Ask Test Masters – Ivy League Admission

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Ask Test Masters is a free service offered by the college admission experts at Test Masters. Reader PCSkater has a question regarding the impact a few bad grades might have on his chances of being admitted to an Ivy League school. He writes,

“My average in math in grade 10 was very low, as in 70%. This year (grade 11) I am in CST, aka the low math class. Also, I had a 78% in history one year. Not my finest grades. I have mid 80’s and 90’s in all other subjects, and a lot of extracurricular activities that I have been a member of for all my years in high school thus far; I play the violin, figure skate, and am an intense alpine ski racer. Do I have any chance of getting in to an ivy? If next year (grade 12) I get mid-high 90’s in all my classes, will it make up for the math fallout? I would appreciate any advice!”

Dear PCSkater,

Already notoriously difficult to get into, last year Yale, Dartmouth, and Brown all listed acceptance rates of less than ten percent, while Harvard and Yale posted acceptance rates of around five percent (incidentally making Harvard’s acceptance rate for the fall of 2013 the lowest recorded acceptance rate in history). The fact is, today, Ivy League schools are more difficult to get into than ever before.

When it comes to the Ivy League, you must be a near perfect student, with stellar SAT/ACT/SAT II exam scores, in addition to being an active and successful participant in extracurricular activities, in order to have even a chance at admission.

It is true, to a certain degree, that you can offset a less than perfect transcript with excellent standardized test scores; however, this applies more to general admissions than it does to admissions at an Ivy League school. Candidly, everyone with a chance of being admitted to an Ivy League school will have amazing standardized test scores so you will not be able to distinguish yourself from other applicants that way.

The short answer to your question is it is highly unlikely even a perfect GPA your senior year will be enough to overcome bad marks in previous years, specifically in regards to admission to an Ivy League school.

Before you get down on yourself, read this article. In the linked article, College Compass writer Calvin explains that you do not need to attend any Ivy League school to get a competitive, high-quality education. Oftentimes, the honors program at your state or city college serves just as well. I highly recommend you read that article.

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All this is not to say that you have no chance whatsoever of being admitted to an Ivy League school; it’s just important that you manage your expectations and be cognizant of the obstacles you will have to overcome in order to be admitted.

I know this is probably not what you wanted to hear, but I hope this information helps!


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