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So You Want to Go to an Ivy League?

Updated: Mar 24, 2021

Before we dive into what it takes to get into an Ivy League university, let’s put this all into perspective. Going to an Ivy League does not guarantee that you will be successful in life. Many incredibly successful people didn’t even go to university, and there are many Ivy League graduates who aren’t successful.

In 2020, Harvard University admitted 4.6% of applicants to the Class of 2024. The average GPA was 3.95 and average SAT score was 1510!

There are, of course, some benefits to going to an Ivy League. Future employers, investors and others will recognize that you got through an extremely competitive admissions process (Ivy League universities accept fewer than 10% of applicants) and that you can handle rigorous academics – both are impressive. Not to mention, you’ll have access to world-class professors and be surrounded by inspiring and smart classmates (though other schools offer this as well). So, it can help, but it isn’t everything.

But, if you’re reading this, you’re probably set on going to an “Ivy”. So let’s get to it.

1. Stellar academics aren’t enough

You should boost your SAT/ACT scores as much as possible by starting to prepare early. If you can afford it, it’s worth investing in a test preparation program. Either way, put plenty of time into prepping for the SAT/ACT and aim to above the average score of your target school. But that’s the bare minimum.

The University of Pennsylvania accepted 9% of applicants to their Class of 2024. Half of the class scored between 1470 and 1550 on the SAT!

Perhaps more important than test scores, especially in the current environment, where many schools are test-optional, is your grades. Top schools expect you to achieve near-perfect scores in your classes. If you’re taking the IB, aim for a predicted score of 42-45. If you’re taking AP Classes, aim for mostly 4s or 5s. If you’re taking the CBSE, aim for 97-100. It’s okay if your performance in Grade 9 wasn’t stellar as long as your current grades are excellent – because it demonstrates improvement and an upwards trajectory.

Finally, course rigour is important. If your school offers honours classes, college-level classes, or any other academically rigorous options, you should take some of them to demonstrate to colleges that you’re challenging yourself as much as possible.

2. Doing “a lot” isn’t enough, either

Many students believe that if you have excellent grades and a bunch of extracurricular activities under your belt (picture the student playing piano at Grade 5 level, President of the Debate Club and organizing beach clean-ups), you’re the perfect candidate for an Ivy League school. This is, quite frankly, entirely the wrong approach.

It takes a lot of effort to do this and certainly displays intelligence, a strong work ethic and diligence, but it completely misses the mark on demonstrating passion and focus.

3. Have a story

Pursue 1-3 interests in a deep, sustained fashion and show purpose and progress. You can do this in so many different ways. You could have a unique interest, like playing the didgeridoo. If you become Vietnam’s best didgeridoo player and start a band where the didgeridoo features in all of their songs, you’ll really set yourself apart!

Or, you could be interested in environmental sustainability and take a deeper interest in manufacturing sustainable fabrics in developing countries. You could take certain AP or college-level courses on this topic, do a summer research project with a relevant professor or start a small business.

If you love debate and Model UN, try creating a public speaking class to share your skills with underprivileged children. Show universities that you’ve extended your impact and learning.

Develop a sense of leadership or ownership over whatever you spend your time on. This will show universities that not only are you diligent and intelligent – but you’ve used those traits effectively to make a meaningful impact.

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