Whether you’re itching to become a Columbia Lion or Yale Bulldog (or for your kid to), you may have heard of mumblings of “Ivy Day” as of late in these parts.
You may recall eagerly checking the mailbox during your senior year in high school to see if you were accepted to one or more of your top colleges. For the elite waiting to hear back from prestigious Ivy League schools, the preparation began long before many of us were even thinking about school.
These days, the nail-biting remains the same, though the big reveal now takes place in cyberspace, and all on March 30, aka “Ivy Day.”
It’s no surprise that given the fierce competition, families start preparing early in the tri-state area.
“While starting on the college admissions process over a decade in advance may sound excessive, parents are right to be concerned about the stakes of admissions to Ivy League schools. Over the last decade, these elite universities have become more competitive than ever before,” said Christopher Rim, Founder and CEO of Command Education, based in the West Village in New York City, pointing to the fact that for the Class of 2026, Harvard received 61,221 applicants, 3.2% of which were accepted and Columbia received 60,377 applicants, 3.73% of which were accepted.
“There are going to be a lot of stressed-outteens and families as Ivy League applicants frantically hit refresh on their portals to see their results,” said Laurie Kopp Weingarten, president and co-founder of One-Stop College Counseling, based in Marlboro, New Jersey, and offering college consultant services nationwide specializing in students applying to the most selective colleges in the country.
(Worth noting: Ivy Day only occurs in the spring with the Regular Decision release; In the fall, each of the Ivies release their early results on a day of their choice, with no coordination among the group, said Kopp Weingarten.)
“There will be lots of happy tears and screams, but many more expressions of dismay, and sometimes, even anger,” she said, conceding that the odds are not in a student’s favor. “The competition is tough; there aren’t enough beds in the Ivy League to take all of these high-achieving students,” continued Kopp Weingarten. “And if a student isn’t admitted into an Ivy under the Early Decision (Cornell, Penn, Brown, Dartmouth, and Columbia) or the Restricted/Single Choice Early Action plan (Harvard, Princeton, and Yale), the odds are low, in the single digits.”
In fact, as Kopp Weingarten shared in an example below, for the classes of 2025 and 2026, the chances of getting accepted into the esteemed Ivies are about as likely as walking into Levain Bakery without a line:
- Brown (class of 2026): 15% Early Decision; 4% Regular Decision
- Columbia (class of 2025): 12% Early Decision; 3% Regular Decision
- Cornell (class of 2026): 19% Early Decision; 5% Regular Decision
- Dartmouth (class of 2026): 20% accepted Early Decision; 5% Regular Decision
- Harvard (class of 2026): 8% Restricted Early Action; 2% Regular Decision
- Penn (class of 2025): 15% Early Decision, 4% Regular Decision
- Princeton (class of 2025): 4% total
- Yale (class of 2026): 11% Single Choice Early Action; 3% Regular Decision
(Note: In the media, colleges report total admission rates, not Regular Decision admission rates, which are even lower.)
But wait, there’s more.
“When you speak with admission officers, they’ll share with you that up to 80% of the applicants to these colleges are highly qualified, meaning competition is incredibly fierce,” Dr. Robert Kohen, PhD, an independent educational consultant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, who holds a Certificate in College Admissions and Career Planning from UC Berkeley, a Ph.D. from Harvard and a B.A. from Columbia.
That means that even if you or your child or loved one had the chops to get accepted into the selective eight, the admissions team may still pass you over in favor of someone else. “Truly exceptional students who do everything right in the admissions process still have no guarantee of acceptance, given these numbers and each institution’s focus on its own set of priorities for any given year,” said Kohen.
“With such steep competition, Ivy League admissions are no longer about whether a student is valedictorian of their class or received a perfect SAT score — elite schools are looking for students with singular focus and demonstrable passions,” Rim added.
And going to Trinity or Chapin isn’t your surefire ticket to the Ivies, either. “While some families assume that the rigor and prestige of a private school will all but guarantee admissions to a top-tier college or university, this is not the case — even prestigious private schools largely lack the resources to help students develop their admissions profile in the focused way that appeals to Ivy League and other top-tier schools,” said Rim. “Many parents find that despite paying the steep price for private school, they require the assistance of private college admissions consultants who are able to devote individualized attention to their student’s needs and goals.”
(Speaking of which, 100% of students working with Rim’s company who applied Early Action to Harvard during the last admissions cycle were admitted, as reported in The Post.)
Whether you win, lose, or waitlist, here’s how to play the game come March 30.
What to do if you’re accepted
Congrats, kid. Let your parents book that celebratory dinner reservation at Mory’s or head up to Morningside Heights for a tipple at 1020.
“You are now a member of a select group of students from across the globe. Take a minute, or a day, to let this victory soak in,” said LeeAnne Jackson Rogers, owner and college admissions coach of Life Design with LeeAnne in Dallas, Texas. “But then it’s time to get to work! If you were in this group, you were likely accepted to multiple top-tier universities,” she said, noting that you have until May 1 to commit, so you should prioritize visiting the campus in person or speaking to an alum who can tell you about their experience. “And don’t forget to consider any scholarships you may have been offered from other schools. Ivies are elite and come with a price tag that reflects their status,” added Jackson Rogers.
Kohen echoed this sentiment, adding that “students should attend an admitted students’ day, trying to spend the night and sit in on a class of interest,” he said. “They should speak with existing students, especially those in their intended major.”
Kopp Weingarten has one more piece of hard-won wisdom for accepted students on Ivy Day: She reminds students that there are many more disappointed teens than happy teens coming out of the occasion. “It’s nice to not brag or go overboard with your celebrations for the students who are dealing with the rejection.” she said.
What to do if you’re waitlisted
Fall into this camp? You’re a rare breed. “Waitlist admit rates tend to be low and can vary by year,” said Kohen.
“One of the best things a waitlisted applicant can do is write and send a letter of continued interest, which is a brief note addressed to the college’s admissions committee updating the school on a student’s progress since their application was submitted,” Rim explains.
“Students should include important academic updates such as positive changes in their GPA, academic awards and honors, or independent academic projects — whether research, online courses, or academic internships.” But, as Rim stated, these letters should not be generic: “letters of continued interest should be memorable, unique, and quirky to make the student stand out from the hundreds of other applicants who were waitlisted.”
You “might even consider revisiting the school to express their interest in enrolling in person if it’s their first choice,” Kohen adds. On the emotional front, Kohen urges students to reconcile themselves to the fact that an acceptance is very unlikely and turn their focus to colleges that have accepted them.
Along those lines, Jackson Rogers said that with the number of students who are applying to more top schools due to the continuation of test-optional policies, there will be students who do get off the waitlist, although not many.
“First, prioritize your list of where you were accepted and narrow down your top waitlist school,” she said, elaborating that you will have to submit a deposit for your second choice, which is likely non-refundable, however, you can remain on the waitlist for your dream Ivy. Like Kohen, Jackson Rogers advocates sending a letter of continued interest.
Additionally, she commented that you should update the school with details of what you have accomplished since submitting your application. “An updated transcript with higher grades won’t hurt, either. This is also why college counselors tell you senior grades matter,” she said. “You’ll need to move forward with plans for your admitted school but know that you might need to pivot if you are offered a spot off the waitlist after each Ivy receives their enrollments and can determine if they have any open spots.”
Bottom line: “It’s not healthy to sit around hoping to get off a waiting list!” said Kopp Weingarten. That’s why she says to go get excited about a college where you were admitted and treat yourself to a t-shirt or sweatshirt from that school instead.
What to do if you’re rejected
Maybe we should have started here first, since the reality is that the vast majority of aspiring Lions, Tigers and Bears don’t get into an Ivy League school.
Since Kopp Weingarten and her team focuses on Ivy League and other highly selective admissions, they try to let students know early on if they have zero chance at admission to colleges at that level. “For example, a straight B student should not be applying to Dartmouth, even if they took all Honors/AP classes and have a perfect SAT or ACT score,” she said of setting expectations early in the process. (Always helpful, in all aspects of life, folks.)
“But if a student who truly seemed qualified is rejected, part of growing up is learning to deal with disappointments and set-backs,” said Kopp Weingarten, stressing that a college decision does not and should not define you. “So if a student is rejected, they can wallow for a day or two, then take the attitude of, ‘It’s the school’s loss; I’m going to love the colleges that loved me back.’ They should enjoy choosing among the choices they have, and dive head-first into the college they select,” she continued. “Most students we work with love their colleges, but if it doesn’t work out, they can always try to transfer.”
Students should also focus on composing themselves in this scenario for the sake of their friends and siblings. Seeing your rejection letters might help them pave their own college applications’ path. “For younger students who may be witnessing older siblings or friends receive rejections, the experience should instill the value of a balanced college list. While rejections are always disappointing, a balanced college list ensures that an applicant has an ample amount of other solid options that align with their skills and interests,” said Rim. “Having desirable secondary options can eliminate some of the stress of receiving a rejection from a student’s top school.”
You can also take solace in embracing Jackson Rogers’ attitude: “Remember, there’s always grad school, and you can apply to seek redemption in another three years.”
Quips aside, while Ivy Day seems like the biggest day of your life, know “that there are many more accomplishments in your future, and you should take the time to feel proud of all the hard work you have put in twelve years of education to graduate and move on to college,” she said.
Or, as Kopp Weingarten framed it, the bumper sticker is nice, but the goal is to be happy where you end up and to take advantage of all that is offered. “It truly is important to find a ‘best fit’ college,” said Kopp Weingarten, right before casually weaving in that her son graduated in 2018 with a Princeton diploma.