Ivy or Not? Stanford, MIT, Duke and other top schools

Originally term Ivy League didn’t relate to academics.

Ivy Leagues schools are called such because the word “ivy” comes from the Roman numeral IV — in the beginning, there were only 4 Ivy Leagues. In a 1930s newspaper article, meanwhile, elite schools competing in football were referred to as ivy colleges, probably because of the ivy growing on their old buildings.

The term Ivy League became official only in the 1950s when the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) conference for division I, in which all 8 Ivy Leagues participate, came into being.

With some of those elite institutions founded earlier, some as far back as the 1600s, which came first, is obvious.

But among the numerous explanations as to why Harvard and the rest became Ivy Leagues, arguably the most popular is the one that says it’s because the group originally consisted of only 4 members:

  • Harvard University
  • Princeton University
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Yale University

The Roman numeral for 4 is IV, which, if you pronounce the letters separately, reads “ivy”.

However, many distinguished ones are compared with and often mistaken as Ivy League schools.

These Ivy equivalents range anywhere from large private research universities and public schools to small liberal arts colleges. And although the word “ivy” is often attached to their names, they are not a part of the original Ivy Leagues.

Memorial Hall, Harvard University
Memorial Hall, Harvard University

Why are Ivy League Schools So Prestigious?

Ivy League schools, which consist of 8 private universities in the Northeast, are known to have world-class academics and research facilities, big endowments, long traditions, and strong alumni networks. They are also known to accept only a small fraction of all applicants.

Many high schoolers who are about to work on a college degree in no time dream of attending Ivy Leagues.

It’s for the fact that they are so elite that a diploma from any of them can give graduates an edge in highly competitive industries, especially business consulting, finance and law.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of degree-seeking teens can only dream of receiving an acceptance letter from Ivy League schools.

That’s because there is something shared by all 8 schools in common: having a low acceptance rate.

Year after year, Ivy Leagues turn down and break the hearts of more than 90% of all hopefuls.

How Many Ivy League Schools are There?

So many institutions seem like they’re Ivy Leagues for they are ranked highly and highly selective. However, there are only 8 of them: Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University.

Just about any school with a high ranking and low acceptance rate is easily mistaken for an Ivy League.

But the fact is that there are only 8 of them, all of which are found in the Northeast. Each of the Ivy League schools, too, is a private institution, so public colleges and universities should not be confused as a part of the group.

No one can blame students who think there are more Ivy Leagues than there actually are because elite American colleges and universities come aplenty.

As a matter of fact, many of them rank highly not only on domestic rankings but many international ones, too, making it so much easier for college list-building teens to get disoriented.

Let’s go over the stats of all 8 Ivy Leagues to get a better idea of their prestige:

Brown University6%$6.5 billion#13
Columbia University6%$13.3 billion#18
Cornell University9%$9.8 billion#17
Dartmouth College6%$8.1 billion#12
Harvard University4%$50.9 billion#3
Princeton University4%$35.8 billion#1
University of Pennsylvania6%$20.7 billion#7
Yale University5%$41.4 billion#3
Ivy League acceptance rate, endowment, and rankings

Please note that the endowments stated above are based on the last fiscal year.

Where are the Ivy League Schools Located?

All Ivy Leagues are located in the Northeast. Being some of the oldest institutions of higher education in the US, they are found in the said region because pre-revolutionary settlers, most of whom established those prestigious schools, landed there first.

There are no Ivy Leagues outside of the Northeast region.

Ivy League Map

Especially if you are planning on choosing from among the 8 Ivy League institutions as your top choice or reach school, all you have to do is focus on one area of the US.

It just so happens that some of the most celebrated domestic schools are practically neighbors.

Being situated in the same region can work to the advantage of college-bound teeners who consider location as an important college list-building factor.

Nearly all of the states in the Northeast have a humid continental climate. Winters can be harsh, though, which needs to be taken into account by students who are extremely sensitive to the cold.

Here are the locations of the Ivy Leagues as well as some campus stats you need to know:

Brown UniversityProvidence, Rhode Island146 acrescity
Columbia UniversityNew York City, New York36 acresurban
Cornell UniversityIthaca, New York745 acresrural
Dartmouth CollegeHanover, New Hampshire237 acresrural
Harvard UniversityCambridge, Massachusetts5,076 acresurban
Princeton UniversityPrinceton, New Jersey600 acressuburban
University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania299 acresurban
Yale UniversityNew Haven, Connecticut373 acrescity
Ivy League Campuses

Are All High-Ranking Schools Ivy League?

When checking out college rankings, chances are that all the Ivy League institutions can be found near or at the top of the listing. Needless to say, they are some of the best in the US.

But not everything that spearheads rankings is considered one of the 8 Ivies.

If truth be told, some highly ranked colleges and universities in the country are often mistaken as Ivy Leagues due to the level of prestige they hold — they tend to dominate college rankings because of their academics, available programs, faculty, facilities, selectiveness and other indicators college rankers include in their methodologies.

To give you a much better idea, check out the following table that shows the top 30 schools in the Best National University ranking by US News, as well as some stats about them:

1Princeton UniversityPrivate4%Ivy
2Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyPrivate4%Non-Ivy
3Harvard UniversityPrivate4%Ivy
3Stanford UniversityPrivate4%Non-Ivy
3Yale UniversityPrivate5%Ivy
6University of ChicagoPrivate6%Non-Ivy
7Johns Hopkins UniversityPrivate8%Non-Ivy
8University of PennsylvaniaPrivate6%Ivy
9California Institute of TechnologyPrivate4%Non-Ivy
10Duke UniversityPrivate6%Non-Ivy
10Northwestern UniversityPrivate7%Non-Ivy
12Dartmouth CollegePrivate6%Ivy
13Brown UniversityPrivate6%Ivy
13Vanderbilt UniversityPrivate7%Non-Ivy
15Rice UniversityPrivate9%Non-Ivy
15Washington University in St. LouisPrivate13%Non-Ivy
17Cornell UniversityPrivate9%Ivy
18Columbia UniversityPrivate6%Ivy
18University of Notre DamePrivate15%Non-Ivy
20University of California, BerkeleyPublic15%Non-Ivy
20University of California, Los AngelesPublic11%Non-Ivy
22Carnegie Mellon UniversityPrivate14%Non-Ivy
22Emory UniversityPrivate13%Non-Ivy
22Georgetown UniversityPrivate12%Non-Ivy
25New York UniversityPrivate13%Non-Ivy
25University of Michigan – Ann ArborPublic20%Non-Ivy
25University of Southern CaliforniaPrivate13%Non-Ivy
25University of VirginiaPublic21%Non-Ivy
29University of FloridaPublic30%Non-Ivy
29University of North Carolina at Chapel HillPublic19%Non-Ivy
Prestigious Ivy and non-Ivy Schools

Based on US News’ Best National University ranking alone, we can derive the following:

Ivy Leagues are not the highest-ranking schools

While it’s true that an Ivy League school, which is Princeton, is the one dominating the above ranking, not all institutions near the top are Ivy Leagues.

For instance, MIT, being #2, has a higher ranking than almost all of the Ivy Leagues. Stanford, on the other hand, shares the #3 ranking with Harvard and outshines 6 out of 8 Ivies.

The University of Chicago is above UPenn. And Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Caltech, and Vanderbilt are higher in rankings than Cornell.

harvard university

A low acceptance rate does not make a school an Ivy League

There is no denying that Ivy League schools are some of the hardest to get into. However, many other institutions of higher education have lower acceptance rates than the Ivies themselves.

MIT, Stanford, and Caltech, for example, are just as selective as Princeton and Harvard but more selective than the rest of the Ivy Leagues with single-digit acceptance rates.

No public institution is an Ivy League school

Only a handful of public colleges and universities made it to the above ranking.

Despite having higher rankings than other American public institutions, including those that are ranked by US News but failed to make it to the top 30, they remain non-Ivies. As mentioned earlier, all 8 Ivy League schools are private institutions.

Ivy Leagues are not the only good schools in the land

When building a college list, many top-performing high schoolers make the Ivies their top-choice schools.

On the other hand, a lot of average and below-average students make them their reach schools.

Based on the given US News ranking alone, it’s apparent that while the Ivies are good schools, they are not the only good ones to choose from.

Having an Ivy League title is not a ranking factor

There are many different ranking factors US News has included in the methodology used for determining the Best National University ranking.

However, I can assure you that being an Ivy League is not one of them. It just so happens that many of the institutions that got high scores in US News’ methodology are Ivy Leagues.

Cornell is an Ivy easiest (relatively) to get into

If using the acceptance rate as a criterion, then the easiest school to get in would be Cornell, with its rate of 9%. Also, Cornell’s total undergraduate enrollment is about 14,900, which is the highest among all Ivies.

McGraw Hall, Cornell University
McGraw Hall, Cornell University

The average GPA of students accepted to Cornell is 4.05, which is higher than UPenn (3.93) and Princeton (3.9), but the average SAT score of 1470 is the lowest of all Ivies.

Verdict: Although Cornell is extremely hard to get into, it is the easiest of all Ivy League colleges to get in.

Ivy Equivalents

It’s an unspoken rule that the Ivies are the gold standard when it comes to prestige and exclusivity.

Many of the schools usually compared to them come very close in terms of status. And as far as some of the most trusted college rankings in the land go, a lot of them even surpass the real deal.

And this is why several much-desired American institutions of higher education borrow the word “ivy” in giving everyone, especially degree-seeking students, an idea of what they are capable of.

Unlike the actual Ivy Leagues, some of these schools are public and state institutions. Others are small liberal arts colleges.

Below are the different Ivy Equivalents and the schools under each one:

E. Bronson Ingram College at Vanderbilt University
E. Bronson Ingram College at Vanderbilt University

New Ivies

  • Boston College
  • Bowdoin College
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Colby College
  • Colgate University
  • Davidson College
  • Emory University
  • Harvey Mudd College
  • Kenyon College
  • Macalester College
  • New York University
  • Olin College of Engineering
  • Pomona College
  • Reed College
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Rice University
  • Skidmore College
  • Tufts University
  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • University of Michigan
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Rochester
  • University of Virginia
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Washington University in St. Louis

Hidden Ivies

  • Amherst College
  • Barnard College
  • Bates College
  • Boston College
  • Bowdoin College
  • Brandeis University
  • Bryn Mawr College
  • Bucknell University
  • Carleton College
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Claremont McKenna College
  • Colby College
  • Colgate University
  • College of the Holy Cross
  • Colorado College
  • Davidson College
  • Denison University
  • Dickinson College
  • Duke University
  • Emory University
  • Fordham University
  • Franklin and Marshall College
  • Georgetown University
  • Grinnell College
  • Hamilton College
  • Haverford College
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Kenyon College
  • Lafayette College
  • Lehigh University
  • Macalester College
  • Middlebury College
  • Mount Holyoke College
  • Northwestern University
  • Oberlin College
  • Pomona College
  • Reed College
  • Rice University
  • Skidmore College
  • Smith College
  • Southern Methodist University
  • Stanford University
  • Swarthmore College
  • Trinity College
  • Tufts University
  • Tulane University
  • Union College
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Richmond
  • University of Rochester
  • University of Southern California
  • University of the South
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Vassar College
  • Villanova University
  • Wake Forest University
  • Washington and Lee University
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Wellesley College
  • Wesleyan University
  • Williams College

Read more about these schools in the guide “Hidden Ivies: Thirty Colleges of Excellence.”

UMD College Park
UMD College Park

Public Ivies

The main difference between public and private colleges is the role the state governments play in their funding. While private schools are mostly funded by students and individual contributors, public schools funded mostly by states.

As a result, in-state students pay much less (often 2 times less) than out-of-state students.

Also, public (state) colleges are generally bigger than private ones, which increases their acceptance rates which in turn negatively impacts their rankings in US News report.

However, it does not mean that education received in state colleges is less competitive than in private schools.

  • Binghamton University
  • Indiana University Bloomington
  • Miami University
  • Michigan State University
  • Ohio State University
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • Rutgers University
  • University of Arizona
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • University of California, Davis
  • University of California, Irvine
  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • University of California, San Diego
  • University of California, Santa Barbara
  • University of Colorado Boulder
  • University of Connecticut
  • University of Delaware
  • University of Florida
  • University of Georgia
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • University of Iowa
  • University of Maryland, College Park
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Minnesota Twin Cities
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • University of Virginia
  • University of Washington
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • William & Mary

Read more in these books on Amazon:

  • The Public Ivy’s by Richard Moll (the admissions officer at Yale)
  • The Public Ivies: America’s Flagship Public Universities by Howard and Matthew Greene

Little Ivies

  • 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
College of W&M
College of W&M

Southern Ivies

All Ivy League colleges are located in North East USA. However, good schools can be found everywhere. Several schools in the South are known under the unofficial term Southern Ivy or Magnolia Conference:

  • Davidson College
  • Duke University
  • Emory University
  • Rice University
  • Southern Methodist University
  • Tulane University
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • University of Virginia
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Wake Forest University
  • William & Mary

Black Ivies

According to “Blacks in College: A Comparative Study of Students’ Success in Black and in White Institutions” by Dr. Jacqueline Fleming, the list of Black Ivies consists of:

  • Dillard University
  • Fisk University
  • Hampton University
  • Howard University
  • Morehouse College
  • Spelman College
  • Tuskegee University

Seven Sisters

For a long time, women and men in the USA were taught separately. All Ivy League colleges were male-only schools until the 1960s. The last college that started admitting women was Columbia University in the fall of 1983.

Women have been taught in women-only colleges. Seven of them were called Seven Sisters:

Radcliffe dissolved after merging into Harvard College in 1999. Vassar College became coeducational in 1969. Others are still women colleges.

Yale University
Yale University


Are Ivy League students really that smart?

Since 8 out of the top 16 schools are in Ivy League it is fair to say that most students in those colleges are really smart. Ivies accept only a fraction of students who applied, and they can choose the best applicants.

But if the question is if the top student in Harvard is smarter than the top student in, e.g. University of Virginia the answer may not be so obvious.

First, no college can tell for sure that a certain kid one day will be a Nobel prize winner, and those promising applicants may be rejected simply because there is enough space to admit every gifted person.

And if this person is not admitted, he or she will go to another university.

Second, the price tag of a private college is too high for middle-class families. After certain income level families have to pay the full tuition, which, combined with room and board, may exceed $70,000.

There are many students who after being admitted to top private schools will go to state colleges because they cannot afford the tuition of a private college.

Is Ivy League education worth it?

The question should probably be, “Is education in top private school worth it?” because there are many top non-Ivy private schools. The answer to the question depends on each person’s circumstances.

If I was accepted in two colleges, top private and top public ones, then the answer depends on how much my parents must pay.

If my parents can afford the education without having to take a loan, then the answer is maybe. If my parents have to borrow $200K then the answer is no.

The answer is maybe if I have to borrow $200K in order to go to top MBA school because the chances are high that I will be able to quickly repay my loan.

But in my opinion, borrowing over $100K to get an undergraduate degree is not worth it. It’s far better to get a comparable education from a top public college in my state (see Public Ivies below).

One could argue that top schools have alumni network which can help to boost your career, but those connections are only useful in law and business fields; and since both require master’s degrees the much better path is to get an undergraduate degree in public school and graduate in private school later.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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