How to Get into Vanderbilt University

November 18, 2022
By AdmissionSight

How to Get into Vanderbilt University

Located in Nashville Tennessee, Vanderbilt University is one of the top schools in the nation. A combination of excellent academics, an absolutely beautiful campus, and Division I athletics, makes Vanderbilt a great choice for students who have put in the hard work in high school. But gaining admission to Vanderbilt can be quite difficult. You will need to have the right combination of test scores, grades, and extracurricular activities if you want to be a strong contender. In this post, we’re going to discuss everything you need to know before you apply to Vanderbilt in order to give yourself the best possible chance of getting in. So, let’s talk about how to get into Vanderbilt University.

How hard is it to get into Vanderbilt?

Like many competitive schools, Vanderbilt University has become even more selective in the last few years. Students putting off college because of the pandemic has significantly increased the number of applications that many schools receive, but all of these students are competing for the same number of spots in the freshman class. Three years ago, Vanderbilt had an acceptance rate of 9.1%, which is already very low. Currently, Vanderbilt has an acceptance rate of 7%.

For the class of 2026, Vanderbilt had a total of 46,717 undergraduate applications. They ended up admitting just 3,270 applicants, which shows just how selective Vanderbilt has become. As is the case with most selective schools, applying early gives you an advantage if you know that Vanderbilt is your number one school.

View of Vanderbilt campus at day time.

When it comes to applying to Vanderbilt, there are a number of factors to consider. First, is whether you plan to apply early decision or regular decision. For students who know that Vanderbilt is their first choice, applying early decision gives you a significant advantage because the acceptance rate for early decision is around higher than the regular decision rate. Vanderbilt also offers two rounds of early decision. In the first round of ED the acceptance rate was 24% and the second round had a 10% acceptance rate. So, if you know that Vanderbilt is your top choice, apply early.

What does Vanderbilt expect from their applicants?

In order to give you the best information about how to get into Vanderbilt, we’re going to break this down into the different criteria that Vanderbilt considers when they look at your application. Vanderbilt states that there are a number of factors that they consider very important, while other factors are considered as part of the application process but are not as influential.

Vanderbilt summarizes their application philosophy as the following: “we look for students who have demonstrated strong academic skills and intellectual curiosity, and who have engaged in activities outside the classroom that have nurtured their growth as leaders. Most successful applicants have taken a very rigorous course load and have challenged themselves at the highest levels of the available curriculum.”

So, you might be wondering how Vanderbilt evaluates these qualities. The key to demonstrating that you are the type of student that Vanderbilt is looking for, you will need to weave these concepts into your personal statement and supplemental essay.


World-renowned as one of the top universities in the nation, Vanderbilt has only been getting more difficult to get into, and because of this, you need to make sure your application is as good as possible.

Vanderbilt doesn’t have specific benchmarks that applicants must satisfy, but in order to be competitive, you will need an excellent GPA and test scores, along with a number of other criteria. Vanderbilt doesn’t publish the average GPA of their admitted applicants, but it’s safe to say that having a GPA of 4.0 or better is necessary. If your GPA isn’t above 4.0, you will need to look for ways to make up for this in other parts of your application.

In order to maintain a GPA above 4.0, you will likely need to take a rigorous course load in high school including AP, IB, and honors classes. Getting excellent grades in these courses allows you to present Vanderbilt with an impressive GPA, but it does something else as well.

Unidentified student preparing for the SAT

The first factor that Vanderbilt considers to be “very important” is class rigor. Essentially, Vanderbilt want to know that you have challenged yourself in high school. This demonstrates academic integrity as well as intellectual curiosity. Vanderbilt wants to admit students who will go above and beyond in their studies and taking challenging courses in high school shows that you intend to challenge yourself in college as well.

Many colleges are impressed with students who show significant improvement in their grades over their high school career, but highly-selective schools like Vanderbilt want to see that you’ve been committed to academic excellence throughout your entire high school career. Part of the reason for this is they want to see that you value hard work, but they also want students who show sincere intellectual curiosity. Taking more rigorous courses shows that you want to challenge yourself as a student, and this is the kind of motivation they are looking for.

Test scores

Standardized test scores were an optional part of the Vanderbilt application during the 2022-2023 application cycle due to the pandemic, but this may change in the future. With this in mind, you need to be conscious about how to prepare for the SATs or ACTs in order to score as highly as possible. Typically, accepted Vanderbilt applicants had an average of 1480 to 1570 on the SAT and 34 to 35 on the ACT.

There is a common misconception that you need a specific score in order to ensure admission to a top school. But at Vanderbilt 1500 was the average score, meaning some students scored lower and some students scored higher. Obviously, your test scores aren’t the only criteria by which you are judged but applying with a lower score typically means you will need to make up for it somewhere else on your application.

Extracurricular activities

Top colleges these days want well-rounded students who have an active life outside of the classroom. But they also want to know what you’ve been doing with this time. If you’re wondering how to get into Vanderbilt, one of the keys is to have extracurricular activities that demonstrate your leadership skills and commitment to your community.

When it comes to your particular extracurricular activities, schools care less about what you did than how you did it. If you took part in community service activities, did you take the initiative to spearhead new projects or ideas? If you spent much of your time outside of school working a part-time job, what lessons did you learn, and how did you make the most of your time at work?

If you participated in sports, were you a leader on and off the field for your fellow players? Maybe you took it upon yourself to start a social justice club at school or you found a way to solve a specific problem in your community. Regardless of how you’ve spent your time, the goal is to show Vanderbilt that you grew both personally and intellectually.

Some students are laser focused on their favorite field of study, and they use their time outside the classroom to dig even deeper into their academic passions. And just because these pursuits were academic, it doesn’t mean they don’t qualify as extracurricular.

Perhaps you spent the summer exploring your passion for Geology by spending a month at working in Moab National Park with researchers. Or you have used your passion for the environment to research new electric vehicle technology. Regardless of your particular passion, Vanderbilt wants to see how your activities contributed to your growth and personal integrity.

Academic research

While having participated in academic research is not a requirement for admission to Vanderbilt, many of their accepted students have taken part in at least some form of academic research while in high school. Because Vanderbilt is known at one of the top research facilities in the world, many of their academic programs involve some form of research, and their various departments have a number of different research opportunities.

Two people talking and discussing while sitting on a table.

According to Vanderbilt: “Research at Vanderbilt draws on the belief that great breakthroughs happen when different ideas, disciplines and areas of expertise come together. As a result, Vanderbilt is dedicated to fostering cross-disciplinary collaborations that can expand the framework for what is possible. Revolutionary programs like the Vanderbilt Institute for Surgery and Engineering and the Engine for Art, Democracy, and Justice are among the many examples of multi-departmental partnerships within the One Vanderbilt community.”

Like many top universities, Vanderbilt offers students a variety of on-campus resources to aid in their research journeys. These include the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, Immersion Vanderbilt, and the Undergraduate Summer Research Program.

What does Vanderbilt look for?

In their admissions process, Vanderbilt looks for a number of different factors. Obviously, your grades and test scores are going to be paramount, but Vanderbilt is also looking for students with diverse backgrounds in order to build an inclusive community of students who value collaboration in a supportive learning environment. Vanderbilt also wants students who are serious about discovering and following their passions. This means that when you write your essays, conveying your passion for learning and academic curiosity is especially important.

Personal statement/supplemental essays

Top schools want to see more from students than just numbers on a transcript. Schools like Vanderbilt want to know how you think and how you express yourself. Numbers on a transcript don’t tell a school how your mind works, so making the most of your personal statement and supplemental essays is a vitally important part of your application. Students who wonder how to get into Vanderbilt need to understand that your essays are what give the Vanderbilt undergraduate admissions staff a clear picture of who you are and what makes you special.

Schools like Vanderbilt get plenty of applications from students who have excellent grades and test scores. So, in order to make it through the application process, you need to set yourself apart from the crowd. Vanderbilt is looking for intelligent, hardworking students, but they’re also looking for interesting people. In order to build an extraordinary student body, Vanderbilt needs to know how their applicants approach the world and the experiences that have shaped them. This is the purpose of your essays.

Group of students studying on a table.

The current Vanderbilt supplemental essays require you to write two different essays, and the key is to demonstrate your unique voice and perspective. Vanderbilt doesn’t want an academic essay. They want to “get to know you” as a real person. Talk about how your extracurricular activities have shaped you as a person. And don’t be afraid to get specific. Vanderbilt wants to know as much about you as possible, and your essays are your opportunity to set yourself apart from the crowd.

Letters of recommendation

When it comes to how to get into Vanderbilt, one of your most valuable tools is your letter of recommendation. This allows Vanderbilt to see you from someone else’s perspective. Because of this, it’s vitally important that you choose people who know you in a variety of different ways.

The teacher who gave you an A in their class isn’t a great resource if that’s all they know about you. But the teacher who mentored you or guided you through challenges in your studies will know you as a student and as a person. Vanderbilt currently requires one letter of recommendation from your school counselor and two letters from a teacher in core subjects. You may also submit a letter from someone outside of school, like a mentor or employer.

View of a female student talking in front of two people.

Vanderbilt uses eight main factors when considering your application: the academic rigor you have chosen in high school, your GPA, test scores, essay, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, talent, and personal qualities. But they also consider your interview, whether you are a first-generation college student, legacy, geographic residence, state residence, religious affiliation, racial/ethnic status, work experience, and volunteer work.

Additional materials/supplements

Currently, the only applicants who need to provide supplemental materials are those applying to the Blair School of Music. These applicants must include the following items with their applications: One artistic recommendation, a headshot or photo for identification purposes, a music resumé, a repertoire list, and a prescreening video.

A holistic approach to admissions

Like many schools, Vanderbilt uses a “holistic approach” to their admissions process. This means looking at the whole student rather than just grades and test scores. This means the Vanderbilt undergraduate admissions office will look at your life circumstances in addition to your transcripts and test scores.

Universities know that some students come from backgrounds that offered fewer opportunities, while others may have faced unique challenges, and some simply have extraordinary gifts that schools find attractive. The bottom line is that there is no simple answer to how to get into Vanderbilt University. Instead, your goal as an applicant is to highlight what makes you a strong, unique candidate.

According to Vanderbilt Chancellor, David Diermeier, “Universities such as ours exist because of an unshakable belief in human potential. We must do whatever it takes to create an environment in which all members of our community can thrive and contribute to their full potential.”

Because Vanderbilt is such a selective school, you may have a lot of questions about the application process, and whether your application meets their criteria. At AdmissionSight we have many years of experience guiding students through the college admissions process in order to give them the best possible chance of getting in. Our counselors know what college admissions officers want to see, and they can help tailor your application to make it as competitive as possible. You’ve already done the hard work of excelling in your studies. AdmissionSight can help you get across the finish line.



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