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Last updated March 21, 2024

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How to Get into Vanderbilt

Key Takeaway

If you've got your heart set on attending Vanderbilt, then you've got a lot of work ahead of you. In this guide, we'll show you how to use your time on the parts of your application that will have the greatest impact.

Ah, Nashville. The music, the food, and Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt—or Vandy, as it’s endearingly called—is Tenneesee’s rival to the Ivy League. And with an acceptance rate of 7.1%, it’s just about as hard to get into.

In this guide, I answer your questions about applying to Vandy, and I walk you through creating an application strategy that will increase your chances of admission.

Here we go.

How to Apply to Vanderbilt

You can apply to Vanderbilt through—you guessed it—Common Application, Coalition, or QuestBridge. No matter the application you use, you’ll have several items on your application checklist:

  • Application, including extracurricular activities list and personal statement
  • Vanderbilt supplement
  • Official high school transcript
  • School report
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Standardized test scores (optional)

You also might do an admissions interview or submit additional materials, depending on what you’re applying to study.

Vanderbilt Application Options

You’ve got three options when it comes to applying to Vanderbilt: Early Decision I, Early Decision II, and Regular Decision.

Remember that any Early Decision application you submit is “binding,” which means that you’re contractually bound to go to Vanderbilt if you get admitted (though there are a few ways to break the agreement, like inadequate financial aid). So to apply ED, you really have to know that Vanderbilt is the place for you.

Applying ED may also tip those elusive admissions scales just a little in your favor, too. As we already covered in our Vanderbilt Common Data Set post, the Vandy ED acceptance rate is about 10% higher than the RD rate. It’s nearly 18%. That’s a huge jump, so weigh your ED options wisely.

While it may seem tempting to apply ED with that boosted rate, also remember that there’s a whole strategy behind where you should apply ED. (If you’re not already sure what that is, check out our ED strategy post.) If Vandy isn’t the right ED choice for you, then applying Regular Decision is a great option, too.

Vanderbilt Application Deadlines

Early Decision I: November 1

Early Decision II: January 1

Regular Decision: January 1

How hard is it to get into Vanderbilt?

Vanderbilt isn’t a “Southern Ivy” for nothing. It’s difficult to get into. Really difficult. At 7.1%, Vandy ranks alongside schools like Northwestern, Johns Hopkins, and Pomona in terms of admissions difficulty.

If you want to get in, you’ll need top-tier grades, the most challenging coursework, and extracurriculars that will blow your Vanderbilt admissions officers away. You’ll also need smart application strategy, so you’ve come to the right place.

What does Vanderbilt look for in applicants?

Take a quick gander at Vanderbilt’s admissions page. Notice anything?

When I look at that page with application strategy in mind, there are a few things that stick out to me.

Values like intellectual curiosity, out-of-classroom engagement, personal growth, willingness to take on a challenge, and leadership skills are all core traits of successful Vanderbilt applicants.

And to be a successful Vanderbilt applicant yourself, you’ll want to embody the values that resonate most with you.

So what does that actually mean for your application?

It can be helpful to think of your application like a marketing plan. You need to know who your target audience is so you can serve up the most compelling sales pitch. That’s not to say that your Vanderbilt application should be inauthentic, but it is to say that strategic application writing means curating your strengths into a cohesive, easily digestible (but still genuine!) narrative for your admissions officers.

In particular, when you write your Vanderbilt supplement, you’ll want to think about how Vanderbilt’s institutional values play out in your own life. What makes you intellectually curious? How have you shown out-of-the-classroom engagement? And why did it matter? In what ways have you grown the most? Why? In short, how do you already act like a Vanderbilt student?

Of course, you won’t necessarily be answering these questions directly in your Vanderbilt application. But reflecting on them before you begin your application will help put you in the right mindset.

Vanderbilt GPA requirement

Because of their holistic application review process, Vandy doesn’t have any GPA cutoffs in place. That means that your application won’t get auto-kicked to the curb just because you have a 3.0.

However. Your application probably won’t make it to the admit bin if your GPA isn’t up to par. Vandy students are high achievers, both in and out of the classroom. In fact, 40% of enrolled first-year students had a perfect 4.0 high school GPA. And 85% were in the top tenth of their graduating classes.

To put it bluntly: Vanderbilt has a lot of great students to choose from. Your GPA helps you immensely. The stronger, the better.

Vanderbilt SAT Scores

The good news is that Vanderbilt is still test-optional, at least for the time being. The bad news is that test-optional means you have to decide whether your scores are good enough to submit.

We’ve written elsewhere about test-optional strategy, so I’ll keep it quick here. In general, you want your test scores to be within (or, preferably, on the higher end of) the middle 50% range. Here are Vandy’s:

SAT Composite: 1480-1570

ACT Composite: 34-35

Middle 50% ranges sound confusing, but they’re actually easy to read. The middle half of enrolled first-year students scored between a 1480 and a 1570 on their SATs. From these numbers, you can also tell that 25% scored at or below a 1480, and 25% scored at or above a 1570.

If your stats are at the higher end of these ranges, you should consider submitting them.

Does Vanderbilt superscore?

Yep. Vanderbilt will take all your best section scores, no matter which test date you earned them, and combine them to make one “superscore.” Thank you, Vandy!

What high school coursework do I need to get into Vanderbilt?

Vanderbilt doesn’t have a set required high school curriculum, and admissions officers will always evaluate your transcript within the context of your high school.

Here’s what Vanderbilt recommends, though:

English: 4 years

Math: 4 years

Natural science: 4 years

Foreign language: 2 years

Social science/humanities: 2 years

Plus four more courses in these areas or other academic areas like computer science.

For prospective engineering students, Vanderbilt admissions officers will prefer that you’ve taken calculus, advanced physics, and chemistry.

But as with any highly-selective school, there’s one golden rule: you need to take the most challenging classes you can as often as you can. In particular, you should think about adding any AP, IB, or dual-enrollment classes if your school offers them. We in admissions call these classes “rigorous”—that is, they signal that you’re ready for college coursework.

Successful Vanderbilt applicants typically have transcripts full of rigor. If you want to be a Vandy student, yours should be, too.

What extracurriculars do I need to get into Vanderbilt?

Extracurriculars are an important part of Vanderbilt’s admissions process. They’re so important that one of their supplemental essay questions is all about your extracurriculars.

We’ll go over your Vandy supplemental essays in our Vanderbilt Supplemental Essays post, so for now, we’ll focus on the activities themselves.

More eye-catching activities will, of course, catch your admissions officer’s eye. If you’ve been to space, won an international award, or built a new invention, you’ll undoubtedly stand out from the crowd. At Admit Report, we call these measures of “reach” and “magnitude.” The bigger the reach and magnitude, the more impressive the extracurricular. But that’s not the only way to have extracurriculars that matter.

In Vanderbilt admissions, what matters is your impact. Your extracurriculars, no matter what they are, should show that you’ve made a difference in your own life, the lives of those around you, or in your community more broadly. That’s why it’s important to communicate the meaning and impact behind your activity, no matter what it is. Did you cook dinner for your family every weeknight? Or volunteer with your local animal shelter? Amazing! Now ask yourself: Why were those activities meaningful to me? How did they impact other people? How do they show that I’m a good community member? In your activities list, resume, and (possibly) supplemental, you’ll want to carefully write about your extracurriculars in a way that shows your reach, magnitude, and impact.

Finally, your activities should also clearly connect to who you’d be at Vanderbilt. Being able to make connections between your activities and what Vanderbilt offers, especially if you write about an extracurricular in your supplemental essay, will help your admissions officer see that you already belong on campus.

Final Takeaways + Vanderbilt Supplemental Essays

And with that, you’re ready to apply to Vanderbilt. By this point, you should have a solid idea of what your application needs to communicate for you to be a strong candidate for admission. If you want to go to Vandy, your strategy is essential.

The next part of your strategy is writing excellent supplemental essays. For all the details you need to know to write a successful Vandy supplement, check out our Vanderbilt Supplemental Essay guide next. See ya there.



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