What does it take to get into an Ivy League? Entrance, more
Earlier this week, high school students across the country submitted early decision and early action requests to their dream colleges and universities. Many students choose to apply early, hoping for a boost in the increasingly competitive admissions process.
Advance request acceptance rates remained exceptionally low last year. Of the 7,288 students who submitted their first applications to join Yale’s class of 2026, only 800 were offered admission, according to the Yale Daily News. That’s an early acceptance rate of 10.9%. And yet, that’s more than double last year’s acceptance rate, which was 4.46%.
Most students believe that applying early is a surefire way to increase their chances of admission.
But this does not necessarily equate to a better chance of admission. If a student has lower than average grades or test scores for the school they are considering, they should not fall into the trap that applying early will help negate a lower profile. In fact, they will most likely stand out less in the first round, as this is usually a pool of more qualified candidates than the regular decision round.
Highly qualified applicants are rejected by the thousands each year at top schools. If students with high GPAs and perfect test scores are being rejected, then what exactly are Ivy League schools looking for?
The answer is anything but simple. To get your foot in the door of top schools, competitive GPAs and test scores are the “foundation” of a strong application. But the less concrete and more qualitative aspects of an application – what an applicant has done outside of school – often make the difference between acceptance and rejection.
Extracurricular profiles are made up of qualitative elements, including intellectual curiosity and exploration, genuine and demonstrated passions, community leadership, and how a student has made the most of the resources at their disposal. Has a student demonstrated genuine passion for a topic or cause? Did they devote time and energy to creating something impactful from their passions? Have they made a difference in their communities? These are the questions admissions officers at top schools ask themselves as they screen through thousands of qualified applicants.
To give a better idea of what exactly a successful application looks like, here are three examples of students who have worked successfully with Command Education, an elite college consulting firm based in New York and Miami, to gain admission into the school of their dreams. Names and details have been changed to protect student privacy.
- Michelle came to Command Education as a sophomore at one of Connecticut’s top private schools. She was an academically competitive student with a rigorous course load, but had a few Bs on her transcript. She also played on her school’s lacrosse team and had several volunteer experiences in her hometown. Her academic interests were history and politics, and she wanted help developing and expanding those interests outside of school. With guidance from her Command Education mentor, and after much thought and personal experience on the matter, Michelle decided to focus on the Syrian refugee crisis. She developed a non-profit organization that raised funds to support the dreams of refugees who had fled their home countries, using the funds to support several refugee families. She continued to develop her project throughout her junior and senior years and even produced a short film on refugee issues during the summer before her senior year. She was eventually admitted to her dream school, Yale University.
- Arjun was an international student who started working with Command Education during his first year of internship. He was an excellent student, top of his class, with a GPA of 4.0 and a passion for business and finance. His dream schools were Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania or NYU Stern. With his mentor, he started by thinking of ways to impact his community through his passion for finance. After some thought, Arjun decided to start a financial education project to educate young people on the importance of understanding how to manage money. His project ended up partnering with dozens of schools across the country and helped educate hundreds of students about financial literacy. Academically, Arjun continued to get top grades in his high school and eventually graduated valedictorian. He was admitted early to Wharton.
- Maggie was a freshman at a competitive school in Los Angeles when she started working with Command Education. She loved to surf, was interested in marine biology, and had a passion for environmental awareness. With the guidance of her mentor, she started an organization dedicated to educating teens about climate change and environmental damage and organized events in her community, such as beach cleanups. She was eventually able to expand her organization to five chapters nationwide, resulting in a promotional video featuring members of her organization encouraging teens around the world to take action. Last year, she was admitted to Early Decision at Brown University.
Although they all have very different profiles, the students above all showed convincing “qualitative” elements in their applications. More importantly, none of these students participated in activities that did not interest them. They all joined clubs they liked and started projects on topics they were passionate about rather than focusing on activities they thought admissions officers would like. It’s the biggest differentiator between successful and unsuccessful applications to top schools — Ivy League admissions officers have fine-tuned radars for fake or inauthentic profiles. The best way to ensure an application doesn’t get flagged is simple: students should focus their time and energy on the topics that really interest them. It takes a lot of work to build a successful project and have a real impact on a community. To continue these efforts, students must be passionate and caring about the work they do. Couple that with strong GPAs and test scores, and students can dramatically increase their chances of seeing that “Congratulations!” on their admission decision.
Learn more about Command Education.