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Ivy League Undergraduate Admission Support

Unlike a uni-dimensional admission process based on an entrance test, the process for admissions to the Ivy Leagues and other elite universities worldwide is holistic and considers multiple factors. At the highest level, colleges want ‘College Ready’ students who will succeed in their studies and beyond. Before we discuss the factors crucial for demonstrating your ‘College Readiness’, let’s answer some of the frequently asked questions about Ivy Leagues.

What are Ivy Leagues? ‘Ivy leagues’ or the ‘Ancient 8’ is a group of highly prestigious private research universities located on the Northeast coast of United States. These universities are well-known for their outstanding athletic teams, academic excellence, high social standing, demanding curriculum, extremely low acceptance rate, and promising career prospects. Names of these Ivies are –

  1. Brown University (Rhode Island)
  2. Columbia University (New York)
  3. Cornell University (New York)
  4. Dartmouth University (New Hampshire)
  5. Harvard University (Massachusetts)
  6. University of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania)
  7. Princeton University (New Jersey)
  8. Yale University (Connecticut)

An easy way to remember the names of all 8 Ivy Leagues is through the mnemonic –

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Sr. No.Name of the Ivy League UniversitiesSAT Score for the mid 50 percentileACT Score for the mid 50 percentileAcceptance RateAverage GPA of Admitted StudentsTuition Fees
Famous Schools
1Harvard1460 – 157033 – 355%4.10$ 54,0021. Business School 2. Medical School 3. Graduate Education School 4. School of Engineering and Applied Sciences 5. Law School 6. John F. Kennedy School of Government
2Princeton1460 – 157033 – 356%3.90$ 53,8901. Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs 2. School of Engineering and Applied Science
3Columbia1450 – 157033 – 355%4.13$ 64,3801. Business School 2. Teachers College 3. Law School 4.College of Physicians & Surgeons 5. College of Dental Medicine 6. Graduate Journalism School
4Yale1460 – 157033 – 356%3.90$ 57,7001. Law School 2. School of Management 3. School of Medicine 4. School of Art and School of Nursing
5University of Pennsylvania1450 – 156033 – 358%4.04$ 60,0421. Wharton School 2. School of Education 3. School of Engineering and Applied Science 4. Law School and 5. School of Medicine 6. School of Design 7. School of Dental Medicine
6Cornell1400 – 156032 – 3511%4.19$ 59,3161. S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management 2. College of Engineering 3. Law School 4. Weill Cornell Medical College 5. College of Veterinary Medicine 6. School of Hotel Administration
7Brown1440 – 157033 – 357%4.05$ 60,6961. English 2. History 3. Warren Alpert Medical School
8Dartmouth1440 – 156032 – 358%4.01$ 59,4581. Tuck School of Business 2. Thayer School of Engineering 3. Geisel School of Medicine

Is MIT, Stanford, or Carnegie Mellon University an Ivy League University? Many get confused since these are equally renowned, prestigious, and difficult to get into schools. That was reason why Newsweek coined the term ‘New Ivies’ and included 25 such elite universities, such as Emory University, Carnegie Mellon, New York University, Colgate, Boston College, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame, and Rice University to name a few, to the list. Click here to get more information on New Ivies.

Why Ivy Leagues are so selective about their admission process and how to prepare for the admissions? Ivy Leagues receive more than 4 lakh applications every year and out of these, only ~15000 students get selected. Admission Officers assess your potential as a graduate of their school. Are you someone who could become a CEO? Win the Nobel Prize? Become a Prime Minister? If admitted, will you be able to handle the academic rigor of their classes? The top universities use your grades, academic interests, extracurricular activities, application essays and your letters of recommendation to judge your ability, focus and future potential.  

To secure admission to the top universities it takes intensive planning, lot of hard work, and significant amount of dedication over a period of four years. We have listed the five most important aspects that Admission Officers look at while evaluating any applications.

  1. Academic Performance – No surprises here. Since you are seeking admission to a higher education institution, the top universities like to see your past performance and make sure you have the intellectual capacity to manage their curriculum. This is a necessary and a crucial factor in a strong application. Students are required to submit their final year high school transcripts starting from Grade IX to Grade XII (latest marksheet). Along with this, your school counsellor will also need to submit a ‘Predicted Score’ based on your overall performance in Grade XI and XII. Therefore, maintaining high academic standard throughout your high school years is extremely important.

How much GPA/percentage you must score to get into an Ivy Leagues? Well, as shown in the table above, the average GPA of the admitted students in around 4.0 that means you need score all A/A+ in all your subjects to maintain a high GPA.

For students studying in CBSE, ICSE or other national or state curriculums – A+ or A grade is equivalent to 95% and above in academics. Also, you must demonstrate your college readiness by taking AP Exams in your favourite subjects. Given the difficulty level of AP exams, appearing for these exams in high school demonstrates your robust fundamentals as well as your calibre to excel at college-level courses. AP score of 4 or 5 is equivalent to College ‘A’ Grade and the student is considered as Extremely Well Qualified. You can learn all about AP exams here.

I have 3.5 GPA. Can I still get into an Ivy League? Average grades can be compensated with exemplary extracurricular activities, high SAT score, stellar recommendation letters, compelling essays, and brilliant co-curricular activities like research papers, internships, business plans and so on.

Students with comparatively low GPA should target Ivies with high acceptance rate such as Columbia with 11% as opposed to Harvard with only 5%.

  1. Standardized Tests – Students preparing for admissions to US universities are well aware of the Standardized Achievement Test (SAT). This is a 1,600-point test of English and Math. It helps universities compare thousands of applicants from across the world on two subjects crucial for higher education – Math and English. SAT is especially important for international students as in many cases there may not be enough understanding of how a national curriculum compares with US high school curriculum and other boards like IB or IGCSE. A high SAT score provides a strong indicator of your academic prowess and ability to succeed in college.

SAT is optional. Should I still appear for it? We strongly recommend students to take the SAT upon completion of grade X, since the score is valid for five years. There are three main advantages a good score provides –

  • Strengthen your overall profile and demonstrate your college readiness for Ivy League admissions
  • Enhance your classroom performance as the efforts you put in to prepare for SAT will also reflect in your high school Math and English results
  • Avoid the stress and eliminate the need of undertaking various entrance examinations, when applying to different geographies including the private liberal arts universities in India

The SAT and ACT score range mentioned in the table above is for the current pen-and-paper based test. From 2023, SAT is going digital and the overall score, content, and format will change to a great extent. For more information on Digital SAT please click here.

  1. Extracurricular & Co-curricular Activities – While academics are crucial, in-depth engagement in extracurricular activities and community service is equally important. Extracurricular activities such as cultural events, sports competitions, house duties, debates, and volunteering initiatives refine your interpersonal skills while simultaneously preparing you, mentally as well as physically, for higher education abroad. Please note that participating in 10 different activities for short bursts will not be as effective as performing three to four activities over a prolonged period. Some examples are provided below:
  • Leadership: Being in the student council. Prefect, College Captain, Sports Captain etc. Holding a leadership position shows that you are respected by your peers and/or teachers.
  • Sports: Excelling in any sport, basketball, soccer, martial arts, cricket etc. You should have done it consistently over several years. For example, if someone is a black belt in Judo, it means that they have invested 6+ years along with everything else that they have done. This shows a significant amount of effort and commitment.
  • Music, Dance or Arts: If you have consistently participated in music contests, learnt an instrument, learnt dance etc.it is of interest to universities. Likewise, for fine arts and crafts.
  • Competitions: If you like participating in quizzes, debates, MUN’s and have won prizes at various levels, it helps your application.
  • Research Papers: Writing a research paper is an extensive process starting with determining the research topic, framing the right question, reviewing the literature, data collection and analysis, drafting the abstract, and finally publishing the findings. A student who has experienced this entire research life cycle, under the guidance of eminent professors, will stand out in front of the admission officers as they are able to validate the student’s analytical skills, inquisitiveness, and dedication for a particular field.
  • Internships: Universities are looking for future leaders who can think, innovate, manage, and lead. Internships and projects done beyond the four walls of the classroom are the best way to prove your preparedness for college.
  • Community Service: Involvement with environment and social issues is crucial to developing a well-rounded profile. Given the changing times, environmental concerns, and percolation of technology in our daily lives, learning needs to stretch beyond classrooms. There is a dire need for visionary leaders who have the foresight to innovate, transform, and visualize solutions to bring about a positive social and economic transformation in society. While grades are important, the most successful students also take an active interest in things going on in the real-world around them.
  1. Admission Essays – The admission essays help you bring all the above sections together. This is your chance to explain to the reader, who you are, what motivates you, how you have dealt with setbacks, what your aspirations are, and the events that have shaped you. This is the section where you address your strengths as well as any obvious weakness in your profile. Everyone is unique with different life experiences and capabilities. This is your soapbox where you get a chance to present your best self. While students are expected to ‘blow their own trumpet’ in the admission essays, you still need to be careful that the examples are relevant and convey your message appropriately.

            How to write stellar admission essays?

  • Introspect – A good essay requires a lot of introspection and brainstorming. You need a captivating story which can’t be accomplished in a day or two. Discuss your ideas with your mentors, colleagues, or counsellors as they can help your thought process in the right direction. Start working on your first draft several months in advance and keep enhancing it until you are satisfied with the final version.
  • Read beyond textbooks – Reading novels and newspaper editorials directly aids you in your admission interviews, application essays, aptitude tests, and English proficiency exams. Prestigious institutions like Harvard and Columbia are interested in knowing the books that you have enjoyed reading over the past twelve months. Adding names of the books you have not read or making up a story would be a grave mistake as you might fall into your own trap during the admission interview. In our opinion, students should take advantage of book clubs, form reading groups, and commit themselves to reading at least one book per month.
  • Write from your heart – Admission Officers have an enormous number of documents to read in a limited amount of time. It is essential that your SOP be crisp, concise, and well-organized. Avoid using flowery language or complex technical terms so that even a non-expert can understand it. Avoid hyperbole and keep the all above tips in mind while writing your statement of purpose and you should sail through your application process with ease.
  • Analyze the essay question – Parse the essay prompt and answer each segment carefully as per the word limit. Also go through some of the essays of admitted students on the university websites. Look out for things to avoid and common mistakes made by students while writing their essays. For example, Harvard clearly mentions that Don’t lecture the reader, e.g., on what’s wrong with medicine, what doctors should be like. Don’t begin every sentence or paragraph with “I”.
  1. Letter of Recommendations (LORs) – LORs are valuable part of your application packet as they give insight into your strengths, character, skills, and acumen from your teacher or counsellor’s point of view. LORs should be about your work ethic, energy level and intellectual curiosity. If there is something that differentiates you from your peers, it should be highlighted in the LORs.
  • Who to ask for LORs for Ivy League Admissions? School teacher, counsellor, or even principal who has known the student for a prolonged period of time and shared a close relationship would be in a better position to comment on their academic performance and ability to excel at a rigorous coursework at Ivy Leagues. Apart from these, students may seek a letter from professors or supervisors from external organization where they have done any internship, volunteer work, or research papers.
  • What all should we include in the LOR? Letter of recommendations should be a good mix of factual data and positive opinions about the candidate. Teachers can talk about your grades, projects, involvement in extracurricular activities, all-round development, and passion for higher studies. In addition to the strengths and skills, recommenders may talk about student’s limitations/weaknesses and how did the he/she overcome it through hard work, dedication, and determination. LOR must gauge applicant’s ability to succeed at an Ivy League university through real-life examples and concrete details. It should be accurate and convey the correct information to the admission committee. One must avoid copying letters from online resources or past applications.

Early awareness of what you would like to study in college and pursuing the relevant activities is crucial for getting admitted to the Ivy Leagues or other elite universities. To develop a balanced, ‘College Ready’ profile, students should pursue extracurricular activities and hobbies from an early age.

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About the Author: 

Nimisha Padliya is an Admissions Specialist with extensive experience in undergraduate and graduate admissions. Over the years, she has helped hundreds of students in securing admissions to their dream universities. Nimisha is a post-graduate in Electrical & Computer Engineering from North Carolina State University, Raleigh, US.

Scholarly helps ambitious international students locate the right universities and courses to pursue their education. We provide college credit courses and research papers to students that want to learn more and differentiate themselves. We help students develop and present their best version to their dream university. Our recommendations are based on the student’s field of interest, academic performance, financial resources and career plans. We provide test preparation classes from the best teachers to help improve scores and thus the prospects for admission. We also assist students with their visa and loan applications to reduce the anxiety associated with international education.

For additional questions about international education, choice of majors, university selection or admission strategies please visit the Questions section of our website.

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