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Get There From Here: Ivy League

The ivy covered halls of the nation’s most selective academic schools are the dreams of many high school students. What is the key for unlocking the door of admission to these schools? Is it extracurricular activities? The number of AP classes? Glowing teacher recommendation letters? How do GPA and test scores fit into all of this? We have some answers.




First of all, we want to assure students that it is completely okay if you don’t go to Princeton or Brown. Where you attend college does not determine your success in life. You are in charge of that. We often see prestigious universities boasting about their famous alumni, but there are of course countless successful people who didn’t attend these universities.

For those that aspire to attend highly selective schools such as Harvard, MIT, Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, and Duke, know that they have top standards for their admission criteria. So, what exactly are they looking for? To begin, let’s take a look at the numbers. Students must have a very strong SAT or ACT score. The average SAT scores for students attending Harvard is 1500 — with 1600 being a perfect score, Johns Hopkins is 1503, and Princeton is 1490 (U.S. News and World Report). If you’re wanting to attend an Ivy League school or a highly selective academically-driven university, top-notch test scores are a must. According to the respective school admissions sites or their most recent common data sets, the scores in the table below represent the middle 50% of students admitted to these prestigious institutions.



University SAT Reading and Writing SAT Math ACT Math
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) 720-770 780-800 34-35
Cornell 680-750 710-790 32-34
Harvard 730-790 730-800 32-35
Princeton 700-770 730-790 32-35
Yale 720-770 740-790 33-35
Duke 680-780 710 33-35
Georgetown 680-750 690-780 31-34
Brown 700-760 720-790 32-35




What about the number of AP courses? Colleges look at the number of AP courses you took relative to the school’s offerings. Ivy League and highly prestigious schools will expect that you have AP classes for your general studies (Social Studies, English, Math, and Science). Where you go from there depends on your interests. So, does that mean that a student who is passionate about science needs to take AP Art or AP Music Theory to increase the AP count? Absolutely not. Should a student passionate about science probably maximize the AP science opportunities at the school? Definitely. Balance is key. It is extremely important to make sure that you’re not overloading yourself with additional AP classes at the expense of your GPA.





University Average GPA AP Course Load
Cornell University 4.27 10
Duke University 4.27 10
Georgetown University 4.68 15
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 4.58 12
University of California - Berkeley 4.47 10+



ClayBlog2017-05-05 12.10.59

However, a ticket to a highly selective school is more than just test scores and GPAs. Too many extracurricular activities won’t increase your chances of getting into one of these prestigious universities. Quality is better than quantity. Pursue something that you are passionate about to its fullest and leave an impact on the community because of it. Are your activities something that you’re passionate about? Were you able to show leadership through your involvement? What type of mark did you make on the world around you because of your involvement? Clay Van de Vate ‘17, MPCS alumnus and current Georgetown undergraduate advises, “Take every opportunity you can to challenge yourself! Strive for the best you can be!” This applies not only to the classes that you take but also to the extracurricular activities that you pursue. Be a lover of learning.




In addition to having quality extracurricular activities, you must give the schools an opportunity to see your passion for both your subject and their institution in your college essay. Provide them with some true insight as to who you are. Be genuine and thoughtful with your writing. Tell your story like you would talk about it and make it interesting. Otse Attah ‘19 will be attending Cornell University this fall. He shared some advice concerning the essay: “Communicate that you are passionate about what you want to study. Don’t be afraid to show that you are passionate about the subject. Tell the school why you think that they are the best for what you want to pursue.” Everyone applying to these prestigious universities will have great grades, GPAs, and stellar teacher recommendations. Your college essay is the one opportunity to let them know who you are  beyond the numbers.




Another point to understand about Ivy League and other highly selective liberal arts colleges and universities is that aside from the test scores, high GPAs, AP classes, leadership, and extracurriculars, they seek students who demonstrate creativity, most notably in the arts. Many of these schools include an optional “artistic supplement” to their application, whereby applicants can submit their creative work as visual artists, musicians, dancers, actors, and creative writers above and beyond the academic profile. The artistic supplement gives high-achieving students the opportunity to show their uniqueness through their creative arts training.

MatthewBraguephotoBlogAn example of this can be seen through MPCS alumnus, Matthew Brague ‘15. Matthew’s test scores and academic profile (4.35 GPA) was in the average range for Duke University applicants, but as a trained ballet dancer, he was able to leverage the artistic supplement portion to make himself stand out as truly unique amongst other average applicants, and it worked. He said, "At Duke, different majors can be intertwined together and impact all areas of learning." Matthew did not major in dance, but the aspect of creativity and the discipline that comes with dance training helped tell a different story about Matthew beyond the simple academic application. 


Another important aspect to consider is whether to apply “Early Decision,” “Early Action,” or “Regular Decision”— words that indicate the timeline by which one applies, and may be binding in nature. For Matthew Brague, the timing at Duke revealed that by applying “Early Decision” and with the submission of an artistic supplement, his odds of acceptance were in the 40% range. If he had applied regular decision and without an artistic supplement, the odds were less than 10%.


PrestonMoore photos3 


If an Ivy League or highly selective school is your dream, then pursue it with all that you’ve got; the competition is fierce. It’s within your grasp if you make the most of every opportunity presented to you. Remember, these prestigious institutions don’t guarantee success or happiness. There may be other schools better suited for your interests which can provide you opportunities for great success. Whatever your college pursuits may be, don’t lose focus on what the truly important things are. Take time away from studying to enjoy life and savor each moment that comes your way. Spend time with your family and friends, and be a teenager. It only happens once.


Quick References:

Princeton Undergraduate Admissions 

Brown Undergraduate Admissions 

Cornell Undergraduate Admissions

Duke Undergraduate Admissions 

Georgetown Undergraduate Admissions

Harvard Undergraduate Admissions 

M.I.T. Undergraduate Admissions 

Princeton Undergraduate Admissions 

Yale Undergraduate Admissions 


Dr. Bonnie Stephens serves as a Biology teacher in MPCS High School as well as the Science Department Chair. Check-out the right column for more admission tips in our College Series blogs. 


Stellar academic-preparedness with rigorous course offerings is just one reason MPCS was voted the Best Private School in Cobb county. Click here to learn more about this honor and how a well-balanced education serves our students well in their college applications.




Welcome to WingTips, a Mount Paran Christian School Blog. The MPCS Blog features many independent school contributors and thought-leaders.

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Providing academic excellence in a Christ-centered environment, Mount Paran Christian School unites with home and church to prepare servant-leaders to honor God, love others, and walk in Truth.