The Ivy Coach Daily

August 31, 2023

Can a Good Essay Get You Into an Ivy League School?

A fountain flows beside rocks outside a science center at Harvard University.
Essays are critical factors in the elite college admissions process.

Many students (and their parents) wonder what role the essays play in the admissions process to the eight Ivy League universities. Some believe the essays play an insignificant role, that it’s mainly about a student’s GPA and test scores. Others believe the essays play a critical role, that great essays can be the difference-maker between an acceptance and a rejection. So who’s right and who’s wrong?

The Role of Essays in the Ivy League Admissions Process

Top Grades and Scores Are the Table Stakes

That’s an easy one. Essays are crucial in the highly selective college admissions process, including the eight Ivy League institutions. Think about it: If admission were simply about boasting perfect or near-perfect grades and scores, Ivy League schools would have incoming classes with over five students in every available seat. It’s not just about the grades and scores — it’s not the case in 2023, and it wasn’t the case in 1993. Top grades and scores are mere table stakes in the process.

Ivy League Schools Seek Singularly Talented Students

For generations now, through their holistic admissions process, Ivy League schools have sifted through students with top grades in the most rigorous classes and top scores to identify singularly talented students or students who excel in one area that will interest the college.

It could be a sport for which an applicant is being recruited. It could be astrophysics research. It could be poetry. But what the Ivy League schools most certainly are not seeking is well-rounded students. Instead, admissions officers at these institutions seek to admit singularly talented students who, together, form a well-rounded class. As such, the student who plays three sports (none good enough to be recruited), a musical instrument, and conducts science research does not impress the gatekeepers in the holistic admissions process.

The Essays Are Prime Real Estate to Showcase a Singular Hook

And because these schools seek to admit singularly talented students, the activities and admissions essays serve as prime real estate to articulate how a student will contribute to the campus community. After all, the essays can compel an admissions officer to want to go to bat for a student. Likewise, the essays can lead an admissions officer to yawn or roll their eyes and quickly move on to the next student up for admission.

So, are essays critical in the Ivy League admissions process? You bet they are! The essays are a chance for applicants to show their humanity, showcase how they hope to leave their mark on the world, and demonstrate how they think through the prism of their experience and background. As such, while top grades in rigorous coursework, the quality of a student’s high school, test scores, and other factors play critical roles in the Ivy League admissions process, essays are monumentally critical.

2023-2024 Ivy League Admissions Essays

What better way of demonstrating the critical role that essays play in the Ivy League admissions process than highlighting how many essays each of the eight Ivy League schools ask its applicants? In addition to The Common Application’s Personal Statement, the eight Ivy League schools pose the following number of essay prompts to applicants to the Class of 2028:

Ivy League School2023-2024 Admissions Essays
Brown University3 x 200-250-word essays, 1 x 3-word essay, 2 x 100-word essays, and 1 x 50-word essay
Columbia University1 x 100-word essay and 4 x 150-word essays
Cornell University1 x 350-word essay and one of the following: 1 x 650-word essay, 1 x 250-word essay, and 1 x 100 word essay (CALS), 1 x 650-word essay (CAAP), 1 x 650-word essay (A&S), 1 x 650-word essay (Brooks), 1 x 650-word essay (Johnson), 2 x 250-word essays (COE), 1 x 650-word essay (CHE), 1 x 650-word essay (ILR)
Dartmouth College1 x 100-word essay, 2 x 250-word essays
Harvard University5 x 200-word essays
Princeton University3 x 250-word essays, 1 x 500-word essay, 3 x 50-word essays, and graded paper
University of Pennsylvania3 x 200-word essays, and dual-degree essays as follows: 1 x 650-word essay (DMD), 1 x 650-word essay (Huntsman), 1 x 650-word essay (Life Sciences and Management), 1 x 650-word essay an 1 x 250-word essay (Jerome Fisher), 1 x 650-word essay (Singh), 1 x 650-word essay (NHCM), short answers (Bio-Dental), 1 x 650-word essay (Energy Research)
Yale University1 x 400-word essay, 1 x 200-word essay, 1 x 125-word essay, 4 x 35-word short answers

Ivy League Admissions Essays FAQs

Is the Personal Statement more important than the supplemental admissions essays at the Ivies?

While the Personal Statement is submitted to every Common Application-subscribing institution, each Ivy League school requires applicants to write additional essays, which are as crucial as the Personal Statement. If, for instance, a student writes a Personal Statement that wows and then fills their Why Dartmouth essay with a mix of professor name drops and class names, they’re doubtful to earn admission to Dartmouth because the student failed to demonstrate their interest in Dartmouth adequately. The Ivy League schools present supplemental essay prompts for a reason. They matter big time.

What are the most common supplemental essay prompts for applicants to the Ivies during the 2023-2024 admissions cycle?

The most common supplemental admissions essay prompts this year are the “Why College,” “Why Major,” and “Which Community” essay prompts. As an example, for applicants to the Class of 2028, among the Ivies, only Harvard doesn’t ask applicants “Why Harvard.”

Wondering why? Harvard knows you want to attend. It’s Harvard. But every other university — including all seven of the remaining Ivies — wants to see that you genuinely wish to attend and that you want to attend for the right reasons.

Do the Ivies have more supplemental essays in the 2023-2024 admissions cycle than in past cycles?

Yes, some of the Ivies have increased their essay counts this year — likely in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to outlaw Affirmative Action.

In the majority opinion, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.”

It’s thus no surprise that these schools would rely even more heavily on essays in the wake of the decision.

Ivy Coach’s Assistance with Ivy League Essays

If you’re interested in optimizing your chances for admission to Ivy League schools during the 2023-2024 admissions cycle, fill out Ivy Coach’s free consultation form, and we’ll be in touch to delineate our college counseling services for seniors.

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