What Is an Ivy League School? Probably Not What You Think
Princeton University — one of the eight Ivy League colleges
Chances are you’ve heard the term “Ivy League” — most commonly used to describe some of the most prestigious higher education institutions in the United States.
Most people associate this term with highly esteemed universities that are difficult to get into, rooted deep in history and home to some of the most brilliant minds in academia. They’re also all conveniently located in the Northeast, too.
But, what are they really?
The real reason behind the grouping of these eight universities might surprise you.
The Ivys are comprised of:
- Brown University (Providence)
- Columbia University (New York City)
- Cornell University (Ithaca, New York)
- Dartmouth College (New Hampshire)
- Harvard University (Massachusetts)
- University of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania)
- Princeton University (New Jersey)
- Yale University (Connecticut)
Despite being known for their high caliber of academics and tough admission standards, the Ivy League category is technically a collegiate athletic conference of which these eight private schools belong. Yep – it all originally boiled down to sports.
Each of the eight elite schools have rich academic histories, with Harvard dating back as far as 1636. But, the actual Ivy League itself was not established until 1954 as an athletic conference. Today, though, the term is used much more broadly and has much less to do with sports.
Within the history of the schools themselves lie deep rivalries, too. From football to academics and arguments over which school is more exclusive than the others, Ivy students tend to be a proud and loyal group, extending far past graduation.
Despite the elite nature of the Ivy League, they don’t necessarily include the “best schools.” Confused? We can explain.
While all eight universities rank in Niche’s top 20 Best Colleges in America, Stanford and MIT outrank Harvard, which is the top-rated Ivy, and Rice University, Bowdoin College, Cal Tech and others beat out certain Ivies as well. So, just because they’re Ivy League doesn’t mean they’re the best of the best.
According to Niche data, the Ivy with the smallest overall acceptance rate is Harvard, at just 5%. The “easiest” to get into, relatively speaking, is Cornell, which welcomes 14% of it applicant pool.
The Little Ivies
Not to be confused with the “official” eight Ivies, the term “Little Ivies” is often used to refer to a group of small liberal arts colleges scattered throughout the Northeast. These 15 schools located throughout Pennsylvania through Maine include:
- Amherst College
- Bates College
- Bowdoin College
- Colby College
- Connecticut College
- Hamilton College
- Haverford College
- Lafayette College
- Middlebury College
- Swarthmore College
- Trinity College
- Tufts University
- Vassar College
- Wesleyan University
- Williams College
The Little Ivies, like the Ivy League schools, are rigorous in academics and admissions criteria. However, they provide smaller and more intimate learning environments, still with prestige.
And keep in mind, Ivy League schools aren’t the only game in town. Plenty of other elite colleges give Ivies a run for their money in the popularity contest.
See also: What Is a Liberal Arts College?
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