Want to learn how to get into Ivy League colleges? Our comprehensive guide on how to get into Ivy League colleges provides a roadmap to enhance your application. Discover actionable strategies to showcase academic excellence, create a compelling narrative in your college essays, choose meaningful extracurriculars for college, secure strong letters of recommendation, and ace the all-important interview. This guide is designed to help you put your best foot forward in the highly competitive Ivy League admissions process.

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Article Contents
8 min read

What are the Ivy League Colleges? How to Get into Ivy League Colleges: What Do You Need? How to Get Into Ivy League Colleges Other Important Factors of the Ivy Leagues’ Admissions Process How to Get Into Ivy League Colleges: Final Thoughts FAQs

What are the Ivy League Colleges?

The Ivy League, an elite group of eight private universities in the U.S., is often seen as a pinnacle of academic achievement and prestige. Admission into these esteemed institutions is highly competitive. Aspiring students need to showcase a combination of stellar academics, outstanding extracurricular activities, compelling essays, and convincing college recommendation letters. The Ivy League colleges are:

  1. Brown University
  2. Columbia University
  3. Cornell University
  4. Dartmouth College
  5. Harvard University
  6. University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)
  7. Princeton University
  8. Yale University

Often regarded as the peak of academic accomplishment, the Ivy League, or the Ivies, is a prestigious consortium of eight distinguished universities in the United States, including illustrious names such as Yale, Harvard, and Princeton.

For decades, these universities have embodied the zenith of educational excellence, and families globally are curious on how to help their child get into an Ivy League school. Learning the ropes of gaining admission into an Ivy League college, even as an international student, is feasible, so make sure to keep reading if you’re a student who is trying to find out how to get into an Ivy League school as an international student – this is for you also.

How to Get into Ivy League Colleges: What Do You Need?

Students wondering how to get into Ivy League colleges must first take a moment to understand the admissions process better. The Ivy League universities each have distinct admissions processes but generally share common elements. Here's a general overview of the admissions process:

  • Application
  • High school transcript
  • Standardized test scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Common App Essay (or other primary application essay) and supplemental essays
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Interview
  • Application fee

Application System

The Ivies are included in the list of schools that use Common App, but you may also use other application services such as the Universal College Application, or Coalition Application.  Additionally, each school's specific supplemental college essays must be completed separately from the primary application. Personal information, academic history, activities, and honors are all part of the college application.

Early Decision vs Regular Admission

Early Decision (ED) and Regular Admission are two distinct pathways that students can take when applying to colleges and universities.

How to Get Into Ivy League Colleges

Let’s go over each admission requirement to see how you can increase your admissions chances. 

High School Transcript

Your high school transcript is a document that provides an overview of your academic performance throughout high school. The colleges look for rigorous courses and consistent, high-level performance. Ivy League institutions value intellectual curiosity, dedication, and academic rigor. A strong GPA is usually expected.

Ivy League schools usually set application deadlines in early November for Early Decision and early January for Regular Decision. It's crucial that all components of your application, including your high school transcript, are submitted by these dates.

To account for processing times both at your high school and the universities, it's a good idea to request your transcript from your high school several weeks before the application deadline. Each high school has its own procedures for this process, so make sure to check with your school's guidance or college counseling office to understand the specifics.


While there isn't a fixed GPA cutoff for Ivy League schools, a GPA of 4.0 or above on a 4.0 scale is generally considered strong. However, Ivy League admissions are holistic, considering many factors beyond just GPA.

Many Ivy League schools report the average GPA of their incoming classes to be between 4.0 and 4.3, primarily because many high-achieving students take IB or AP courses, which can be factored into GPA as more than a 4.0.

It's important to remember that these are averages, and GPA does not solely determine admission. Ivy League schools are looking for students who excel in rigorous courses, show intellectual curiosity, and demonstrate qualities such as leadership, resilience, and creativity. Thus, outstanding performance in other areas may offset a lower GPA. However, if you have a chance to increase your GPA – do this as soon as possible. Ivy Leagues are competitive for a reason. The majority of students you will be competing with will have really strong stats, so you do not want to give the admissions committee any reason to remove you from the application pool.

Tip: apply to Ivy League colleges where you meet or exceed the GPA requirement. Look at the average GPA of last year’s matriculants and see if you measure up. If you are nowhere close to the set standard at Harvard, for example, perhaps you can skip applying to this college and apply to Cornell and Princeton instead.

Lastly, note that standards may vary from school to school and year to year. Always check the specific admissions data for each school you are interested in.


Historically, most Ivy League colleges required SAT or ACT scores and required or recommended SAT Subject Tests. However, some have joined the list of colleges that do not require the SAT or ACT and moved to a test-optional policy, meaning they do not have a strict SAT or ACT requirement. Ivies such as Dartmouth and Yale still require the submission of standardized test scores.

However, if you are looking to stand out and check all the boxes, submitting your test scores could be advantageous, especially with a lower GPA.

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation provide a third-party perspective on your character, accomplishments, and potential. A strong recommendation should come from individuals who know you well and can give specific examples of your abilities and contributions.

These typically come from two teachers in different academic subjects and sometimes a counselor. A good recommendation letter will provide insight into your academic and personal qualities.

Teachers, school counselors, and mentors are all good choices for recommenders. It's essential to approach them well in advance and provide them with all the information they need to write a detailed letter. This could include your high school resume, personal statement, or a list of significant projects or achievements they might discuss. Keep in mind that there is a chance that a referee may ask you to provide a rough draft of a letter instead of all these documents, so be sure to learn how to write your own recommendation letter and provide them with a strong first draft.

Primary Application Essay

The college admissions essay is a crucial part of your application. It's an opportunity to showcase your personality, values, and goals.

Students are offered a unique opportunity to show who they are beyond their grades and extracurricular activities through their primary application essay. A successful essay will weave together your experiences, aspirations, and personality into a narrative that resonates with the admissions committee.

The essay prompt is general and is not tailored to each school or program. It will be sent to all schools, whether you apply to the Ivy Leagues or not. Be careful not to mention any specific schools in your essay. Unless you are doing early decision, you will eliminate your chances of admissions in doing so.

Ultimately, the primary application essay is your chance to stand out in your application.

Supplemental College Essays

In addition to the primary application essay, each Ivy League school also requires additional supplemental essays. While the primary application essay allows students to showcase their personality, the supplemental essays enable them to elaborate on their interests, experiences, and what they can bring to the school's community.

Unlike the primary application essay, supplemental essays are extremely school-specific. Make sure to research each school before writing your supplemental essays. Be sure to echo their values in their writing.

Here are a few examples of supplemental essay requirements the Ivy League colleges have asked applicants of the past to complete:

Remember, the prompts and requirements for supplemental essays can change from year to year, so it's crucial to check each school's current application guidelines. Use these essays to tell your story, demonstrate your fit with the school, and convey what you would contribute to the campus community.

Extracurricular Activities

Admissions committees look for commitment, progress, and leadership in a few activities, indicating passion and commitment, rather than a large number of disconnected activities.

Involvement in extracurricular activities can showcase a candidate's character, commitment, leadership, and creativity. Ivy Leagues are not merely interested in a laundry list of activities; they value depth over breadth. Students should commit to a few activities where they can make a significant impact or demonstrate progression in roles or responsibilities, which will be showcased in the Common App Activities section of your application.

Students who stand out often show a spike in one area - an evident passion, commitment, and achievement in a specific field. This could be anything from athletics, music, scientific research, community service, or entrepreneurship. Remember, the goal is to show dedication, passion, and a willingness to push boundaries.

Other Important Factors of the Ivy Leagues’ Admissions Process

Aside from the basic admissions process, there are a few other key components unique to the Ivy League colleges worth noting.

Be Skeptical of the Holistic Admissions Process

The Ivies claim to practice a holistic admissions process. However, be careful not to disregard any part of the admissions requirements. You will be competing with really strong candidates, so each one of your application components must be superb, including your GPA and SAT or ACT scores if you choose to submit them. 

Need-Blind Admissions Policies

The Ivies also have need-blind admissions policies for domestic students, which means your ability to pay the school's tuition does not impact the admissions decision. This might not apply to international students, depending on the school.

Highly Competitive

The admission process is highly competitive, so applying to a range of colleges, including safety and match schools, is always a good strategy. It's also important to start the process early to give yourself ample time to craft a compelling application

How to Get into Ivy League Colleges: Final Thoughts

Getting into an Ivy League college is no easy task. It requires exceptional academics, a genuine passion outside the classroom, compelling essays, strong letters of recommendation, and impressive interviews. While this may seem daunting, it's important to remember that each element is a chance to showcase who you are and what you can bring to the campus community.

While the Ivy League represents some of the top schools in the country, it's also crucial to remember that there are many excellent universities out there. The best university for you is one that fits your individual goals, learning style, and aspirations. So while aiming for the Ivy League, explore other institutions that might provide an equally enriching and rewarding college experience.

It's not the university's prestige that determines your success, but rather your ambition, perseverance, and the knowledge and skills you acquire during your higher education journey. Ivy League or not, the key is finding a school that will best support your personal and academic growth and aligns with your future plans.

So, if you’re wondering how to get into Ivy League colleges, remember that the end goal is to develop your potential and prepare for a successful future. Keep your options open, strive for excellence, and, most importantly, stay true to yourself in the process.


1. What is the easiest Ivy League school to get into?

Cornell University typically has the highest acceptance rate (around 8%) among the Ivy League schools, making it the 'easiest' to get into. While it's important to note that no Ivy League school can be classified as 'easy' to get into, given their rigorous standards and highly competitive applicant pools, the acceptance rates can provide a rough idea of which schools are less competitive than others.

2. What GPA do you need to get into Ivy League college?

A GPA of 4.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale is competitive. Many students admitted to Ivy League schools have GPAs in the 4.0-4.3 range due to weighted grading scales for AP or IB courses. While there's no absolute GPA requirement for Ivy League colleges, a strong academic record is crucial to the application.

3. Is it hard to get into Ivy League?

Yes, gaining admission to Ivy League colleges is quite challenging due to their highly selective nature and competitive applicant pool. These schools seek exceptional academic achievement, distinctive extracurricular involvement, and compelling personal qualities. However, with thorough preparation, strategic planning, and genuine passion, securing a place in an Ivy League institution is possible.

4. Do you need straight A’s to get into an Ivy?

No. While having straight A's can enhance your application for Ivy League colleges, it's not an absolute requirement. There are ways to get into college with a low GPA. Nevertheless, academic excellence is highly valued, and a strong GPA often plays a significant role in admission decisions.

5. Will one C ruin my chances of Ivy League?

No, a single C will not necessarily ruin your chances of getting into an Ivy League school, as admissions committees understand students can have off semesters or difficult classes. They look at your overall academic trajectory, an improvement over time, and the context of the grade. However, consistently high academic performance is expected, and any lower grades should be the exception rather than the rule.

6. What is the hardest Ivy academically?

Princeton and Columbia are often noted for their rigorous academic environments and extensive core curriculum requirements. Nonetheless, all Ivy League schools are academically challenging, offering rigorous programs across various fields of study. Determining the "hardest" Ivy League school academically can be subjective as it largely depends on the specific program or major a student is pursuing.

7. How many AP classes do you need for Ivy League?

Generally speaking, students should aim for 8 AP classes for an Ivy League college application. No exact number of AP classes is required for Ivy League admissions, as it largely depends on what's available at your school. The key is to balance rigor with your ability to excel; it's beneficial to perform well in a challenging course load that's manageable for you.

8. Can I get into Harvard with 2 B’s?

Yes, getting into Harvard is possible even if you have a couple of B's on your transcript. Like other Ivy League schools, Harvard uses a holistic admissions process, considering your overall academic performance, extracurricular activities, leadership roles, personal essays, and recommendation letters. However, given the highly competitive nature of Harvard admissions, maintaining a strong GPA is generally important, and exceptional strengths in other areas should ideally balance any lower grades.

9. How much is the application fee for an Ivy League?

The latest Ivy League application fees ranged from $75 to $85 per application, depending on the school. Each application comes with a fee, though fee waivers are available for students who demonstrate financial need.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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Disclaimer: Please note although we have made every effort to provide the most accurate information, admissions information changes frequently. Therefore, we encourage you to verify these details with the official university admissions office. You are responsible for your own results. BeMo does not endorse nor affiliate with any official universities, colleges, or test administrators and vice versa.