skills by taking extra writing courses, keeping a journal, or writing for fun. Read books by authors with writing styles you love, and experiment with your unique writing voice. By the time you write your admissions essay, you will have cultivated your writing abilities and be able to impress these schools!
Choose Extracurricular Activities According to Your Passions
Ivy League Schools look for students who demonstrate passion in a specific area and have remained committed to that subject throughout high school. While having a well-rounded list of activities can also be helpful, it is generally more compelling to admissions counselors if you maintain a long-term activity that shows you have direction and drive.
If you love drama, for example, continue taking drama classes, participate in community theatre, and teach children’s improvisation courses. Show consistency with high school sports. Demonstrate your love of singing by joining your school’s traveling choir.
Whatever your passion is, pursue it to the fullest, and your dream school’s admissions officers will surely take note. They may even hope you'll join the same activities on their campus.
Carefully Research Your Dream Schools
All schools, especially Ivy League schools, look for applicants who show a clear and specific interest in what those schools offer, from research opportunities and classes to Ivy League certificate programs to volunteer and study abroad programs.
Don't apply to an Ivy League just because you know they're well-respected. Make sure you research your dream schools, both online and in person. Take college and university tours to learn more about your dream school and why you want to go there.
By knowing precisely which programs, courses, and professors excite you and what elements of the campus you love most, your admissions essay will have extra magic and show your dream school why you are an ideal candidate. You can also avoid spending time in schools that don't fit you well.
Take Time to Relax and Have Fun
Finally, part of being a well-rounded candidate for an Ivy League school is knowing when to relax and enjoy yourself.
Rather than working on your studies nonstop or packing your schedule with too many activities, meet new friends and enjoy your time in high school. Balance is key.
Remember, all your life experiences will add to your unique application to an Ivy League school, and you will be a much happier student if you remember to maintain some balance.