Updated: Apr 27
For many students, the goal of college admissions is to gain entrance into the Ivy League – a group of eight universities that are seen as the most prestigious in the United States.
This article will cover the following:
While there are a number of other schools alongside the Ivy League (like Stanford, MIT, University of Chicago, Northwestern, Caltech, etc.) that fill the topmost parts of college ranking systems, the Ivy League carries a level of prestige, name recognition, and history of excellence that many applicants crave.
What is the Ivy League?
With the exception of Cornell University (founded in 1865), the Ivy League schools were all founded in the colonial period (18th century) and account for 7 of the 9 Colonial Colleges formed before the American Revolution (alongside the College of William and Mary and Rutgers University). Because of this, each Ivy League school boasts a long institutional history.
Sometimes called “The Ancient Eight,” the Ivy League originated as an NCAA Division I athletic conference group in the 1950s. Since then, the focus has shifted away from sports and now encompasses a general sense of academic excellence, intense admissions selectivity (with some acceptance rates below 5%), large financial endowments, world-class faculty, and considerable social capital afforded to its student body.
With a strong alumni network, many see the Ivy League as a necessary stepping stone to successful careers.
Eight schools comprise the Ivy League:
What Types of Students Get Into Ivy League Schools?
Students applying to the Ivy League have perfect or near-perfect scores, are involved in a number of high school extracurricular activities, make positive impacts in their communities, and demonstrate a deep intellectual curiosity.
Additionally, Ivy League schools are looking for leaders. They don’t want someone whose application looks exactly like hundreds of others; rather, they want to find the singular attributes that make you the strongest candidate in your field, region, etc.
Because of this, it’s absolutely essential that Ivy League applicants lean into what makes their voice and experiences unique.
If you’re early in your high school career, you can make sure to build a profile that deals in singularity, rather than be another application added to a homogenous pile.
A lot of high school students are uncomfortable with harnessing their own voice and creating an angular profile, but that’s what you should be leaning into, rather than avoiding.
The best way that Ivy League schools can measure the chance of success for their students is looking at the past successes of applicants, so you need to make sure you’re maximizing your profile, making sure it’s optimized for the Common Application, that you’re pursuing unique leadership opportunities and chances to deepen your learning beyond the classroom, participating in intense academic competitions, and pushing yourself to maximize your potential.
This is where the advice of an independent admissions counselor is invaluable. Ultimately, schools like Harvard, Princeton, etc., want their students to take advantage of campus resources and then go out into the world and change it.
This reflects well on the university. Therefore, they look for leaders who will accomplish great things on campus and beyond, which will build the university’s reputation and prestige.
Princeton’s Dean of Admissions Karen Richardson wrote this about the Class of 2024:
"These students are artists, scientists, athletes, musicians, caregivers, debaters and much more. Most importantly, through their applications, they showed a real desire to engage with others in the types of critical yet respectful discussions that make Princeton a dynamic place."
Intense Competition – Ivy League Admissions Statistics
Because of the Ivy League’s level of prestige and high-esteemed academics, competition for its coveted few freshman class spots is fierce.
Hundreds of thousands of students apply each year to the Ivy League from around the world – for the Class of 2024, over 300,000 students applied across all eight Ivy League schools.
See more detail in the table below:
Sources: 2024 Statistics
For the 2020-2021 admissions cycle (students applying for the Class of 2025), these numbers skyrocketed, mostly due to the fact that the Ivy League schools all went test-optional.
This meant that students were still allowed to submit standardized test scores but were not required to do so. This opened up the doors to a large pool of applicants who previously would not have applied, making the competition even stiffer for Ivy League colleges.
While the trend towards eliminating standardized testing barriers continues to gain momentum across the country – especially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and reduced access to testing facilities for many students – and many of the Ivy League schools have decided to go test-optional again for the Class of 2026 (including Harvard, Cornell, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania), test scores remain an important component of a competitive Ivy League application.
Ivy League GPA Requirements
Many students wonder what GPA is needed to get into the Ivy League schools. As you can see from the table below, while there is some variance, all the average GPAs are very, very high – indicating that the applicant has a strong academic profile.
As mentioned, academic profile isn’t the only metric by which a student is evaluated; however, it’s a very important one for top schools like the Ivy League.
Essentially, having a strong GPA, high test scores, and the most difficult course load rigor at your high school gives you a seat at the table to be evaluated by the admissions committee – and that’s when your extracurricular activities, research, community work, etc. start to play a part.
Schools want to make sure you have the quantitative background before they evaluate your qualitative background.
Ivy League Testing Averages
Here are the testing ranges for the Ivy League. You’ll want to make sure that if you’re submitting test scores that they are competitive for the school. Generally, we recommend an applicant needs scores that fall into the top 25% or higher admit range for the colleges to which they apply.