What Are My Chances at the Ivy’s?

As we’ve stated before, we do our best to answer the emails we receive from our readers. Recently, we wrote a blog post titled “Which Ivy League Should I Go To?” and in that post we kindly requested that our readers stop asking both that question, and variants of it. If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you should know that we do not subscribe to the theory that everyone needs to go to an Ivy League school.

But we’re still receiving a lot of emails asking something like this: “What are my chances at the Ivy’s?” This is actually a paraphrased version of the kinds of questions we’re getting, so we aren’t shading anyone in particular. But the phrasing of this question, coupled with the lack of specificity and blind dedication to the Ivy’s, is something that we’ve made our feelings clear on.  

Let’s consider two kinds of email questions, both of which are again paraphrased versions of submissions we’ve received in the past:  

  1. “Hi. I’m a junior in high school and I have been planning on applying to Yale since my freshman year. I’m specifically interested in X major at Yale because of X, Y, and Z. So I’ve taken X classes and founded X club. My SAT score is X, and I’m planning on taking two SAT subject tests this year. Can you give me any advice as to how best spend my summer?”

  2. “Hi, I’m a senior and figure I should apply to an Ivy. I might just apply to them all. Do I have any shot at getting in?”  

Before you start penning us a saga, we can’t help everyone that writes in. We wish we could. And we haven’t drawn this comparison to drag everyone that shoots us a quick, seemingly harmless question. We’re saying that at least fictional person #1 has taken the time to clarify (to us, but more importantly to THEMSELVES) why they want to go to Yale.

The bigger issue here is that fictional person #2 has done zero work. They’re simply saying, “I might apply to an Ivy League school. Any thoughts on how that’ll go for me?”

We have no shortage of content on our feelings about the quest to attend any Ivy League school. And that is what we think this question, and questions like it, suggest: a desire to go to any Ivy League school, for no other reason than it being an Ivy League school. We do think that certain students are suited for the Ivy League, and we help those students apply to (and get into) a particular Ivy League school that is a good fit for them.

We also think that we’ve all been brainwashed into thinking that attending Harvard will cast away all of your troubles and you will want for nothing for the rest of your life. We’ll say it again, the Ivy League is a sports league with a fantastic marketing team. We encourage all of our readers and clients to dig deeper, find out what they’re really looking for, and apply to schools that are a realistic and exciting match for your own goals and ideals.  

Now that we’ve gotten that rant out of the way, let’s get back to the question by looking at the numbers. For the class of 2023, the Ivy League acceptance rates are as follows: 

  • Brown: 6.6%

  • Columbia: 5.1%

  • Cornell: 10.6%

  • Dartmouth: 7.9%

  • Harvard: 4.5%

  • University of Pennsylvania: 7.4%

  • Princeton: 5.7%

  • Yale: 5.9%

The hard numbers are pretty bleak. It’s important to keep in mind that the overall admissions rate is an averaged figure that doesn’t represent everyone’s actual chance at getting in. Your chances of getting into Columbia could be much higher than 5.1%, and your chances could also be much lower than 5.1%. We don’t know your life.

If you have mediocre grades, one extracurricular activity to speak of, and a low SAT score; your chances are close to 0.0%. If you have perfect scores, perfect grades, and have taken your extracurricular activities to impressive levels; your chances are likely higher than 5.1%.

We recently analyzed admissions data at Cornell. We plan to do so with more schools in the coming weeks, but the post linked above is a good place to start. We used Cornell as an example because they have highest acceptance rate of the Ivy’s, and many people apply there because of that. But most people striving to attend Cornell are blinded by the 10.6% figure (which, by the way, is still low) and fail to realize how much of the class is already filled by the time regular decision applicants send in their materials. It’s also important to take into consideration the percentage of any given freshman class that will always be comprised by athletes and legacy students.

The question initially posed in this blog post is impossible to answer without knowledge of your performance thus far in high school. If your admission strategy is to apply to an Ivy (or all of them) just to see if you get in, we urge you to reconsider.


If you want to work with someone on your applications, contact us here.