Getting Into Ivy League Schools

Since I went to two Ivy League Schools (Princeton undergrad, Harvard MBA), I get asked by parents a lot about how to get their kids into an Ivy League school.  My answer is the same one that I think many of my friends from college give:  "I'm not sure I could have gotten into Princeton if I did it today, rather than 20 years ago".  While the number of bright, qualified students seems to have gone up tenfold over the last decades, the number of admissions spots at Ivy League schools has hardly changed, and few new schools have emerged as Ivy League equivalents (if not in fact, at least in the perceptions of the public).

I have recently discovered this really nice blog by Kurt Johnson, who recently got accepted to attend Wharton business school next year.  He has several good posts about school rankings and admissions, including this one here.  The curves showing that only about 20% of applicants in the top 1 percentile of test scores get into Princeton is scary.  Yes, I had good SAT scores, somewhere in the 1500's  (I would never have believed at the time I would have forgotten the number, but I seem to have).  At the time, that was pretty much a layup for getting into the Ivy League, though I had some decent sports and activities as well.  Now, the odds are I wouldn't make it.

Today, parents are downright crazed in trying to figure out what it takes to get in.  For example, any of the 11 year olds at our elementary school do community service, which I guess is fine though it seems to be driven more by setting up early resume wins rather than saving the world.  Things like piano and violin are out:  Parents are pushing their kids into more unique, differentiated instruments like bagpipes or the xylophone.  My old college roommate, whose kids go to a college prep school in DC, joked that he planned to send the other school parents into a jealous hysteria by telling them his kids were competing in falconry.

Kurt also makes a good point about one of my pet peeves of performance measurement:  that is, measuring a process based on inputs rather than outputs.  You see this all the time, for example, when the department of homeland security talks.  They say things like we have xx thousand agents making xx checks with xx equipment blah blah.  Yes, but are we safer?

Postscript: By the way, after reading Kurt's work, he is basically going to Wharton for a piece of paper.  He already appears to be at least as thoughtful an analyst of business issues as most poeple I know with Ivy League MBA's.  OK, this is a bit unfair.  I learned a lot that was useful in my first year of busienss school, then I entertained myself in the second year with a lot of material that was interesting but I never used much.  My MBA was sort of a 1-year technical degree with an extra year in "business liberal arts".  I have talked to lawyers that say the same thing about law school.


  1. Scott Peterson:

    I suggest looking at Brigham Young University as an Ivy League equivalent. The minimum ACT score that is considered for admission to BYU is 27; I noted at that the average ACT score at Stanford and Yale is 29-33.

    Interestingly, the same website showed the average ACT score for Harvard admittees to be 34. I attribute this to the fact that Harvard is more famous than other Ivy League schools; whenever a movie or TV show references a character going to a top notch school it is always Harvard. So there might be a perception among applicants that Harvard is better because it is more famous and thus slightly harder to get in to.

  2. Hansal Sheth:

    I found this article to be useful but just to provide some input there are 2 spelling or typos in "Postscript"
    1. "poeple" in second line
    2. "busieness" in third line

    I hope this helps.
    Thanks again for writing this article.

  3. Jerry:

    I think getting into college is a lot harder than it was before, but the problem is the number of elite schools have stayed the same.

    1. Harvard University
    2. Yale University
    3. Princeton University
    4. University of Chicago
    5. Stanford University