Inevitably, anybody who considers university study, whether graduate or undergraduate, will want to get to the best university possible. For many, that means an American Ivy League university. And, for thousands every year, that ambition becomes a reality as they head to the northeastern US to begin their studies.
However, for every student heading to Princeton, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania or Yale, there are plenty of disappointed applicants. Rates vary, but even the least competitive courses have over ten applications for each place. With so much competition, you need a near perfect application, even the smallest thing can mean the difference between success and failure.
1. Check the admission requirements
When you have an idea of what and where you want to study, it’s sensible to check the precise application requirements. The Ivy League universities are private institutions, and each has its own processes and requirements. What’s more, these can even vary within institutions. For example, at Harvard, each graduate school manages its own admissions and criteria. An incomplete or incorrect application is a guaranteed way to ensure you don’t win that place.
Here are the Admissions pages of all Ivy League colleges
- Harvard University (Massachusetts)
- Yale University (Connecticut)
- Princeton University (New Jersey)
- Columbia University (New York)
- Brown University (Rhode Island)
- Dartmouth College (New Hampshire)
- University of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania)
- Cornell University (New York)
Despite the different processes, Ivy League schools, and many of the best universities, have a lot in common. Wherever you want to go, even if it’s not Ivy League, making the best application possible is just a sensible approach.
2. Make sure you have a good academic record
Despite the Ivy League’s sporting origins, it is their academic prowess that sets them apart. And, for that reason, they require high academic standards from applicants.
For graduate courses, minimum requirements are typically given. These tend to be a minimum of a 3.7 GPA or equivalent in an undergraduate degree, although in practice higher might be needed.
They tend not to suggest minimum requirements for undergraduate degrees, instead stressing that they will look at the individual as a whole. This does not stop speculation on a possible cut-off, with suggestions often around 1,500 on the SAT or equivalent.
However, there are plenty who win places despite not having a traditional academic background. A lack of formal or recognized qualifications might not disqualify you, but you will still need to demonstrate exceptional academic potential in other ways.
3. Make sure you have good recommendations
With the importance they place on the individual, the letters of recommendation play a crucial role in applications. Almost all universities will ask for one or two letters of recommendation, but you will usually have to provide three for an Ivy League application.
These will typically come from a previous school or university, and will focus academic potential, but it’s also important that they present you as a rounded individual. Making sure that whoever is writing your recommendations can present the bigger picture, and they don’t all focus purely on academics.
4. Put your best case forward
Applications also include your resume or CV and your personal statement. These are an opportunity to present yourself in the best possible light. Because Ivy League schools are also looking at the person behind the application, it’s an opportunity to highlight experience or activities that can make you stand out.
Aspirant Ivy Leaguers often wonder what the best extracurricular activities are to impress admissions tutors. However, generally, it’s not what you do, but how you do it and what you achieve that matters. They will be more impressed by someone taking a leadership role in a single organization, and having a positive impact, than someone who simply joins clubs to fill an application.
But any personal statement should be tailored, so use examples that are relevant to the course and the school’s values. Harvard’s Kennedy School, for example, takes its lead from President Kennedy and looks for examples of public service.
5. Don’t forget the ‘extras’...
Some courses will require additional application documents, such as essays. These typically reflect the nature of the course or the school’s ethos. While challenging, these are intended to reveal more about you and the way you think and approach subjects, rather than to test your knowledge.
Many graduate schools will also require relevant professional experience. This is seen as the practical foundation for the course, and usually means having spent around two years in a relevant field.
6. …and prepare for an interview
While places can be offered without interview, now online meetings have removed the need for lengthy journeys most applicants can expect some form of interview. Like the essays, these will be challenging, but are intended to find out more about you, rather than test your knowledge.
This can make the interviews difficult to prepare for, but it’s well worth taking the time to be as ready as you can. Think about examples that can demonstrate your drive and passion, and, if at all possible, practice interviews with others.
It is hard to get a place in an Ivy League college, but with a good record, thorough preparation and a bit of luck, you might well be one of those thousands who get one every year. Good luck!