There aren't any hard and fast requirements for admission to an Ivy League college, but as most people understand, the expectation is that any student who is admitted has a high GPA, excellent standardized test scores and some truly impressive extracurricular activities.

What Are the Ivy League Schools?

Most American students are aware of the Ivy League. An Ivy League college is one of the eight schools that make up the Ivy League Athletic Conference. They are academically rigorous, with programs and facilities that are among the most sophisticated in the world. While there are many other prestigious universities in the world and in the United States, the Ivy League is in a class by itself.

In addition to being among the most competitive schools, the Ivy League colleges are also among the oldest schools in the U.S. Some of them, including Harvard and Yale, were founded before the U.S. formally existed, although their locations in Cambridge and New Haven have been the same since the outset. Only the top students from secondary schools around the globe are admitted to the Ivy League each year, although thousands of students apply.

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The Ivy League schools are:

  • Harvard University
  • Princeton University
  • Yale University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Cornell University
  • Columbia University
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Brown University

How to Get Into an Ivy League College

As most people know, there is no one surefire way to get into an Ivy League college, but one thing that can easily be agreed upon is that you must have an impressive academic transcript and very high standardized test scores. They are considered to be among the most prestigious and most competitive schools in the U.S.

As most people know, the Ivy League is renowned for its competitive academic atmosphere. However, in the early years of these institutions, the Ivy League was lauded as much for its athletic skill as it was for its academic rigor. Today, athleticism is still a large part of the persona of each of these schools, and many students with outstanding athletic abilities hope to matriculate at one of the Ivy League colleges.

While there is no secret instruction on how to enter an Ivy League college, it is clear that if that is a student's goal, he needs to be sure to focus on having excellent academic records, exceptional standardized test scores, impressive extracurricular activities and glowing recommendations. Most students are aware that they have a weakness in a particular area, but for admission to an Ivy League college, the student must make it known that he is putting in considerable effort on all fronts.

What Is a Good GPA?

An acronym familiar to most students in the U.S. is "GPA," meaning "grade point average." A student's grade point average is the average amount of points per credit that they have earned in their academic classes. Each grade point per course carries particular weight, and the average is meant to indicate an overall picture of the student's performance in her high school classes.

A GPA of 4.0 indicates an excellent performance overall in all of the subject areas in which the student is enrolled. A GPA of 3.0 is lower and indicates strong competence if not excellence across the board. A GPA of 2.0 is weaker still, and a GPA of less than 2.0 is considered to be very weak.

To gain admission to an Ivy League college, most students will want to strive to have a GPA of 4.0 or very close to that. While there is no guarantee that a student with a lower than 4.0 GPA will be refused admission, it is widely believed that the higher the GPA, the better the student's chances of gaining admission to one of the colleges in the Ivy League.

What Are Ivy League Acceptance Rates?

Ivy League acceptance rates vary by college. Dartmouth is the smallest, and Cornell is the largest, so their acceptance rates vary because of their size and applicant pool. As of 2018, the average acceptance rate for all Ivy League schools has trended downward and dipped below 5 percent for the first time. Many people assume that this is because the extensive recruiting efforts of these schools has brought a greater and greater applicant pool during recent admissions seasons.

Ivy League colleges do get a tremendous number of applicants due to their reputation and prestige. The fact that more than 95 percent of the people who apply to these schools are not accepted does not dissuade those who are determined to graduate with a diploma from one of the schools in the Ivy League. Students applying early decision to schools like Harvard, however, have more like a 15 percent chance of being accepted.

Because the Yale acceptance rate and the Cornell acceptance rate change each year, like those of all other Ivy League schools, it can be difficult to assess your chances of getting in. However, given the competitiveness across the board, it is probably safe to assume that any Ivy League college will have an acceptance rate close to 5 percent. Prepare yourself accordingly.

Do Ivy League Colleges Look at the ACT?

Most people are well aware that good grades and a high GPA are the keys to getting into an Ivy League college. However, they aren't the only criteria that Ivy League colleges look at when they are making their admissions decisions. One of the most important factors apart from a high grade point average is having strong standardized test scores.

Most colleges look at every student's ACT or SAT score to help them inform their admissions decisions. While standardized tests are in no way as comprehensive as a student's high school academic transcript, they nevertheless go a fairly long way toward giving a sense of a student's academic aptitude and the quality of education he has retained over the past four years.

Many students panic and worry about taking standardized tests. They want to get a perfect score in one or both areas – the verbal and the mathematics – and worry that a poor performance will keep them from their dream school. In reality, if your performance is poorer than you believe yourself to be capable of doing, you may take the test again and submit your highest score.

What Do the ACT and the SAT Measure?

One of the Ivy League requirements without exception is a submission of scores from the ACT or the SAT. Students who have not taken either test yet but are hoping to gain admission to an Ivy League college may be unfamiliar with the test. It is a good idea to get some understanding of the topics covered well before you need to take the test yourself.

The ACT and SAT are standardized tests designed to measure the aptitude of high school juniors and seniors and their level of mastery of the material that has been deemed standard for all students at their level before matriculating at a college. The tests are multiple choice and are divided into sections. There is a verbal section, a mathematics section and an essay section that measures writing ability and the ability to formulate and defend an argument.

While it is not the expectation that every student will know everything on the test, the object of the tests is to measure the general knowledge that the students have gained, and ideally, students will show a strong mastery of the majority of subject areas covered on the test. Most students excel in at least one area and find that one section of the test is significantly easier for them than another. However, giving all sections your best shot is the best chance you have for a high score and admission to the Ivy League college of your dreams.

What ACT or SAT Score Is Needed for an Ivy League School?

As important as an ACT or SAT score is for students applying to the Ivy League, a perfect score isn't necessarily a guaranteed admission even for a Yale prep scholar. If the rest of your application is strong, a high ACT or SAT score can put you over the edge and help make the difference between your acceptance and your rejection, but it alone will not make or break your chances of success.

Because the Yale acceptance rate and the acceptance rates of the other Ivy League schools are so low, the ACT and SAT are one of the tools Ivy League admissions officers use to help place a student's achievements in the context of the larger body of students in their cohort. Grades and evaluations are relatively subjective, and what might earn a student a 4.0 at one school might get him closer to a 2.0 at another school. In this way, the standardized test helps to fill in the gaps so evaluators get a better sense of what a student knows.

Generally speaking, a high SAT or ACT score is needed for admission to any Ivy League school. If your score on the SAT is 1590 or higher, or your score on the ACT is 35 or higher, then you are in the top 25 percent of students who apply to those schools. However, if your score is 1470 or lower on the SAT or 31 or lower on the ACT, it is likely that your score will be too low to allow for admission unless something else on your high school transcript is truly exceptional.

What Other Factors Affect Ivy League Acceptance?

Beyond standardized test scores and high school academic transcripts, Ivy League colleges look at a student's extracurricular activities and after-school commitments. Extracurricular activities can be defined as any extraneous activity, hobby or pursuit in which a student engages outside of classwork. Athletics, artistic pursuits, volunteer work, political activism, debate team, clubs and other such enterprises are all highly valued by Ivy League schools.

Many students spend their after-school time socializing rather than pursuing activities or hobbies. This is a mistake. Ivy League colleges don't simply want to see that you are adept at being successful in a school setting. They are also very interested in seeing that you are an engaged student with interests, passions, ideas and the follow through to make them come true. Ivy League colleges also expect students to submit strong essays with their applications, demonstrating direction and the ability to think critically.

If you have the opportunity to join clubs, write for your school newspaper or be on a team, take on as many activities as you possibly can. Students interested in a career in the media may enjoy being a part of the yearbook committee, the student newspaper, the literary magazine or an on-campus radio or TV station. Students interested in athletics may try to add a hobby that is in another discipline, and students who are most interested in the arts may want to round out their application with a sport or an activity like the debate team.

About the Author

Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites. She has written for Pearson Education, The University of Miami, The New York City Teaching Fellows, New Visions for Public Schools, and a number of independent secondary schools. She lives in Los Angeles.