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8 Ways to Get Your Child into an Ivy League School

Margaret Lipman
Updated May 20, 2024
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Ivy League Schools are not only reserved for the brightest children, but, they also exude a certain mystique - getting in is seen as a hallmark of success later in life, with unparalleled opportunities for those who are accepted.

Considering skyrocketing application numbers and shrinking acceptance rates, no wonder many parents feel like the Ivy League admissions process is a complex puzzle that can’t be figured out.

But -- we have uncovered 8 proven strategies that many successful applicants use to give themselves the best possible chance.

ways to get child into ivy league school

1. Support extracurricular activities

high school female science student

A focus on extracurricular activities is critical as areas of study and occupations get increasingly specialized. Nerding out in a single chosen area will usually help more than a laundry list of other activities. In other words, go deep with one activity your child is truly passionate about rather than checking all the boxes on a long laundry list of every possible activity.

They can share that passion by speaking to groups, introducing others to their extracurricular activities, or tutoring. Showing they can excite people about their interests adds value in admission officers’ eyes.

2. Help students find and follow their passion

People, in general, are most passionate and compelling when talking about interests that really excite them. For students navigating the Ivy League admissions process, passion is crucial to help them stand out from the crowd. Parents need to expose kids to a variety of interests. Encourage them to join clubs and look for opportunities to meet and interact with experts and mentors.

Help them talk to you about their interests in “out-of-the-box” ways. Ask them why they are so passionate. Do they see their efforts impacting other people? Can they take risks and deal with setbacks? Uncovering the “why” behind the “what” can help them craft a more compelling narrative on their application.

3. Scholarships and the Ivy League

female student solving math problem

The Ivy League schools all offer generous need-based financial aid, but scholarships can still help by minimizing work requirements (offsetting work-study grants) or reducing loan amounts.

Even if the benefit is limited at your dream Ivy League dream school, you will be applying to other schools where scholarship money can still come in handy.

Beyond schools, civic and business organizations and private foundations are dedicated to helping afford college. Many offer targeted scholarships to students from specific backgrounds, areas of study, and other characteristics.

Examples include Women in STEM scholarships supporting young women pursuing technical degrees, entrepreneurship scholarships for students with the ambition to develop new businesses, nursing scholarships, and others. Students who volunteer and help others should check out community service scholarships.

The effort of applying for many scholarships limits most kids to one or two. But many easy scholarships can help cover housing or the cost of books without complicated applications or essays. Scholarship websites make finding offers and understanding how to apply a lot easier.

4. Reach out to admissions officers

Don't wait until senior year to set up one-on-one conversations with admissions officers. Every Ivy League admission office has regional officers who work with students in different parts of the country. Those are the folks you’ll likely first meet at an informational session during junior year. Arrive with specific questions to ask if you get a chance. Make sure the questions go deeper than general info you can find with a quick internet search.

Make sure to do an interview for each school your child is interested in attending. The interview adds a lot of color to the application and helps the admissions officer see a more authentic picture of who your child is and why they’re a fit for the school.

5. Test-prep is a must-have tool

SAT test prep session

In addition to tutoring throughout their high school career, every student who aspires to attend an Ivy League university knows they need top scores on standardized tests, including the SATs and ACTs.

Any student below a 1460 on the SAT or 32 on their ACT will have to work hard to increase their scores before applying to an Ivy.

Invest in professional test-prep services and be sure to take tests early on, even in junior year. This gives you plenty of time to see where your baseline is and to be able to improve it, if needed.

Evaluate test-prep services carefully – ask for placement rates at competitive schools, and look for ones that offer a guarantee if you can.

6. Focus on “best fit” versus just “best”

While the schools may rank as “the best Ivy League school” in various fields of study or on published rankings, finding the best fit is more critical to a student’s success.

The most significant aspect determining fit is matching an Ivy league school's academic environment with a student’s learning style, career aspirations, what they seek in terms of the campus community, and family finances.

Does your student thrive on hands-on research? Are they looking forward to vigorous debates? While many Ivy League school first- and second-year classes are in large lecture halls, find out how advanced coursework is taught to ensure it matches your child’s learning style.

The Ivy League colleges vary significantly in size, with more than 10,000 undergrads in the UPenn and Cornell student body, compared to just 4,459 at Dartmouth. Urban campuses (Brown, Columbia, Harvard, UPenn, and Yale) offer more cultural amenities and a chance to meet and mingle with students from other schools. Looking for a rural, suburban, or small(er) town campus? Cornell, Dartmouth, or Princeton could be a better fit.

7. Keep up with advanced math requirements

Ivy League admissions officers evaluate each applicant’s high school education. That means looking for rigorous high school courses (advanced placement or AP courses) and high classroom, SAT, and ACT test scores. Even the best students have subjects they find challenging where they need extra work to keep up. For many students who won’t be pursuing a technical career, advanced math classes can be especially challenging.

To keep grades high, sign them up for study clubs or group lessons and take advantage of premium one-on-one math tutoring. They’ll have online access to world-class instructors, often including Ivy grads, who will make sure students can handle rigorous math courses and achieve high test scores.

8. Apply early action / early decision

Acceptance rates at Ivy League schools can be misleading. Kids who apply early action or early decision are accepted at a higher rate than regular decision apps. Partly that's because of fewer early action/early decision applications, but the difference is meaningful.

More than 20% of early decision applicants were accepted at Dartmouth for the 2021 year, compared to just 4.6% of regular decision. At Harvard, offers went to more than 7% of 2021’s early action applicants compared to just 2.6% for regular applicants.

Note – early action acceptance doesn’t come with obligations, but early decision commits you to attend if accepted and offered adequate financial aid. Students should apply early decision at only their top choice.

Keep working toward the dream

The value of an Ivy League education and all that it comes with make it worth all of the hard work necessary for a chance to attend one of these great schools.

Even if they aren’t among the small percentage of accepted students, just having the coursework, top grades, and extracurricular activities to apply will put your child in a great position to win a place – and a great financial package – from hundreds of competitive schools.

There are no shortcuts, so give them all the help and encouragement you can and help them find every advantage they can.

And when it finally does work out, and your child gets their acceptance letter from their dream school, in that moment, everything will have been worth it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Ivy League Schools?

The value of an education at one of the eight Ivy league schools – Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania (Penn), Princeton, and Yale – extends far past graduation day. Ivy League alumni include business leaders, scientists, diplomats, and government officials. Opportunities to connect and network with leaders can help Ivy League graduates advance their careers and earn top salaries.

But any parent who has dreamed about their child one day attending one of these elite schools knows it has never been harder to win a place in the Ivy League. The ambitious student or hopeful parent reading this is likely already doing extra work that is the only way to make an Ivy League dream happen. But the competition is stiff – competitors worldwide have impressive resumes and backgrounds.

These 8 “hints” will greatly improve the chances of your child getting into an Ivy League school, not to mention the possibility of student and financial aid. It’s never too late to start - so take advantage of the tactics we lay out below!

Why do Ivy League Schools Matter?

The eight institutions that comprise the Ivy League are a group of prestigious, rigorous, and highly selective schools located across the northeastern U.S.

The Ivy League’s global reputation is based on the quality of the coursework, the chance to work with some of the brightest students anywhere, the eminence of the faculty, and state-of-the-art learning, research, and cultural environments.

This explains the high cost of attendance – ranging from just under $70,000/year at Princeton to just under $80,000 at Yale – and their extreme selectivity.

What are the Ivy League acceptance rates?

The four most competitive Ivies – Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, and Yale – admitted fewer than 5% of applicants for their most recent freshman classes. No single Ivy broke 9%:

With this degree of competition, even perfect grades plus diverse interests and extracurriculars aren’t enough on their own to guarantee your child will make the cut. But don’t give up!

There are strategies - 8 in fact - that we’ve uncovered that can make the defining difference when applied correctly to help their application stand out.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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