How to Get Into Vanderbilt University: Admissions Data and Strategies
In 1999, Vanderbilt received under 10,000 applications and sported an acceptance rate of 61%. The turn of the millennium saw annual incremental increases in selectivity that led to Vandy’s acceptance rate hitting an all-time low 9.1% in 2019. If you are a regular reader of our content, you know that we frequently point out staggering drops in admit rates at elite universities over the last decade or two. We cite these statistics not to scare you, but to make sure you and the influential voices in your lives (parents, family friends, peers, older siblings, teachers, and counselors) are up to speed on just how competitive many top schools are today.
If you told an adult who was a Commodore alum from another era, or even just a decade ago that you have a 1400 SAT and mostly ‘A’s in AP courses, they would instantly congratulate you on joining the Vanderbilt family. Based on old criteria, their optimism would be warranted. Yet, today, a student with a 1400 SAT would find themselves well below the 25th percentile of attending freshmen.
Given how rapidly the admissions landscape at Vanderbilt has shifted, the aim of this article is to provide you with:
1) A better sense of the big-picture of Vanderbilt University admissions.
2) Data to help you more accurately assess your chances of admission.
3) Precisely how the Vanderbilt University admissions committee evaluates applicants and how to make your application shine.
To accomplish these goals we will touch on the following topics:
- Vanderbilt University’s Class of 2024 acceptance rate
- Vanderbilt University’s Class of 2024 ED acceptance rate
- SAT, ACT, and class rank of accepted Vanderbilt University applicants
- Admissions trends
- The demographics of current Vanderbilt undergraduates
- Vanderbilt University’s yield rate
- How Vanderbilt University’s admissions officers evaluate candidates
- Tips for applying to Vanderbilt University
- How to assess whether applying to Vanderbilt is even worth the $50 application fee (for you)
Let’s begin with an examination of the most recent admissions data.
Vanderbilt University’s: Overall Acceptance Rate – Class of 2024
The acceptance rate for regular decision applicants was 9% for those vying for a spot in the Class of 2024. There were 32,376 regular round applications and 2,907 students accepted. Students receiving their decisions in the spring of 2020 possessed middle 50% standardized test scores of 34-36 on the ACT, 740-780 on the SAT reading section and 770-800 on the Math section.
Vanderbilt University Early Decision Acceptance Rate – Class of 2024
Any applicant who views Vanderbilt as their top choice should definitely consider applying via binding early decision. For the Class of 2024, Vanderbilt accepted 20.7% of ED applicants. Those accepted via ED had a middle 50% Math SAT of 770-800 and a 720-760 on the EBRW section. The ACT range was 34-35. Ninety-seven percent of early admits into the Class of 2024 placed in the top 10% of their high school class.
Vanderbilt University Admissions – SAT, ACT, and Class Rank
The previous numbers indicate the range of test scores for students admitted into Vanderbilt in 2020, but we also need to look at the credentials of those who actually go on to enroll in the university. Enrolled students in the Class of 2023 earned ACT Composite scores of 33-35, SAT math scores of 750-800 and SAT EBRW scores of 700-760. Almost three-quarters had an unweighted GPA of greater than a 3.75 and all but 9% earned at least a 3.5 GPA. The average GPA of all entering 2019-20 first-year students was 3.83 and 88.8% placed in the top decile of their graduating class; 96.3% landed in the top quartile.
Admissions Trends & Notes
- The 9% acceptance rate for Class of 2024 Regular Decision applicants was significantly higher than the 6.3% RD rate for the Class of 2023.
- There were 591 fewer Regular Decision applications received by the university in 2020 than in 2019.
- 231 National Merit Scholars were part of the Class of 2023 compared to 192 the previous year.
- 43.2% of Class of 2022 members are members of minority groups compared to 42.1% of the Class of 2023.
- The percentage of international students remained fairly steady from 12.4% (Class of 2022) to 11.8% (Class of 2023).
Who Actually Gets Into Vanderbilt University?
Let’s look at the demographics of the Vanderbilt University student body:
- South: 32%
- Midwest: 16%
- Middle States: 17%
- West: 10%
- Southwest: 8%
- New England: 5%
The states with most current undergrads are:
- Tennessee: 669
- Florida: 496
- Illinois: 489
- New York: 486
- Texas: 446
- California: 420
- Georgia: 362
- New Jersey: 339
- Ohio: 213
As at any highly-selective university, competition is toughest among those hailing from states with endless streams of qualified applicants (the entire Northeast & the West Coast). If you hail from a less populated state like Alaska, North Dakota, or Montana, your location is more likely to provide a boost to your admissions chances. The states with the fewest current Vanderbilt undergrads are:
- Wyoming: 1
- North Dakota: 1
- South Dakota: 1
- Alaska: 3
- West Virginia: 3
- Montana: 4
- Idaho: 5
Looking at ethnic identity, the breakdown of all current undergrads is as follows:
- Asian American: 14.6%
- Hispanic: 10%
- African American: 11%
- International: 9.7%
- Multiracial: 5.5%
The breakdown by gender of all current undergraduates is almost completely even:
- Male: 49%
- Female: 51%
The type of high school attended by 2019-20 freshman was as follows:
- Public: 64%
- Private: 34%
Vanderbilt University’s yield rate—the percentage of accepted students who elect to enroll, divided by the total number of students who are admitted was 48.5% for the Class of 2023. For comparison, many other top private universities have superior yield rates such as Notre Dame (57%) Northwestern (56%), Duke (55%), However, Vanderbilt has a higher yield than USC (37%), Carnegie Mellon (37%), and Emory (29%).
How Vanderbilt University Rates Applicants
Vanderbilt receives tens of thousands of applications to fill a first-year class of approximately 1,600 students. Every application at Vandy is reviewed by at least two readers. Typically these are admissions officers assigned to your geographic area, but sometimes other officers weigh in on students outside of their traditional territory. The process is genuinely holistic with readers “looking for students who have performed well within the context of their high school’s most challenging academic programs. We evaluate activities outside the classroom in terms of depth of involvement, roles and responsibilities, and leadership. We also evaluate applicants’ writing through the application essay and short answer.”
Seven factors are rated as being “very important” to the Vanderbilt admissions process: rigor of secondary school record, class rank, GPA, standardized test scores (test-optional for Class of 2021 only), the essays, extracurricular activities, and character/personal qualities. Application components deemed “important” are recommendation letters and talent/ability. “Considered” items include the admissions interview (more on this in a moment), first-generation status, alumni status, geographical residence, state residency, racial/ethnic status, and volunteer work. It definitely helps if you are recruited as an athlete to join one of Vanderbilt University’s 14 Division I sports teams. Over 350 undergrads are varsity athletes. Those who excel in a given sport can gain an edge in the admissions process.
Tips for Applying to Vanderbilt University
If you plan on joining the 34,000+ Commodore hopefuls for the next admissions cycle, you should know the following:
- Vanderbilt University offers Early Decision I and Early Decision II. As cited earlier in the blog, ED acceptance rates are typically double that of the Regular Decision round.
- Vanderbilt University does offer optional alumni interviews. These are interviews conducted through the Commodore Recruitment Programs are mostly informational in nature, but an evaluative report of the interview is included in the student’s application file.
- Vanderbilt University does not consider “demonstrated interest” in the admissions process. Still, given that their yield rate is under 50%, it is still worth taking the simple steps of following them on social media, signing up for virtual tour, or emailing an admissions officer with any questions you may have.
- Make sure to dedicate sufficient time and effort to the supplemental essay required by Vanderbilt. In the 2020-21 cycle it is as follows:
Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (200-400 words).
Some thoughts about writing an original and compelling short essay here that will knock the committee’s dress socks off:
- How impressive the activity happens to be is of far less importance than whether it is written about in an interesting way. Working retail or babysitting your little sister can be an even better topic than winning a math competition or spending the summer at Johns Hopkins CTY—it’s all in how you tell the story.
- Really think about what you are trying to communicate in this essay. An prompt like this is a chance to tell Vandy something about yourself that they would not otherwise know. They want to learn more about your character and personality—here is a chance to communicate this.
- If possible, write about an activity that you plan to continue in college. Remember, admissions officers are trying to assess how you fit in on campus and what you will be able to contribute to the freshmen community.
- Be honest and let your passion show on the page. Anything inauthentic will be sniffed out by savvy readers.
Should I Apply to Vanderbilt University?
With overall acceptance rates as low as 9.1% in recent years, Vanderbilt is a school that is looking for students that are at the 97th percentile or above on standardized tests and among the very top of their high school class. Just about all “A”s in an AP-heavy curriculum is expected. If Vanderbilt University is your aim, make sure to also have multiple other schools on your list where you are more likely to gain acceptance. All students need to make sure that they formulate an appropriate college list, containing a complement of “target” and “safety” schools. You’ll also definitely want to get your counselor’s input during this process.
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).