What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part IX: Checklist

This is the foliage of destiny.

Welcome back to College Compass’s series, What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Now that we’ve covered all of the aspects of applying to an Ivy League school, I have taken the liberty of compiling the main points from the preceding posts into a convenient Ivy League admissions checklist:

  • Straight As, with maybe 2-3 Bs max
  • As many AP/IB courses as possible
  • Summer before Junior year: know PSAT National Merit cutoff score for your state, practice and aim above that score (may include test prep sercives).
  • Take SAT and/or ACT multiple times (perhaps once at the end of Junior year and once at the beginning of Senior year), aim above 2100 on SAT and above 31 on ACT (may include test prep services).
  • Always take AP exams at the end of AP classes, try to get 5s on all of them.
  • Take two SAT II subject tests, aim above 700 on each.
  • One creative extracurricular for all four years of high school.
  • One athletic extracurricular for all four years of high school.
  • One volunteering extracurricular for all four years of high school.
  • Hold an office/leadership position in a school club or other organization.
  • Win an award/recognition for one of your extracurriculars.
  • Ask two teachers from either your Junior or Senior year (who taught classes in which you got As) for recommendation letters at least one month before the application deadline.
  • Finish a draft of your admissions essay(s) at least one month before the deadline and have your English teacher/another grammar expert proofread it.
  • Write an essay about something you love, and mention how the specific school you are applying to will help you pursue your dreams.
  • If possible, apply to your top choice early decision.
  • Do not apply to all of the Ivies. Narrow down your choice as much as possible.

Next time, we’ll have a few concluding remarks about applying and getting into Ivy League undergraduate programs. Until then, best of luck, and keep studying!

This post is part of a series. Other posts in this series include:

What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part I: Grades

What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part II: PSAT, SAT, and ACT

What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part III: AP, IB, and SAT II Exams

What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part IV: Extracurriculars

What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part V: Essays

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What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part VI: Recommendations

What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part VII: Application Strategy

What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part VIII: Interviews

What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part IX: Checklist

What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part X: Epilogue

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  1. You said that it’s best if we only have 2-3 Bs max. Are you referring to semester grades or yearly grade? Would it include freshmen grades too?

    1. JY,

      This is in reference to your entire high school transcript, all the way from freshman year to graduation. Although it may seem an unfeasible task to graduate with so few B’s, the fact is that tens of thousands of students accomplish this every year.

      Hope this helps!

  2. Do ivy league colleges like uprising students, in the manner of grades?
    Like a persons grades were decent, with As and multiple Bs as their freshmen and sophomore year but got nothing but straight As junior and senior year? Do they take that into consideration?

    1. Nayson,

      Every aspect of your application will be considered during the admissions process; however, a person who maintained straight A’s throughout high school will have an edge over a person with a less competitive transcript.

      Hope this helps!

    1. Darth,

      In this series we suggest a blend of certain types of activities that are broadly accessible to almost every one of our readers. Our recommendations are designed to incorporate the different talents and strengths that Ivy League admission officers look for – creativity, intelligence, philanthropic tendency, dedication/commitment, etc. – however, there really is no minimum requirement in terms of what activities you must participate in and what awards you must win. Everything is relative. If you only participate in a single activity and win a single award in high school, but that award happens to be an Olympic gold medal, then that would be sufficient to meet your extracurricular needs. But if the only accomplishment you can boast of on your resume is “Vice President of the Hackey Sack Club,” then you should consider expanding your horizons a bit.

      Hope this helps!

  3. Hi, you say that if possible, apply Early Decision but wouldn’t that be risky because the Early Decision pool is much more competitive than the Regular? I mean I have a good dream school (my first choice for college), but if I’m not confident about my application, should I still try to apply Early Decision?

    1. Jason,

      As you’ve suggested, the pool of applicants who apply as early decision applicants tends to be a bit more competitive; although, this is not strictly speaking necessarily the case. Some students will apply early decision in an effort to bolster an otherwise lackluster application. The truth is that is varies from year to year and school to school. If you have a dream school in mind, and know for a fact that you would attend that school regardless of what you other options and offers are, then our advice would be to apply early! Even if you aren’t admitted as an early decision applicant, most colleges will allow you to reapply for the general admissions deadline.

      Hope this helps!

  4. Hi, also, what if we have a really hard teacher who rarely gives out straight A in English or Physics Honors but their comments are good. Do college admissions know about that? How would that affect my application since you say that students who get straight As for all years have more of an edge than uprising students?

    1. Jason,

      It is always better to have an A. If it’s just not possible, seek to supplement your application with an SAT Subject Test in the topic, or possibly with a recommendation from that instructor.

      Hope this helps!

    1. Lin,

      Not necessarily. However, you any other poor marks on your high school transcript would probably be enough to put you out of competitive consideration.

      Hope this helps!

  5. Hi, my son has been a honor student since the eighth grade which is when his rigorous school begins to induct students into the society. However, my son received 88s and 89s during his freshman and sophmore years due to numerous family related tragedies. During his junior year my son received all 100s in all six of his AP classes, 35 on ACT and 2360 on the SAT. His extracurriculars include student council, Basketball, volunteering, piano lessons and religious studies. He is all fluent in English, Spanish, French, Russian, Slovakian and a fair amount of Mandarin. Does he have a chance with Ivies.
    Side Note – his school doesn’t have class rank nor does calculate a GPA

    1. Simon,

      Those are impressive accomplishments, particularly his standardized test scores. Has he taken the SAT Subject Tests yet? Those will also be required for admission to an Ivy League school. You may be able to explain away poor grades due to tragic circumstances; however, to be realistic, him having received mostly B’s as a freshman and sophomore will make admission into an Ivy League university an uphill challenge.

      Hope this helps!

  6. I’m a sophomore in high school so what if I only did tennis and track for sophomore, junior and senior year (in other words, I only did sports for 3 years rather than all 4)? I didn’t do any sports Freshmen year. Would that put me out of the race? I’m not very athletic but I have numerous other extracurriculars such as yearbook, newspaper, secretary of my class, international club, youth commission group, and math club. I’ve also been able to maintain all A’s thus far. Please let me know! Thank you!

    1. Alisha,

      Not having participated in athletics as a freshman should not be a particular concern. Just focus on what you are doing now, rather than what you did not do earlier, and you’ll be fine!

      Hope this helps!

  7. I would also like to know if I’m on track for community service. I know websites all say different things about this but so far (I’m a sophomore), I’ve done 7 hours my freshmen year and I’m the process of getting more hours this year. Is it okay if I only did 7 my freshmen year? I’m really worried about how many hours I have so far.

    1. Alisha,

      Ultimately, what will be more important than the number of community service hours you have at the end of your freshman year of high school is the total number of hours you expect to have at graduation, and – more importantly – what you are spending those hours doing. Remember, we recommend that you volunteer or perform some kind of community service that in some way relates back to what you would like to study.

      Hope this helps!

  8. If I am in an academy designed specifically for Science, Technology, Engineering, or Technology (STEM) related careers, with students being admitted to MIT, Harvard, etc., do schools take that into consideration as here is my current “portfolio”

    3.99 Unweighted GPA
    4.6 Weighted GPA
    Taking to account AP and Honors classes (AP BIO, AP US Hist, AP Human Geo, etc.)
    Track and Field Sprinter (Going to Districts in a week)
    BETA Academy President (in the academy of ~250 students)
    Math Team President (Won many International and National Awards and Trophies)
    Mu Alpha Theta
    High School Quiz Bowl VP
    NHS (Member)
    VEX Robotics President/ Team Captain
    Volunteering at the nearby HealthFirst Hospital – Working on my “cure” for cancer
    HARRIS Corp Intern
    (I’m a senior at age 17)

      1. Universities definitely take into account the difficulty of your school’s curriculum, and your guidance counselor should be able to give an even more detailed view during his/her letter of recommendation. The essay is also a perfect opportunity to explain the challenges you faced at school, though of course you shouldn’t be disingenuous or overdramatic about this!

  9. Hi, thanks for writing this article, very informative!
    So I was reading the first bullet point regarding grades, and it mentions that there could be 2-3 Bs max to still have solid grades. I am a junior, and right now I am about to get my first Bs in high school (Both are B+s that are around 89, so close I know) in AP BC Calculus and English Language. These courses were not easy (especially BC Calc) and I really tried my best to get an A but I wasn’t able to do it…but I think that I will get a 5 on both of the AP Exams. Will those scores possible “make up” for my B+s? I know As would be better, but this was my first year taking a lot of AP courses (5) and it wasn’t easy. Will this not look good to colleges (especially top ones such as Cornell, CMU, Johns Hopkins), because my grades are technically in a downward trend (straight As in freshman and sophomore year)?


    1. Hi David! If you get 5’s on the AP exams, you should be pretty in the clear as far as those B’s go! A few B’s won’t sink your application, especially if you’ve shown a strong track record up until this point. Schools will look at your overall package, which includes your cumulative GPA and standardized tests, and given the great volume of applications that admissions officers have to sift through, one or two B’s won’t raise any eyebrows or red flags. Definitely do your best going forward, but from what you’ve written, it sounds like you’re still on the right track to be competitive for these top schools!

  10. Hey!
    Thank you so
    much for this article!! Super informative.
    I’m a freshman currently, and my dad transferred from the US to Vietnam. So I went from a school that sent dozens of people to elite colleges each year, to one that didn’t send any. My school here is pretty good, it’s a United Nations school. But my issue is, since I am in Vietnam, and my school is private, I really can’t do much. I used to do a lot of debate, and I did pretty well but there isn’t any debate in Vietnam and there is no way for me to create a club either. What should I do?
    In addition to this, I wanted to ask if There is any possibility of not having a freshman year gpa included.
    I transferred towards the end of the final semester, so my current school is not going to include my gpa form my previous school
    I don’t know what to do !! Should I chuck my unrealistic dreams of getting into an Ivy League?

    1. Hi Amani!
      For your situation with clubs, if debate is not fully established where you’re at, feel free to join other clubs! Admissions officers will definitely understand why you didn’t continue debate if it’s not available at all where you’re at. They just want to know you’re involved with your school and community, so any sort of extracurricular will do!

      As for grades, schools generally ask for your transcript at any school you’ve attended. Even if your current school did not take your previous school’s grades into consideration, you will still have to list them on the CommonApp and have them factor into your overall GPA. This by no means sinks an application, so you definitely still have hope at an Ivy League if you continue to work hard and persevere!

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