How to Get Into Grinnell: Admissions Stats + Tips

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To some, rural Iowa is an unlikely place to find one of the country’s best liberal arts colleges, but those people are obviously unfamiliar with Grinnell, one of our best 15 liberal arts colleges in the country. Grinnell attracts intellectually curious students and puts them in control of their personal academic journey. The college has just one required class—the first-year tutorial, which explores topics like Kendrick Lamar, Coping with Climate Change, and Exploring the Magical World of Calvin and Hobbes—and has no general education requirements 

 

How‌ ‌Hard‌ ‌Is‌ ‌It‌ ‌to‌ ‌Get‌ ‌Into‌ Grinnell ‌College?‌ ‌

 

Gaining admission to Grinnell is extremely difficult. The college received 10,587 applicants for its Class of 2025—a 30% increase over the previous year—and admitted just 10.5% of them. Grinnell has an early decision admissions process, through which they received 384 applicants and accepted 150, a 39% early decision acceptance rate. 

 

Grinnell’s acceptance rate is incredibly low, but your chances are tied to the strength of your profile. Our free admissions calculator can help you to better understand your odds of admission at Grinnell. It uses factors like GPA, test scores, and extracurriculars to estimate your likelihood of acceptance and to provide tips to improve your profile.   

 

Average Academic Profile of Accepted Grinnell College Students

 

GPA

 

Grinnell hasn’t recently published the average high school GPA of an incoming class, but it’s safe to assume that nearly every Grinnell applicant has an outstanding academic record. 

 

SAT/ACT

 

The middle 50% SAT score of Grinnell’s Class of 2025 is 1383-1500 and the middle 50% ACT score is 30-34. Of the students admitted to Grinnell’s Class of 2025, 49% submitted an SAT score and 51% submitted an ACT score. 

 

Class Rank

 

Grinnell students consistently graduate at, or near, the top of their high school class—72% of the Class of 2025 graduated in the top tenth of their class and over 94% graduated in the top quarter.

 

What is Grinnell College Looking for?

 

Like other top-tier liberal arts colleges, Grinnell is looking for driven, academically talented, and interesting students to fill its ranks. They’re also looking for self-motivated, free-thinking applicants who are collaborators. Part of being a Grinnellian is taking an active role in the construction of your curriculum and working hand in hand with advisors and mentors. 

 

Grinnell College seeks to field diverse classes filled with students from varying backgrounds and with unique perspectives. According to the college, “Grinnell is a community in which we learn from one another, share in group pride, and celebrate our complex identities.” Students come to Grinnell from all 50 states and 45 countries—24% of students identify as people of color and 20% identify as international. 

 

How Grinnell College Evaluates Applications

 

According to their 2020-2021 Common Data Set, Grinnell College considers the following factors “very important”:

 

  • Course rigor
  • Class rank.
  • GPA
  • Recommendation letters

 

These factors are “important”:

 

  • Test scores
  • Essay
  • Extracurricular activities 
  • Talent

 

These are “considered”:

 

  • Interview
  • Character 
  • Geographical location
  • First generation 
  • Legacy
  • State residence
  • Racial/ethnic status 
  • Volunteer work 
  • Work experience 
  • Applicant interest 

 

And these are “not considered”:

 

  • Religious affiliation

 

Discover your chances at hundreds of schools

Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.

How to Improve Your Chances of Getting into Grinnell College

 

1. Achieve the highest possible GPA while taking the most challenging classes available

 

Grinnell applicants are, on average, exceptional students—72% of the college’s Class of 2025 graduated in the top tenth of their high school. For serious consideration as an applicant, you’ll need all, or mostly all, As in the most challenging coursework available to you. Grinnell considers GPA, class rank, and course rigor as “very important” to admissions. It’s common for applicants at highly selective schools like Grinnell to have completed anywhere from five to 12 AP classes

 

To expedite processing applicants, top-tier schools like Grinnell use a tool known as the Academic Index, which is a representation of your entire academic performance by a single number. If your Academic Index fails to meet Grinnell’s standards, you risk not being seen as a competitive applicant and your application not receiving a thorough review. 

 

If your GPA is lower, but you’re early in your high school career, there is still time to raise it (check out our tips for increasing your GPA). If you’re a junior or senior, it’s much harder to increase your GPA—earning high test scores is the best course of action to improve your Academic Index. 

 

2. Recommendations 

 

Recommendations are the only factor outside of academics that Grinnell views as “very important” to admissions. Grinnell requires applicants to submit three letters of recommendation: one from their high school counselor/advisor and two from teachers. 

 

Because of the weight Grinnell places on recommendations, receiving compelling letters is crucial. Teachers are busy, commonly asked to write recommendations for multiple students, and not compensated for writing them. Consequently, factors like when you ask, how you ask, and the information you provide can all have an enormous influence over the type of recommendation you receive. Following the nine rules for requesting letters of recommendation from teachers is a good way to ensure an attention-getting letter. 

 

3. Aim for a 1500 SAT and 34 ACT 

 

Standardized test scores are “important” to Grinnell. The middle 50% SAT score of Grinnell’s Class of 2025 is 1383-1500 and its middle 50% ACT score is 30-34. Any score in the middle 50% is good, but the higher into the range you score, the stronger your application becomes. Grinnell superscores the SAT and ACT, which makes taking the SAT/ACT between two and three times a smart strategy for improving your score. To improve your SAT/ACT score, check out these free CollegeVine resources:

 

 

Grinnell transitioned to test-optional admissions for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle and has extended that policy to the 2021-2022 admissions cycle. However, we encourage students to take either the SAT or ACT (if they can do so safely) and submit their scores if they’re at, or over, the 25th percentile of accepted students (1383 SAT and 30 ACT). Applicants who submit scores are accepted at higher rates than those who don’t. You can get recommendations on whether or not you should apply test-optional using our free chancing engine

 

4. Cultivate one or two Tier 1-2 extracurriculars (find your “spike”)

 

Extracurricular activities are an “important” part of Grinnell’s admission decisions. The strongest candidates frequently have a highly developed interest known as a “spike” and one or two impressive extracurricular activities supporting it. The four tiers of extracurriculars provide a good guide for understanding how colleges like Grinnell view your activities outside of the classroom. 

 

  • Tier 1 activities are the most impressive, rare, and carry the most weight in admissions. These activities demonstrate exceptional achievement or leadership—for example, winning a prestigious national award or attending a renowned merit-based summer program. 

 

  • Tier 2 extracurriculars share many qualities with those in Tier 1—they spotlight achievement and leadership—however, they’re more commonly seen by admissions officers. Tier 2 activities include winning state-level recognition in athletics or music and holding leadership positions such as student body president. 

 

  • Tier 3 extracurricular activities do more to show your interests outside of the classroom than to highlight specific distinctions. For example, Tier 3 activities include holding a minor leadership position in a well-known club, captaining a varsity sport, and playing in a regional ensemble. 

 

  • Tier 4 activities are the least impressive and most common extracurriculars. These include general participation in a club, playing a sport, or playing in the band. 

 

5. Write engaging essays

 

Essays are one of the best avenues for you to set yourself apart from other applicants and Grinnell considers the essay part of its application “important.” Grinnell accepts the Common Application and the Questbridge Application. Those applying with the Common Application will need to respond to one of its seven prompts:

 

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

 

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

 

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

 

4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

 

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

 

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

 

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you‘ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

 

No matter which prompt you choose, eye-catching college essays generally share a few traits. For example, they’re written in the author’s unique voice and highlight how they will fit at a college and how the school will benefit from their presence on campus. 

 

5. Early Decision

 

Grinnel has three admission tracks: early decision I (ED I), early decision II (ED II), and regular decision. Applying through either ED process provides a significant admissions advantage. The five-year acceptance rate average at Grinnell are

 

  • Early Decision I and Early Decision II (combined): 58%
  • Regular Decision: 21%
  • Overall admit rate: 23%

 

Applying early decision is a fantastic option for some students, but not everyone. ED is a binding agreement and by applying through it, you commit to attending if accepted and are unable to compare financial aid packages from other colleges. Because of this, ED is ideal for students for whom Grinnell is their clear-cut first choice and who are positive they can afford it.  

 

How to Apply to Grinnell College

 

Deadlines

 

Application Timeline

Deadline

Early Decision I 

November 15

Early Decision II

January 1

Regular Decision

January 15

 

Application Requirements

 

Grinnell College accepts the Common Application and the QuestBridge Application. Other required materials include: 

 

  • Two teacher recommendations 
  • Counselor/advisor recommendation 
  • School report 
  • Transcript 

 

Other optional materials include: 

 

  • SAT/ACT scores
  • Art/Music portfolio  

 

Learn more about Grinnell College

 

 

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Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.

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