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Ivy League Schools 101: Everything You Need to Know About Ivy League Schools

Exterior shot of Harvard showing the architecture of ivy league schools Chances are you’ve heard about ivy league schools at some point in your life, whether you saw one in the movies or you were told about them while looking at post-secondary options.

Many students have fantasized about walking through the historic colonial-style buildings of the Harvard campus or admiring the changing leaves on a stroll through Yale’s lucious campus in the fall. But what does ivy league even mean and what makes these schools so special?

When choosing which university you want to attend after high school, you may have your own dreams about gaining acceptance to an elite ivy school. However, making a choice to apply to an ivy league university means you are taking on the challenge of trying to get into a school with extremely competitive admissions criteria and high-caliber academic standards. It won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible if you have the drive and determination.

Before you go and submit that application, it’s important to understand what an ivy league university is and why they’re so hard to get into. This guide to all things ivy league schools will answer all the questions you may have about these prestigious higher institutions.

Group of friends laying in the grass browsing social media

What Are Ivy League Schools?

If you read our list of the top 25 universities in the world, you likely saw many of the ivy league schools come up. But you still may not be entirely sure what ivy league means and how this concept even started.

The term “ivy league” is used to describe a collection of eight private universities in the United States that are considered to be the most prestigious and elite universities in the country, as well as among the top schools in the world. They are also sometimes referred to as The Ancient Eight because all but one of them were founded before the American Revolution, and they are therefore among the first universities ever established in the country. There are eight schools in total that are designated as ivy league, and we’ll tell you more about those schools in detail further down.

Ivy league universities are well known for their elite status, prestigious reputation, academic accomplishments by both faculty and graduates, and involvement in NCAA sports. It’s also worth noting that these institutions also receive substantial endowments and funding because of their prestigious reputations and the caliber of academic achievements that are accomplished through their research facilities.

A Brief History of the Ivy League

Where did the concept of ivy league schools come from, anyway? We love a good quick history lesson, so here is a brief background on how the ivy league designation came about.

It all began long before the United States was even a concept. Seven out of the eight ivy league institutions were already established as universities well before the United States Constitution was signed in 1777. Their historic standing has contributed to the elite reputation of these schools, and history is a key component in shaping their prestige.

Only two other universities in the United States are as old as the ivy league institutions: Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey and The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. However, Rutgers and The College of William & Mary aren’t ivy league because they are public schools. These two schools and the ivy league universities (except for Cornell) comprise the Colonial Colleges, a designation given to the nine universities in the United States that were established in the Thirteen Colonies before the American Revolution. For this reason, many of these schools are located in New England and all of the Colonial Colleges are located on the east coast.

In the pre-independence days, most universities and higher learning institutions were operated and founded based on religious sponsorship and affiliation, as religion had a strong role in education around this time. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Dartmouth were founded by Calvinists. The University of Pennsylvania and Columbia were founded by the Church of England. Brown was founded by Baptists but was open to people of other religious affiliations, and Cornell was nonsectarian (largely due to its non-colonial establishment). Each school was opened with a financial endowment by wealthy benefactors, most of which were settlers and early colonists.

Assigning Ivy League Designation

While these schools were established long before the United States was an independent country, the term “ivy league” didn’t actually come about until 1954. That year, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) athletic competition for Division I was born and these schools gained a reputation for elite athletic performance in sports. “Ivy league” was coined to refer to the conference and the eight schools that comprised Division I. At first, it was used solely in connotation with sports, but soon became synonymous with the prestige, elitism, and academic achievement of these schools.

“Planting the ivy” was a term used at these schools well before NCAA sports came around, which is likely where the inspiration for “ivy league” was taken. As these universities have older architecture, ivy branches covered the walls in a signature, sophisticated look. Students began to incorporate the ivy into ceremonies where they would plant ivy branches to celebrate graduation. These celebrations took place as far back as 1850.

Before long, spectators and guests began travelling long distances to come and watch these teams face off. With that, the popularity of college football in the United States was officially underway, and some of the teams began to play in New York City to make it easier for fans to come.

Once the NCAA got involved and these schools started to receive more funding and more popularity in both athletics and academics, the admission standards and expectations became more competitive. This is how these institutions began to develop their prestigious reputations.

Male NCAA football player for the Harvard University team

NCAA Sports: Elite Teams and Athletics

Elite athletic competition is a big marker for ivy league universities because of their connection and long, historic standing with NCAA Division I sports competitions.

There are currently a total of about 33 different sports included in the ivy league NCAA competition. Some NCAA Division I sports include basketball, football, squash, fencing, golf, rowing, hockey, and soccer. Arguably the most well-known NCAA tournament is the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament in the spring, commonly known as March Madness.

Rowing is one of the most historic intercollegiate sports as it was the first major sport that the schools participated in, and formed the first official pre-NCAA athletic league (The Rowing Association of American Colleges). Harvard and Yale actually competed against one another in the first intercollegiate sporting event ever held in the United States, which was a rowing race in 1852 (Harvard won).

Prestigious schools are not without their share of rivalries: the “Big Three” rivalry between Harvard, Yale, and Princeton is well known within the NCAA world. Further, each school has certain rivalries with one another based on the specific sport. For example, the rivalry between Yale and Princeton is considered to be the second-oldest university rivalry in the United States, and Cornell and Harvard have had a long-standing rivalry in hockey.

What Are the Eight Ivy League Schools?

There are eight ivy league schools in the United States. They are:

1. Brown University: Providence, Rhode Island

2. Yale University: New Haven, Connecticut

3. Harvard University: Cambridge, Massachusetts

4. Princeton University: Princeton, New Jersey

5. Columbia University: New York City, New York

6. Dartmouth College: Hanover, New Hampshire

7. The University of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

8. Cornell University: Ithaca, New York

As we mentioned in our small history lesson above, all of the ivy league universities are located on the east coast of the United States because they were established by the pre-revolutionary settlers who landed there first.

Building at the Brown University campus in Providence, Rhode Island

Brown University

Located in the historic, vibrant city of Providence, Rhode Island is Brown University. This prestigious school was founded in 1764, just one year before the American Revolution. Originally called the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, the school was re-named for Nicholas Brown, Jr., a philanthropist and abolitionist whose family provided a large sum of money for its endowment. He also attended Brown as a student and graduated in 1786.

Brown was actually the first university in the United States to accept students from different religious backgrounds. This was a factor since its inception, which was unusual at the time and thus very progressive. In fact, the original charter for the school stated specifically that the majority of the Board of Trustees should be Baptists, with “the rest indifferently of any or all denominations.”

While it wasn’t the first ivy league university to open its doors, Brown was the first to implement an engineering program in 1847. It’s known primarily for its liberal arts and science programs, as well as its international programs, and the school is also known for having a largely free-spirited student body. The campus sits nestled in College Hill, which is a neighbourhood noted for its historic colonial architecture and rich history.

Brown University is home to its NCAA sports team known as the Brown Bears.

Notable Brown University Alumni

Some of the most well-known graduates of Brown University include:

● John Milton Hay, assistant to Abraham Lincoln and post-Civil War diplomat (MA, 1858)

● John Davison Rockefeller Jr., son of John D. Rockefeller (BA, 1897)

● Emma Watson, activist and actress (BA, 2014)

● Ira Glass, radio host of NPR’s This American Life (BA, 1982)

● Solomon Drowne, prolific surgeon and physician during the American Revolution (BA, 1773)

● Ted Turner, philanthropist and founder of CNN (BA, 1960)

● John Krasinski, actor known for playing Jim on The Office (AB, 2001)

● Tracee Ellis Ross, Diana Ross’ daughter and actress currently on the sitcom Black-ish (BA, 1994)

● James B. Garvin, former chief scientist of NASA’s Mars exploration program (MA and PhD, 1984)

● Allegra Versace, daughter of Donatella Versace (BA, 2008)

● Jessica Meir, NASA astronaut and one of the participants in the first all-female spacewalk (BS, 1999)

● Lillian Moller Gilbreth, one of the first female engineers to get a PhD and the subject of the original Cheaper by the Dozen book (PhD, 1915)

Front shot of the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut

Yale University

As seen on many popular television shows, Yale University is one of the more notable ivy league institutions. It’s been the dream school of many notable characters on television as the epitome of elite education, such as on Gossip Girl, Gilmore Girls, Boy Meets World, Glee, Veep, Suits, and even The Simpsons. Further, it’s mentioned in many classic pieces of literature including F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

Yale University first opened its doors in 1701 under the original name The Collegiate School. In 1718, it was re-named to Yale University to honour one of its biggest benefactors, Elihu Yale. The school’s original purpose was to educate Protestant clergy members, but by the time the American Revolution broke out more programs were added and expanded. Yale’s most notable academic program is its school of political science, but it’s also known for its excellence in the humanities, natural sciences, and its school of law. It’s also home to the Yale University Library, the third-largest academic library collection in the country.

The sports teams at Yale are called the Yale Bulldogs. Its mascot, a bulldog named Handsome Dan, is considered to be the first college mascot in the United States. He was first established in 1889.

The Impressive List of Yale University’s Top Alumni

The most well-known graduates who studied at Yale University include:

● William Howard Taft, 27th president of the United States (BA, 1878)

● Chris Cuomo, CNN news anchor (BA)

● George W. Bush, 43rd president of the United States (BA, 1968)

● Anderson Cooper, award-winning journalist and CNN news anchor (BA, 1989)

● George H.W. Bush, 41st president of the United States (BA, 1948)

● Frances McDormand, prominent actress and one of the few people ever to receive the “Triple Crown” of acting – an Academy Award, an Emmy, and a Tony Award (MFA, 1982)

● Meryl Streep, Academy Award winning actress (BFA, 1975)

● Jodie Foster, Academy Award winning actress (BA, 1985)

● Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and former First Lady of the United States (JD)

● Bill Clinton, 42nd president of the United States and husband of Hillary Clinton (JD, 1973)

● Gerald Ford, 38th president of the United States (JD, 1941)

● Sonia Sotomayor, United States Supreme Court justice (JD, 1979)

● Cory Booker, United States state senator for New Jersey (JD, 1997)

● Walter Camp, the “Father of American Football” (BA, 1880)

● Clarence Thomas, United States Supreme Court justice (JD, 1974)

● John Kerry, United States state senator and former Secretary of State for Barack Obama (BA 1966)

● Gerald Ford, 38th president of the United States (JD, 1941)

● Bing Gordon, developer of Electronic Arts (BA, 1974)

● Henry Luce, co-creator of Time Magazine (BA, 1920)

● Ernest Lawrence, nuclear scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project (PhD, 1925)

● Samuel Morse, co-inventor of Morse Code (BS, 1810)

● Harvey Cushing, neurosurgeon and pioneer of brain surgery (BA, 1891)

● Porter Bibb, the first editor of Rolling Stone Magazine (BA)

Bird’s eye view of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Harvard University

Arguably the most well known and widely recognized institution out of all of the ivy league schools, Harvard University is consistently used as a symbol of prestige and status. Harvard is typically seen as the top tier of elite education and academic achievement, largely due to its longstanding reputation and history.

Founded in 1636 and named for its first benefactor, John Harvard, this top-tier school is the oldest university in the United States. It’s also home to the Harvard Library, the world’s largest academic library that boasts over 20 million items in its expansive collection.

Harvard is well known for its school of law and political science programs, with a large number of its graduates having gone on to take on roles within the United States government and Supreme Court. It also offers a large number of professional programs and science faculties. Harvard boasts one of the most well-known college dropouts in history, too: Bill Gates.

The Harvard Medical School (HMS), one of the oldest medical schools in the country, is also one of the top medical research institutions in the country. HMS graduates and faculty are responsible for a variety of important and innovative medical developments, including introducing the smallpox vaccine in the United States, the first use of anesthesia for surgery, the first successful human kidney transplant, the first use of insulin for diabetes in the United States, and the first reattachment of a severed limb.

Harvard’s sports teams are known as the Crimson.

The Most Well-Known Harvard Alumni

Here are some of the most well-known graduates of Harvard University:

● Colin Jost, head writer of Saturday Night Live (BA, 2004)

● Barack Obama, 45th president of the United States (JD, 1991)

● Michelle Obama, wife of Barack Obama and former First Lady of the United States (JD, 1988)

● Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States (BA, 1880)

● Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States (BA, 1903)

● John Fitzgerald Kennedy (more commonly known as JFK), 35th president of the United States (BA, 1940)

● John Adams, Founding Father and second president of the United States (BA, 1755 and MA, 1758)

● John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams and sixth president of the United States (BA, 1787)

● John Warren, notable doctor during the American Revolution and founder of the Harvard Medical School (1771)

● J. Robert Oppenheimer, noted physicist and the “Father of the Atomic Bomb” who worked on the Manhattan Project (BA, 1925)

● Al Gore, former vice president and environmental activist (BA, 1969)

● Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th president of the United States (LLB, 1845)

● Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln (BA, 1864 and LLD, 1893)

● Leonard Bernstein, prominent composer and cultural icon (BA, 1939)

● George W. Bush, 43rd president of the United States (MBA, 1975)

● Harvey Cushing, neurosurgeon and pioneer of brain surgery (MD, 1895)

● Ralph Waldo Emerson, noted writer of the 19th century (BA, 1821)

● Henry David Thoreau, noted philosopher and writer (BA, 1837)

● W.E.B. DuBois, civil rights activist (PhD, 1895)

● Helen Keller, famous activist and author (BA, 1904)

● T.S. Eliot, major poet of the 20th century (BA, 1909 and MA, 1910)

● Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and television host (BA, 1980)

● Margaret Atwood, award-winning Canadian novelist (MA, 1962)

● Stockard Channing, actress best known for her role in Grease (BA, 1965)

● John Lithgow, prolific award-winning actor (BA, 1967)

● Conan O’Brien, noted comedian and television host (BA, 1985)

● Yo-Yo Ma, world-renowned cellist and musician (BA, 1976)

● Tom Morello, political activist and guitarist of Rage Against the Machine (BA, 1986)

Exterior shot of architectural building at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey

Princeton University

Princeton University is commonly mentioned on the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, as well as on many other television shows and movies as a key status of elite education. Its campus is known for being particularly beautiful, with sprawling green fields and historic buildings lining the walkways.

Originally known as the College of New Jersey, Princeton was established in 1746 and given its current name when it was relocated to Princeton, New Jersey. It was initially intended to be used for training ministers of the Presbyterian faith, but by 1868 it had substantially expanded its academic offerings to include more non-theological programs.

While Princeton currently offers a variety of programs, it’s best known for its science, humanities, and engineering programs, it also offers prestigious professional programs including law, political science, and finance. Many of its graduates have accomplished substantial innovations in the sciences, particularly in physics, as well as in the fields of law and politics. Albert Einstein was known to deliver lectures at Princeton in the 1920s. Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize-winning novelist and author, was also a faculty member and the chair of the humanities program.

Princeton’s sports teams are called the Princeton Tigers.

The Notable Graduates of Princeton University

Princeton University has a long list of well-known and successful graduates, some of whom are:

● Richard Fineman, iconic theoretical physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project (PhD, 1942)

● James Madison, Founding Father and fourth president of the United States (BA, 1771)

● Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the United States (BA, 1879)

● Michelle Obama, wife of Barack Obama and former First Lady of the United States (BA, 1985)

● Sonia Sotomayor, United States Supreme Court justice (BA, 1976)

● David Duchovny, award-winning actor from The X-Files and Californication (BA, 1982)

● Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and currently the world’s richest man (BSE, 1986)

● Elena Kagan, United States Supreme Court justice (BA, 1981)

● Jodi Picoult, best-selling author (BA, 1987)

● Eric Schmidt, former chairman of Alphabet and Google (BSE, 1976)

● Pete Conrad, astronaut, the third man on the moon, and commander of the Apollo 12 mission (BSE, 1953)

● David Mathews, British loyalist from the American Revolution (MA, 1754)

● Nathaniel Scudder, noted Patriot leader from the American Revolution (BA, 1751)

● Alan Turing, known as the “Father of Theoretical Computer Science” (PhD, 1938)

● Ted Cruz, United States state senator for Texas (BA, 1992)

● Meg Whitman, CEO of Ebay and Hewlett-Packard (BA, 1977)

● Samuel Alito, United States Supreme Court justice (BA, 1972)

Student sitting on a bench in front of Columbia University in New York City, New York

Columbia University

Originally founded as King’s College under an executive order by King George II in 1754, Columbia University was initially meant to be established as a competitor to Princeton University. This makes it the oldest university in New York state, and the fifth oldest university in the United States.

Columbia University has been mentioned or featured as a set in a variety of movies and television shows, including Gossip Girl, How I Met Your Mother, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Sopranos, House, The Princess Diaries, and Spider-Man. It’s one of the more urban ivy league institutions, located in the heart of Manhattan in New York City on the grounds of the historic Trinity Church.

While known for its prestigious medical and law schools, Columbia is also prominent in the arts and sciences. Many substantial scientific developments have been affiliated with or conducted at Columbia, including much of the research for the Manhattan Project and atomic bomb, the development of the laser, the first evidence for the continental drift theory, and the first nuclear fission reaction in the United States.

Students of Columbia are known to be very politically active and involved in social causes since as far back as 1936. Columbia’s athletic teams are called the Lions.

Well-Known Columbia University Alumni

Columbia University has produced an elite list of successful graduates, including:

● Alexander Hamilton, Founding Father of the United States (did not graduate due to the onset of the American Revolution, class of 1777)

● John Jay, Founding Father and the first Chief Justice of the United States (BA, 1764)

● Gouverneur Morris, Founding Father of the United States (MA, 1771)

● Warren Buffett, one of the most well-known and wealthiest businessmen in America (MS, 1951)

● Barack Obama, 45th president of the United States (BA, 1983)

● Lou Gehrig, MLB star and the namesake of Lou Gehrig’s disease (left Columbia to play for the New York Yankees in 1923)

● Chelsea Clinton, philanthropist and daughter of Hillary and Bill Clinton (MPH, 2010)

● Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States (dropped out of Columbia Law school to write a book about the War of 1812)

● Robson Walton, member of the Walton family that created Walmart (JD, 1969)

● Madeleine Albright, the first female United States Secretary of State (MA and PhD, 1975)

● Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former United States Supreme Court justice (LLB, 1959)

● Art Garfunkel of iconic folk rock duo Simon & Garfunkel (BA, 1965 and MA, 1967)

● Allen Ginsberg, iconic novelist and pioneer of the Beat Generation (BA, 1948)

● Upton Sinclair, Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist and activist (BA, est. 1901)

● Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to win an Academy Award for best director (MFA, 1978)

● William Barr, former two-time United States Attorney General (BA, 1971 and MA, 1973)

● Richard Rodgers, legendary award-winning composer (BA, 1921)

The Baker Berry Library at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire

Dartmouth College

Dartmouth College is the smallest of the ivy league universities, but it’s certainly not any less prestigious. This impressive school sits overlooking the Connecticut River, on 269 acres of sprawling rural land.

Established in 1769, Dartmouth was originally founded with the goal of educating and assimilating Native Americans into Christian, Western ideals. Its founder, Eleazar Wheelock, was actually a Yale graduate and congregational minister who named the school after William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth, in the hopes that he’d provide a large endowment to the school.

By the turn of the 20th century, this had shifted into a more broad, nonsecular program offering. Now, Dartmouth is known for encouraging students to take its dual-degree programs in a variety of fields including the humanities, science and engineering, medicine, and business.

A major claim to fame for Dartmouth College is its connection to one of the most iconic American college movies, National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978). It was co-written by a Dartmouth alumni, Chris Miller, and based on a series of stories he’d written about his time there as a student.

Dartmouth’s sports teams go by the moniker The Big Green, but they have had many names over the years and the official name is disputed.

The Most Notable Alumni of Dartmouth College

Some of Dartmouth College’s most well known graduates include:

● Salmon P. Chase, United States Supreme Court justice (BA, 1826)

● Robert Frost, iconic four-time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and poet laureate (did not graduate but was given honorary degrees)

● Norman Maclean, iconic American author best known for writing A River Runs Through It (BA, 1924)

● David Benioff, showrunner of the Game of Thrones television series (BA, 1992)

● Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy and other television series (BA, 1991)

● Rachel Dratch, comedian and former cast member of Saturday Night Live (BA, 1988)

● Charles Alfred Pillsbury, co-founder of the Pillsbury Company (BE, 1863)

● Theodor Geisel, better known as iconic children’s author Dr. Seuss (BA, 1925)

● Mindy Kaling, actress, comedian, and screenwriter (BA, 2001)

● Jake Tapper, CNN chief White House correspondent and anchor (BA, 1991)

● Levi Woodbury, former United States Supreme Court justice and 9th Governor of New Hampshire (BA, 1809)

● Charles Everett Koop, former Surgeon General of the United States (BA, 1937)

● Aisha Tyler, actress (BA, 1992)

● Kirsten Gillibrand, United States state senator of New York (BA, 1988)

● David Harbour, actor best known for his role on Stranger Things (BA, 1997)

The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania

Commonly known as UPenn, the University of Pennsylvania sits proudly in historic Philadelphia. It was founded in 1740 by Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of America. He was also the school’s first president.

A lot of history has been made on the grounds of this school. The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business is one of the institution’s most well known and widely recognized programs of study, with many of its graduates having gone on to work in government or on Wall Street. Wharton was the first business school in the United States, founded in 1881. UPenn is also home to the first medical school in North America, Perelman School of Medicine, founded in 1765. Its law school, Carey Law School, is also iconic – its first professor, James Wilson, was a Founding Father who wrote the first draft of the United States Constitution.

Other notable programs offered at UPenn are focused on the sciences, liberal arts, and engineering. The world’s first digital general purpose computer, ENIAC, was developed at UPenn in 1945.

At the University of Pennsylvania, the sports teams go by the name The Quakers.

UPenn’s Most Notable Alumni

Among the most well-known graduates of the University of Pennsylvania are:

● Francis Hopkinson, who signed the Declaration of Independence and designed the first official American flag (BA, 1757 and MA, 1760)

● James Wilson, Founding Father and one of the first original United States Supreme Court justices (MA, 1765 and LL.D., 1790)

● Martha Hughes Cannon, the first female state senator in the United States (BS, 1882)

● Doc Holliday, famed gunslinger and outlaw dentist (DDSc, 1872)

● Elon Musk, engineer and CEO of SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and PayPal and one of the richest people in the world (BS and BA, 1997)

● Tory Burch, luxury fashion designer (BA, 1988)

● John Legend, award-winning recording artist (BA, 1999)

● Noam Chomsky, philosopher, linguist, and political activist (BA, 1949, MA, 1951, and PhD, 1955)

● William Paca, signer of the United States Declaration of Independence and a member of the first United States Congress (BA, 1759)

● Samuel Nicholas, the first commander of the United States Marine Corps (BA, 1759)

● William J. Brennan, United States Supreme Court justice (BS, 1928)

● Christian B. Anfinsen, Nobel Prize-winning biochemist (MS, 1939)

● Donald Trump, reality television host and 46th president of the United States (BS, 1968)

● William Henry Harrison, colonist and 9th president of the United States for one month (didn’t graduate and left to join the War of 1812)

● Charles Everett Koop, former Surgeon General of the United States (DSc, 1947)

Building overlooking the hills at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York

Cornell University

Cornell University is the only ivy league university to be chartered after the American Revolution. But it’s still very old – Cornell opened its doors in 1865. It had two benefactors, Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White as a private land-grant university designed to educate students in a wide range of subjects and disciplines. Ezra Cornell is the namesake for the school because he offered land on his farm for the campus and a large endowment from his personal fortune.

Cornell is known for its high volume of research and innovation in the sciences, engineering, and even space exploration. In 1952, the first developments in crash testing for vehicles were conducted at Cornell, and it was a team of Cornell researchers that first discovered there were rings around the planet Uranus. Many advancements in computers have also been conducted here.

Every ivy school features stunning architecture and scenic campuses, but Cornell is arguably in one of the most scenic locations of the ivy league. It sits nestled on East Hill in Ithaca, New York, overlooking the waters of Cayuga Lake. Cornell’s sports teams are known as Big Red.

Notable Alumni of Cornell University

Cornell University’s most well known graduates include:

● Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former United States Supreme Court justice (BA, 1954)

● Toni Morrison, Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist (MA, 1955)

● Charles Everett Koop, former Surgeon General of the United States (MD, 1941)

● Gary Bettman, commissioner of the National Hockey League (BA, 1974)

● Glenn “Pop” Warner, iconic pioneer of college football (BA, 1894)

● Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s lead immunologist and head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (MD, 1966)

● Richmond Shreve, the architect who designed the Empire State Building (BA, 1902)

● Christopher Reeve, iconic actor best known as the original Superman (BA, 1974)

● Peter Yarrow, iconic singer and songwriter from the band Peter Paul and Mary (BA, 1959)

● Bill Maher, comedian and political commentator (BA, 1978)

● Ann Coulter, Conservative commentator and media pundit (BA, 1984)

● E.B. White, iconic children’s literature author best known for writing Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little (BA, 1921)

● Frank Morgan, iconic silent film star best known for his role in The

● Wizard of Oz (class of 1912 but did not fully graduate due to the rise of his film career)

● Bill Nye “The Science Guy” (BS, 1977)

● Otto Glasser, a leading weapons scientist who helped invent the first intercontinental ballistic missile (BS, 1940)

● Steve Squyres, NASA scientist and lead investigator on the Mars Rover Exploration Mission (BA, 1978 and PhD, 1981)

● Robert Atkins, who developed the iconic and popular Atkins diet (MD, 1955)

● James McLamore, the founder of Burger King (BA, 1947)

● Matt Urban, who holds the title of one of the most decorated soldiers from World War II (BA, 1941)

● Myra Hart, who founded Staples (BA, 1962)

● Henry Heimlich, the creator of the Heimlich manoeuvre (MD, 1943)

● Janet Reno, the first female Attorney General of the United States (BS, 1960)

Students of an elite university studying together on the lawn

How Hard is it to Get Accepted to the Ivy League Schools?

An acceptance rate is the average percentage of applicants who are accepted into a school, and they’re typically the biggest indication of how hard it is to get accepted into a school. The higher the percentage, the higher the likelihood is that you’ll get in.

Ivy leagues notoriously have very low acceptance rates, and comprise some of the lowest acceptance rates in the entire country. Here are the current acceptance rates for each of the ivy league institutions:

● Brown University: 6.9%

● Yale University: 6.6%

● Harvard University: 5%

● Princeton University: 5.6%

● Columbia University: 6.3%

● Dartmouth College: 9.2%

● The University of Pennsylvania: 9%

● Cornell University: 10.9%

Wondering why an acceptance rate really matters? Check out our Student Influencers Podcast interview with Hamza Naim. He went through the intense process of applying to ivy league law schools, and told us all about his experience as well as what to expect.

While each school has different requirements for different programs, here are some general factors that will play into your acceptance at an ivy league institution:

● Admissions criteria for your specific program

● Your GPA and SAT scores

● A great admissions essay (get tips on writing one here)

● Personal statements

● Involvement in extracurricular activities

● A great resume with experience in your desired field

What is the Easiest Ivy League School to Get Into?

Based on acceptance rates, the easiest ivy league university to get into is Cornell University. However, this does not mean it’s going to be easy to get in, and Cornell is still extremely selective, with an acceptance rate of 10.9%.

Here’s more perspective for you: in 2018, Cornell received a total of 51,328 applications, and of those applications, 5,288 were accepted.

By contrast, many non-ivy league universities have acceptance rates that can reach as high as 80% or more. In a Pew Research study based on 2019 data, 53% of universities in the United States accepted two-thirds of all applicants. For example, George Mason University’s acceptance rate is 81.3%.

Female ivy league university graduate throwing confetti in the air

The Cost of the Ivy League: Finances and Landing a Scholarship

Another factor to consider when it comes to applying to the ivy leagues is the financial aspect. There’s a reason why these schools are often associated with the wealthy and people with higher social status.

As of 2013, the median family income for students at the ivy league universities ranges between $150,900 and $204,200. The majority of student family incomes are within the top 10% and 20% of household earners in the United States.

The good news is many ivy league universities have pretty good financial aid programs. If you’re looking to land a scholarship to an ivy league university, your best bet is through athletics. However, make sure you read our list of tips for scholarship writing first to maximize your chances.

If you do happen to get into an ivy league, you’re going to need to make that student budget work for you. Brush up on your money-saving skills with our guide on how to save money in college.

What’s so Great About an Ivy League Institution, Anyway?

There are many benefits the students at an ivy league university can enjoy, such as:

● Elite bragging rights: Of course, attending an elite school gives you something to feel extremely proud about.

● Social status: Attending an ivy league university is almost guaranteed to boost your social status and help you make friends or network with people from elite backgrounds who can also help you in your career later on.

● Academic caliber: All of the ivy league universities have world renowned research institutions leading their respective fields in development, innovation, and top-notch academic accomplishments. Chances are you could be part of a highly successful research project as an ivy league student.

● Competitive edge in career options: According to a report by The Washington Post, ivy league graduates typically report higher career earnings than those who graduate from non-ivy schools.

● Stunning campus settings: Every ivy league university is located on the east coast and features historic, stunning buildings and scenic settings, especially when the seasons change.

● Iconic professors: Many ivy league universities employ professors and faculty members who are highly accomplished and well-known in their fields, from Nobel Laureates to Academy Award winners.

Two female graduates of an elite school celebrating together

Remember: Ivy League Isn’t Everything

There are many other post-secondary institutions in the United States that have achieved a reputation for prestige without being included in the ivy league list. In fact, these schools are often mistaken for ivy leagues because of their own elitism and prestige.

● Duke University: Durham, North Carolina

● Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): Boston, Massachusetts

● Georgetown University: Washington, D.C.

● Vanderbilt University: Nashville, Tennessee

● Stanford University: Stanford, California

● Johns Hopkins University: Baltimore, Maryland

● New York University: New York City, New York

● The University of California, Berkeley: Berkeley, California

● Northwestern University: Evanston, Illinois

● The University of Southern California: Los Angeles, California

Regardless of which school you’re applying to, be sure to make sure you’re choosing the right fit for your goals. Just because an ivy league would look great on your resume doesn’t mean that the dedication and effort to get in will be worth the experience if you aren’t comfortable there. Further, if you work hard and focus on your academic career, going to any other university will be just as beneficial for you and does not make you less successful.

Elite graduate studying to get into elite post-graduate programs

Applying to Any of These Ivy League Schools? Get Professional Help to Make Your Application Stand Out!

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