When we hear the term “Ivy League,” most of us probably think of rich people tying sweaters around their necks. Believe it or not, there’s a lot more to it than that. The Ivy League is a group of elite colleges that have a long history of impressive success and notable alumni. But how did it come to this? And what are these schools really like? Read on to learn more about the founding of the Ivy League, its member schools, and whether you should apply.
A brief history of the Ivy League
The Ivy League consists of eight of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the United States. These schools originally formed a league based on their shared interests in academics and athletics.
The full list of Ivy League schools:
- Brown University (founded 1764)
- Columbia University (founded 1754)
- Cornell University (founded 1865)
- Dartmouth College (founded 1769)
- Harvard University (founded 1636)
- University of Pennsylvania, AKA UPenn (founded 1740)
- Princeton University (founded 1746)
- Yale University (founded 1701)
Although the schools themselves predate the American Revolution by a long shot, The term “Ivy League” has been around for shorter than you might think. The most popular origin story is that the term was coined in the early 1930s by a sportswriter for the New York Herald-Tribune who complained about a soccer game between Columbia and UPenn instead of a game with his alma mater, Fordham University. He somewhat disdainfully referred to Columbia and UPenn as old “ivy-covered” schools and was the first to use the term “ivy league” in the following article.
The label didn’t become official until 1954, when the presidents of the eight schools met to reach an agreement “to affirm their intention to continue intercollegiate football in such a way as to preserve the values of the game while keeping it in proper proportion to the main purposes of academic life.”Essentially, they made it their mission to work together to balance athletics and academics at the colleges (originally just soccer, but later expanded to other sports). They call themselves Ivy League.
The Ivy League is a bit like the Justice League, except back when it was originally founded, only rich white guys could be a part of it. Well, I think that’s true of the Justice League as well. Now I’m depressed.
Formed two intercollegiate committees, one that enforced Ivy League athletic eligibility rules (composed primarily of college deans) and one that established general athletic guidelines (composed of athletic directors). Starting in the mid-1950s, these schools began organizing competitions among themselves in various sports. The Ivy League later added committees on admissions and financial aid as the organization took on a more academic focus.
Although the founding of the Ivy League was rooted in athletics, these schools are now known for their academic prestige and famous alumni. All Ivy League colleges have large endowments that are the product of wealthy alumni contributions over the years. Ivy League schools are often seen as symbols of elitism because they attract students who come from legacies of wealth, but they offer some great financial aid packages to disadvantaged students because of their large endowments.
Ivies represent some of the most selective and well-known colleges in the country. Ivy League schools have had more time than most other colleges to build their reputations by accumulating very successful graduates. In addition to competitive undergraduate programs, Ivy League universities offer some of the best professional programs for law and medicine.
Gavel banging 101 is by far the best law school class, but finals can be a bit messy.
Ivy League Schools: The ins and outs
For each of the Ivy League colleges, I’ll list enrollment, admissions, and tuition so you can get a better idea of how they differ from each other:
|School||Location||Enrollment||Admission Rate||Annual Cost||US News Rank|
|Columbia||New York, United States||6,170||6.0%||$74,065||2|
|Cornell||Ithaca, United States||14,743||11%||$77,461||17|
|Harvard||Cambridge, United States||5,222||5.0%||$74,528||2|
|Up to||Philadelphia, PA||9,872||9.0%||$79,014||8|
|Princeton||Princeton, United States||4,773||6.0%||$69,950||1|
|Yale||Hartford, United States||4,703||7.0%||$77,750||5|
Are Ivy League schools really better than other universities?
Ivy League members may be some of the most prestigious colleges in the country, but will they actually provide you with a better education than other schools with similar acceptance rates?
The main reason an Ivy League school might be better than any other top-tier university is name recognition. A degree from an Ivy League college can open doors for you, as employers and graduate school admissions officers will know immediately that you attended a highly competitive school. Ivy League universities have great international reputations that not many other universities can claim. You also have the opportunity to network with highly successful and influential alumni.
Still, keep in mind that there is a lot of variation among schools within the Ivy League in terms of reputation. The traditional top three, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, are considered slightly more impressive than less selective Ivies like Cornell or Dartmouth. They are all prestigious schools, but getting into one Ivy League school is not the same as getting into all of them.
For this and other reasons, it is risky to assume that Ivy League graduates will be more “successful” overall than other students. Success is more about a student’s inherent drive and ability than the school he or she attends. One study found that “the better predictor of earnings was the average SAT scores of the most selective school to which a teenager applied, rather than the typical scores of the institution at which the student attended.” In other words, students who applied to Ivy League-caliber schools but attended less selective colleges fared no worse than their counterparts at elite schools.
Ambition is one of the most important factors in success. It’s also a good idea to carry a heavy briefcase at all times. People are more likely to hire you if you have a disproportionately strong arm.
The truth is that Ivy League colleges don’t always have the highest quality of instruction for students. Overall, they tend to be very focused on academic research to maintain their position at the forefront of science. Professors may be less interested in teaching than in their personal projects; alternatively, schools may end up hiring tons of adjunct faculty to keep costs down. You might end up with a better learning experience at a small, highly selective college that enrolls only undergraduates because the professors are primarily there to teach.
Ivy League colleges aren’t the only schools where you’ll be inspired by the amazing things students around you are doing, either. There are many selective colleges and universities across the country that attract highly motivated students and have learning environments that will challenge you. Although the Ivies have a high concentration of intense students, they definitely do not have a monopoly on undergraduate talent.
To summarize, here is a chart that describes how different types of non-Ivy universities compare to Ivy League schools. A plus sign indicates that this type of college is arguably better than Ivy League schools in the category indicated to the left. A minus sign indicates that it’s not all that good. An equal sign indicates that the type of college is comparable to Ivy League colleges.
First-rate small teaching colleges
Universities with slightly lower rankings
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Should you apply to Ivy League schools?
The prospect of going to an Ivy League university may sound great, but before you decide to apply, you should consider a few different factors. Here’s what you need to do before you send in an application.
Review your qualifications
To make it worth your while to apply to one of these schools, you should be at a very high level academically. Even at the Ivies with acceptance rates above 8 percent (Cornell, Dartmouth, UPenn), serious applicants have very impressive high school transcripts and test scores. At Cornell, for example, the average SAT score for admitted students is 1480.
If you want to have a strong chance of admission to most Ivies, you should have at least an SAT score of 1520 or an ACT score of 33. The GPAs of most students accepted to Ivy League universities are at or near a 4.0. You are expected to have taken the hardest courses in high school and be in at least the top 5-10 percent of your class.
As you may know, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are the most notoriously selective of the Ivies (though Columbia has crept up on them in recent years). To get into these schools, you should have great test scores and grades, as well as other impressive and unique accomplishments that make your application stand out. This can be anything from winning a national science competition to starting your own business to writing a novel. Read this article to learn more about how to get into the most ridiculously selective schools.
If most other applicants are the little pink flowers, you must be the big pink tree. Or better yet, be the mountain.
OK, so you think you probably have a shot at acceptance. Should you apply to Princeton simply because the name sounds like some sort of magical kingdom of learning? Definitely not! Although all Ivy League colleges have great academics and highly motivated student bodies, Some fit your preferences better than others. You may decide that none of them suits you, even though you have the appropriate qualifications.
You might be more interested in applying to colleges in another part of the country. There are some great schools on the west coast that are on the same level as the Ivies (think Stanford), without the nasty winter weather. If you are interested in very small or very large colleges, you may not want to attend an Ivy League school. The smallest, Dartmouth, has between 4.000-5.000 students, and the largest, Cornell, has between 14.000-15.000, so all of these schools are more in the middle range for size.
If possible, visit the locations of the schools you are interested in so you can get a feel for what they are like. When I was looking at colleges, I considered applying to Princeton, but when I went on campus tour, I decided it seemed too intense for me. In the end, I chose Dartmouth because I felt it had a more comfortable atmosphere with a close-knit community and a campus that encouraged outdoor activities.
These are just some of the factors you can consider, depending on what is most important to you. Other concerns may include financial support, research opportunities and facilities, quality of undergraduate teaching, study abroad opportunities and more. Don’t apply to an Ivy just because you’ve heard of the school before. Check out my guide to conducting college research for more detailed information!
Plus, get some practice doing college research! Fake fun fact: Ivy League libraries offer heinous free glasses to all students to prevent them from flirting with each other while in college.
Make sure the decision is yours
I think this idea is important enough to be a separate point, although it is related to your research. Most of us have it drilled into our heads at a relatively young age that attending an Ivy League university is the best way to prove once and for all that you’re a smart card-carrying person (even though I’m joking) I’m also groveling). It’s so hard not to be influenced by this societal norm, especially when your parents, teachers, and even peers are pushing you to attend one of these schools. I know I was influenced by this, and sometimes I wish I had made a different decision based more on my personality and interests than what others expected of me.
Remember that just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to go to an Ivy League university. If you really love one of these schools, go for it, but if there is another college that fits your needs better, don’t feel pressured to go to an Ivy instead. There are many great colleges, and you should take the time to think about what you really want before making a choice. This will be your life for four years, so make sure you enjoy it!
” Dear Diary, I hate it here at Harvard. Crimson is a terrible color. I wish my parents weren’t so obsessed with dark reds.”
The most important part of your application to an elite university is your application. Find out how to get into Ivy League schools with this guide from Harvard graduate (and PrepScholar co-founder) Allen Cheng.
If you’re interested in an Ivy League school, you’ll need to take the most difficult courses your high school offers. Find out how many AP classes Ivy League universities expect you to take based on the available options at your school.
Letters of recommendation are an important part of most college applications, but if you’re aiming for an Ivy League school, be extra careful about quality control. Read our full guide to getting an outstanding letter of recommendation for Harvard (or any other highly selective college)!).
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Samantha is a blog writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to give students a less stressful view of standardized tests and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art Major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5 on all seven of her AP tests and was named a National Merit Scholar.