Dreaming of Ivy League Admission?

By: Barbara Leventhal | Last Updated: January 20, 2023




Curious about what it takes? Our recommendations won’t leave you wondering – or wandering through endless, sometimes confusing advice.

P.S. This post is helpful for admission to any college, so keep reading!


First and foremost is your academic record, the most important factor in college admissions. The Ivies (and other highly “rejective” colleges) expect strong academic results throughout your entire high school career – think mostly A’s. The course level you select also matters. They expect you to challenge yourself in honors and AP (or equivalent) classes and take classes in the academic core all four years. This means enrolling in English, math, science, social science, and world language courses every high school year. Successful Ivy League applicants exceed the minimum diploma credit requirements and seek academic opportunities beyond what their high schools offer, such as finding challenging classes at local colleges or online institutions. Your keen interest in intellectual pursuits should be immediately evident from a quick review of your transcript. If you submit standardized test scores, they should fall in the highest percentile (1500+ for the SAT or 34+ for the ACT).


You’ve likely heard that it’s important to “get involved” as a high school student, and, indeed, opportunities for engagement abound, both in school and in your community. But what are the best ways to develop your extracurricular interests? Join every club your school offers. Volunteer for every park clean-up? While these might be nice ways to meet new friends and accrue community service hours, applicants considering super-selective colleges are making more focused, deliberate choices when it comes to activities. What do they look like? Taking on leadership positions in high-profile school clubs, creating an outreach organization to improve the lives of others, finding research opportunities in your intended major field, and competing in academic challenges to earn national recognition. You’ll want to think in terms of depth, not breadth, choosing involvements reflecting your academic and personal interests.

Barb Leventhal, our extracurricular guru, says it best: “Grades and test scores may get you on the pile to be considered, but they don’t get you admitted. It’s unique extracurricular engagement over time that will make you stand out from the crowd. The right extracurricular activities are the ones that demonstrate a student’s intellectual interests, talents, and goals. Colleges, especially highly selective ones, will look for length of involvement, leadership, initiative, and impact at a local, state, or national level.”


Essays written for colleges will allow you to share information not found elsewhere in your applications, as well as let you further elucidate your intellectual and extracurricular interests in your unique voice. Ivies, peer colleges, and others often require multiple essays: the personal statement essay shared with all schools (telling a story from your life), and those supplemental prompts specific to each institution. Your responses are crucial to prompts asking you to describe why that particular school is a good fit or why you wish to study a certain major.

Through these essays, students must demonstrate that they’ve done their research that reveals that they have almost an insider’s understanding of what makes that university a great match. Responses to a Why This College? prompt must go beyond superficialities (“stunning campus” or “respected faculty” or “great study abroad opportunities”). Applicants must be thoughtful in crafting these essays, typically by taking the time to tour a college either in-person or virtually and spending time getting to know the school through its website, social media presence, and other sources.

Case studies

Curious about what an admitted Ivy (or peer school) student looks like? Check out these three profiles:

  • Ivy Admit: #1 in class; 36 ACT, 1570 SAT; 4.0 unweighted GPA; founder of a far-reaching global leadership program, significant high school leadership, internship, substantial community service in a single project, and athletic involvement (including starting a sports-related club)

  • Peer School Admit: 35 ACT; 3.97 unweighted GPA; 14 AP courses; substantial extracurricular commitments, including 6 major research projects (both independent and working with professionals), 3 research publications, and 7 STEM-related activities, all reflecting collaboration, most with a leadership role

  • Peer School Admit: 95.5 unweighted GPA; 1540 SAT; 15 AP courses; focused outside involvement: significant solo accomplishments in computer science throughout high school, FIRST Robotics with minor leadership since middle school, 4-year commitments to two community service projects, work experience in information technology and the arts

Let’s get started!

So, where to begin? First, request a copy of your transcript or complete academic record. Review it thoughtfully: what do your grades look like? Are there any “dips” in grades? Are you challenging yourself when it comes to course level? Are you exceeding your graduation requirements?

Next, review your extracurricular experiences, looking for longevity, leadership, and impact. How do your commitments distinguish you from another student who may look like you on paper? And, of course, start your college research now, considering aspects like location, size, and major. It’s never too early to begin.

A Final Word

balance is the key to a successful college application plan. Ivy League schools and their peers have exceedingly low admit rates, and while they remain an appealing option, you’ll need to keep balance in mind as you build your college list. There are hundreds and hundreds of stellar schools to choose from that provide an equally impressive collegiate experience. Keep an open mind, and you may be surprised at what you discover! As journalist Frank Bruni wrote, Where you go is not who you’ll be!

Interested in learning more, whether how to evaluate your transcript or develop a substantial extracurricular project? Stuck on how to research a college or start an essay? Need help balancing out your list? Give us a call today!


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