What is an Ivy League School?

You’ve heard the boasts – “I (or they) went to an Ivy League school!” You may not have been quite sure what that meant, exactly. But it sounded great, and you were impressed, probably even a bit envious. Most people don’t really know what “Ivy League” means and even more haven’t attended one of these colleges. Top points for you if you even know that Ivy League schools are primarily located in the Northeast.

So, why are Ivy League educational institutions so revered? For most people, the Ivy League designation holds prestige as a highly respected school recognized for its history, reputation, academics and exclusivity. Why wouldn’t attendance be coveted?

The truth about how eight schools originally earned their Ivy League title may be surprising, and a bit of a let-down. It’s derived from a sports affiliation. Those select few universities were part of a collegiate athletic conference.

A Short History of Ivy League Schools

1954 saw the official recognition of an “Ivy League” by the Division 1 athletic National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). This signified the creation of today’s Ivy League Eight. However, naming of the Ivy League schools dates somewhere between 1933 and 1937. New York Herald Tribune sports writer Stanley Woodward arguably coined the term “ivy colleges” to describe those institutions of higher education that boasted very desirable sports leagues that were all the vogue at that time.

Football and basketball were leading interests, due their popularity in the nation, at large. The idea was that these schools represented top athletes who performed well in sports, without sacrificing educational pursuits. Their athletic accomplishments kept them in the public eye and their continued emphasis on academics eventually segued into a new perception – that of a school that prized, supported, nurtured and furthered top academic pursuits.

What Eight Colleges Comprise the Ivy League?

Now you understand what an Ivy League school is and how they came about. Who are they? Here are the select eight, in no particular order:

  • Harvard University in Massachusetts
  • Cornell University in New York
  • Yale University in Connecticut
  • Brown University in Rhode Island
  • Columbia University in Rhode Island
  • Princeton University in New Jersey
  • University of Pennsylvania in Pennsylvania
  • Dartmouth College in New Hampshire

It’s important to note that there does exist another group of very prestigious schools that have earned stellar reputations, though are not part of the small Ivy League set. These top colleges are often referred to as the “Little Ivies” in deference to the Ivy League title and what it symbolizes. The list typically includes notables, like Amherst, Wellesley, Tufts, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy, Berkeley, Irvine, Trinity and Vassar.

Does the Ivy League Designation Still Matter?

Education has grown and evolved. How important is it that you earn a degree from an Ivy League school? They’re extremely expensive and they’re very hard to get into. What’s the reward?

Here are some of the pros:

  • Higher earning potential for its graduatesPositive employer perception that offers better job prospects
  • Provides desirable networking opportunities
  • Generous financial aid for eligible students

Higher education is always undergoing changes. Savvy college applicants and students stay abreast of these changes to support their professional goals.

Ivy League college cons:

  • They’re far more expensive than other options
  • Acceptance rates are very stringent, possibly making your efforts fruitless
  • Changing trends may be minimizing the importance/influence of Ivies
  • Possibility of grade inflation and hand-holdin
  • Potentially more pressure and stress

How Hard is it to Get into an Ivy League School?

With the level of selectivity in the application and acceptance policy of Ivy League schools, is it worth it to pursue admission? You’re probably going to hate this answer, but it depends. Goals, grades, aptitudes and desire all play important roles.

Here are some key considerations:

Grades: How far have you come? Showing impressive progression in your grades during High School could have a positive impact on your prospects. Show them what you’ve accomplished and highlight the odds you’ve overcome.

Test Scores: For Ivy League school applicants, ACT/SAT scores and your High School GPA still matter. Hit them with your best shot. It this isn’t an area where you shine, Ivies may not be your best option. Still, other factors may hold weight.

Application Timing: Get in there soon. Let them know you want it and that you’re passionate about attending their university. It doesn’t hurt to research their most recent acceptance rates to determine which schools you have the best chance with.

Extracurricular Activities: When your GPA or college admission test scores don’t impress, your passion may. Are you dedicated to a cause or activity outside of academia? Highlighting these attributes can give you the leg-up you may need.

Your Personal Story: Today’s schools are looking for more than grades, test scores and after-school clubs. They want to know who you are, what you hope to achieve and the difference you resolve to make in society. This is your chance to sell yourself and to convince those Ivy League admissions professionals that you have what it takes to make a difference.

Should You Choose the Ivy League Path?

Despite their less-than-illustrious beginnings, Ivy League schools have evolved to represent a gold standard in higher education. These colleges are ranked highly, typically in the top 15 U.S. colleges. Acceptance is very selective, as rates hover below 15% for those who apply.

Naturally, these attributes make Ivies very desirable. However, there are numerous other schools that match or exceed the cachet offered by the Ivies. Some examples include Stanford, Duke, John Hopkins, Notre Dame, UCLA, Georgetown and MIT. Surely, you’ve heard of these venerable institutions of learning. While not part of the Ivy 8, these highly recognizably elite have their own impressive accolades and offer very desirable benefits to their alumni.

Whether you should pursue acceptance to an Ivy League school hinges on your own personal preferences, goals and academic background. Don’t limit yourself, based on a title. Explore all the options available to you and seek acceptance to the higher learning institutions that most closely match your collegiate needs and goals. What’s in a name, anyway – doesn’t a degree always smell sweet?