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When it comes to higher education, most people dream of getting into the Ivy Leagues. After all, the eight schools in the league — Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, and Yale University — are the best in the US and arguably some of the best in the world.
It only makes sense that you would want to do your graduate studies in an Ivy League or another otherwise just as prestigious school since it can significantly increase your chances of success in your chosen career.
The problem is, it’s not always easy to get into the top schools in the US. You won’t be the only one vying for a spot in one of these prestigious schools’ graduate programs. And more often than not, you’ll be going up against other applicants whose backgrounds are, in a word, intimidating. With such intense competition, it’s no wonder you’re here looking for tips on how to get into Ivy League graduate school.
In this complete guide, we’ve put together everything you need to know that might just help you achieve your dreams. We included information on the requirements, Ivy League grad school acceptance rates, how to apply, and more. So let’s get right to it!
Quick Facts to Know About the Ivy League Before Applying
If you don’t already know, the Ivy League comprises eight prestigious universities in the United States. Each of these institutions ranks high not just in the US but also in the world. All eight are renowned for the quality of education they provide, their leading research, and the outstanding outcomes graduates can achieve.
The eight Ivies are:
- Harvard University
- Dartmouth College
- Columbia University
- Brown University
- Cornell University
- University of Pennsylvania
- Yale University
- Princeton University
We all know that the Ivy Leagues are prestigious institutions. But how exactly did it come to be?
The Ivy League was formed in 1954, initially as an intercollegiate sports athletic conference. Although legally and officially formed in ‘54, sports dates between the institutions went as far back as 1933.
It’s a little tough to answer the question of where the name “Ivy League” came from, but there are a few theories. The biggest and most plausible theory came from 1937 when sportswriter Caswell Adams referred to the “Ivy-covered universities” as the Ivy League in his reporting. They were so-called due to the architectural features of brick walls covered in ivy vines, which were common during that time.
The Ivy League institutions have been around for centuries, with Harvard being the oldest since its founding in 1636. Even when the Ivy League (as in the sports athletic conference) was founded, intellectual merit was already a founding principle. For this reason, the original agreement ensured that academics kept priority over academics. On this principle, none of the eight institutions offer athletic scholarships — not even today.
The Ivies have been, and continue to be, well-known for their academic rigor. They have some of the best well-funded undergraduate and graduate programs in the United States and the world.
Application Requirements for Ivy League Graduate Programs
If you ever seek any advice on how to apply for grad school, one of the most common tips people may give you is to ensure you meet all the application requirements. People may also tell you that you should aim to make your application as impressive as possible, especially if you’re trying to get into one of the Ivy League schools.
But what exactly are the requirements to get into Ivy League schools?
There’s one thing you should remember first: although many of the Ivy League graduate schools have similar requirements, some of the institutions and programs may have some additional requirements over others. Before you even begin working on your application, you may want to check with your program of choice to ensure that you don’t miss any requirements.
Now, let’s talk about what you need to apply.
Although some of the Ivies don’t publish any minimum GPA requirements, many programs within these institutions do. The best way to know whether your GPA is enough to apply is to check with the school’s website or to request more information via e-mail or phone call.
Now you may ask, “what is a good GPA for Ivy League grad school?”
Because Ivy League schools are so competitive, you’ll likely want the highest possible GPA you can get to apply. Many of your peers will likely have high undergraduate GPAs, with some even earning perfect 4.0s.
However, if you’re applying for a Ph.D. program, your master’s GPA may hold a little less importance, as many programs would prefer to look at your research, publications, experience, and other contributions during your master’s degree. Thus, simply having a “passing” or minimum GPA can be enough to get into some Ph.D. programs.
But if you’re trying to get into one of the Ivy League universities for a master’s degree, what hope do you have if your undergrad GPA wasn’t the best?
Don’t worry too much about how to get into Ivy League grad school with a low GPA. Most of the Ivies follow a holistic admissions process, which means your GPA will only be one of the factors they’ll consider on your application. If you can balance out a lower GPA with high standardized test scores and plenty of relevant work experience, you can increase your chances of admission. However, it’s worth mentioning that you will still likely need to meet the program’s stated minimum GPA to apply.
Related: Harvard GPA Requirements: What GPA Do You Need to Get In?
Completed Application + Fees
All colleges and universities require prospective students to complete applications and pay application fees. In some cases, the institutions may waive the fees. However, all students must apply.
Colleges and universities will usually ask you for various basic information, such as your name, address, gender identity, birthdate, contact information, citizenship status, and your intended area of study. Complete the application as accurately as possible!
Your Academic Record and Transcripts
Most schools will require your past academic records to ensure that you have earned the grades necessary to qualify for consideration. Graduate schools will usually ask a prospective grad student for transcripts from every college or university they’ve attended.
However, in cases where admission is incredibly selective, schools may also ask for your high school transcripts. Schools may have unique transcript review processes, so double-check before applying to ensure you’re doing what you need to do.
Your Standardized Test Scores
Not all programs will require you to submit a standardized test score. However, some disciplines and areas of study require prospective students to take at least one of the various standardized tests. Schools may ask for your GRE score, as this standardized test is the most commonly required.
However, you may also need to take other tests, such as the MCAT, LSAT, or GMAT, if you plan to study medicine, business, or law. Many schools ask for scores to be submitted but don’t mention a minimum score requirement. It’s worth mentioning that some institutions may ask for your ACT or SAT scores, too, if the program is highly competitive.
Note that programs like Magoosh guarantees an improvement in your LSAT score. These types of programs cover all topics, including logical reasoning, and include practice tests. You can use them to boost your standardized test scores for the GMAT too.
All applications require hard data, such as your personal information, academic records, work experience and history, and more. You also need a good GPA for Ivy League grad school. But beyond that, schools also like to know more about you and who you are.
Your personal statement is a great way to introduce yourself to admissions officers and committees. You can use your statement to discuss what makes you stand out, what your (academic) passions are, what you can bring to the table, and why the committee should offer you acceptance.
You can use your personal statement to talk yourself up as much as you want, but the truth is admissions committees will also want to look at recommendation letters. It’s from these letters that admissions panels want to hear more about you and how you can contribute to the school’s legacy. For this reason, you should think carefully about who you want to ask to write your recommendation letters.
Asking someone who doesn’t know you well enough might not be a good idea, as they may not be able to express what makes you a good prospective grad student adequately. You may ask past mentors, professors, employers, etc., to write your letters of recommendation, as they will likely know you best.
Your Resume/CV and Portfolio
Not all colleges will require you to submit your resume or CV when applying for undergraduate programs. However, graduate programs will most likely ask for them as your resume/CV demonstrates your relevant academic or professional accomplishments and work experience. It’s vital that you make yours as clear and organized as possible while also maintaining factual accuracy. Choose professional-looking fonts and designs and make sure that you proofread!
Depending on your field of study, schools may also ask for your portfolio. If you must submit yours, ensure that you always put your best work forward and organize everything as best you can. It’s best to select only your top work, as most admissions committees likely don’t want to look through a massive portfolio with tons of pages.
Attending the Interview
One of the things you might need to prepare yourself for as you learn how to get into Ivy League grad school is the grad school interview. Not all institutions will require interviews as part of the admission process. And sometimes, even if schools do interviews, you may not be asked for one at all. However, on rare occasions, such as for extremely competitive programs, all applicants may be required to sit for an interview.
It’s best to prepare for your interview, whether online or in person. Answer practice questions in front of a mirror or practice with a friend or family member. Schools often use interviews to confirm information you’ve put in your application as well as to see your personality and whether you would fit into the student culture.
It’s worth mentioning that for many institutions, interviews may be handled by alums in your area rather than the admissions officers themselves.
When Should You Start Preparing to Apply for Ivy League Grad School?
Whether you’re still earning your undergraduate degree or have been in the workforce for a number of years, it’s always a good idea to start preparing to apply for the Ivies at least one year in advance.
The Ivy League schools are notoriously difficult to get into due to their selectiveness and competitiveness. It may benefit you to give yourself as much time to prepare as possible, so you can make sure that you put your best foot forward and submit the most impressive application you can.
Even if you haven’t decided which schools to apply to yet, you can already start preparing to take the standardized tests you’ll need. If you need to take something as vital as the GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT, you may even want to start preparing more than a year in advance.
When and How to Apply to Ivy League Grad School
Most advice on how to get into an Ivy League grad school will tell you to complete your application requirements ASAP. Once you have, you can submit your completed application along with any other requirements (and pay the application fee!). If invited for an interview, it’s best to show up prepared.
As for when you should apply to your Ivy League grad school(s) of choice — it’s up to you, at least as long as you meet the deadlines.
That said, it’s likely still best to apply as early as possible, even if the schools and programs you are applying to have rolling admissions. Many believe that Ivy League graduate school acceptance rates (and even non-Ivy school acceptance rates) are higher for early applicants, so submitting your application early may increase your chances of success.
From the data given by Ivy Coach, all eight Ivy League schools have a higher acceptance rate during the early rounds of applications. The difference is significant, and it could be the difference between getting an acceptance letter in the mail or not.
Getting into Ivy League Grad School: The Complete Guide
Applying to Ivy League grad school is no different from applying to a non-Ivy institution or program. If you remember this fact, you may be able to feel a little less intimidated during the process!
That said, here are the steps you need to take:
- Choose your program. The first thing you’ll need to do is choose the specific program(s) you’d like to apply to. Some graduate programs are unique and are only available at certain schools. However, some schools have similar programs, which means you’ll have to choose. Narrow your list down and decide which ones you want to try to get into!
- Plan your application timeline. We recommend starting a year early at minimum so that you’ll have enough time to complete your application and improve it as much as possible. However, starting even earlier can benefit you and your chances for success. Make a detailed timeline for your application to make the process simpler for yourself!
- Gather all your requirements. Start requesting your transcripts from your past schools. Also request your letters of recommendation (giving your recommenders as much time as possible to write your letter is a good idea s they will need to fit this task into their own busy schedules).
- Study for and take required standardized tests. Give yourself enough time to adequately prepare for your standardized test(s). Take your test early enough that you would have time for a retake if needed!
- Put together your resume/CV and portfolio. Make sure that you choose professional fonts and organized layouts! Also ensure you only include factual information (and a selection of your best work)!
- Write your personal statement. Take this opportunity to show why you would be a good fit for the school’s culture, what you might contribute, and why they should choose you.
- Prepare for your interview. If the program invites you to sit for an interview, take the time to prepare and practice! The last thing you want is to leave a less-than-stellar impression on your interviewer!
Ivy League Grad School Application Tips
Are you finally prepping to apply? Check out our top tips for how to get into Ivy League graduate school below.
Talk to Someone Who Has
Whether you’re considering trying to get into the Ivy Leagues or you’re already in the process of doing so, one thing’s for certain: no amount of reading articles and seeking tips will give you the kind of advice you’ll get from someone who’s experienced the whole thing before.
One of the best things you can do when working towards getting into graduate school is to speak with someone who’s applied and gotten in recently. If it’s possible to talk to someone who got into the specific program in the particular school you’re trying to get into, all the better.
The best insight comes from people who have successfully overcome hurdles that you might be facing in the future.
Don’t Focus Only on The Grades
When you’re obsessing over the Yale grad school acceptance rate or any other school’s acceptance rate for that matter, it’s easy to hyperfocus on your grades and your transcript.
Many may think that grad schools take one look at an applicant’s grades and chuck out the application if it doesn’t meet their standards. While that’s true to a degree (for example, there might be no point in applying if you don’t meet the minimum GPA requirements), excellent grades aren’t the only factor schools look at.
When putting together your curriculum vitae, it’s important to demonstrate other desirable characteristics that might make you more interesting to the school.
For example, it’s a good idea to show a certain maturity level, unique perspective, creativity, and passion in your application. What admissions panels won’t tell you is sometimes, they’re willing to overlook an unsatisfactory grade or two if you have many other redeeming qualities.
One of the best ways to demonstrate these qualities is through your essay and your personal statement. Make sure that when you put them together, you are showing who you really are. And, of course, don’t forget to proofread! Sending off your application with typographical errors and syntax mistakes can make a bad impression and lower your chances of getting in. While you’re at it, show your essay and statement to someone you trust to get their insight before the final send-off.
Explain Why You Belong There and Don’t Ignore Any Optional Sections
We’ve talked about putting together an admissions essay that makes an impression of who you are. Another thing you might want to do is demonstrate why you belong in the school you’re trying to get into. Explain in as much detail as you can why you feel drawn to the school. Do your best to highlight why the school and its ideals speak to you, your interests, and what you seek from your graduate studies.
You can also list reasons why you think the school is the best in your situation. Maybe you’re trying to get into the school because of certain faculty members you want to study under. Or perhaps that school is the only one offering the specific program or research projects you’re interested in. Include all of this in your application.
And if you come across “optional” sections in the application, don’t ignore them. They may be optional, but it’s still very recommended to fill every section out. Filling everything out may give you an edge over other applicants who chose to ignore those sections in the application.
Strong Recommendation Letters
Recommendation letters can make a huge impact on your chances of getting into the school you want. It only makes sense to try and make these recommendation letters as unique and memorable as possible to help differentiate your application from the others. Although you should never dictate what a recommendation letter should contain, you can provide the people writing your letters of recommendation some unique information and details.
For example, if you have any experience relative to the program you’re applying to, you can tell the writer to include that information. If you have experiences that might have changed your perspectives, such as international travel or any volunteer work, that can be a good idea to share as well.
Unfortunately, putting together recommendation letters like these won’t guarantee your acceptance into your Ivy League school of choice. But, at the very least, it can give more weight to your application and differentiate you from the sea of applicants who are also vying for a coveted spot in the same program.
Ivy League Graduate Programs in Comparison
We know that all the Ivies offer excellent quality of education. However, some fare better than others in the global university rankings. Below, we put together a comparison table of each institution, their acceptance rates, and their Time Higher Education (THE) 2023, Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) 2023, and Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) 2022 rankings. Note that ARWU releases the year’s rankings near the end of each calendar year, so the rankings below are up-to-date!
We know how the Ivies rank academically, but how do they rank in terms of cost? Let’s look at the average Ivy League Masters Fees in 2023:
||Average Master’s Tuition Fees in 2023
|University of Pennsylvania
Remember that although the tuition costs are as above, many graduate programs at these institutions offer partial or full tuition remission + living stipends in exchange for required assistantships.
How Can an International Student Get into an Ivy League Grad Program
Considering Ivy League schools are renowned worldwide for offering some of the best education and graduate outcomes around, it’s no wonder that so many dream to get in. Including, of course, many international students who dream of having a degree from one of these prestigious institutions. But do you know how to get into Ivy League for master’s or doctoral degrees?
As an international student, the process may be different for you — but don’t be discouraged!
Applying to an Ivy League graduate program is a process that generally consists of submitting a completed application and sitting for interviews if necessary. However, schools usually require more from international student applicants.
Besides completing your application as normal, schools may also ask you for:
- Officially translated documents (with translations performed by certified translators) if yours are in your native tongue
- Standardized test scores
- English proficiency test results, such as from the TOEFL or IELTS, to prove your English fluency; your scores must meet the minimum passing grades required by the school
- Graded written papers which were written in English (not written in another language and translated)
- Answers to school-specific questionnaires (i.e., the Princeton Supplement or Harvard Supplement)
- School-specific essay responses
- Counselor evaluations
Schools may also ask you for some financial information or documentation to prove that you can afford the cost of living or education for your graduate program. However, you may not always need to provide this information, especially if the school/program you are applying to offers 100% tuition remission and a living stipend in return for required assistantships, etc.
If you are an international student who wants to get into the Ivies, it’s best to start preparing as early as possible. Doing so can help to ensure that you have ample time to gather all the requirements and take the required tests (while leaving room for a retake if necessary!).
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it hard to get into an Ivy League for grad school?
Ivy League schools are known for being highly competitive and, thus, selective in their admission process. Any Ivy League University will be a challenge to get into, regardless if you’re applying for an undergraduate or graduate program. One of the best things you can do to increase your chances is to make your transcript, resume, and application as impressive as possible.
Which Ivy League is easiest to get into for Masters?
If we go solely by acceptance rates, the answer to this question would be Cornell University. Out of all the Ivies, Cornell has the highest acceptance rate at 8.7% overall. The next easiest would be Dartmouth, with an overall acceptance rate of 6.2%. Not surprisingly, the hardest to get into is Harvard University, which has an overall acceptance rate of only 4%.
Will my chances for admission increase if I apply early?
For undergraduate programs, early applications can increase your chances of admission. Applying early to graduate schools may offer a similar benefit. It’s necessary to note, however, that early application does not guarantee admission!
If I’m admitted to an Ivy League grad school, can I defer admission?
Yes and no. Although you technically can, it’s not really not recommended. Getting into the Ivies is hard enough, considering their competitiveness. Admissions panels will only accept those whom they feel will make significant contributions to the school’s legacy. Deferring your offer of admission might work, especially under extraordinary circumstances. However, you take on the massive risk of getting your offer withdrawn altogether.
So, how hard is it to get into Ivy League grad school? Unfortunately, it can be quite difficult. The Ivy Leagues, in general, are known for their selectiveness and competitiveness — and not just for the undergraduate programs, either. But don’t be discouraged!
Although it can feel daunting to apply to Ivy League grad programs, getting in isn’t as impossible as you may think. You have a fair shot as long as you meet the requirements to apply and even better chances if you have an impressive academic record and a standout application.
We hope that this complete guide on how to get into Ivy League graduate school has helped enlighten you on the process. Remember, the strength of your application is determined by its entirety — from your grades to your personal statement, to your admissions essay, and to the recommendation letters you present. It’s all about how you present yourself and differentiate yourself from the pack. Good luck!
Are you worried about your GPA interfering with your grad school chances? Check out this guide on how to get into graduate school with a low GPA.