wikiHow to Get Into an Ivy League School

Three Parts:Succeed in High SchoolMaster the Application ProcessWhat to Do After Being Accepted Or Rejected

Thousands of students all over the world dream to be admitted to an Ivy League or similarly elite institution, which many consider to be the pinnacle of collegiate education. Accomplishing this has become more and more difficult due to a rapidly growing applicant pool, but you can certainly increase your odds of getting into one. Here's a route that will improve your chances with the Ivy Leagues and, if nothing else, help make the most of your high-school years and prepare you for an excellent college education somewhere else.

Part 1
Succeed in High School

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    Challenge yourself. Seek out the most demanding and rigorous opportunities at your school, especially in the academic arena. It's often preferable to do well in a challenging program than to be exceptional in an average one. If your school offers advanced courses, especially those for which college credit is offered, an Ivy League school will expect you to have taken them.
    • Schools can't factor difficult teachers into their decision. They can only go off your transcript. Look for classes that will be recognized as difficult, but preferably without overly difficult grading.
    • It's most helpful to take difficult classes and work hard in subjects you expect to continue with in college, because they'll also make good grades there easier.
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    Start early. Aim to be a well-rounded achiever. A slacker who decides to start making good grades late in high school probably won't be admitted. You should have a consistent history of high scholastic achievement.
    • There are sometimes exceptions as colleges also love to see improvement. If your problems were due to circumstances beyond your control, you could attach a supplement to your application about what they were and how you succeeded in spite of them.
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    Have an excellent GPA. Having a GPA in the top 10% of your class is essential, and being ranked among the top few students dramatically betters your chances. Keep in mind you're applying to institutions where many of the other applicants are valedictorians at their school.
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    Have excellent standardized test scores. This is a critical part of your overall application because it's the one area where you're on equal footing with everyone else. Aim for attaining at least a 700 (out of a possible 800) points on each section of the SAT (and on individual SAT II tests), or a composite of 30 on the ACT for a reasonable chance of being admitted. Bringing these scores up to 750+ on each SAT section (meaning at least 2250 out of 2400 points in total), or a 33+ composite ACT, will give you solid scores that need not be improved.
    • Do not repeat the test more than three times. According to Chuck Hughes, a former senior admissions officer at Harvard, the admission panel will notice this and your repeated attempts to get a high score may come off as too focused on scores.[1] Get good before you take it.
    • Take a test-preparation class or get a few books and practice. Speed and accuracy on these tests is a unique skill which needs to be learned. Start preparing early and keep at it diligently until you can solve the problems without much thinking.
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    Get involved in extracurricular activities. Ivy Leagues want to see a well-rounded applicant who didn't lock themselves away for four years to get good grades. Join a sports team (even if it's just an intramural team), join a club or two and get involved with the theater department.
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    Volunteer. Think on a national or international scale; don't just limit yourself to the opportunities in your hometown. Spending a summer helping raise funds to build a school in Peru will mean more to them than raising funds for your local church.
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    Lead in the areas where you excel. Look for opportunities to take on additional recognition and responsibility as a leader. This can range from becoming class president to cheerleading captain, or even an officer for a club you participate in. Take your job as a leader seriously because the lessons you learn in this role can be the experiences that set you apart from the crowd when you write your essay or get interviewed.

Part 2
Master the Application Process

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    Research schools. Not all Ivy League schools offer the same experience. Find out whether the research opportunities, location, social life, students, professors, climate dormitories and food services are things you would enjoy for four years.
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    Visit the campus. Talk with professors and current students. Get a sense of what your life there would be like. Also, try to see if you can spend a weekend there. Several colleges offer that option.
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    Research financial aid opportunities. Ivy League schools are notoriously expensive and they do not offer any athletic, merit or regional scholarships. You must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to receive aid.
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    Get teacher recommendations. Seek out teachers who know you well, have a favorable opinion of you (hopefully they all do!) and seem willing to write a great recommendation on your behalf. Some will appreciate if you can make their job easier with a discussion or a few notes for starting points on what to say about you.
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    Polish your application. What many applicants do not realize is that high grades and test scores will not guarantee admission. They merely "get you through" the first round of rejections. After that, the college will examine what kind of person you are. This is done through one or more essays, teacher and counselor recommendations, an interview and sometimes a peer recommendation.
    • Begin the application process early so that you will have sufficient time to revise anything if needed. Ask adults familiar with prestigious universities' culture (your school counselor, for example) for advice on what kinds of things from your experience to write about and how to best present them to the school. This can help with interviews too.
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    Prepare for your interview. Interviews can be with someone from the admissions office of the university or an alumni, and range from relatively nonchalant to interrogative ordeals. Dress respectfully, be expectant of questions your interviewer may ask, but above all just be yourself - or a subtly more mature version!
    • Find someone to give you practice interviews. Even if they aren't familiar with the process, they will help you stay relaxed and articulate. If your interview does not go well, do not worry. Interviews are rarely indicative of whether you will be accepted or not.
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    Sit back, and wait for the results. Most Ivy League decisions arrive in early April, or can be checked online the first of the month. A few schools will send out "likely letters" to their more desirable prospects 1-2 months earlier to informally notify them of their acceptance.

Part 3
What to Do After Being Accepted Or Rejected

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    Do not allow your grades to significantly slip. Students can be dropped by schools for drastically declining grades. Any sort of arrest during this period will often result in an acceptance being taken away as well.
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    Consider other options for a wait-list decision. If you have been wait-listed, your chances of being accepted off the wait list are quite slim. Move on to your next choice.
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    Try transferring into an Ivy. If you do outstanding work at a second tier school, you can try transferring to an Ivy after a year or two. You might not receive credit toward graduation for the work done at the other school. You will probably be able to skip repeating introductory courses, but you might still have to take four years of courses, which means padding things out with more advanced courses or with courses you're interested in outside your major. Your degree is from the school where you finish, not where you begin.
    • Some state colleges guarantee transfer admission to community-college students meeting grade requirements there. This can save you a bundle and even let you get in to a prestigious state college - not quite the Ivies, but close - which might refuse to admit you directly.
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    Look at graduate school programs for Ivy league schools. By doing outstanding work at an undergraduate program and performing very well on the appropriate admissions exam (e.g., GRE, LSAT) you may be able to be admitted to an Ivy League graduate program. In addition to providing excellent opportunities for scholarship, many of these programs offer opportunities for offsetting tuition and other expenses via teaching or research assistant positions.
    • A prestigious graduate school can do much more to increase income in a highly-paid profession than a prestigious undergraduate program. For grad schools that focus heavily on grades, a slightly less-prestigious undergraduate program with generous grading might actually improve your chances of admission over more amorphous prestige and the good grades you'll have to claw for with tougher competition.


  • The Ivy Leagues have the deep pockets to offer generous financial aid. All of the Ivy League schools have "need-blind" admission and "full-need" financial aid policies. They also define "need" more broadly than their less-wealthy peers. If your family income is less than $75,000, you might not be charged any tuition at several of the Ivies. This would be for the neediest (Pell Grant eligible) students at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Cornell or Columbia. So, if you're not wealthy, do look to the Ivy League along with state colleges for which you qualify (or might move to qualify) for in-state rates. They can be much more affordable than somewhat prestigious private colleges with similar face tuition rates.
    • Before you make your final decision, see what kind of financial aid a school would provide. It could possibly be a combination of grants (free discounts or even stipends), loans and employment in the light of you and your parents' finances. Look at how it may be assured from year to year.
  • Having a "hook" is often an impetus toward acceptance. Don't write something too strained or boastful, but don't hide it.
  • Even though colleges say they don't consider race, that's not true. Race can play a very important part of the the admissions decision. Virtually all colleges want to be more diverse. African Americans are accepted in virtually all colleges (including the Ivies) by simply scoring a 650 or higher on each section of the SAT. The above generally applies to Hispanics. Note that the above does NOT apply to Asians, who are not considered an under-represented minority group by most schools. This was taken from a Princeton Review book.
  • Just be yourself in your resume and in any auditions you might be doing. This way the person in charge can see who you really are and make sure that this is the right college for you.
  • Students from "rare" geographic locations in the US are generally more likely to gain admission. Wyoming and Mississippi are examples. On the flip side, those from over represented areas like southern California, New England, or the mid-Atlantic region will face stronger competition.
  • A few of the world's best universities, like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, generously share their programs with the world over the Internet through the "Open Courseware Alliance". Try a video class to get a feel for Ivy League-level courses, prepare for better grades or even to learn on your own.
  • Many students also find success in using the help of a specialized admissions counselor. They often will help brainstorm essay ideas with you, look over your essay, help you build a resume and assist you in other areas you might need help in.
  • Being top of your class is ordinary at Harvard, but being top of your class despite a physical or mental disability may set you apart.
  • Remember, there are no guarantees in admissions and few in financial aid. Much is left to chance and the cost of applications is insignificant in the scheme of things. Apply to many schools you think you might like to attend.
  • Some categories of applicants are often given preference. Among them are legacies, recruited athletes and under-represented minorities (URMs). Having a parent or relative who is famous or has made a multi-million-dollar donation to your prospective school helps too. In fact, almost half of the students at Ivy League schools fall into one of the above groups.
    • Legacies, in general, are defined as applicants who have had one or both parents who are alumni of the institution in question. Some schools will extend this definition to include grandchildren as well. You can find out what any particular college considers a legacy by calling the admissions department and asking.
    • Recruited athletes are often those proficient in "niche" sports like lacrosse, crew or squash. Lacrosse is the 2nd largest team sport (roster number/team) in division I and the Ivies excel in it (Princeton and Cornell combine for a total of 9 NCAA Championship wins - 6 of Princeton's were in the last 20 years). These students have the added pressure of a full course load and heavy involvement in a sport.
  • Schools look to fill their schools with a variety of students from different walks of life. Consider getting your undergrad in something off the beaten path since most schools don't care what your undergrad degree is in, but diversity - and grades - are key. Also try some more obscure activities or charity work on the side.
  • If you attend a school where IB (International Baccalaureate) is offered, try to graduate with the IB diploma (all class) or as many IB Certificates (single classes) as possible. Having the IB Diploma greatly increases your chances of getting accepted at these selective schools.
  • Customers and employers often do care what you know, so give yourself options by learning and getting good grades in courses for something practical along with something quirky. Consider a double major.
  • If you have been rejected, you have hopefully applied to other schools (most of which will offer a perfectly good education). Remember that a rejection from an Ivy does not mean you are a lesser person by any means. Admissions at this level is a craps shoot, with a bit of cliquishness thrown in. Students who may have been accepted in previous years can be rejected this year (and vice versa). Studies have shown that students accepted to Ivies that attended other schools were just as successful in life as their Ivy counterparts; the same holds true for those with the qualifications to attend an Ivy who just happened to be rejected. Continue doing your best, and your efforts will be rewarded in other ways.
  • If you don't get accepted, don't be too upset. Go to a smaller college and get a degree and you may be able to move on, or you may even be happier.


  • Do not lie or misrepresent yourself in your application. It may come back to haunt you.
  • Having teachers or family members edit or critique your essay is OK; having them write it for you--or buying a pre-written essay online--is not. Colleges have means of searching for pre-written essays and admissions personnel can distinguish between essays written by teenagers--albeit very gifted ones--and adults.
  • Make sure going to an Ivy League school is what you really want. Far too many go simply because they, or their overzealous parents are simply hungry for prestige. This attitude is bound to lead to unhappiness.
  • Read all you can about the Ivy League schools from less biased sources so that you have a clear picture of whether or not an Ivy League school will fit your needs.
  • If you will likely be dependent on financial aid, it is unwise to apply Early Decision. This is typically a binding agreement that requires the applicant to attend if accepted, and if your aid package is insufficient, you may be left in a very tight spot. Although you will be allowed to back out of your decision if you do not have enough money, only apply ED if you are confident you have both the credentials and the financial assets to attend your prospective school. (Note: In recent years, the Ivy League has started to move away from binding early decisions, but be sure to check with the admissions department at your particular school of interest before applying if finances are a concern).
  • Switching schools and taking breaks can be costly and waste time, so make sure you want to go before you go. If you're unhappy, try to endure it until your semester is complete, perhaps with fewer or easier classes
  • Some Ivy League schools have been known to cause unhealthy levels of pressure on students. Some are even known for frequent suicides.
  • Consider the costs of attending an Ivy League school, which can be more than $50,000 per year and rising. Don't let them discourage you from applying even if your family doesn't have that kind of money to spare. You might get generous financial aid. But if you won't be getting much, or it would largely be loans, you'll have to decide whether or not having a degree from that institution will really help advance your career a lot more than attending another school that may not be as expensive. A full scholarship or modest tuition rate and living expenses at a "good" school might make more sense than $100,000 or $200,000 of debt from a "great" school. Calculate the payments, and consider whether you'd be able to comfortably make them with an average or slightly above-average entry-level salary in the career you've prepared for.
    • Keep in mind you might need a graduate degree for another $100,000 or $200,000, while interest accrues on the initial loan amount for your undergraduate amount, and a low but still costly standard of living in a big city.

Sources and Citations

  1. 5 Tips: Harvard-bound - CNN Money Feb. 23, 2005

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