How Have Ivy League Acceptance Rates Changed Over the Years? - Atlas Academy

How Have Ivy League Acceptance Rates Changed Over the Years?

University Applications


By Jonas Kavaliauskas

Published 2023 05 01

Ah, the Ivy League – the crème de la crème of American higher education. The dream destination for many high school students (and their parents), these prestigious institutions have become increasingly selective over the years. In this article, we’ll dive into the ever-shifting landscape of Ivy League acceptance rates and give you the inside scoop on how they’ve evolved. So, buckle up, future Ivy Leaguers, as we embark on a journey through Ivy League admissions!

The Good Ol' Days of (Slightly) Higher Acceptance Rates

Once upon a time, in the not-so-distant past (circa 2010-2014), Ivy League acceptance rates were marginally higher. Though the competition was still fierce, the numbers were slightly more forgiving. For example, Brown University’s acceptance rate in 2014 was 8.6%, whereas Harvard’s was 5.9%. But the roller coaster was about to take a plunge.

The Race to the Bottom - The Great Decline

Fast forward a few years, and the Ivy League acceptance rates have continued their downward spiral. As the number of applicants skyrocketed, the acceptance rates began to quickly decrease. By 2023, Harvard’s acceptance rate has dropped to a jaw-dropping 3.4%, and Brown’s dipped to a mere 5.1%. Talk about slim pickings!

What's Driving the Decline?

There are few key factors driving the decline in admissions rates in recent years, namely:

  • Test-optional policies: many of the top institutions of higher education no longer require applicants to submit an SAT or an ACT score as part of their application, which has lowered the bar and led to thousands of opportunistic applications.
  • Return to pre-Covid numbers. Some applicants chose to forego enrolling to university at the height of the pandemic due to not wanting to pay the same tuition for a remote education experience and, in the case of lower income students, families being more pressed for immediate financial income, and thus turning directly to the job market.
  • Increasing economic inequality and education outcomes. For some years now, the gap between the top institutions and lower-ranked schools has been widening in terms of the quality of the education provided and corresponding post-graduation opportunities. As discussed in this blog post, graduates from Ivy League colleges earn multiple times the salaries of their peers from less academically rigorous colleges. As society is coming to terms with this reality, more students are giving Ivies a shot.
Ideas For Further Research

Here at Atlas, we don’t do your homework for you, but are always happy to point you in the right direction!

These percentage terms don’t paint the full picture and for those looking to better understand the statistical odds of being admitted to either institution, we advise you to further explore:

  • The absolute number of applicants to and offers issued by each school. For example, Cornell had 67,380 applicants, while for Darthmouth this number was only 28,841. 
  • The number of international students admitted to each institution. UPenn has, over the years, accepted a larger percentage of international students as part of its overall incoming class than any other institution in the Ivy League.
  • The number of students admitted as part of each application round. In general, early action/decision rounds have far higher acceptance rates (ranging between 10 and 20%) than later rounds, however, as discussed in another blog post, these numbers should also be carefully scrutinized, especially in the case of international students.
Navigating the Admissions Jungle - Strategies for Success

Fear not, ambitious scholars, for all hope is not lost! With the right approach and a healthy dose of resilience, you can still find success in the Ivy League admissions jungle. Here are some tips to help you stand out in the ever-growing applicant pool:

  • Focus on your strengths: emphasize your unique skills and interests, whether it’s your passion for the arts, your knack for scientific research, or your love of community service.
  • Nail your standardized tests: while test scores aren’t everything, they certainly can’t hurt. Scoring well on the SAT, ACT, or other standardized tests will only strengthen your application.
  • Write a killer essay: let your personality shine through in your CommonApp essays. Use storytelling, humor, or an unexpected angle to grab the reader’s attention.
  • Ace your interviews: interviews can be a make-or-break factor in the admissions process, especially if you land an interview with an admissions officer vs. an alumn of the school. Be prepared, be genuine, and let your personality shine.
  • Apply Early Decision/Early Action: show your commitment to your dream school by applying early. Even if it won’t always give you an edge, it will certainly demonstrate your dedication, which will not be forgotten in case you’re deferred to regular admissions.
  • Find Mentors to help you enhance your application: these can be friends, family and teachers, or private tutors and admissions consultants, like those at Atlas. It’s best to seek out several perspectives and make sure the people you consult with know what they’re talking about.

There’s no denying that Ivy League acceptance rates have become increasingly competitive over the years. However, with determination, the right strategy, and maybe a dash of luck, you can defy the odds and secure a spot at your dream institution. Just remember, while the Ivy League may be the gold standard for many, there are plenty of other incredible universities out there, each with their own unique qualities and opportunities. So, keep an open mind and trust that the roller coaster of college admissions will ultimately lead you to the perfect destination.


Published by

Jonas Kavaliauskas

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