How to Get Into Vanderbilt

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Vanderbilt University is a private research university in Nashville, Tennessee. It’s ranked the No.14 university in the nation by U.S. and World Report and is recognized for its excellent value and the quality of its undergraduate teaching. Vanderbilt enrolls 13,537 students, including just over 7,000 undergraduates. 65% of undergrads receive some form of financial aid.

With its beautiful campus, Nashville location, top-notch academics, and its collaborative and innovative culture, it’s no surprise that Vanderbilt receives about 46,000 applications per year. Getting into Vanderbilt isn’t easy, but we’re here to help you navigate the process! Read on for helpful information, data, and advice on how to increase your chances of earning an acceptance from Vandy.

About Vanderbilt

Located on a park-like campus in the heart of Nashville, Vanderbilt University is home to ten schools, four of which offer undergraduate programs. The university emphasizes multidisciplinary research and teaching and has an 8:1 student-faculty ratio, providing a more personalized learning experience.

In addition to academic rigor and an appealing location, Vanderbilt offers Division I athletics, a wide range of study abroad programs, exciting internship opportunities, and over 475 student organizations. Vanderbilt is committed to meeting 100% of demonstrated financial need for admitted students, and its financial aid packages do not include loans.

Students say that in comparison to other prestigious universities, Vanderbilt has a warm, collaborative atmosphere. The student experience is described as diverse and highly involved, and students enjoy the balance between school and social life. Vanderbilt invests in providing students with experiential learning, integrated research, and opportunities to discover, lead, and grow as learners and as people.

Is It Hard to Get Into Vanderbilt?

Vanderbilt has an acceptance rate of 9.6%. For every 100 applicants, about 10 are accepted. The other 90 applicants receive a rejection.

In comparison to other universities, Vanderbilt University is extremely selective. For example, Ivy League universities have only slightly higher acceptance rates, usually ranging from 4% to 8%.

GPA and Test Scores for Vanderbilt

Students admitted to Vanderbilt have an average GPA of 3.83. To compete with other applicants, you’ll need to earn nearly straight A’s and be close to the top of your class.

You should also follow a rigorous schedule with several AP and IB classes. Excelling in these classes boosts your GPA and shows competitive schools like Vanderbilt that you can handle college-level coursework.

The good news is that if you’re a freshman or sophomore with a lower GPA, you have time to bring up your grades and improve your GPA. If you’re already a junior, aim for high test scores and enhance other areas of your application.

Speaking of test scores, Vanderbilt is test-optional for students applying for Fall 2023 or Fall 2024. That means you won’t be at a disadvantage if you apply without ACT or SAT scores. Still, we highly recommend submitting test scores unless you feel they reflect poorly on your academic ability. Test scores give you another chance to showcase your skills. They can make up for a lower GPA or set you apart from applicants with similar grades.

The average ACT score for students admitted to Vanderbilt is 34. The 25th percentile score is 33, and the 75th percentile score is 35.

Now, let’s look at an SAT score breakdown for students admitted to Vanderbilt.

Section Average 25th Percentile 75th Percentile
Math 775 750 800
Reading 730 700 760
Total 1505 1450 1560

Vanderbilt superscores both the ACT and the SAT. Superscoring means that if you take either test multiple times, Vandy will consider only your best section scores across exams. If you submit both the ACT and SAT, Vanderbilt will consider only the exam that results in the best superscore.

When you apply to an extremely selective university like Vanderbilt, scoring in the 75th percentile increases your chances of acceptance. So, it’s best to aim for a:

  •       GPA of 3.83 or higher
  •       ACT score of 35, OR
  •       SAT score of 1560 (with an 800 in Math and a 760 in Reading)

Of course, these scores are nearly perfect. And the data demonstrates that students with lower (but still excellent) numbers can still get into Vanderbilt. Your GPA and test scores matter, but Vanderbilt’s admissions committee looks for many other qualities too.

What Other Qualities Does Vanderbilt Look For?

Vanderbilt’s website states that they use a holistic admissions process. The admissions committee values strong academic skills, but they also look at all parts of your application to learn about your achievements, passions, and interests, academic or otherwise.

They seek applicants who demonstrate intellectual curiosity and engage in activities outside the classroom that nurture their growth as leaders. They want to build a community of diverse students with many diverse interests.

In addition, the admissions committee will evaluate your application “in the larger context of your circumstances.” They look at your schedule and grades in the context of the curriculum offered at your school, consider whether a job or family responsibility has impacted your high school experience, and recognize the effect on your life of circumstances like the pandemic or a natural disaster.

Vanderbilt will also look for:

  •       Commitment of time and effort to extracurricular activities
  •       Strong leadership skills
  •       The perspective of the guidance counselor and core academic subject area teachers on your achievements
  •       The skills, character traits, points of view, or life experiences you would bring to the campus community

According to Vanderbilt’s website, the admissions committee will dig into your application to “find and highlight the unique elements of your file that will demonstrate what you would contribute to our community as a Vanderbilt Commodore.”

So, great numbers may encourage the admissions committee to take a closer look at the rest of your application. But the numbers alone don’t define you. Vanderbilt also wants to understand your passions and what drives you. They want to see intellectual curiosity, leadership, and strong participation in extracurricular activities. They want to know who you are and what you’ll bring to the Commodore community.

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What Should You Do in High School?

Now, let’s get to the fun part: strategy! Based on the information and data we’ve shared so far, what can you do in high school to strengthen your chances of becoming a Commodore?

Excel in Challenging Classes

To get into an extremely selective school like Vanderbilt, you must excel in the most challenging classes available at your school. This may include AP, IB, honors, or dual enrollment (college) courses.

By excelling in these difficult classes, you’ll demonstrate that you’re willing to challenge yourself and that you can perform well in college. The average student admitted to Vanderbilt has a GPA of 3.83, so you’ll need to take as many rigorous classes as possible and earn nearly all A’s.

In each of your classes, take notes and review them weekly. Manage your time wisely so you can turn in all assignments on time and study thoroughly for tests. If you begin to feel overwhelmed or confused, be proactive. Ask for help from a teacher, tutor, or a trusted friend who excels in the classes that are giving you a tough time.

Earn Excellent Test Scores

Although Vanderbilt is currently test-optional, we recommend taking either the ACT or SAT. You should take your test prep seriously and aim for the highest test scores possible. Excellent test scores can set you apart from other strong applicants or help compensate for a slightly lower GPA.

Start your test prep several months in advance, using the following process:

  •       Take timed practice tests for the ACT and the SAT. Compare your results to determine which test best showcases your strengths.
  •       After choosing a test, use the information from your practice test to make a personalized study plan. Note your strengths and weaknesses, as well as the specific question types and skills you struggled with.
  •       Consider purchasing an ACT/SAT study guide. They’re packed with practice questions and practice tests.
  •       Schedule time every week to answer practice questions, read high-level texts, and sharpen the skills that challenge you the most.
  •       Continue taking timed practice tests to practice your pacing and adjust your study plan as needed.
  •       One month before your test date, focus exclusively on your area(s) of weakness.
  •       If you don’t perform as well on your first test as you hoped, use your score report to build a plan for improvement. Repeat the test prep process with your new study plan and retake the SAT or ACT.

Remember that if you never earn a score you’re happy with, you don’t have to include it in your application to Vanderbilt. But impressive scores can give your application a boost, so do your best to achieve a score worth including.

Pursue Your Passions

When Vanderbilt looks at your extracurricular activities, the university’s website explains, they aren’t looking for any specific activity. Their goal is to build a class of students with diverse interests and passions. Ultimately, they want to see that you’ve committed time and effort to the things you’re passionate about.

So, find a few activities that truly excite you and stick with them. Strive to take on leadership roles, whether it’s becoming a club officer, introducing new ideas and initiatives, or running a project. You should also aim for awards, recognition, or other accomplishments in your area(s) of interest.

In addition, find meaningful ways to serve your community that align with your passions. Identify issues in your school or community, or social issues that matter to you. What can you do to make a difference? Whether you join an existing service application or start your own initiative —or even a nonprofit agency— make sure that it’s something impactful and close to your heart.

Be sure to keep a record of your extracurricular and community service involvement so you can thoroughly, accurately report it on your application to Vanderbilt.

Build Positive Relationships

Vanderbilt requires a counselor letter of recommendation and two letters of recommendation from teachers in core academic subjects.

If you avoid interacting with your counselors or teachers, they won’t be able to write a compelling letter of recommendation for you. It will end up sounding generic and not particularly enthusiastic. So, it’s important to build positive relationships with your counselor and teachers. Get to know them and demonstrate your excellent academic skills and personal qualities.

Getting a stellar letter of recommendation isn’t the only benefit of building great relationships with the adults in your school. They’re also knowledgeable about colleges, academic subject areas, careers, and more, and you can learn a lot through these relationships.

Vanderbilt Application Process and Checklist

Vanderbilt accepts the Common Application, Coalition Application, and QuestBridge Application.

They do not prefer one application over the others, so choose whichever application system you prefer. If several of the other colleges on your list accept the Common Application, for example, it may be the best (and most convenient) option for you.

Whichever system you choose, your application will include:

  •       High school transcript
  •       Self-reported SAT/ACT scores (optional)
  •       Counselor letter of recommendation
  •       Two teacher letters of recommendation
  •       Activities list
  •       Personal essay
  •       Vanderbilt University Supplement
  •       Alumni interview (optional)

First-year applicants can opt into the alumni interview program through the MyAppVU portal. These are informational interviews mostly designed to help you learn more about whether Vanderbilt is the right fit for you. However, alumni interviewers will provide an evaluative report to the admissions office.

If you don’t participate in an alumni interview, it will not negatively impact your application. However, we encourage you to take advantage of every opportunity to enhance your application.

Applicants to the Blair School of Music must complete an additional application, which includes an artistic recommendation, a headshot or photo, a music resume, a repertoire list, and a prescreening video.

Vanderbilt University Supplement

In addition to the personal essay on your application form, you will also need to complete the Vanderbilt supplement.

Most recently, the Vanderbilt Supplement consisted of only a 200–400-word essay on the following topic:

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities.

Don’t feel pressure to choose an activity that will impress the admission committee. After all, hundreds of students will write about their community service work or being president of the National Hoor Society.

Instead, choose the extracurricular activity that you’re most passionate about. It should be something you’ve been involved in for a while, something that lights you up and makes you feel excited and energized.

Ideally, you’ll have developed leadership skills and earned some type of recognition for your talent in this area. But this isn’t a requirement. Most importantly, when you write about this activity, your genuine enthusiasm should shine through.

400 words gives you enough space to briefly describe the activity, then talk about why you do it and why it matters to you. If it’s something you want to pursue in the future, and Vanderbilt will give you the opportunity to do so, feel free to include a sentence or two making that connection.

Be sure to:

  •       Write in your unique voice and show your genuine personality.
  •       Reflect on why the activity is meaningful to you.
  •       Include specific, vivid details. The details make your essay something only you could write, instead of yet another generic Vanderbilt Supplement.
  •       Stay on topic! Do not list your extracurricular activities or feel tempted to mention more than one. Instead, take a deep dive into the one activity that you’re most passionate about.
  •       Proofread carefully. Check for spelling, grammar, word usage, concision, and clarity. Ask a family member or teacher to review your essay before you submit it as well. They can give you helpful feedback and tell you whether the essay sounds like you.

For more information on writing college essays, read our guide to the Common App essay prompts, which also includes general tips for writing personal essays.

Should You Apply Early to Vanderbilt?

Vanderbilt offers three decision plans: Early Decision I, Early Decision II, and Regular Decision.

Early Decision I and Early Decision II are binding. That means you should only apply to Vanderbilt early if you’re 100% committed to enrolling if accepted. If you’re accepted, you must immediately withdraw any applications to other universities.

The table below includes key deadlines for each plan:

Decision Plan Application Deadline Admissions Decision Deposit Deadline (if admitted)
Early Decision I November 1 Mid-December December 31
Early Decision II January 1 Mid-February March 1
Regular Decision January 1 Late March May 1

As the table shows, the deadline is the same for Early Decision II and Regular Decision. The only difference is that Early Decision II is a binding commitment, and you’ll receive an admissions decision sooner. Additionally, you must pay your deposit deadline sooner (which makes sense, because you can’t consider other colleges if you’re accepted early).

But does applying early to Vanderbilt give you an edge in the admissions process? The Early Decision acceptance rate is 17.6%, which is higher than the Regular Decision acceptance rate of 9.6%.

If Vanderbilt is your top choice, we recommend applying early. You’ll be compared to a smaller pool of applicants, and the admissions committee will know for a fact that you’ll enroll if accepted. Plus, you’ll hear a decision sooner, which can help with your college planning.

Final Thoughts: How to Get Into Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt is an extremely selective university. To earn an acceptance letter, you’ll need excellent grades and test scores, but it doesn’t end there. It’s also important to show your passion, commitment, leadership skills, desire to serve the community, and willingness to challenge yourself.

Here’s how to increase your chances of becoming a Vanderbilt Commodore:

  •       Excel in the most challenging classes available at your score. (If your school’s curriculum is limited, Vanderbilt won’t hold it against you — but make an effort to find other ways to challenge yourself).
  •       Aim for a GPA of at least 3.83 and an ACT score of 35 or an SAT score of 1560. Vanderbilt is test-optional, so if you aren’t happy with your scores, you don’t have to include them.
  •       Commit long-term to extracurricular activities you’re passionate about and aim to take on leadership roles, make significant contributions, and earn awards and recognition.
  •       Serve your community in impactful ways that are meaningful to you.
  •       When you write your essays, showcase your genuine personality, write in your unique voice, and proofread carefully.
  •       If Vanderbilt is your top choice, apply Early Decision I or Early Decision II.

Combine these strategies with your academic excellence, and you’ll make a great impression on Vanderbilt’s admissions committee.

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