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What are the Ivy Leagues?

Students of distinction, ivy-covered buildings, tree-lined quads, and distinguished alumni. These are just some things most people associate the term ‘Ivy Leagues’ with.

In fact, since the 1980s, every president of the United States has received an Ivy League education. But what exactly is the Ivy League? How did it all start? And how much is it to avail an Ivy League Education? 

Continue reading to learn more about the Ivy League’s origins, member institutions, and whether or not you should apply.

What is an Ivy League School?

The Ivy League was established as an athletic league of eight private schools and universities. 

On the other hand, the Ivy League encompasses a lot more than just collegiate sports. The Ivy League is made up of universities with a long history, tradition, and reputation. 

Except for one, the Ivies are all located in the Northeast and predate the American Revolution. Harvard, for example, is the country’s oldest institution of higher study, having been founded in 1636.

Nevertheless, it was not until three hundred years later that the word ‘Ivy League’ was coined.

After reporting about the football season at the ‘ivy schools’ in 1933, sportswriter Stanley Woodward invented the name ‘ivy schools.’ After a two-decade hiatus, the athletics conference was established in 1954. 

As a result, these Ivy League schools and universities have developed a reputation for producing graduates who thrive intellectually, enjoy social standing, and have promising professional prospects since the 1960s.

These colleges have retained their status even now, and they have a significant presence among the nation’s best universities. As their athletic teams drew more substantial funding and popularity, student achievement and admittance requirements became stricter.

What are the 8 Ivy League Schools?

Ivy League colleges and universities are among the most prestigious in the United States and worldwide.

These eight private schools in the Northeast (listed alphabetically below) are known for their highly selective admissions process, academic excellence, and promising job opportunities for those who enroll. 

1. Brown University – Providence, Rhode Island, the USA

  • 2021 QS World University Ranking: 60th 
  • Acceptance Rate: 8%
  • Average SAT of Students Accepted: 1440 – 1520 
  • Average ACT of Students Accepted: 32 – 35 

Brown University, a private research institution, has an open curriculum that allows students to design their course of study while learning how to think artistically and take intellectual risks.

Its highly competitive liberal medical education curriculum lets students get both an undergraduate and a medical degree in just eight years.

Six libraries are dedicated to specific themes, such as science and music. More than 250 unique collections are housed in the Brown University Library, each containing rare primary research materials.

There are over 500 clubs and organizations for undergraduates to choose from, and all first-year students live on campus.

Top Courses Offered:

  • Computer Science
  • Econometrics and Quantitative Economics
  • Biology and Biological Sciences
  • History
  • Applied Mathematics 

2. Columbia University – New York, New York, the USA

  • 2021 QS World University Ranking: 19th 
  • Acceptance Rate: 6%
  • Average SAT of Students Accepted: 1450 – 1560 
  • Average ACT of Students Accepted: 33 – 35

Columbia University, which is located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, is the state’s oldest institution of higher learning.

Many essential technologies and platforms were developed at Columbia, including FM radio, the nation’s oldest literary journal, the first Black student advocacy group on a multiracial campus, and the first collegiate homosexual rights advocacy group.

Columbia holds the record of having the most varied student communities in the country, enrolling 1,000 overseas students for the first time in 1953.

To foster cross-cultural academic partnerships, the university places a strong emphasis on global research and teaching. 

Top Courses Offered: 

  • Social Sciences
  • Engineering
  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • English Language and Literature
  • Mathematics and Statistics

3. Cornell University – Ithaca, New York, the USA

  • 2021 QS World University Ranking: 18th  
  • Acceptance Rate: 11%
  • Average SAT of Students Accepted: 1390 – 1540 
  • Average ACT of Students Accepted: 32 – 34

Cornell University was instituted sometime in 1865 to discover, preserve, and educate people, produce creative work, and cultivate a culture of broad inquiry both inside and outside the Cornell community.

Even though every graduate obtains a degree from Cornell University, Cornell’s seven undergraduate colleges and schools admit their students and hire their professors.

Cornell University has campuses in Ithaca, New York, New York City, Geneva, New York, Doha, Qatar, Washington, D.C., and Rome and offers more than 100 fields of study.

Top Courses Offered:

  • Engineering
  • Business and Management
  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Social Sciences
  • Architecture 

4. Dartmouth College – Hanover, New Hampshire USA

  • 2021 QS World University Ranking: 203rd  
  • Acceptance Rate: 9%
  • Average SAT of Students Accepted: 1420 – 1560 
  • Average ACT of Students Accepted: 31 – 35

The programming language BASIC was invented at Dartmouth College, which paved the door for future computer advances.

Dartmouth was one of the first Ivy League institutions to attract Native American students actively, and it now has more Native American graduates than any other Ivy League college.

Dartmouth allows students to learn in an intimate atmosphere, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 7 to 1 and more than 60% of classes with fewer than 20 students.

More than half of students enroll in off-campus programs to get an immersive, global, and hands-on education without disrupting their academic schedule. 

Top Courses Offered:

  • Social Sciences
  • Engineering
  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Computer and Information Sciences 
  • Mathematics and Statistics

5. Harvard University – Cambridge, Massachusetts USA

  • 2021 QS World University Ranking: 3rd 
  • Acceptance Rate: 5%
  • Average SAT of Students Accepted: 1460 – 1580 
  • Average ACT of Students Accepted: 33 – 35

Harvard University is the oldest existing university and one of the Ivy League’s most prominent institutions, founded in 1636. Harvard University is a private academic institution with approximately 100 research centers on its grounds.

The university also has one of the highest freshman retention rates in the country. In addition to academics, students have access to over 445 extracurricular, co-curricular, and athletic groups.

The oldest national collection and the most extensive private collection globally are housed in Harvard’s enormous library system.

Harvard offers green living initiatives for undergraduates, graduates, and community members due to its commitment to sustainability.

Top Courses Offered:

  • Geology and Geophysics
  • Environmental Sciences
  • Earth and Marine Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Social Policy and Administration

6. Princeton University – Princeton, New Jersey, the USA 

  • 2021 QS World University Ranking: 12th 
  • Acceptance Rate: 5%
  • Average SAT of Students Accepted: 1440 – 1570 
  • Average ACT of Students Accepted: 32 – 35

Princeton University is the country’s fourth-oldest college, having been founded more than 270 years ago.

Princeton University features many educational resources, including cutting-edge laboratories, specialized libraries, and even a campus art museum. The university’s 4-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio allows students to benefit from small class numbers and one-on-one coaching.

Furthermore, the university has one of the country’s top four-year graduation rates. Princeton has educated past US presidents, Supreme Court justices, Olympic medalists, and Nobel Prize winners and is home to Rhodes scholars and high-achieving students.

Top Courses Offered:

  • Social Sciences
  • Engineering
  • Computer and Information Sciences 
  • Foreign Languages
  • Literature and Linguistics

7. University of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA

  • 2021 QS World University Ranking: 16th 
  • Acceptance Rate: 8%
  • Average SAT of Students Accepted: 1420 – 1550 
  • Average ACT of Students Accepted: 32 – 35

Partly founded by Benjamin Franklin, the University of Pennsylvania provides a unique blend of world-class liberal arts education and pre-professional training.

Of all the Ivy League colleges, it has the highest number of overseas students.

Students from more than 100 countries make up about 12% of the undergraduate and graduate population. 

Additionally, each year, over 2,500 students participate in overseas study programs in over 50 countries worldwide.

The University of Pennsylvania boasts over 300 student organizations ranging from political activism to the performing arts, athletic clubs, and student newspapers.

Top Courses Offered:

  • Business
  • Management
  • Computer and Information Sciences 
  • Engineering
  • Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies 

8. Yale University – New Haven, Connecticut USA

  • 2021 QS World University Ranking: 17th    
  • Acceptance Rate: 6%
  • Average SAT of Students Accepted: 1460 – 1570 
  • Average ACT of Students Accepted: 33 – 35

Yale University’s undergraduate students have achieved significant progress in various sectors, including identifying new species and patenting items.

Students can participate in foreign learning options such as studying abroad, overseas internships, and directed research.

The university holds several firsts, including being the first university in the United States to give doctoral degrees and having one of the first public health schools in the country.

Finally, the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies focuses on teaching and research on international issues, societies, and cultures around the world and providing opportunities for students to undertake research in other countries.

Top Courses Offered:

  • Social Sciences
  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • History
  • Mathematics and Statistics 
  • Engineering 

Commonly Mistaken ‘Ivy League Schools’

Many prestigious and elite schools are mistaken for Ivy League colleges. This is due to its stellar reputation, strict admissions policies, and, on occasion, closeness to the Ivy Leagues of the Northeast. 

Below are four different prestigious schools frequently confused with Ivy League universities. Remember that despite not being in the ‘ivy league,’ this does not mean that they are any less of an institution.

The fact is that these institutions are just as competitive as the institutions mentioned earlier.

Some of them even rank higher in the QS and Times World University Rankings than the Ivy League Schools mentioned. 

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – Cambridge, Massachusetts USA

  • 2021 QS World University Ranking: 1st 
  • Acceptance Rate: 7%
  • Average SAT of Students Accepted: 1510 – 1580 
  • Average ACT of Students Accepted: 34 – 36

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, is one of the world’s most prestigious and well-respected colleges, world-class scientific research and development incubator, and a STEM hotspot.

Many people ask if MIT is a member of the prestigious Ivy League because it is such a selective, exclusive university. MIT embodies Boston’s youthful, progressive, and innovative character and is widely recognized as among the most academically challenging and innovative STEM-oriented colleges globally.

Top Courses Offered:

  • Aeronautics and Astronautics
  • Biological Engineering
  • Business Analytics
  • Brain and Cognitive Sciences
  • Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience

2. Stanford University – Stanford, California USA

  • 2021 QS World University Ranking: 2nd     
  • Acceptance Rate: 4%
  • Average SAT of Students Accepted: 1420 – 1570 
  • Average ACT of Students Accepted: 31 – 35

Stanford meets the definition of an ‘ivy school’ — it is just not a member of an Ivy League school. It is an Ivy League school in every way but technicalities.

The humanities and engineering were the primary goals of Stanford University, which was founded in 1885.

However, it became a center of scientific and technological innovation during the twentieth century.

Stanford students benefit from the expertise of their peers and instructors in every way. Nearly thirty faculty members have received Nobel Prizes and four Pulitzer Prizes.

Top Courses Offered:

  • Business
  • Environmental Sciences
  • Humanities
  • Law 
  • Medicine 

3. Northwestern University – Evanston, Illinois, the USA

  • 2021 QS World University Ranking: 29th     
  • Acceptance Rate: 8%
  • Average SAT of Students Accepted: 1430 – 1550 
  • Average ACT of Students Accepted: 33 – 35

Northwestern is not an Ivy League school. However, it is comparable to the Ivies in academic reputation, admission selectivity, and research output.

Despite not being an Ivy, Northwestern definitely competes with, and in some circumstances beats, the Ivies in terms of international and national rankings, alumni influence, and academics. Northwestern also outperforms the Ivies in terms of athletics.

Top Courses Offered:

  • Arts and Humanities 
  • Environmental Engineering 
  • Engineering and Technology 
  • Life Sciences and Medicine
  • Social Sciences and Management 

4. University of Chicago – Chicago, Illinois USA

  • 2021 QS World University Ranking: 9th    
  • Acceptance Rate: 7%
  • Average SAT of Students Accepted: 1500 – 1570 
  • Average ACT of Students Accepted: 34 – 35

The University of Chicago is not a member of the Ivy League. Although it is an honor to be associated with the Ivy League, UChicago has built its reputation throughout time.

The university is well-known for its rigorous undergraduate programs, including transdisciplinary courses like Big Problems and Chicago Studies.

Like the Ivy League, Chicago has a distinction for being on the cutting edge of science and producing the brightest minds.

The university has 94 Nobel laureates linked with it, making it the ninth most Nobel-affiliated institution globally.

Top Courses Offered:

  • Arts and Humanities 
  • Latin American and Caribbean Studies 
  • Business and Management
  • Financial Mathematics
  • Life Sciences and Medicine 

Are Ivy League Schools Really Better Than Other Universities?

The Ivy League members may be among the country’s most prominent colleges, but will they provide you with a better education than other schools with similar admission rates? 

Because of its name recognition, an Ivy League school may be better than any other top-tier university. Employers and admissions officers at graduate schools will immediately know that you attended a highly competitive school if you have a diploma from an Ivy League college. 

However, you should keep in mind that there are significant variances in reputation across Ivy League schools.

The traditional top three, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, are regarded as more impressive than less selective Ivies such as Cornell or Dartmouth.

They are all prestigious schools, but getting into one of them is not the same as getting into all.

For this and other reasons, it is unwise to presume that Ivy League graduates will be more ‘successful’ than other students in the long run. Success is determined by a student’s intrinsic motivation and talent rather than the school they attend. 

Ivy League colleges are not the only places where you can find inspiration in the fantastic things your classmates are doing. Across the country, numerous prestigious institutions and universities recruit highly driven students and provide challenging learning environments.

In conclusion, the following graph shows how different sorts of non-Ivy universities compare to Ivy League universities.

  • A plus sign suggests that this sort of college is potentially superior to Ivy League colleges in the left-hand category. 
  • A negative sign denotes that it isn’t nearly as nice as possible.
  • The equals sign indicates that the college is equivalent to the Ivy League colleges.
Top Tier Research Universities 
(MIT, Stanford) 
Top Tier Small Teaching Colleges
(Yeshiva, Wesleyan) 
Slightly Lower-Ranked Universities
National and International Reputation=
Undergraduate Teaching=+=
Research Opportunities ==
Graduate School Potential ==
Caliber of Students ==

Why Doesn’t the Ivy League Schools’ Ranking Matter?

Although Ivy League schools have a lot of status and history, they are not the only exceptional universities in the United States. 

Academically, colleges like Stanford, MIT, and the University of Chicago routinely outperform Ivies, but they are not really Ivy League institutions because they are not in the same athletic conference.

Similarly, the ‘Little Ivies’, which include Amherst College, Bowdoin College, and Wesleyan University, place a greater emphasis on liberal arts education and have smaller undergraduate enrollments than the eight Ivy League members. 

Then there’s UC Berkeley, the University of Michigan, UCLA, and the University of Virginia, all outstanding public universities. The ‘Public Ivies’, as they are known, provide a high-quality education at public university tuition rates.

Several Ivies are among the most selective universities in 2020, as prestigious institutions such as Northwestern University, Caltech, Duke University, and Pomona College admit less than 10% of applicants.

Having stated that, it is safe to say, it is safe to say that while the elite Ivy League Schools are continuously providing top notch education, there are a lot of other universities and colleges in the United States that are at par with them in the rankings that do not matter that much. 

Is an Ivy League School Right for You?

Because Ivy League colleges have such a low acceptance rate, you will need more than just a solid academic record to get into one of them.

To succeed, you need hard work, commitment, and perseverance. 

If you started thinking about any of these famous universities after graduating from high school, you might have started too late to get into any of these institutions. You must begin preparing for them as soon as possible.

Below are the factors that you need to consider in choosing the right Ivy League School for you:

  • Your qualifications

You must be performing at a very high level academically to be considered for admission to any of these schools.

Serious applicants have outstanding high school records and English exam test scores, even at Ivies with acceptance rates above 8%. 

You should aim for a 1520 SAT or a 33 ACT score if you want to have a better chance of being admitted into most of the Ivies.

The majority of students accepted to Ivy League universities have GPAs of 4.0 or higher. 

You should have taken the most difficult subjects in high school and be in the top 5-10 percent of your class.

  • Environment and location 

When applying to Ivy League colleges, it is critical to evaluate each school’s climate.

Pennsylvania, for example, could be able to provide more quick access to low-income regions than Princeton. 

Furthermore, the location of your application should influence whether you wish to attend school in an urban, suburban, or rural area.

Would you want to live in a big city or be closer to nature, for example?

  • Student body 

Another vital factor to consider is the student’s body size. Six of the eight colleges have a student body of 4,000 to 7,000, while only two, Pennsylvania and Cornell, have a student body of more than 10,000.

Whether you prefer to be a part of a small or large student body at school can influence your overall happiness and social chances.

After all, campus culture differs from one institution to the next. 

  • Academic programs and majors

Each Ivy League school has its degrees, programs, and academic requirements.

If you are interested in business management focusing on hospitality, for example, Cornell has a program tailored to your needs.

Different colleges excel in various areas and majors, so the school you consider must be a good fit for your interests and academic or career ambitions.

  • Campus culture

Each school and campus has its own culture and attracts students from all backgrounds.

The easiest approach to figure out if you will fit in with the school culture is visiting, meeting students, and looking around.

Alternatively, you can read what alumni say about their school and campus experience on school forums and reviews.

Is the Ivy League Still Relevant Today?

While many politicians and business executives attended Ivy League colleges as undergraduates and post-graduate students, an Ivy League education is far from the only path to professional success.

According to a 2017 study, only 10% of senior executives in both the public and private sectors attended an Ivy League school. So, while an Ivy League degree can be beneficial, it does not ensure professional success.

Attending an Ivy can have numerous advantages, but it may not be the perfect fit for every student.

Although the Ivy League comprises some of the country’s most prominent colleges, dozens of additional schools provide challenging academic programs, rich traditions, and massive alumni networks. 

Now that you have learned that these institutions are prestigious and selective in their admissions, you would want to start preparing early and make sure you put in a lot of effort to get in.

The importance of your individual needs and academic priorities should not be overlooked. Make sure the school you wish to attend suits your academic goals, so you do not end up studying in a large institution without achieving your educational objectives. 

Attending one of these Ivy League schools will guarantee you a good job.

Still, the top ingredient for you to obtain a successful profession in life is to work extremely hard and make significant sacrifices, regardless of whether you are studying in an Ivy League school. 

Additional FAQs – Ivy Leagues

Are There 12 Ivy Leagues?

Technically, there are only eight founding Ivy League schools, and they are the following: Brown University, Cornell University, Columbia University, Harvard University, Dartmouth University, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, and Yale University. 

However, through the years, because of their outstanding performance and thorough admission process, these four universities have somehow been tagged as ‘ivy schools’: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago. 

What’s a Perfect GPA for Ivy Leagues?

On a scale of 4.0, a GPA of 4.0 is considered perfect.
This means that you have a mark of straight As on all your subjects, and not even an A- is allowed.

GPAs are one of the most critical aspects universities and colleges consider for admission.

Which is the Easiest Ivy League to Get Into?

You may have noticed that Cornell University has the highest acceptance rates of all the Ivy League schools, making it the easiest Ivy League school to get into based on the facts shown above.
However, take note that ‘easiest’ does not mean easy.

Being admitted to Ivy League institutions is difficult, and according to statistics, Cornell University is just the most lenient.

Why is Ivy League Special?

What makes the Ivy League special is its academic quality, highly selective admissions process, and excellent job options for students and its sporting conference.

These universities’ enviable reputations are well-deserved.

They have some of the most cutting-edge facilities globally, faculty members who are experts in their professions, and alumni who have achieved great success.


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