How to Get into an Ivy League School with Average Grades

August 5, 2021
By AdmissionSight

How to Get into an Ivy League School with Average Grades

There is no doubt that the easiest way to get into one of the eight highly prestigious and competitive Ivy League schools is to earn fantastic grades, get top test scores and just be highly impressive overall.

However, depending on what your – or your student’s – GPA in high school is, you may be wondering how to get into an Ivy League school with average grades.

While it may seem like something of an impossibility, there are actually lots of examples of students getting into Ivy League schools even though their grades throughout high school were not incredible.

Young student reading a book on a desk.

With that being said, if one part of any high school student’s application profile is not incredible – such as their GPA in high school – everything else is going to have to be truly phenomenal! So, if you are curious about what it takes to get into an Ivy League school with average grades, then you have absolutely come to the right place.

We at AdmissionSight have worked with every kind of student that you can imagine, and it is through that experience that we have been able to compile the most helpful tips when it comes to high school students with average GPAs getting letters of acceptance from schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia and more!

But before we get into that, we wanted to quickly break down the Ivy League in a way that we thought would be helpful. That is, splitting it up into the easier schools to get into and the harder schools to get into.

To be sure, all Ivy League schools are incredibly prestigious, selective, and competitive. However, as you will soon see, there are certain degrees of difficulty even with that very elite group.

The Ivy League – Hardest vs. Easiest

Though the Ivy League is made up of many of the most prestigious schools in the United States and the world, the actual term “ivy League” was not popularized until the mid-1950s. Still, many of these schools exist in the oldest institutions in the United States. Harvard is older than the United States itself – first coming into existence in 1636. Yale first began in 1702 and Princeton was formed in 1746!

The remaining five schools beyond those “Big Three” schools that were previously mentioned are Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, and Penn. While the “Big Three” have long been considered the most difficult schools to get into within the Ivy League, you’ll see from the breakdown that they are all incredibly competitive when it comes to their annual acceptance rates.

Below are the hardest Ivy League schools to get into:

Harvard

Acceptance rate for the class of 2025 was 3.4 percent

Columbia

Acceptance rate for the class of 2025 was 3.7 percent

Princeton

Acceptance rate for the class of 2025 was 4.0 percent

Yale

Acceptance rate for the class of 2025 was 4.6 percent

Below are the easiest Ivy League schools to get into

Brown

Acceptance rate for the class of 2025 was 5.4 percent

Penn

Acceptance rate for the class of 2025 was 5.7 percent

Dartmouth

Acceptance rate for the class of 2025 was 6.2 percent

Cornell

Acceptance rate for the class of 2025 was 8.6 percent

So, now that you have a concrete idea of all of the acceptance rates within the Ivy League, you can see from the raw numbers just how difficult it is to get into any of them. To be clear, all of the schools in the Ivy League have an acceptance rate below 10 percent. That fact can be said about very few schools across the United States.

Knowing all this now, you may be wondering how it is even possible that any student with an average grade point average would gain admission to an Ivy League school. After all, the average GPA for students who do get into these schools tends to be even above a straight-A 4.0 average.

But it is possible, and now we’re going to go over why and how. Here are the top tips to get into an Ivy League school with an average GPA.

Have incredible test scores

If you are a high school student who is dead set on getting into an Ivy League school without incredible grades throughout high school, you are going to have to find another way to prove that you have what it takes academically to keep up with the incredible demands and competitiveness that come with studying at a school like Harvard or Princeton.

College student studying in her desk.

According to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, grades and test scores are the two most important factors for a student trying to get into any highly selective university.

So, if one of those factors is a bit less impressive, then the other factor has to be even more impressive.

Below is a table of the average GPAs, SAT scores and ACT scores of students that are accepted to all of the eight Ivy League courses. If the GPA of the student in question is below these averages, they would be wise to make it their number one priority to make sure that either their SAT or ACT score is above average.

List of schools and scores needed fro

While getting great test scores to help a student overcome a less-than-incredible GPA, there is little doubt that such an accomplishment is going to be enough in the vast majority of cases. In fact, every single year there are highly intelligent and highly accomplished students who see their dreams of Ivy League admission dashed.

Without a doubt, not getting incredible grades will put any student in a hole, but it is not a hole that they can’t dig themselves out of.

Apply early

By applying early as a part of Early Action/Early Decision, students will be able to significantly boost their chances of getting into one of the Ivy League elite schools. However, it is really important for students to read and fully understand the rules related to Early Action/Early Decision. Most notably, they have to make sure that they are applying early to the university that they are sure they want to attend in the event that they are accepted.

The reason why is because once a student is accepted under Early Decision, they will then have to withdraw their applications to all of the other schools that they have applied to. They may also have to be fully committed to attending that university.

To clarify just how big of an impact applying to a school with an Early Action/Early Decision application can make, we wanted to break down how the acceptance rates change for the schools in the Ivy League that do allow for such an application.

Five out of the three schools do allow Early Action/Early Decision. Those schools are Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn and Yale. The Early Action/Early Decision acceptance rates are as follows.

Brown

Early Action/Early Decision acceptance rate for the class of 2025 was 16.0 percent

Dartmouth

Early Action/Early Decision acceptance rate for the class of 2025 was 21.2 percent.

Harvard

Early Action/Early Decision acceptance rate for the class of 2025 7.4 percent.

Penn

Early Action/Early Decision acceptance rate for the class of 2025 was 15.0 percent.

Yale

Early Action/Early Decision acceptance rate for the class of 2025 was 10.5 percent.

No, none of these percentages are typos! The acceptance rates of over half of the Ivy League schools more than double for students who are applying Early Action/Early Decision. It is a fantastic tool for high school students to use and something that students need to seriously consider when they are determined to get into an Ivy League school.

The most important thing to remember, again, is just to apply this way to the school that you are certain you are most interested in going to. That way, you will be more than happy to deal with the restrictive nature of EA/ED.

Craft an exceptional and unique personal statement

One of the true wild cards of every student’s university application is the personal statement. There is very little doubt that personal statements play a crucial role in any student’s journey to getting accepted to any of the Ivy League schools.

These days, students are most likely to be applying to any of the Ivy League by way of the Common Application. In order for any student to set themselves apart from the hundreds of thousands of brilliant and passionate students applying to Ivy Leagues every year, personal statements have to be truly special.

That is, of course, even more important for students who were not able to achieve exceptional grade point averages throughout their high school years.

Incoming female college student writing in a desk at a library.

For that reason, students should make sure that they are giving the personal statements the time and energy that they truly deserve. Making sure that they are carefully crafted, with perfect spelling and grammar is obvious. But it goes further than that.

Consider the fact that the personal statement is one of the student’s few opportunities to really give those in any university’s admissions office a clear idea of who they are as a person. What makes them tick, what do they hope to achieve now and in the future, and why would they be an exceptional member of any college campus community?

With that being said, personal statement essays do not have to be about something extraordinary. There is absolutely no need to come up with some kind of groundbreaking story to unlock the door to an Ivy League school. Instead, students can simply choose one topic that is important to them and build an essay around that topic that is thoughtful, self-reflective and wonderful to read.

Prove passion and depth with extracurricular activities

Back in the day, the only things that really mattered when it came to college admissions were the GPA and test scores that a student earned during their time in high school. While that would absolutely not work in the favor of students who were not lucky enough to enjoy great grades in high school.

However, for students who maybe earned a few B grades here and there when they should have worked for that A grade, the newfound emphasis that has been placed on extracurriculars can prove to be something of a godsend.

College student swimming in a pool.

Countless different groups, clubs teams and more that a student takes part in their high school years could be considered extracurricular activities, and the reality of the situation is that any of these things can be made into highly positive extracurriculars if they allowed the student to show that they held true passion in the activity.

Years ago, it used to be believed that the students who were able to prove that they were well-rounded individuals by taking part in a large array of different clubs, groups and activities would be the ones most favorably looked upon in the eyes of Ivy League college admissions officers. Now, admissions officers look for students who committed lots of time and energy to just a few groups.

These days, students are directed to focus heavily on three to five different extracurriculars and try to gain real achievements and form roles of leadership in as many of that handful of activities as possible. Whether a student is a talented athlete, a wonderful actor, a competitive debater, or a fascinated scientist, there is no way to go wrong. The only way to really go wrong is to not explore your passions at all throughout high school.

Ivy League schools will have major concerns about a student who explored their interests out of the classroom very sparingly during high school. That is true even for students who earned top grades and standardized test scores.

One thing that should be mentioned here, is that we at AdmissionSight have found that the extracurriculars that do tend to have the greatest positive impact will also be related in some way to a student’s academic interest. Trying to find one or two extracurriculars that connect with a student’s biggest academic interests should be seen as a major factor.

Impress in your interview

While the majority of schools across the United States do not invite students to take part in an interview with one of their alumni, it can play an important role when it comes to applying to Ivy League schools.

As we have mentioned, Ivy League schools have some of the longest and most storied legacies of all institutions that were erected in the United States. For that reason,  the schools want to be sure that they are only accepting students who will be a positive member of the school’s community before, during and after their education at the school.

Young student shaking the hand of her interviewer.

While the interview is not seen as a major aspect of the application process, it can be a saving grace for a student who has dreams of attending an Ivy League school despite average grades. However, that is only true if the interview goes well, of course.

Going into an interview, students are going to want to do their research so that they have a solid idea of what kind of questions they will be asked. They should not look to simply give the interviewer the answer they want, but should instead do some soul searching to make sure that they have the answers that are true to them.

Students should think deeply about what their passions and interests are, why they want to attend a specific school in the Ivy League, and why that school will help them further pursue their passions and work towards greater success in the short and long term.

Finally, students should always make a point to be personable and polite so that there are no questions related to their character or maturity that arise.

Conclusion

As you can see, getting into any of the Ivy League schools is not impossible for students who have an average GPA. All it really means is that everything else related to a student’s application profile is going to have to be even more convincing in order to get the green light from the admissions office at any of the eight fabulous Ivy League schools.

Here at AdmissionSight, we’ve proudly helped countless students get into top schools. In fact, we have a 75 percent success rate when it comes to our students getting accepted to an Ivy League or top 10 schools in the United States.

For that reason, we can confidently say that students with average grades may be at a disadvantage but are certainly not entirely out of the race. It simply means that they have to work just a bit harder to make sure that everything else about their application profile is incredible and unique if they want to be a part of the Ivy League.

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