written by
Chloe Webster

Applying to Ivy League Schools: How to Set Yourself Up for Success

Admissions Tips admissions 5 min read
Ivy league school logos Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are stamped on an old, white chest of drawers
Photographer: Jon Tyson | Source: Unsplash

In this article, CollegeAdvisor.com admissions expert Chloe discusses how younger students can prepare themselves to be competitive applicants at Ivy League schools. For more guidance on applying to Ivy Leagues and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

Every year, thousands of students apply to Ivy League colleges, aspiring to join their selective academic communities. Only a small percentage of these students ultimately gain admission. With so many candidates in the running, how can you stand out in the application process? While there is no one correct answer, there are strategies you can use to establish yourself as a competitive applicant to Ivy League schools.

Research Each Ivy League Option

It’s easy to consider the Ivy League as a monolith. However, despite their shared prestige, every Ivy League school is unique. Some, such as UPenn or Harvard, are located in urban areas, while others, such as Cornell or Dartmouth, are more rural. They each have individual cultures and traditions, and no two Ivy League schools will offer you the same college experience.

As you prepare for the college application process, it’s never too early to start exploring what and where you might be interested in studying. Think about the location, size, curriculum, available majors, and campus life of each school. These attributes will all influence your decisions down the line.

It’s a good idea to start identifying what you want from a school before you even begin the college process. This “college wish list” may change throughout your high school journey but will ultimately help you to determine if one of the Ivies is the right fit for you. When you craft your supplemental essays, Admissions Officers at these schools will want to see that you’re genuinely excited about what they have to offer—not just the Ivy League title.

Prioritize Grades for Ivy League Consideration

The universities that make up the Ivy League are known for their academic rigor. Therefore, it’s no surprise that to gain admission to one of these schools, your grades, test scores, and overall academic profile will need to be very strong.

Developing skills such as time management and organization will help you to succeed academically throughout high school. If you feel that you’re not doing as well as you could be, always ask for help. Teachers, advisors, and tutors are all fantastic resources. Finally, keep in mind that there’s no need to spend every waking moment of your high school experience studying. Balancing your coursework with your other priorities is just as essential.

It’s important to keep in mind that Admissions Officers will be most concerned with your academic performance during your junior and senior years. However, it’s also crucial to establish a strong foundation during your first two years of high school. Admissions Officers primarily look for an upward trajectory when it comes to grades. Start off strong and continue to work hard throughout high school to maximize your odds.

The Ivy League Extracurricular Hook

Many high school students fret over figuring out the “perfect” extracurricular activities to include on their applications. However, it’s not which activities you do that matters; it’s how you do them. No matter how you spend your time, Admissions Officers want to see that you are truly passionate about what you do.

First two years of high school are a chance to discover those activities that you really care about and to explore new interests as well. This will set you up to delve deeper into your extracurriculars during your junior and senior years. Ivy League schools often admit students with expertise in a specific area. Focusing on one or two activities as you approach the application process can be useful. Your commitment may shine through leadership positions and awards, or you may reflect on your most meaningful commitments in your essays.

Hone Your Writing Skills

As your teachers likely told you, writing is a skill that will help you in all areas of your life. While it’s clearly valuable to practice skills such as essay structure and grammar, the content of your writing is equally important. By the time you reach your junior year, you’ve certainly had lots of experience with academic writing. The writing that you’ll do on your college applications, however, is very different.

Many students feel unprepared to write about themselves. Developing your self-awareness throughout high school can help to set you up for success in the college essay process. Practices such as journaling and mindfulness might help you to reflect on a regular basis. No matter how you accomplish it, introspection is at the core of the college essay writing process.

Programs like CollegeAdvisor.com can help you conquer the challenge of self-reflection. Experienced advisors are an incredibly beneficial resource when it comes to deciding how to present yourself in your applications. The materials you submit to colleges tell a story, and your advisor will show you how to tell that story in the best possible light.

Build Your Character

At the end of the day, students who are accepted to Ivy League schools are not robots that churn out perfect grades. In fact, they are often the people with unique perspectives that successfully come through in their profiles, essays, and interviews. Colleges look for students who will make a positive impact on the world, so it’s important to work on your character as hard as you work on your assignments and essays.

There are many ways to grow as a person. Try new things to stretch yourself. Commit to a healthy work-life balance that will keep you at your best. Work on being a better person every day, whatever that means to you! This is not a facet of your application process to be taken for granted.


This article on being a top candidate at Ivy League schools was written by Chloe Webster (Princeton University, ‘25). If you want to get help with your college applications from Chloe or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.

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