Updated: How to Apply to Ivy League Schools

By Logan Bright Modified on March 16, 2020
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Earn your place at one of the world's most prestigious universities.

An ivy-enlaced wall at a presitigous northeast American institution.

COVID-19 Update:

As of March 16, there have neen no announced disruptions to any of the three application services described below. Be sure to visit the websites of the universities you're interested in to get the latest news and updates.

If you're a bright student with big dreams, you may be considering an Ivy League school. These are top universities with long-standing influence, lots of resources, and discerning admissions officers.

The Ivy League was established in 1954 to foster intercollegiate athletics, and consists of eight top-tier institutions in the northeastern United States:

Luckily, there's no special application process for Canadians or other international students! Read on to learn how to apply to Ivy League schools.

Your Application

To apply, you'll have to pay each school a fee of roughly $75 USD ($98 CAD), or apply for a fee waiver if the expense causes you economic hardship.

Most schools accept several types of application. The most common are:

Each of these is broadly similar: you'll be asked some standard questions and some university-specific questions. Both the Common App and the Universal App even let you save your application for use at multiple schools! Note that not every Ivy League school accepts each application service, so read carefully.

As part of your application, you'll be asked to respond to a series of short answer and essay questions to gauge your suitability as a candidate. You can expect questions like:

  • What academic areas fit your interests or goals most comfortably? Why do they appeal to you?
  • Reflect on your engagement with your community. How has this engagement affected you?
  • The school often hosts conversations with guests. What person, past or present, would you invite to speak? What question would you ask?

You may also need to include other materials. Princeton, for example, requires the Princeton Supplement, which includes more questions and the submission of a graded paper you've already written.

Reports and Recommendations

This section is just as important as your actual application. This is where you send in your transcripts, standardized test results, and reference letters.

School Reports & Transcripts

When you apply, your counsellor's office will send your transcript, but it won't have your senior-level courses on it. Thus, at the midway point of your final year, your counsellor will have to send a midyear school report as well. This shows how you've performed in your grade 12 courses so far, and should be submitted quickly.

You'll also have to send your final school report and official transcripts as soon as your courses conclude. Ensure your counsellor is on top of this! Harvard, for example, has a deadline for transcripts of July 1.

Standardized Test Results

There are two standardized tests accepted by Ivy League schools: the SAT and the ACT. In most cases, the essay or writing sections of these tests are optional. The rest is critical! Performing well on the SAT or ACT is an important benchmark for your application. Allow yourself plenty of time to study for your exam, and be sure to plan your study strategies.

Some schools also recommend submitting two optional SAT Subject Tests. You might choose math, a foreign language, or physics, but they should ideally be related to your field of interest. Each Subject Test is multiple choice and takes an hour, but must be written separately from the SAT itself.

If your first language isn't English, you may also be asked to include official test results from TOEFL, IELTS, PTE, or another language testing firm. You'll have to schedule and pay for this test on your own. You may be able to avoid this requirement if you've done a few years at an English-speaking high school.

Reference Letters

You'll need to submit at least three letters of recommendation. One from your guidance counsellor or academic adviser, and two from your teachers. The application platforms discussed above offer links and forms to send to your referees. The teachers you choose should know you from high-level courses, and each should be from a different core subject area, like English, math, or science. Check out this piece for more on getting good references.

Additional & Supplementary Materials

If you're interested in art or design, you may feel the need to include a portfolio of your work to show your capabilities. This is entirely optional, and typically sent through a service like SlideRoom once your application has been received. These supplemental materials are usually reviewed not by admissions officers, but by faculty members, so if you choose to send a portfolio, make it a good one!

Most successful applicants don't submit anything extra, though, so think carefully about whether you should do so. You may find more success by focusing your time and effort on the most important parts of the application, like your SAT/ACT and your high school grades.

And that's it! You've applied to some of the most prestigious schools in the world. Congratulations! You'll find out your results on "Ivy Day," when, in late March, all eight Ivy League schools release their regular admissions decisions online.

One more thing: don't hesitate to reach out to schools if you have questions. You'll find contact info at the links above.

Good luck!

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