Getting into an Ivy League school is the dream for many high school students. With acceptance rates in the single digits, Ivy League schools are notoriously selective. If you’re wondering what it takes to get into one of these elite institutions, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Ivy League schools look for students with outstanding academic records, impressive extracurricular involvement, strong letters of recommendation, and a unique personal story conveyed through their essays.

Well-rounded applicants who will contribute to the campus community are most likely to get in.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll go over everything Ivy League admissions officers want to see, from your grades and test scores to your extracurriculars and essay. Read on to learn what it takes to get into an Ivy and tips to strengthen your application.

Academic Performance

When it comes to evaluating applicants, Ivy League schools place a strong emphasis on academic performance. They seek out students who have demonstrated exceptional abilities in their academic pursuits. Here are some key factors that Ivy League schools consider in terms of academic performance:


One of the first things that Ivy League schools look at is an applicant’s grade point average (GPA). A high GPA is a strong indicator of a student’s ability to excel academically. While each Ivy League school may have its own specific GPA requirements, it is generally expected that applicants have maintained a consistently high GPA throughout their high school years.

A strong GPA demonstrates a student’s commitment to their studies and their ability to handle challenging coursework.

Standardized Test Scores

In addition to GPA, Ivy League schools also consider standardized test scores, such as the SAT or ACT. These tests provide a standardized measure of a student’s academic abilities and are often used as a benchmark for comparing applicants.

While there is no specific score requirement, Ivy League schools generally expect applicants to have achieved high scores on these tests. However, it is important to note that standardized test scores are just one component of the overall application and are considered in conjunction with other factors.

Coursework Rigor

Ivy League schools also take into account the rigor of an applicant’s coursework. They want to see that students have challenged themselves by taking advanced or honors-level courses. Admissions officers recognize that not all high schools offer the same range of coursework, so they consider the opportunities available to each applicant.

Students who have taken advantage of challenging courses in subjects like math, science, English, and social sciences are more likely to stand out in the admissions process.

Class Rank

While class rank may not be a requirement for admission to Ivy League schools, it is still considered as part of the overall evaluation process. Class rank provides context for an applicant’s academic performance compared to their peers.

It gives admissions officers a sense of how well a student has performed in relation to others in their graduating class. However, it’s important to note that class rank is not the sole determining factor and is considered alongside other aspects of an applicant’s academic profile.

It is worth mentioning that the weight placed on each of these factors may vary slightly among Ivy League schools. Therefore, it is essential for applicants to research and understand the specific requirements and expectations of each school they are applying to.

Extracurricular Activities

When it comes to evaluating applicants, Ivy League schools pay close attention to their involvement in extracurricular activities. These activities provide a glimpse into a student’s passions, leadership potential, and ability to balance academics with other commitments.

Here are some key aspects that Ivy League schools look for in applicants’ extracurricular activities:


Ivy League schools place a strong emphasis on leadership skills. They look for applicants who have taken on leadership roles in their extracurricular activities, such as being a club president, team captain, or organizing events.

Demonstrating leadership shows the ability to motivate and inspire others, qualities that are highly valued in the competitive environment of an Ivy League institution.


Passion is a crucial factor that Ivy League schools consider in extracurricular activities. Admissions officers want to see that applicants have pursued activities they are genuinely interested in and have shown dedication and enthusiasm.

Whether it’s playing a musical instrument, participating in community service, or engaging in scientific research, showcasing a deep passion for an activity can set applicants apart.


Ivy League schools also value consistency in extracurricular involvement. Admissions officers want to see that applicants have committed themselves to a particular activity or cause over an extended period.

This demonstrates dedication, perseverance, and the ability to make a long-term commitment, qualities that are highly regarded in the Ivy League community.

Unique Interests

Ivy League schools appreciate applicants who have unique interests and engage in activities that set them apart from the crowd. Whether it’s starting a nonprofit organization, conducting scientific research, or pursuing an uncommon hobby, having unique interests can make an applicant stand out.

Admissions officers value diversity and are always on the lookout for individuals who bring something new and different to their campus community.

It’s important to note that while extracurricular activities play a significant role in the admissions process, they are not the sole determinant of acceptance into an Ivy League school. Admissions officers also consider academic achievements, personal essays, letters of recommendation, and standardized test scores.

Therefore, it’s crucial for applicants to showcase a well-rounded profile that demonstrates their abilities, passions, and potential to thrive in the demanding environment of an Ivy League institution.

Letters of Recommendation

When it comes to the application process for Ivy League schools, letters of recommendation play a crucial role. These letters provide insight into an applicant’s character, abilities, and potential for success.

They allow admissions officers to gain a more holistic view of the applicant beyond their test scores and grades.

Who should write the letters?

Ivy League schools typically require applicants to submit two or three letters of recommendation. It is important for these letters to come from individuals who can provide a well-rounded perspective on the applicant’s abilities and achievements.

Some common choices for recommenders include teachers, counselors, coaches, or employers.

These individuals should have a close relationship with the applicant and be able to speak to their academic performance, leadership skills, work ethic, and personal qualities. It is important to choose recommenders who can provide specific examples and anecdotes that illustrate the applicant’s strengths and potential.

What should the letters include?

Letters of recommendation should provide a comprehensive and honest assessment of the applicant. They should highlight the applicant’s strengths, accomplishments, and potential for success. Admissions officers are looking for letters that go beyond generic praise and provide specific examples or stories that demonstrate the applicant’s abilities.

Recommenders should focus on the applicant’s character, intellectual curiosity, leadership skills, and ability to contribute to the campus community. It is important for the letters to be authentic and reflective of the applicant’s true qualities and achievements.

How can applicants ensure strong letters of recommendation?

To ensure strong letters of recommendation, applicants should carefully consider who they ask to write these letters. It is important to choose individuals who know the applicant well and can speak to their unique qualities and accomplishments.

Applicants should also provide recommenders with any information or materials that can help them write a strong letter. This may include a resume, a list of the applicant’s achievements, or a personal statement.

By providing this information, applicants can help recommenders tailor their letters to highlight specific aspects of the applicant’s profile.

Additionally, it is important for applicants to ask for letters of recommendation well in advance of the application deadline. This allows recommenders ample time to write a thoughtful and well-crafted letter.


One crucial aspect that Ivy League schools look for in applicants is their essays. These essays provide a unique opportunity for students to showcase their personalities, experiences, and aspirations. Admissions officers at these prestigious institutions are looking for essays that stand out from the rest and leave a lasting impression.

Here are some key elements that can make a difference:

Personal Story

An Ivy League applicant’s essay should include a personal story that demonstrates their growth, resilience, or a significant turning point in their life. Sharing personal experiences allows admissions officers to gain insight into the applicant’s character and values.

A compelling personal story can captivate the reader and leave a lasting impact.

Thoughtful Reflection

Ivy League schools value applicants who can engage in thoughtful reflection. This means going beyond simply recounting experiences and delving into the deeper meaning and impact they had on the applicant’s life.

Admissions officers want to see how applicants think critically, analyze situations, and draw meaningful conclusions. A well-reflective essay can demonstrate intellectual curiosity and a mature perspective.

Strong Writing

Strong writing skills are highly valued by Ivy League admissions officers. A well-written essay should be clear, concise, and engaging. It should showcase the applicant’s ability to articulate their thoughts effectively and use descriptive language to paint a vivid picture.

Admissions officers are looking for essays that demonstrate not only strong writing skills but also a unique voice and style.

Supplementary Essays

In addition to the main personal statement, Ivy League schools often require supplementary essays that are specific to their institution. These essays provide an opportunity for applicants to showcase their knowledge of the school, their fit with its values and mission, and their specific interest in the programs or opportunities offered.

It is essential for applicants to research the school thoroughly and tailor their supplementary essays accordingly.

According to an article on Ivy Coach, Ivy League schools receive thousands of applications each year, and essays play a critical role in distinguishing exceptional candidates from the rest. Crafting compelling essays requires time, effort, and self-reflection, but the rewards can be immense.

A well-written essay can help applicants stand out in a highly competitive pool and increase their chances of being admitted to their dream Ivy League school.


One crucial aspect of the application process for Ivy League schools is the interview. This face-to-face meeting allows the admissions committee to gain a deeper understanding of the applicant beyond their written materials.

Ivy League schools typically conduct interviews either on-campus, with an admissions officer or alumni, or through online platforms. The interview serves as an opportunity for the applicant to showcase their personality, communication skills, and passion for learning.

During the interview, Ivy League schools look for several key qualities in applicants:

1. Confidence and Poise

Ivy League schools want to see candidates who can handle themselves in high-pressure situations. They look for applicants who exude confidence and poise, demonstrating the ability to articulate their thoughts clearly and concisely.

It’s important for applicants to prepare for the interview by practicing their responses to common questions and conducting mock interviews to build their confidence.

2. Intellectual Curiosity

Ivy League schools are known for their emphasis on intellectual curiosity and a love for learning. During the interview, they will assess an applicant’s passion for their chosen field of study and their willingness to explore new ideas.

It’s essential for applicants to showcase their intellectual curiosity by discussing their academic interests, research projects, or any extracurricular activities that demonstrate their commitment to learning.

3. Personal Achievements and Leadership

Ivy League schools value applicants who have made a significant impact in their communities and have displayed leadership qualities. The interview is an opportunity for applicants to discuss their extracurricular activities, volunteer work, or any initiatives they have taken to make a difference.

Sharing personal achievements and leadership experiences can provide the admissions committee with a better understanding of an applicant’s potential to contribute to the Ivy League community.

4. Cultural Fit

Ivy League schools strive to create a diverse and inclusive community. They look for applicants who will not only excel academically but also contribute to the overall campus culture. During the interview, they assess an applicant’s potential fit within the school’s values, traditions, and community.

It’s important for applicants to research the school’s mission and values and express how they align with their own beliefs and aspirations.

Preparing for an Ivy League interview requires thorough research, self-reflection, and practice. Applicants should familiarize themselves with the school’s mission, values, and academic programs. They should also anticipate common interview questions and prepare thoughtful and articulate responses.

Remember, the interview is an opportunity to present yourself as a well-rounded individual who will thrive in the Ivy League environment.

Special Circumstances

When it comes to Ivy League schools, there are certain special circumstances that can give an applicant an edge in the highly competitive admissions process. Admissions officers take into account various factors, including first-generation status, low income, underrepresented minority status, recruited athlete status, and legacy status.

First-Generation Status

Being the first in your family to attend college can be a significant advantage when applying to Ivy League schools. These institutions value diversity and actively seek out students who have overcome unique challenges.

First-generation students bring a fresh perspective and often possess grit and determination that can greatly contribute to the campus community. Admissions officers look for evidence of leadership, resilience, and a strong work ethic in these applicants.

Low Income

Many Ivy League schools have a commitment to providing access to education for students from low-income backgrounds. These schools offer generous financial aid packages to ensure that talented students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds have the opportunity to attend.

Admissions officers closely examine the financial circumstances of applicants and consider their achievements within the context of their resources. Demonstrating academic excellence, community involvement, and a passion for learning can greatly enhance an applicant’s chances.

Underrepresented Minority

Ivy League schools place a high value on diversity and actively seek to create a campus environment that is inclusive and representative of different backgrounds. Underrepresented minorities, including African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders, are often given special consideration in the admissions process.

These students bring unique perspectives and experiences that enrich the educational environment. Admissions officers look for evidence of leadership, community involvement, and a commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion.

Recruited Athlete

Athletic prowess can also play a significant role in the admissions process at Ivy League schools. These institutions have a strong tradition of excellence in both academics and athletics. Admissions officers actively recruit talented athletes who can contribute to the success of their sports teams.

While academic qualifications are still important, recruited athletes often have slightly different criteria for admission. They must demonstrate exceptional athletic ability, strong leadership skills, and a commitment to balancing academics and athletics.


Legacy status refers to applicants who have a family connection to the Ivy League school they are applying to. Having a parent, grandparent, or sibling who attended the institution can give an applicant a slight advantage.

Admissions officers value the sense of tradition and loyalty that legacy students bring to the campus community. However, it’s important to note that legacy status alone is not enough to guarantee admission.

Legacy applicants still need to meet the rigorous academic and extracurricular standards set by Ivy League schools.


The Ivy Leagueselection process is holistic, meaning there is no magic formula to get in. Outstanding grades and scores provide the foundational academic competence. Beyond that, Ivy League schools seek passionate students who are intellectually curious, civically engaged, and bring diverse perspectives.

Applicants who can demonstrate excellence across academics, extracurriculars, essays, and interviews have the best chance of admission.

Focus on identifying and developingyour unique talents and interests throughout high school. This will come through in a compelling way in your application. With hard work, authenticity, and a bit of luck, your Ivy League dreams can become reality.

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