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Articles / Applying to College / Ivy League Admission for "Average" Student?

Ivy League Admission for "Average" Student?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | April 22, 2003

Question: Is there any way the "Average Joe" (someone without high test scores and grades or exceptional extracurricular activities) can get into an Ivy League college?

The short answer to your question is, “No way do Ivy institutions admit the ‘Average Joe’ (or Josie).” The longer one is this: some students may not have what are normally considered to be Ivy-caliber GPA’s and/or test scores but they do have good ones, and they also have extenuating circumstances (e.g., they were brought up in a homeless shelter or on a boat in the South Pacific) or unique talents (they’ve tried out for the Olympics, danced on Broadway … ) that catch Ivy admission officials' attention. Some Ivy-qualified students, too, consider their accomplishments more “ordinary” than they really are. (Maybe you're one of them?)


While certainly we would never discourage anyone from applying to a dream college, a student who is short of outstanding in all areas (grades, test scores, extracurricular achievements) or who doesn't have an atypical background or talent would probably be throwing away a 50- or 60-dollar application fee by applying to the most competitive colleges. There are many excellent institutions that welcome good students who won’t make the Ivy cut (and even some students who do may find their needs are better met at a different school).

If you've always had Ivy in your eyes but realize that you aren't likely to get into an Ivy League institution right now, keep in mind that a strong undergraduate performance elsewhere might position you for a place in an Ivy League graduate program down the road.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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