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How Ivy League Admissions Work

Ivy League Admissions by the Numbers

While all of the Ivy League schools insist that their admissions processes are about more than grade point averages, SAT scores and class rank, you won't get your foot in the door without some impressive numbers.

The SAT I test is an excellent example. Let's look at the SAT score ranges from freshmen who enrolled at four Ivy League colleges in the fall of 2008. These scores represent the range from the 25th percentile to the 75th percentile (in other words, 25 percent of enrolled students scores higher than this range and 25 percent scored lower).


Harvard University

  • SAT Critical Reading: 690 to 800
  • SAT Math: 700 to 780
  • SAT Writing: 690 to 790

Princeton University

  • SAT Critical Reading: 690 to 800
  • SAT Math: 700 to 790
  • SAT Writing: 690 to 780

Brown University

  • SAT Critical Reading: 650 to 760
  • SAT Math: 670 to 780
  • SAT Writing: 660 to 770

University of Pennsylvania

  • SAT Critical Reading: 650 to 740
  • SAT Math: 680 to 780
  • SAT Writing: 670 to 760

[source: NCES]

The same is true for the ACT. A quick look at the 50th percentile range finds ACT scores well above average for most enrolled students: Harvard (31-35), Princeton (30-34), Yale (29-34), Dartmouth (28-34), and Brown (28-33) [source: NCES].

It's interesting to note that Ivy League applicants heavily favor the SAT over the ACT, even though all Ivies accept both. At Harvard, 98 percent of accepted students submitted SAT scores and only 25 percent submitted ACT results. At Princeton and Cornell, it's the same story: 98 and 22 percent, and 99 and 30 percent respectively [source: NCES].

Web sites like the National Center for Education Statistics don't publish the median GPAs of enrolled students, but there's a common understanding that the Ivies only admit students with stellar GPAs. A perfect 4.0 (or above, with weighted grades) isn't required, but low B or C students would have to demonstrate remarkable achievements in other areas (extracurricular involvement, test scores) to balance out "average" grades [source: College Confidential].

If you want a quick assessment of how your numbers stack up with other applicants, try the Academic Index Calculator on the College Confidential website. The Academic Index (AI) is a ranking from one to nine that's used by Ivy League schools to determine the academic eligibility of athletes. It uses a standard formula that combines SAT I and SAT II scores with class rank and GPA to arrive at a single number. Applicants with an AI of eight or nine get into the Ivies at a much higher rate [source: College Confidential].

If your AI tops out at a five or six, don't give up hope. While numbers are important, the Ivy League admissions process evaluates your potential from every possible angle. Keep reading to learn about Ivy League admissions beyond the numbers.