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Last updated March 21, 2024

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How to Use the Vanderbilt Common Data Set

Key Takeaway

When only 7.14% of applicants are admitted to Vanderbilt, you have to find a way to stand out. As the Vanderbilt Common Data Set reveals, your personal character—especially shown through your essays and extracurriculars—are the perfect way to set yourself apart from the sea of other qualified applicants.

Vanderbilt University—or, as it’s more colloquially know, “Vandy”—is a top-fifteen school and one of the best in the South. It has an acceptance rate to match its prestige: only 7.1% of applicants who apply actually get in.

Vanderbilt’s Common Data Set can help you see into the admissions office at the school and, hopefully, eke out a boost for your application.

We put this post together to share some of the most important pieces of data we gathered from Vanderbilt’s CDS report. Let’s dive in.

How Vanderbilt University Evaluates Applicants — based on CDS Data

Like a lot of top-20 schools, Vanderbilt’s admissions process is extremely rigorous. Vandy is a particularly popular school in the northeast and south. The school receives tens of thousands of applications per year. They pushed 50k applications in the 21-22 admissions season alone.

Vanderbilt has developed an extremely rigorous and intensive evaluation process for their applicants as a way to deal with the onslaught. They prioritize some factors over others.

Core academic “vital signs” such as GPA, test scores, class rank, and the rigor of your courses are “very important” in the Vandy admissions process. Recommendations are merely “considered.” And while extracurricular activities are marked as “very important,” talent and ability are merely “important.” Vandy is also one of those schools that, like MIT, considers character and personal qualities to be indispensable.

Finally, your essays are also considered “very important.” We know this first-hand – one of our main contributors used to work in the Vandy admissions office. But it also makes logical sense: essays are one of the main ways for you to make your candidacy stand out and to tell a story that an admissions committee can latch onto.

Here’s the full chart of how Vanderbilt ranks the different factors that go into their admissions process.

Very important Important Considered Not considered
Rigor Recommendation(s) Interview Religious affiliation
Class rank Talent/ability First generation Level of applicant interest
GPA   Alumni/ae relation  
Test scores   Geographical residence  
Essay   State residency  
Extracurriculars   Racial/ethnic status  
Character/personal qualities   Volunteer work  
    Work experience  

Does Vanderbilt University Track Demonstrated Interest?

Nope. Like a lot of selective schools, Vanderbilt does not have a process in place for systematically tracking demonstrated interest. However, you should still focus on demonstrating your fit with the school through your essays and through interviews.

Does Vanderbilt care about test scores?

Yes and no. Test scores are ranked as being “highly important” in the CDS data. But Vanderbilt is also, at least for now, test optional. This means that test scores are one of the components of Vanderbilt’s academic score–assigned to every student who applies–which is highly important. But as we’ve written elsewhere, if the score isn’t submitted, that means it won’t count as a demerit on your application.

Does Vanderbilt care about essays?

Yes, a whole lot. Essays can make or break your Vanderbilt application. Vandy asks you to talk about your extracurriculars and pays close attention to the narrative you’re putting together in your personal statement. That’s why essays are labeled as “very important” in the Vanderbilt CDS. The importance of essays is also reiterated through their website and in blog posts by admissions officers.

From reading thousands of these in real admissions offices, we know the power and importance of essays. They’re critical because, in a sea of thousands of qualified applicants, essays allow you to cut through the noise and tell a story that’s memorable. At the end of the day, that’s what matters most in admissions.

What GPA do I need to get into Vanderbilt?

40% of students who applied to Vanderbilt had a 4.0. That’s a bit wild, but not inconsistent with figures you’ll see at other top universities.

Going down the line, 45% of people who submitted applicants had a GPA between 3.75-3.99. I can’t be sure, but it’s likely that most of them had super-high GPAs between 3.9-3.99. You can get a sense of that because only 3% of applicants had a GPA between 3.5 and 3.74.

The grade curve is extremely competitive at Vanderbilt. And because academic factors are weighted so heavily in the admissions process there, you need an extremely high GPA to qualify for admission.

Vanderbilt University Acceptance Rate

Vanderbilt had 47,152 applicants in the recent admissions cycle. Of those, 3,368 were actually admitted. That gives Vandy an acceptance rate of 7.14%. Yikes.

Vanderbilt Early Decision Acceptance Rate

Hark! There’s hope. Vanderbilt does have an Early Decision option, and the acceptance rate here is much higher. 5,021 students applied to Vanderbilt under the binding Early Decision application option, and of those, 901 were admitted. That gives Vandy a 17.9% ED admissions rate—almost 3x higher than their RD rate.

So yes, Vanderbilt University is one of those schools that does give preferential treatment to their ED students. Part of this is self-selection, but there’s a definite bump in chances if you pick ED.

What’s the right Vanderbilt app option for you?

Vanderbilt is an elite school that has a tempting ED acceptance rate. Its almost 18% ED admissions rate makes it within striking distance for students who have solid applications. But you shouldn’t go on ED rate alone. You should take a look at the table up above and think about whether the strengths of your application map onto what Vanderbilt is looking for in their students.

In particular, Vanderbilt is known for the academic rigor of its first-year admits. So if academics are a weak point of your application, you might want to pick another school for your ED.

Most Popular Majors at Vanderbilt

The CDS also provides us with a handy view into the distribution of majors at Vanderbilt.

Major Percent of Degrees Conferred
Social sciences 26.13
Interdisciplinary studies 14.55
Biological/life sciences 8.88
Engineering 8.58
Computer and information sciences 8.33
Mathematics and statistics 5.67
Psychology 5.07
Visual and performing arts 3.55
Foreign languages, literatures, and linguistics 2.71
History 2.62

Why does this data belong in a post about strategy? Well, you may have no idea what you want to study right now. If that’s the case, you might want to look at the general distribution of what students choose to study at Vanderbilt.

What should you do with all this information?

Vanderbilt mostly takes students with perfect academic records who have unimpeachable extracurriculars. That’s the sad but honest truth about the Vandy application. One of our big goals in laying this data out is to show how rough admissions chances are for students today and to push people to think more strategically about building school lists.

However, you can feel good about the high rate of ED admissions at Vandy. If you’re someone who has a strong academic record, a history of deep extracurricular engagement, and a clear focus going into college, you might want to consider an ED option and Vanderbilt. But remember: the ~18% admissions rate quoted in their CDS data doesn’t apply to everyone. So don’t waste an ED on a school that is out of reach.

If you’re ready to start in on your Vandy application, we wrote the How to Get into Vanderbilt guide just for you.


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