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What Is Ivy League And Why Should I Care?

Updated: February 28, 2024 | Published: March 16, 2021

Updated: February 28, 2024

Published: March 16, 2021


Applying to college is a major life milestone, and it happens differently for every student. Schools differ by their institutional setup (be it private or public), school size, reputation, acceptance rates, and much more. When applying to schools, most students find themselves considering the school ranking, the school’s location, cost of attendance, and degree programs offered.

In America, there are eight schools that are the most sought-after and top-notch institutions of higher education in the world, which are known as the Ivy League schools. So, what is Ivy League and should you even care about such schools?

The answers to these questions will be different for every prospective college applicant. To know if an Ivy League is right for you, you must first know what schools are included on the list and some background information.

In this article, our aim is to share everything you need to know about the classification of Ivy League schools, their history, some information about the schools themselves, and necessary insights should you want to apply to one. Let’s get started!

What is an Ivy League School?

Ivy League schools are considered to be the most prestigious schools for higher education. They are known not only for their academic excellence, but also for the high likelihood of students finding job placement upon graduation. These schools are known to be the hardest to get into, which means a certain degree of prestige comes along with attending one of these private institutions.

Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Photo by Emily Karakis on Unsplash

What Schools are Ivy League?

The 8 Ivy League schools are:

  1. Harvard University (Massachusetts)
  2. Yale University (Connecticut)
  3. Princeton University (New Jersey)
  4. Brown University (Rhode Island)
  5. University of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania)
  6. Cornell University (New York)
  7. Dartmouth College (New Hampshire)
  8. Columbia University (New York)

Interestingly, when you hear of these Ivy Leagues, you’ll probably also hear of Stanford, Caltech, and M.I.T. Although the former three are not technically Ivy League colleges, they are held in the same high esteem because of their academic excellence. As you will see, Ivy League schools do make up some of the best schools, but they are not the only schools on the lists.

It is true that Ivy League schools tend to produce graduates who go on to accomplish huge feats, like earning Nobel Prizes, starting their own businesses, becoming president, and more.

The History of Ivy League Schools

Interestingly enough, while Ivy League schools are revered for their academic excellence, the history of their founding has its roots in athletics. The eight schools were part of an athletic division once known for their highly competitive sports programs.

In the 1950s, the NCAA Division I athletic conference was formed along with the term of “Ivy League.” As their athletic programs garnered attention and picked up more funding, their admissions process also became more strict.

But the inception of the Ivy League institutions was much earlier than the 1950s. In fact, most of these schools date back to the 1600s and 1700s. As their excellence in sports grew along with their academic standards, this group of schools has remained at the top of the list of best colleges and universities in the country.

Ivy League Schools – Ranked

Schools are ranked by various sources according to different criteria. As such, when one school appears as number one on one list, it could be number three on another.

However, there are three schools that consistently appear as the top three schools across the board. These schools have become known as the “The Big Three” and consist of: Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

These three schools also have the lowest acceptance rates of all the schools on the list. Because they are so exclusive, it plays into making them more desirable.

As a graduate of any of the Ivy League schools, you already will be set apart from your competition in applying to a job. But as a student with a degree from one of The Big Three, you are definitely ahead of the pack as you have graduated from the creme de la creme.

A Deeper Look into the Ivy League Schools

There are more distinguishing factors to Ivy League schools, including their high cost of tuition and low acceptance rates.

Let’s see how the schools line up in regard to their acceptance rates, cost of attendance, and some interesting fun facts.

Ivy League Schools infographic by University of the PeopleIvy League Schools infographic by University of the People

The Ivy League Application Process

Since the Ivy League consists of eight different colleges, there isn’t an exact list of requirements for admission. However, across the board, the application process is highly competitive.

There is no minimum GPA to apply, but given the low acceptance rates, your GPA must be practically perfect to be a strong applicant. While the data isn’t released by the schools, the average GPA of admitted students ranges between 3.85 to 4.18.

The GPA is a good indicator of how likely it’ll be to get accepted into one of these schools. But your GPA doesn’t tell the whole story. You’ll also have to submit a stellar personal statement, strong standardized test scores, and more.

3 Things to Know Before Applying

Before applying to one of the eight Ivy League schools, it’s good to know the following tidbits of insight. This information is not intended to dissuade you from trying to get into one of these colleges, but rather it is here to help you be the most prepared as possible.

1. Enrollment

Enrollment into these schools is ridiculously competitive. As you can see, most of the universities have a lower than 10% acceptance rate. The acceptance rate is calculated by taking all accepted applicants divided by the total number of those who applied. In order to be accepted, the schools have high standards for not only your GPA, but also your scores on the standardized tests like the SAT and ACT.

2. Requirements

The Ivy League schools’ rigorous application process doesn’t end with your academic excellence. You have to prove that you are well-rounded by showcasing your high grades, as well as extracurricular activities and volunteer service. Additionally, some of these schools will require both letters of recommendation and interviews before accepting a student.

Their main criteria is to accept students who are not only dedicated to their studies, but are also interested in becoming the best versions of themselves. This includes the desire to help impact the world positively, as well as boost their academic knowledge.

3. Options

If you have your heart set on attending an Ivy League school, then you should definitely do everything in your power to make it happen. However, the good news is that there are literally thousands of colleges to choose from that are not part of the Ivy League list. These other options are not only strong in academic quality, but they are likely to be more affordable than these private institutions (more on this later). The other piece of good news is that, although Ivy League schools do appear in the top of college rankings, there are more institutions that rank higher than some of the Ivy Leagues.

Even though the Ivy League schools are very expensive, they do provide students with general financial aid packages. In fact, all of the schools on the list will help meet a students’ needs to be able to attend. This means that if you cannot afford the school, but you are accepted, you will be granted aid.

Additionally, there are some public schools that have achieved somewhat comparable status to the Ivy League schools in terms of their academic excellence. These state schools have become known as the “public Ivies.” Some schools achieving this status include: University of California – Berkeley, the University of Virginia, and University of Michigan – Ann Arbor.

Ivy League Accomplishments

The list of accomplishments that graduates from Ivy League schools have under their belt continues to expand. From Nobel Prize winners to presidents, the well-rounded education and athletics put the Ivy Leagues in a league of their own.

Wondering what former presidents make this list? Theodore Roosevelt went to Harvard University and Columbia Law School, and he’s not alone. Franklin D. Roosevelt followed the same path. Woodrow Wilson attended Princeton University. More recently, George H.W. Bush (Yale) and George W. Bush (Yale University and Harvard Business School), along with Barack Obama (Columbia University and Harvard Law School) add to the long list of presidents who graduated from Ivy League schools.

In 2019-2020, the Ivy Leagues had the highest graduation success rate (GSR) of all Division I conferences (in terms of athletes). This marks the ninth time in a row that the schools have accomplished this.

Alternative Affordable Educational Options

There’s no doubt that the Ivy Leagues are highly sought-after schools. Yet, there are a variety of different types of institutions you may enroll in to earn your degree. From private to public schools and in-person to online, education continues to face revolutions. One of the biggest revolutions in education has been the expansion of online colleges.

Online universities give students the opportunity to earn their undergraduate and graduate degrees without having to step foot on a physical campus. While some colleges grant a hybrid of on-campus and remote learning, others like University of the People exist entirely online.

At University of the People, we take pride in providing students around the world with affordable and accessible education that has been accredited. Our tuition-free programs range from associate’s degrees to bachelor’s degrees (Computer Science, Health Science, Business Administration, and Education), to master’s degrees (Education and Business Administration).

University of the People prioritizes high-quality education in the same way that the Ivy League schools are focused on providing this experience. Unlike the Ivy League schools, University of the People also makes affordability a top priority. This is why all degrees are tuition-free. While there do exist some small fees for exams and a one-time application fee, our students have the opportunity to apply for various types of financial aid, including scholarships, grants, and loans.

Female college graduate in cap and gown
Photo by Jane Carmona on Unsplash

The Wrap Up

Ivy League schools have remained at the top of the best universities in the world for centuries. From starting as a designation for athletics, the academic power that these schools offer is hard to beat. That’s why, if you are a top-tier student who seeks a challenging environment with a large dose of prestige, then the Ivy League schools may offer the perfect fit.

Before applying, be sure to check the admissions requirements and ensure that your GPA and test scores are well above average. If it seems reasonable to apply, it most certainly does not hurt to try!

That being said, you don’t have to only focus on Ivy League schools to earn a quality degree of education. You can also attend public universities or online universities to do so. When choosing where to apply, it’s best to consider your priorities and factors. Most students look at the school’s location, degree offerings, cost of attendance, and overall expected experience, just to list a few important considerations.

All students have their own list of priorities for where they attend college, and the smartest thing to do is to outline your own values, and then research schools you are interested in attending. See how you match up to the admissions requirements and prepare all relevant documentation to apply.

If you have your eyes set on an Ivy League and get accepted, you can rest assured in knowing that you’ve attended one of the best schools in the world!