written by
Julian Zambrano

Applying to Ivy League Schools With a Sub-1500 SAT Score

Admissions Tips 6 min read
Photo courtesy of University of Pennsylvania

It was a quiet October evening when I received an email from the College Board that my score had been released. This was the last opportunity I had to take the SAT before the early decision deadline for UPenn, and, naturally, I wanted to have a strong score to make my application as competitive as possible. I had spent the entire summer preparing for the SAT and SAT Subject Tests. I didn’t want any of my hard work to go to waste. My heart was racing as I logged into the College Board website.

This informational essay was written by Julian Zambrano, UPenn ‘23. If you want to get help writing your UPenn application essays from Julian or other Bullseye Admissions advisors, register with Bullseye today.

Like any high school senior trying to get into an Ivy, I had scoured the internet for application tips and tricks as well as ‘chance me’ forums on Reddit to see what a competitive SAT score was. And sure enough, all the websites and blogs said above a 1500. At this point, it seemed that my life depended on breaking the coveted 1500 threshold. So, when I finally saw my score, I was crushed. I thought that every Ivy League School would just toss my application because I didn’t break the 1500 barrier that seemed to immortalize students at top universities.

Full focus at a coffee shop
Tim Gouw | Unsplash

As a high school senior stressing about the college application process, it may seem that your standardized test scores are the only important thing about you that colleges look at, but I’m here to tell you that’s wrong. Your test score doesn’t define you. Your test scores aren’t the only things that elite universities look at when they review your entire application. Looking back, I think it’s a shame that I was disappointed with my score at the time, because it doesn’t define me as a person — and it certainly didn’t define my college applications.

The artistic supplement is an opportunity to show a side of you that isn’t expressed through your stats.

A big part of my childhood revolved around playing the guitar, so when I saw that every Ivy gave applicants the opportunity to include an artistic supplement as part of their application, I immediately began putting together my music compositions. You may think that the artistic supplement is only for students who plan to become artists, but this is not entirely true. If you’re not an art or music major, these supplements can be a place for you to express your creative side that couldn’t be highlighted in the rest of your application.

Guitar player
Jacek Dylag | Unsplash

There’s no “one kind” of art supplement: you could attach an art or photography portfolio, a design portfolio, websites or games you’ve built, songs you’ve written or produced, or clothing you’ve designed. You don’t have to be a pro artist to demonstrate your talent, initiative, and follow through.

In my case, I had written and recorded several songs and wanted to show off my skills on the guitar. My songs weren’t traditionally what you’d expect from a music supplement; my compositions were all rock songs. However, I always loved rock music and found it enjoyable to play on the guitar, and that was a part of my personality that I wanted to demonstrate.

I also was able to use my art supplement to tailor my application. At Dartmouth, there is an on-campus group called Friday Night Rock which hosts local and student rock bands to bring a live music scene to Dartmouth’s campus. At UPenn, there are many student-run music groups and bands that perform at venues and for philanthropy events around campus. Highlighting the musical part of my life provided me another opportunity to show why I would be a great addition to these campuses.

Photo courtesy of Yale University

All Ivy League Schools are liberal arts institutions: they value students who seek out knowledge outside of their planned course of study.

While many Ivies have excellent preprofessional programs, they still look for the kind of student invested in learning in and of itself. This is evident through each Ivy’s core requirement classes. Typically, the core requirement for each Ivy revolves around taking classes that touch upon various fields, such as the hard/natural sciences, social studies, humanities, foreign languages, etc. The Ivies don’t allow you to use AP, IB, or A-Level exam credit to fulfill these requirements, because they want their students to have an immersive and diverse academic experience on campus.

Expressing your desire to study fields outside of your aspiring major can also really help your application. In my case, At UPenn, there is a dual degree program that focused on business through Wharton and international studies through the College of Arts and Sciences. Although I wanted to focus on the quantitative side of business through Wharton, I was also still interested in studying political, economic, and historical developments internationally. Even though I wasn’t accepted into this specific program, I still highlighted my desire to pursue similar minors in the college through my deferred application update.

George Hodan | CC-0

One of the biggest things you can stress on an application to an Ivy League School is demonstrated interest.

A lot of students throw applications to Ivy League Schools because of the “prestige” that comes with attending a university of that caliber. If you’re applying to an Ivy, you should genuinely want to go there. Your application should demonstrate how you would make the most of the academic, research, and extracurricular opportunities offered by the school. You should also be sure to emphasize how you would be a good fit for the programs and environment at each school specifically.

In my case, I knew that I wanted to study mathematics and statistics in college, specifically for their applications to business settings. At UPenn, the statistics department is nested within the Wharton School, so all the higher level stat classes were all focused on microeconomic, commercial, and financial settings. When I did my research, I noticed that these courses emphasized not only the theoretical methods of the course material but also taught hard skills such as coding in MatLab, Excel, Python, and R.

Photo courtesy of University of Pennsylvania

On the contrary, the statistics and data science courses offered at Yale were more geared to engineering, medicine, the natural sciences, and social sciences. Although both schools have abundant course offerings in this field, the opportunities at UPenn lined up exactly with my academic and professional aspirations, which I expressed through my ‘Why Penn?’ essay.

There’s a lot more to you than just your test scores.

Although having a 1500+ SAT score might make your application more appealing on the surface, at the end of the day these Ivy League Schools are accepting a person, not a score. It is important to highlight every aspect of yourself in these applications. To give yourself the best chance at getting into one of these schools, you have to find the school that fits your academic and career goals, express why you are a really good fit for that school, and highlight any unseen aspects of your life through additional supplements and essays.

Stockholm man with headphones
Yingchou Han | Unsplash

This informational essay was written by Julian Zambrano, UPenn ‘23. If you want to get help writing your UPenn application essays from Julian or other Bullseye Admissions advisors, register with Bullseye today.

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