Why Marks Aren't Everything When Applying to Ivy League Universities

October 22, 2020

Your dream is to study at an Ivy League University in the USA - that's great! The only problem is, it is also the dream of lots of other students. University admissions at some of the most elite schools are more competitive than ever. The question, then, is what is important when applying to one of your dream schools. Conventional wisdom says your marks are the most important thing when applying to Ivy League universities - but this isn't true, as you can read below.

The Ivy League receives thousands of applications each year from academically gifted students who technically qualify for admission. This creates an interesting problem as these schools simply do not have enough space to accept every qualified applicant.

Ivy League Acceptance Rates

Let’s take a look at who the Ivy League schools are and what their latest acceptance rates are:

  1. Brown University is 8%
  2. Columbia University is 6%
  3. Cornell University is 11%
  4. Dartmouth College is 9%
  5. Harvard University is 5%
  6. University of Pennsylvania is 8%
  7. Princeton University is 5%
  8. Yale University is 6%

Now you are probably wondering: how does one even get accepted into universities with these odds? How is the competition so extreme?

One of the biggest factors all universities look at on your application is your grades - there’s no getting around it - BUT there are many caveats that the admissions officers usually don’t tell students!

If you are not a straight-A student, are you done for? No, and not by a long shot. The good news is that marks aren’t everything when applying to an Ivy League University. The US college system is the only system in the world that cares more about the type of person you are, rather than just your academic history. To overcome the issue of an overwhelming amount of applications each year, Ivy League schools came up with a more subjective method of assessing their applicants, known as the Holistic Review.

The Holistic Review

The Holistic Review means a university looks beyond academic qualifications to assess an
applicant and determine how this student will contribute to the campus community outside of their academic responsibilities. This approach allows admissions officers to focus on a student’s academic journey from Grade 9 to Grade 12, rather than just one set of results such as an SAT or ACT score. They take an in-depth look at what it took for the students to get these good grades, how hard they pushed themselves, and what challenges they had to overcome on their journey to college.

Another thing that admissions officers favour is students who have an intense passion for something outside of their academics, as these students are likely to do great things after graduation. Signing up for difficult classes and taking on additional subjects, performing in a local orchestra, or doing some research on something that greatly interests them are just a few examples.

The best thing you can do when applying to an Ivy League University is to demonstrate that you have the grades, you challenged yourself academically, and you have a deep and burning passion for something - most likely in the field of what you would like to major in.


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