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3 Things Every College Applicant Should Know about the Ivy League

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photo of harvard university

Photo of Harvard University

Do you have your sights set on attending an Ivy League school next fall? Have you thought about applying to an Ivy, but ruled it out because of selectivity or cost? Before you call your college list final and complete those applications, check out these lesser-known facts about the Ivy League. You just might reconsider a few of the schools you’ve put on—or taken off—your list.


1. You have a better chance of getting into the Ivy League if you go to community college first.

Diane Melville, author of The Community College Advantage: Your Guide to a Low-Cost, High-Reward College Experience

On average, 1,500 transfer students apply to Ivy League colleges every year, and 10 percent get in. In contrast, 30,000 high school seniors apply to the Ivies every year—that’s 20 times more students—and 10 percent get in. So while your chance of getting into an Ivy League school is technically 10 percent either way, your effective chance at acceptance is much higher as a transfer student, because you’re competing against significantly fewer students.

And that’s not all. You generally need a GPA above 3.5 in community college to get a spot in the Ivy League, which is a whole lot lower than what you’d need to compete for those spots on the freshman level. Why? Community college gives you the ability to prove yourself as a capable student.

For high school applicants, the super-selective schools want to admit freshmen who have it super together in high school to make up for the fact that these kids may go buck wild when they break free from their parents and enroll in college. Transfers, however, have already proven that they have it all together. Thus, your GPA doesn’t need to be a beacon of perfection. It just needs to be good enough to show that you can handle college life.

The bottom line: transferring is one of the most effective ways to increase your chances of getting into some of the top schools in the country. Period.

2. Just because a college has a big name doesn’t mean it’s a top quality school.

Edward B. Fiske, author of Fiske Guide to Getting Into the Right College

Many college applicants mistakenly think that prestige automatically equals academic quality. Call it the brand-name syndrome: the idea that if you haven’t heard of a college, it can’t be any good. Many big-name schools do deliver educational excellence, but others are overcrowded, overrated, and coasting on reputation. There are scores of comparatively little-known colleges, most of them small, that offer an education every bit as good.

But you’re probably thinking, Don’t all the best jobs go to Ivy League graduates? Not by a long shot. They get their share, but so do graduates of countless other schools that aren’t household names. In a landmark study of colleges with the highest percentage of graduates earning a PhD degree, the top finisher wasn’t Harvard, but Harvey Mudd College. Harvard placed thirty-seventh, behind liberal arts colleges such as Eckerd, Wabash, and Kalamazoo, which continue to produce excellent graduates with much less fanfare.

Want to know what other differences set top colleges apart from Ivy League schools?

Find out with new Fiske The Ivy Leagues and Beyond the Ivies enhanced ebooks.

3. The Ivy League may be more affordable than you think.

Frank Palmasani, author of Right College, Right Price: The New System for Discovering the Best College Fit at the Best Price

Most highly selective private schools don’t offer merit scholarships based on a student’s gifts, strengths, and talents. However, some highly selective private schools offer substantial assistance to families with financial need. They have huge endowments and use that money to help needy families.

Consider the “Harvard Plan.” Harvard University has a sticker price of more than $55,000 per year, but the school decided to be a trailblazer for families with financial need. If a family’s income is $60,000 or less, a student admitted to Harvard pays nothing. Harvard discounts the entire cost. If the family’s income is between $60,000 and $180,000, the most the family pays the school is 10 percent of its income.

While not all highly selective private schools follow the Harvard Plan, many have created their own plans to assist families with financial need. Some schools in this category try to meet 100 percent of a family’s assessed needs, and some meet this need without requiring a student to obtain student loans. This practice is unheard of among colleges in other categories.

If you’re academically gifted enough to compete for admissions at a highly selective private college, don’t eliminate these schools based on their sticker price. Determine your estimated net price at several schools in this category before making a decision.

Looking for the truth about college costs?

Learn all the ins and outs of the college financial aid system and find schools you can afford with Frank Palmasani’s online Financial Fit® program.


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