Ivy League Acceptance Rates + How to Improve Your Chances

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The institutions of the Ivy league are known for their exceptional academics, rich histories, and promising career paths. The Ivy League also has a reputation for highly selective admissions—seven of the eight Ivy League schools made CBS News’s list of hardest colleges to get into in the U.S. in 2021. While gaining admission to an Ivy League school is historically difficult, 2021 was particularly challenging, with a record-high number of applications and record-low acceptance rates.

 

If you have your sights set on an Ivy League school, you may be wondering what you can do to improve your chances of acceptance. Keep reading to learn more about Ivy League acceptance rates and the steps you can take to help boost your odds of admission. 

 

Ivy League 2020-21 Acceptance Rates

 

School 

2020-21 Acceptance Rate

Brown University 

5.4%

Columbia University 

3.7%

Cornell University 

~9%

Dartmouth College

6.2%

Harvard University 

3.4%

University of Pennsylvania

5.7%

Princeton University 

4.0%

Yale University 

4.6%

 

Does Applying Early Decision or Early Action Increase Your Chances?

 

You don’t need to score an 800 on the Math section of the SAT to understand that students who apply for early decision are accepted to Ivy League schools at a higher rate than regular-decision applicants—simply look at the scores in the table below.   

 

School 

2020-21 Early Acceptance Rate

2020-21 Overall Acceptance Rate

Brown University 

16%

5.4%

Columbia University 

~10%

3.7%

Cornell University 

25.6%

~9%

Dartmouth College

21%

6.2%

Harvard University 

7.4%*

3.4%

University of Pennsylvania

15%

5.7%

Princeton University 

13.9%*

4.0%

Yale University 

10.5%*

4.6%

 

*Restrictive Early Action (REA) – REA is a non-binding form of early admission, meaning you are not obligated to attend the school if you are accepted. However, you can only apply to one school REA.

 

Note: Princeton didn’t offer REA for the class of 2025, therefore the REA acceptance rate above is for the class of 2023.

 

Applying early decision allows students to demonstrate their strong interest in a school by committing to attend if they are accepted. Guaranteed attendance is appealing to colleges protective of their yield rates. A school’s yield rate is the percentage of accepted students who actually enroll. Many schools aim to maximize their yield rates because they believe yield is a measure of their desirability. 

 

The difference between early- and regular-decision applications is significant at some colleges, but the gap is narrowing at others. For example, Harvard’s 7.4% early-action acceptance rate in 2021 was the first time the early-action admissions rate dropped below 13.4% since the college reinstated the program in 2011.  

 

Mathematically, an applicant’s odds of acceptance at an Ivy League school improve when they apply for early decision, but it’s worth noting that the competition among early-decision applicants is stiffer than that of regular decision. Early-decision applicants are generally high achievers with robust college profiles who have devoted a substantial amount of time and energy to college preparation.  

 

Despite challenges facing early-decision applicants, such as stronger applicant pools and shrinking advantages, CollegeVine has found that the odds of gaining admissions is higher for applicants across the board when they apply early rather than regular decision. 

 

While applying early definitely offers an admissions advantage, you should use your ED or REA application wisely. If your dream school, for instance one of the Ivies, is a reach, applying ED or REA might just push your application into the acceptance pool. But, if the school is a long reach, then you should probably apply ED or REA to another school since it is unlikely you’ll be admitted to a long reach, even with the early admission advantage. With that said, you can definitely still apply to the long reach regular decision.

 

Interested in learning your chances of acceptance at the Ivies? CollegeVine can help! Our free chancing calculator uses a variety of factors—like GPA, test scores, and extracurricular activities—to let you know how you stack up against other applicants. This tool also provides tips to help you improve your profile.    

 

 

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 Have Ivy League Acceptance Rates Changed Over Time?

 

School 

2020-21 

2019-20 

2018-19 

2017-18 

Brown University 

5.4%

6.9%

6.6%

7%

Columbia University 

3.7%

6.1%

5.1%

5.8%

Cornell University 

~9%

~10%

10.6%

10.3%

Dartmouth College

6.2%

8.8%

7.9%

8.7%

Harvard University 

3.4%

4.9%

4.5%

4.6%

University of Pennsylvania

5.7%

8%

7.4%

8.4%

Princeton University 

4.0%

5.6%

5.8%

5.5%

Yale University 

4.6%

6.5%

5.9%

6.3%

 

As you can see in the table above, overall acceptance rates across the Ivy League have been dropping over the past 5 years. These decreased acceptance rates reflect larger applicant pools and more competitive applications. While ED and REA admission rates will typically be higher than the rates listed above, they’ve followed a similar trajectory over the years. It’s important to keep this downward trend in mind when applying early or regular to an Ivy.

 

How to Improve Your Chances of Acceptance to the Ivy League

 

The Ivies are reach schools for every applicant, which is part of the allure, but there are some steps students can take to improve their odds of acceptance. 

 

Excellent Academics

 

Great grades might not stand out at an Ivy, but they ensure you’re considered for admission. How good do your grades need to be? Consider that a Harvard Crimson survey of the Class of 2024 found the average self-reported unweighted GPA of accepted students was 3.95 and more than half of respondents were in the top 2% of their high school class (32% reported that their high schools didn’t rank by GPA). 

 

Terrific Test Scores

 

Because of the challenges posed by COVID-19, many Ivy League institutions didn’t require the class of 2025 to submit standardized test scores for admissions, which is one reason for the record-high number of applications they received. Whether required or not, superb test scores will improve your chances at an Ivy League school. 

 

Most schools publish their middle 50% SAT/ACT scores, or the range of scores between the 25th percentile and the 75th percentile. The closer your score is to the 75th percentile, the better. Your odds improve even more if you score above the 75th percentile.  

 

Strong Academic Index

 

One way Ivy League schools and other selective institutions sort through the huge number of applications they receive, especially in record-setting years like 2021, is by using a tool called the Academic Index. The Academic Index is a distillation of a student’s academic performance—GPA and standardized test scores—into a single number which is used to filter out non-competitive candidates. A strong Academic Index will not guarantee your admission, but does help increase the chances of an admissions officer reviewing your application. 

 

Exceptional Extracurricular Activities 

 

Extracurricular activities play a substantial role in Ivy League admissions and can go a long way toward separating one candidate from another. Well-rounded students are common, but what the Ivies are searching for are students with deeply developed interests and demonstrated exceptionalism. The more exclusive, rare, and unique an extracurricular activity is, the more impressive it is to admissions officials. For example, winning the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award is going to carry more influence than playing in your high school band. 

 

Awesome Essay 

 

An admissions essay provides applicants with the opportunity to transform themselves from a simple collection of grades, scores, and activities listed on paper into a living, breathing human being. You only get a few chances to wow an Ivy League school and this is one of them—be authentic, personable, and paint a picture of what sets you apart from other applicants and why the school wants you. 

 

Remember to Build a Balanced College List

 

Admission to the Ivies is the dream for many students, but is a reality for just a few, making the Ivies a reach for even students with the most robust college profiles. It’s important to have a balanced college list that allows you to go for your goal of Ivy League admissions, but also ensures your acceptance to a school if your Ivy League dreams fall short. 

 

A good rule of thumb is to apply to at least 8 colleges with a mix of 2 reach schools, 4 target schools, and 2 safety schools. Remember that reputation is important (it’s one of the major appeals of the Ivies) but so is fit, or how well a school matches your overall ideal of college. Location, size, athletic programs, majors—these are all part of the college experience and play a role in building your college list. 

 

CollegeVine’s college search tool allows you to filter schools using a variety of metrics, which makes it perfect for building a college list with good-fit schools.

 

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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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