Exploring Ivy League Universities – Introduction
Chances are, if you’re working through the college application process, you’ve heard the phrase “Ivy League universities.” Ivy League schools are some of the most prestigious universities in the world, and Ivy League applications are among the most competitive. Many students picture themselves on an Ivy League campus when they imagine their college experience.
Every year, students going through the Ivy League admissions process wait anxiously for Ivy Day, the day when each Ivy League university releases its acceptance letters. But the question of “what is the Ivy League” demands a more thoughtful answer, as there is much more to Ivy League schools than prestige and ranking.
Ivy League history, applications, rankings, and more…
In this article, we outline the history of the Ivy League universities and explain which colleges are a part of this exclusive group. We’ll also touch on the Ivy League applications process and show you how to stand out at any of the Ivy League universities on your college list. Finally, we’ll go over the latest Ivy League rankings, including which Ivy League university is the best Ivy League school as well as which is the cheapest Ivy League school. We also highly recommend checking out some of the Ivy League webinars available in our database.
Ivy League Universities: Quick Facts
The Ivy League includes eight different Ivy League universities. Looking at an Ivy League schools map, you’ll see that these Ivy League universities are all located on or near the east coast of the United States. Each Ivy League university is listed below in alphabetical order.
The Ivy League schools include:
- Brown University: Providence, RI
- Columbia University: New York, NY
- Cornell University: Ithaca, NY
- Dartmouth College: Hanover, NH
- Harvard University: Cambridge, MA
- Princeton University: Princeton, NJ
- University of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, PA
- Yale University: New Haven, CT
Although all the Ivy League Universities provide a different student experience, they do share some common features. Each of the Ivy League colleges is a private, mid-size college or university. They are larger than some rural private colleges but smaller than state universities in similar locations on the Ivy League schools map.
Moreover, while each of the Ivy League schools has different specialties, all of the Ivy League universities offer a strong liberal arts curriculum designed to give students a high-caliber, comprehensive education in a variety of subjects. If you attend any Ivy League college, you are guaranteed to get a world-class education.
Low acceptance rates
Ivy League colleges are notorious for their low acceptance rates. These low Ivy League acceptance rates stem from a combination of popularity and selectivity. Ivy League schools get more college applications than their peer institutions, and they can only give an acceptance letter to a small fraction of applicants. An acceptance letter from even one Ivy League university is difficult to come by, and admission into multiple Ivy League schools is even rarer. For a look at why Ivy League admissions, and Harvard admissions specifically, are so competitive, let’s look at some of the recent Ivy League acceptance rates at all the Ivy League colleges.
Class of 2026 Ivy League acceptance rates
The Harvard acceptance rate for the Class of 2027 was slightly higher than the previous year’s record low for the Harvard admissions office: 3.41%. Alternatively, the Yale acceptance rate for the Class of 2027 was a record low for the university, at 4.35%. The Brown University acceptance rate is similar to its peer Ivy League universities at 5.08%. Similarly competitive, the Dartmouth acceptance rate was 6% and the Columbia University acceptance rate was 3.9%.
In an effort to reduce anxiety among applicants, numbers for the Princeton acceptance rate, Cornell University acceptance rate, and UPenn acceptance rate will not be released until after the admissions cycle is complete. However, prior year data indicate that the acceptance rates at these Ivy League universities are similar to their peers, with UPenn’s around 4%, Princeton’s around 6%, and Cornell’s around 9-10%.
What is an Ivy League university?
The Ivy League to which all eight Ivy League colleges belong is actually an athletic conference, similar to the Big Ten or SEC. However, the term Ivy League has since become a shorthand way to refer to some of the most elite academic universities in the country, the Ivy League colleges. Outside of the Ivy League college presence in the same athletic conference, little distinguishes Ivy League Universities from other top universities in the country.
It is important to recognize that an Ivy League university is not inherently better than a non Ivy League university. While Harvard admissions is certainly competitive, the same could be said for Stanford admissions or MIT admissions. Ivy League acceptance rates are also not always lower than those of their peer schools. MIT admissions only admitted 4.68% of freshman applicants to the Class of 2027, and Stanford admissions only accepted around 4% of their applicants in the same time frame. So, when asking the question “What is the Ivy League?”, it is important to remember that not all top schools are a part of the Ivy League.
Not all top schools are Ivy League Universities
In fact, there are many schools outside of the Ivy League universities whose rankings and prestige are comparable to those of Ivy League schools. Some of the names used to refer to these schools include “little Ivies,” “hidden Ivies,” and “public Ivies.” Little Ivies are elite schools that have a total enrollment typically around 2,000 students and include colleges like Amherst, Bowdoin, and Swarthmore. Hidden Ivies like Davidson, Lehigh, and Vanderbilt offer a liberal arts curriculum similar to that at Ivy League universities but receive less national recognition than Ivy League universities. Finally, public Ivy League schools are state-funded, elite universities such as UNC Chapel Hill, University of Virginia, and UCLA.
Rankings stay high
Ivy League universities are not inherently better than other universities simply by being a part of the Ivy League. In fact, the question of “what is the Ivy League” has nothing to do with academic excellence at all, as the Ivy League is simply the term for the athletic conference these schools play in. The origins of this conference also relate to these schools’ histories, which in turn boosts their prestige.
However, because of the Ivy League colleges’ renown and prestige, Ivy League rankings remain consistently high. This means getting an acceptance letter from Ivy League admissions remains difficult. Ivy League applications are challenging, so we recommend also submitting college applications to schools outside of the Ivy League colleges. For more information on submitting college applications, or Ivy League admissions in general, check out this article by a Princeton graduate.
The Origins of the “Ivy League”
The name “Ivy League” given to the current Ivy League Universities stems from a 1930s newspaper editorial in which students from the eight Ivy League universities called for the formation of an athletic conference for the then-called “Ivy League colleges.” By creating the conference, these schools aimed to formalize the links between them resulting from their shared histories.
Throughout the 1940s, administrators from the Ivy League schools worked to make the league a reality. In 1954, the Ivy League as we know it today was born. These Ivy League universities do still compete in athletic competitions to this day, even though the Ivy League schools are more well-known for their academic excellence.
Even though the actual Ivy League itself is a more recent creation, all of the Ivy League colleges except for Cornell were founded during the colonial period. Harvard is the oldest Ivy League school, founded in 1636. So, it is not just the oldest Ivy League school, but also the oldest university in the country.
Some of America’s most famous historical figures were educated at Ivy League colleges, including Alexander Hamilton (King’s College, later known as Columbia University), James Madison (College of New Jersey, now Princeton), and John Adams (Harvard).
These Ivy League schools have rich histories and have been involved in many notable events. Princeton University, for example, played in the first-ever game of American Football in 1869. Many people also know that the website Facebook originated at Harvard University, where its founder Mark Zuckerberg attended college. In addition, Dartmouth College was the birthplace of the coding language BASIC, which made it a pioneer in the emerging field of Computer Science in the 1950s. Also, Yale University was the first university in the country to award doctoral degrees and one of the first to offer majors in Public Health and Medicine. These events represent just a small sample of the impact the Ivy League colleges have had on the world.
Why do they call it an Ivy League school?
The name Ivy League given to the Ivy League colleges is a reference to the ivy plants that cover the historic buildings on Ivy League campuses. Many Ivy League colleges (and some others) in the 1800s celebrated Class Day with the tradition of “planting the ivy,” when students in the senior class would add their own vines to the existing ivy growth. This tradition also existed at other, non Ivy League colleges, such as Bryn Mawr and Simmons, which were founded around this time period.
A sports writer named Stanley Woodward first coined the term “Ivy Colleges” in 1933 when he was writing about the common athletic programs at these schools, now known as Ivy League colleges. When the athletic conference was founded in the 1950s, the schools were then referred to as Ivy League colleges, and the name has stuck to this day. In addition to the name “Ivy League college,” the ivy on the building walls, particularly at Princeton, has also persisted over the years.
How many Ivy League schools are there?
Currently, there are only eight Ivy League schools in the country, and there are no plans to expand the conference to include more schools.
Although many other colleges have switched or altered their conferences, these eight Ivy League universities have been part of the Ivy League since the beginning! Each school may say that they are the best Ivy League school, but currently, Princeton University sits on top of the US News Ivy League schools rankings.
But, Ivy League rankings aside, each school has its own unique features and specialties that distinguish it from its fellow Ivy League colleges. Harvard, for example, is the oldest Ivy League school. Brown is unique among the Ivy League colleges because of its open curriculum, which allows students more freedom to choose the types of classes they want to take.
Ivy League Schools Map
Looking at the Ivy League schools map below, it is apparent that the Ivy League colleges are concentrated in the Northeastern United States. This is partially because seven out of the eight Ivy League colleges on this Ivy League schools map were formed before the United States even existed and were originally part of the 13 British colonies in North America. Colleges located further west were founded later, at a considerable distance from the Ivy League universities.
When thinking about the best Ivy League university for you, location is an important factor to consider. For some, the best Ivy League school may be the cheapest Ivy League school. For others, the best Ivy League school may be the one with the smallest Ivy League campus. If you’re comparing the different Ivy League schools, you can check out CollegeAdvisor.com’s Ivy League webinars, like this one.
Below is a chart outlining the different Ivy League schools along with their locations, their city’s population size, and the Ivy League acceptance rates. On this Ivy League schools map, you will notice that Dartmouth, Princeton, and Cornell are located in the smallest, most rural cities. Brown, Harvard, and Yale are located in mid-size cities with close proximity to larger areas. Columbia and UPenn are Ivy League schools located in the hearts of major cities.
|School Name||Acceptance |
|Location||Nearby City Population|
|Brown University||5.08%||Providence, RI||189,692|
|Columbia University||3.9%||New York City, NY||8.85 million|
|Cornell University||9-10%||Ithaca, NY||32,526|
|Dartmouth College||6%||Hanover, NH||9,166|
|Harvard University||3.41%||Cambridge, MA||121,051|
|Princeton University||6%||Princeton, NJ||31,026|
|University of Pennsylvania||4%||Philadelphia, PA||1,619,355|
|Yale University||4.35%||New Haven, CT||134,871|
Many options to choose from
While the Ivy League schools map may be concentrated in the New England area, there are certainly a wide variety of Ivy League campus environments to choose from. In fact, there is no one-size-fits-all definition of an Ivy League university; each Ivy League university has a different atmosphere and culture that you should experience for yourself. Conveniently, many Ivy League webinars offer virtual tours of campuses if you want to see them without a campus visit.
Next, let’s learn more about each of the Ivy League universities beyond just the Ivy League acceptance rates.
Located in Providence, Rhode Island, Brown is an Ivy League campus that prioritizes diversity and student choice in its academic mission. Notably, rather than the set of “core curriculum classes” required at most Ivy League colleges, Brown offers a more open curriculum in which students can choose the subjects they want to learn about. In addition, students can “shop” for courses and sample a wide range of offerings before deciding on their specific concentration, what other schools would call a major.
Moreover, Brown offers a school of Engineering and Public Health, which is not present at some other Ivy League colleges that emphasize their liberal arts roots. Keep in mind, the university is an urban campus, located in the center of Rhode Island’s capital city of Providence. Providence is known for its arts and culture, particularly the Rhode Island School of Design, and its many markets and restaurants. Because of the prime location and strong academics of this Ivy League college, the current Brown University ranking in US News is #13.
Next, located in New York City, Columbia University offers 20 different undergraduate and graduate colleges in addition to the flagship Columbia College. From its world-renowned graduate colleges in Education and Dentistry to its Climate and Business Schools, Columbia offers a wide variety of educational programs. Like other Ivy League universities, it maintains a strong commitment to the liberal arts through its College of Arts and Sciences and core curriculum. However, Columbia prides itself on offering many pathways for students to expand their education beyond the core.
Students at Columbia can also take advantage of everything New York City has to offer, from competitive jobs and internships to a bustling performing arts scene. However, despite the campus’s urban location, most of the students live in residence halls or other on-campus housing, creating a vibrant Columbia community within the larger city. All of these features contribute to the high Columbia University ranking in US News at #18.
Also in New York only a bit more northwest, Cornell University is the newest of the eight Ivy League universities. Founded in 1865, Cornell was the first university to offer degrees in Journalism, Veterinary Medicine, and Electrical Engineering, all programs which still exist today. The school is also the only one of the Ivy League schools to offer a degree program in Hotel Administration. Currently, this Ivy League university offers undergraduates a choice of nearly 80 fields of study, one of the highest numbers of any of the Ivy League Universities.
In fact, Cornell offers a wide range of programs, particularly in the sciences. Its research facilities are among the best of all the Ivy League universities. Two of Cornell’s most well-known programs include a Pre-Med/Medical School program based in Doha, Qatar, and a world-renowned Ornithology Lab located near the main campus in Ithaca. These opportunities are only offered through Cornell and provide students interested in these fields with unique experiences and quality education. These offerings are one of the reasons why the Cornell University ranking in US News is #17.
Nestled in the small town of Hanover, NH, Dartmouth College is one of the more secluded and rural Ivy League universities. While UPenn, Princeton, and Columbia are surrounded by bustling cityscapes, Dartmouth is surrounded by mountains and natural beauty. As such, Dartmouth heavily values sustainability and preservation of the environment. Many students also participate in community service groups, organic farming, and the Dartmouth Outing Club, the oldest and largest outdoor recreation club in the country.
Nowadays, students can also choose from over 60 different majors, including many interdisciplinary studies programs. Moreover, Dartmouth encourages students to combine their major with a second major or minor.
Additionally, the Dartmouth calendar is unique among Ivy League universities, as they divide the year into quarters rather than semesters. So, students can spend almost any time they want doing extracurricular work rather than being forced to save internships for the summers only. Currently, the Dartmouth ranking in US News is #12.
Located in the city of Cambridge, Harvard University is the oldest Ivy League university and also one of the most well-known Ivy League universities. Harvard offers nearly 60 undergraduate majors that stay true to the school’s liberal arts roots. Although the diversity of their course offerings is not as high as their peer Ivy League universities, their commitment to academic excellence is exceptional. Moreover, the campus boasts twenty-eight different libraries and fifteen different museums, providing learning spaces outside of the traditional classroom. Also, the nearby city of Boston has an amazing array of historical sites, museums, and parks, including the Arnold Arboretum, which Harvard sponsors.
Additionally, Harvard has over 500 student organizations that students can join, along with several secret societies and clubs. The annual football game against Yale has also been going on for over 130 years. Other traditions include rubbing the toe of the “John Harvard Statue” in Harvard Yard for good luck on exams. Currently, the Harvard University ranking sits at #3 in US News.
Located in Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University is considered one of the top Ivy League schools in the country. Princeton has educated 17 Rhodes scholars in the past ten years, and Princeton faculty and staff members have gone on to win a total of 31 Nobel prizes. It also prides itself on being a research university with roots in the liberal arts as students conduct research projects in a wide variety of humanities and scientific fields.
Additionally, students at Princeton participate in freshman seminars designed to spark students’ interests in the subjects that excite them. So, at this Ivy League college, students are immersed in research opportunities and work closely with professors from the moment they step onto the campus. One of Princeton’s flagship, first-year programs is the year-long Humanities Sequence, which is offered at other Ivy League schools but is one of Princeton’s most popular tracks. Due to its prestige and academic record, the Princeton University ranking is #1 according to US News.
University of Pennsylvania
In the heart of Philadelphia, The University of Pennsylvania offers around 100 fields of study across its four colleges. Like the other Ivy League universities, its most popular college is the College of Arts and Sciences, where the majority of its majors are housed. Penn is also one of the largest Ivy League universities, with a total undergraduate enrollment of just over 10,000.
Keep in mind, students at this Ivy League college enjoy the close proximity to downtown Pennsylvania, including its many museums and four major athletic teams. So, if you’re looking for an Ivy League college in a major city, Penn is a great option. Philadelphia also provides many internships and community service opportunities to Penn students. Among Penn’s many traditions is the Penn Relay Carnival, an annual running event first held in 1895. The UPenn ranking in US News is currently #7 overall.
Located in New Haven, Yale University is another of the historical Ivy League colleges that traces its history back to the early 1700s. Additionally, in the style of other Ivy League colleges, they modeled themselves after the European liberal arts universities that existed at that time. While other Ivy League universities allow students to study at different colleges within the university, Yale requires all undergraduates to attend Yale College. Students also must to take at least one course in a variety of subjects within the college and are encouraged to study abroad during their time at Yale.
Like its fellow Ivy League colleges, Yale emphasizes global studies as part of its undergraduate curriculum, requiring students to study at least one foreign language during their time on campus. Also, the current Yale University ranking in US News is #3, which puts it in a tie with nearby Ivy League college rival Harvard.
Ivy League University List – Comparing admissions stats
Now that we’ve covered “What is the Ivy League?” and have some background on the origins of Ivy League universities, let’s get into the statistics of Ivy League colleges. Keep in mind, schools in the Ivy League are considered elite for a reason. As we’ve discussed, Ivy League colleges have some of the lowest acceptance rates in the nation. So, just how low is low when it comes to Ivy League acceptance rates?
Here’s a chart showing all of the Ivy League acceptance rates from the past three years:
|Ivy League University||2022||2021||2020|
|University of Pennsylvania||6%||5.68%||8.07%|
With the exception of a few outliers, we can notice an obvious trend in the Ivy League acceptance rates over the past three years: they’re getting lower since 2020. In fact, the Brown University acceptance rate, Columbia University acceptance rate, Yale University acceptance rate, and Harvard acceptance rate each hit an all-time low this past admissions cycle. Many factors contribute to the record-setting low Ivy League acceptance rates, including the impact of the pandemic and an increase in student interest.
COVID-19 & Ivy League Universities
First, the largest social issue affecting Ivy League universities, and all universities, is the pandemic. Since 2020, many schools have decided to become test-optional. This decision stemmed from the challenges of in-person testing, last-minute site cancellations, and fewer test offerings. Previously, only students with good SAT scores would apply to elite universities. However, more students with lower test scores have chosen to apply, thus expanding the applicant pool. The increased number of applicants in turn plays a large role in the low acceptance rates of the Ivy League universities.
However, Ivy League universities aren’t the only universities across the nation with record-low acceptance rates. Rather, the trend can be seen across colleges, with many schools receiving more college applications than ever. Since universities still have the same number of open slots for incoming students, it only makes sense that acceptance rates are hitting all-time lows. More and more students are hoping for an acceptance letter from Ivy League colleges. However, according to our acceptance rate statistics, they are unlikely to come.
Applying to Ivy League Universities is stressful
Of course, these low acceptance rates cause higher anxiety among applicants. And in truth, applying to an Ivy League university, or any university, can be stressful. The new low acceptance rates are only a catalyst for more stress. For that reason, three Ivy League universities actually decided to withhold their official acceptance rates for the Class of 2026. Similarly, they haven’t officially released the Class of 2027 admission rates. So, the Princeton acceptance rate, Cornell University acceptance rate, and UPenn acceptance rate are all “unofficial.”
There are many ways to determine the “best Ivy League school.” Realistically, the best Ivy League colleges will vary greatly depending on the personality, study interests, and needs of each student. Thus, there is no “one size fits all” Ivy League college. However, if we determine the best Ivy League school based solely on statistics, we can look at both the Ivy League rankings as well as acceptance rates. Now, let’s look at the Ivy League rankings according to U.S. News’ list and compare the statistics:
Ivy League Rankings 2023
The Princeton University ranking might tell us that Princeton is the best Ivy League school if ranking is our only qualifying factor. The Harvard ranking and Yale University ranking also indicate that they are contenders for the “Best Ivy League School” title. However, if we just look at acceptance rates to determine the best Ivy League school, then we see that Harvard admissions is the most selective, with the lowest acceptance rate of all the Ivy League universities.
Look beyond ranking
But what about the Brown University ranking, Dartmouth ranking, and UPenn ranking? It may be surprising to see a number of Ivy League schools ranking higher on the previous list. If Ivy League universities are the best, then, in theory, the Ivy League colleges should hold the top eight slots. Right?
Well, as we know, statistics don’t tell us everything about a school, even an Ivy League college. The Columbia University ranking is #18, but it could be your top choice. The Cornell University ranking follows at #17, but maybe they offer a unique program that you’ve been dreaming of for years.
In fact, there will likely be Ivy schools ranking high on every “best college” list. However, your college list may show something different. Maybe you’ll have a couple of Ivy League universities on your list, and maybe you won’t. So, compare colleges based on majors, location, size, and campus feel. Sure, rankings and acceptance rates tell us something, but they won’t tell us what your dream school is. So, take time to search for your best college.
Ivy League resources
Watch Ivy League webinars and read different articles to see if Ivy League universities make the cut for your college list. However, while watching Ivy League webinars will give you helpful insight into Ivy League colleges and their application process, knowing if you’d actually want to attend one of the Ivy League universities will likely come from a visit. Ivy League webinars and articles give valuable information on Ivy League colleges, but only a visit will show you how you feel on campus.
Ivy League universities are elite and prestigious schools. Thus, the Ivy League acceptance rates will always be among the lowest in the nation. In addition, Ivy League colleges are “reach” schools for every student, no matter how competitive of an applicant a student may be. So, getting an acceptance letter from any of the Ivy League universities is a grand feat.
Ivy League universities & your college list
When considering adding Ivy League schools to your college list, remember that there are no guarantees when it comes to Ivy League colleges. So, you should always categorize Ivy League schools as “reach” schools. Still, you may be tempted to apply to multiple Ivy League colleges. If you are seriously interested in more than one Ivy League university, that’s perfectly fine! However, don’t apply to all the Ivy League universities just because of prestige.
All to say, think carefully about how to include Ivy League colleges on your college list. Indeed, the justification for applying to Ivy League universities shouldn’t be a simple “why not?” Rather, only apply to Ivy League colleges that you actually want to attend. After all, what is the Ivy League? It’s really just an elite title. So, more than just simply being one of the Ivy League universities, consider what specifically motivates each of your Ivy League applications.
Most expensive colleges
It may come as no surprise that Ivy League universities are some of the most expensive universities to attend. If you aren’t eligible for aid, then this may be a deterring factor when considering where to submit college applications. However, Ivy League schools tend to support admitted students who demonstrate financial need.
Another thing to keep in mind: students completing Ivy League applications shouldn’t worry about demonstrated interest as a factor in the Ivy League admissions process. Ivy League schools are the most sought-after universities in the nation. As you’d expect, graduates of Ivy League colleges are part of an elite group and often go on to have fruitful careers. Basically, with so many students vying for an acceptance letter from Ivy League admissions officers, Ivy League admissions offices don’t need to use demonstrated interest.
This also means that students completing their application to Ivy League colleges Early Action or Early Decision don’t necessarily have better Ivy League admissions odds. Most college applications for Ivy League schools come from incredibly competitive applicants. If you look at numbers alone, it may seem as though the Ivy League universities have higher acceptance rates for EA and ED applicants. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. No matter to which deadline you apply, students hoping to enroll in Ivy League universities will need to do much more than meet the average GPA to stand out.
Beyond Ivy League Schools
When you think of a prestigious university in the US, it’s likely that you think of one of the eight Ivy League schools we’ve mentioned. However, just as brand-name clothes aren’t necessarily the most fashionable, Ivy League universities aren’t the only good schools. So, as you plan for the application process, don’t just look at the Ivy League.
Additionally, if you look at the Ivy League schools rankings, you’ll notice that many universities outrank Ivy League colleges. For instance, take a look at Princeton. While the Princeton University ranking, an Ivy League university, is #1 on U.S. News Best National Universities’ list, MIT actually outranks all the other Ivy League colleges coming in at #2. So, even though it’s not one of the Ivy League universities, the MIT admissions is just as competitive.
Next, let’s check out some high ranking non-Ivy League schools.
Top Colleges NOT in the Ivy League
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MIT admissions is highly selective with an acceptance rate of 4%, comparable to that of all the Ivy League schools. It is one of the top scientific and technological research universities in the nation.
The UC system has many top-ranking universities, including UC Berkeley. In fact, this school is known as one of the most prestigious universities in the world. The acceptance rate to UC Berkeley is 15%.
Often confused for an Ivy League university, Duke is a prestigious, private university located in Durham, North Carolina. With an acceptance rate of 6%, it’s no surprise that Duke is often compared to Ivy League schools.
University of Chicago
UChicago is one of the top research universities in the world. It comes in as #6 on U.S. News Best National Universities’ list, ahead of many Ivy League colleges.
The name just sounds like that of an Ivy League college, however, Vanderbilt isn’t technically an Ivy League university. However, Vanderbilt ranks as #13 on the U.S. News’ list and has an acceptance rate of 7%.
Is Stanford an Ivy League school?
The Ivy League is a group of eight private universities recognized as the most prestigious schools in the U.S. Stanford University is not an Ivy League university. However, that doesn’t make Stanford any “better” or “worse” than any of the Ivy League colleges. It just doesn’t fall within the cohort known as Ivy League schools.
In fact, Stanford University outranks many Ivy League colleges, coming in as #3 on U.S. News’ Best National Universities list. With such a high ranking, it’s no surprise that Stanford admissions is selective. The acceptance rate is similar to that of an Ivy League, at just 4%.
Stanford admissions has to be selective with so many students vying for a spot at this academically rigorous university. In fact, Stanford is actually part of a group referred to as the “West Coast Ivies.” These are considered to be the best universities on the west coast—and certainly on par with Ivy League universities in the East.
Is Duke University an Ivy League?
Now that we’ve learned “what is the Ivy League,” remember that some of the top universities in the nation are not technically considered Ivy League universities. Duke University is another prestigious university that is not an Ivy League college. However, it outranks several Ivy League schools on many college rankings lists. Ivy League university or not, Duke is without a doubt an excellent university.
We can think of Duke University as a part of the “Southern Ivies.” Basically, the Southern Ivies are the top universities in southern states. Another Southern Ivy would be Vanderbilt, which is also a top-ranking, selective university located in the south.
Is MIT Ivy League?
MIT is another high-ranking, selective, and world-renowned university. But, knowing what we now do about Ivy League universities, that doesn’t technically make it a part of the Ivy League colleges. Due to its well-known name and its close proximity to an Ivy League campus (it’s just one train stop away from Harvard), MIT is often mistaken for an Ivy League college.
MIT’s campus also has the feel of an Ivy League campus. What do we mean by that? Well, an Ivy League campus is rich in history and has robust resources for its students. MIT is similar to an Ivy League campus in that way. However, different from Ivy League colleges, MIT places a large focus on science and technology. The majority of Ivy League universities bias a liberal arts education.
So, while MIT is another excellent university, it is not an Ivy League university. However, MIT has a close relationship with Harvard and even allows students to cross-register for courses.
What are “Public Ivy League Schools”?
Unlike Ivy League universities, “public Ivy League schools” aren’t an official group. Instead, the phrase generally refers to the most high-ranking public research universities in the nation. The public Ivy League schools first came about in 1985 from Richard Moll, a Yale graduate. He published a book where he coined the term “public Ivy League schools.”
So, how does a university make the list of public ivy league schools? Well, according to Richard Moll, these are universities that provide students with an education comparable to that of an Ivy League university, but at a public university price. Let’s take a look at the original Public Ivy League Schools list.
Public Ivy League Schools
College of William & Mary
William and Mary is the second oldest college in the US, founded in 1693. It has an acceptance rate of 37%, which may seem high when compared to Ivy League universities, such as the Brown University acceptance rate or Dartmouth acceptance rate. However, it is still a highly selective school.
Miami University consistently ranks as one of the top 50 National Public Universities on U.S. News’ list. They are proud of their “Public Ivy” title, as they should be. The university is committed to educating students who are prepared to succeed in the real world as well as in the classroom.
University of California
All of the universities in the UC system as of 1985 make the list: Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Diego, Irvine, Davis, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Riverside. These universities are not only some of the best in California but in the nation. Check out some tips on navigating the UC application if you’re interested in one of these top-ranking public universities.
University of Michigan
The University of Michigan Ann Arbor has an acceptance rate of 20%. While higher than the Columbia University acceptance rate and UPenn acceptance rate, admissions to this top public university is still quite selective. This large institution offers its students one of the best educations in over 275 degree programs.
University of North Carolina
UNC-Chapel Hill is a highly sought-after university with a highly selective acceptance rate of 19%. When compared to Ivy League universities, such as the Harvard acceptance rate or the Cornell University acceptance rate, it may seem high. But don’t be fooled, gaining admissions to UNC will take careful planning from competitive candidates.
University of Texas
UT Austin has an acceptance rate of 29%. When compared to the Dartmouth acceptance rate or Yale acceptance rate, that may seem high. However, consider how much larger of a university it is when compared to Ivy League schools which offer fewer slots.
University of Vermont
Recently ranked as the #1 college town in the nation, UV in Burlington largely appeals to high school students nationwide. In addition to being considered one of the best college towns, the University of Vermont has a long history. It’s the fifth oldest university in the Northeast, after the Ivy League schools Brown, Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth.
University of Virginia
Since the list was published, other universities have been added to the list. While these universities aren’t technically Ivy League schools, they all offer a top-quality education.
Here are some other universities considered to be Public Ivy League Schools:
- University of Minnesota
- UW Madison
- Indiana University Bloomington
- Michigan State University
- University of Washington
Recently, UGA was added to the list. This list shows us that there are plenty of options outside of Ivy League colleges.
What are the “Little Ivies”?
Similar to the “public ivies,” the “Little Ivies” are an unofficial group of elite, private liberal arts colleges in the northeast. The Little Ivies are most directly associated with the NESCAC athletic conference. However, the Little Ivies also contain schools that are in other conferences.
The group of Little Ivies also contains the “Little Three.” Sound familiar? You may have heard of the Big Three, referring to the Ivy League universities Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. While the Harvard acceptance rate, Princeton acceptance rate, and Yale acceptance rate are some of the most competitive, the Little Ivies also contain some highly selective schools.
What schools make up the Little Three of the Little Ivies? The Little Ivies refer to Amherst College, Wesleyan College, and Williams College. These schools are some of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation. Listed below is a complete list of the Little Ivies according to a 2016 Bloomberg article.
Complete List of Little Ivies
- Amherst College
- Bates College
- Bowdoin College
- Brandeis University
- Bucknell University
- Colgate University
- Connecticut College
- Colby College
- Hamilton College
- Haverford College
- Lafayette College
- Middlebury College
- Swarthmore College
- Trinity College
- Tufts University
- Union College
- Vassar College
- Wesleyan University
While the Public Ivies are large institutions, the Little Ivies are much smaller (hence their name). Little Ivies usually have an undergraduate enrollment of fewer than 2,000 undergraduates, which is also smaller than the Ivy League universities.
What are the “Hidden Ivies”?
Time to get into the most mysterious ivies: the Hidden Ivies. Ok, so maybe they aren’t as mysterious as the alluring name suggests. The Hidden Ivies were established in a way similar to the Public Ivies. While they aren’t technically Ivy League colleges, they are some of the best schools in the U.S.
The term “Hidden Ivies” came from a book published in 2000 by Howard Greene. It is about some of the best liberal arts colleges in the country. It includes many of the colleges listed above as well as a fair number of additions.
The Hidden Ivies are highly selective, like the public and Little Ivies. They provide their students with an education comparable to that of an Ivy League university. So, what’s the difference between Ivy League universities and Hidden Ivies?
Smaller class sizes
The class size at Hidden Ivies will be small. While Ivy League universities are generally medium-sized universities, the Hidden Ivies are small universities. This means that there will be a lower student-to-faculty ratio, and students will be able to develop closer relationships with their professors.
While an Ivy League campus is sure to be beautiful, it may be overwhelming. The Hidden Ivies will provide a much smaller and tight-knit community. The Ivy League acceptance rates are also some of the lowest in the nation. However, fewer students will be competing for spots at the Hidden Ivies. So, you’ll have a better chance of admission and merit scholarships as compared to Ivy League colleges.
Consider the best fit for you
There are many more quality schools that may better fit your preferences and needs than just the Ivy League colleges. We’ve learned a little about public ivies, Little Ivies, and Hidden Ivies. But there are even the “New Ivies.” This list of respected universities contains some great schools, such as the Claremont Colleges.
There will always be Ivy League schools ranking high on “best colleges” lists. Receiving a coveted acceptance letter to one of the Ivy League colleges is an admirable goal, but remember that there are other excellent options. Also, completing Ivy League applications is a huge undertaking. Always be sure that you’re applying to Ivy League colleges for the right reasons. Remember, a college education is more than just a prestigious name.
Ivy League Schools Ranked
Now that we’ve answered the “What is the Ivy League?” question, let’s move on to looking at the rankings for the Ivy League colleges. Let’s review the Ivy League ranking for each of the Ivy League universities. According to U.S. News, the Ivy League Universities are ranked as follows:
U.S. News – Ivy League Rankings
|Ivy League schools ranking||Ivy League University name||Ivy League acceptance rates||Ivy League University application deadline|
|#1||Princeton||6%||EA: Nov. 1; RD: Jan. 1|
|#3 (tied)||Harvard||3.4%||EA: Nov. 1; RD: Jan. 1|
|#3 (tied)||Yale||4.35%||EA: Nov. 1; RD: Jan 2|
|#7||UPenn||4%||ED: Nov. 1; RD: Jan 5|
|#12||Dartmouth||6%||ED: Nov. 1; RD: Jan 3|
|#13||Brown||5.08%||ED: Nov. 1; RD: Jan 5|
|#17||Cornell||9-10%||ED: Nov. 1; RD: Jan 2|
|#18||Columbia||3.9%||ED: Nov. 1; RD: Jan 1|
Ivy League universities are highly ranked, which means they’re consistently included in the Top 20 colleges in the nation. However, the Ivy League rankings are subject to change from year to year. For example, the Dartmouth ranking and Cornell University ranking were both at #13 just two years ago. Additionally, each Ivy League Schools ranking can differ based on the source.
You might have seen headlines that criticize rankings among the Ivy League universities in recent news articles. The status of Ivy League rankings came into question earlier this year when a professor at Columbia University published an analysis accusing the university of submitting ‘inaccurate, dubious, or highly misleading’ statistics for the U.S. News ranking reports.
Because of this scandal, Columbia University pulled out of the Ivy League schools ranking for this year. To determine what is the Ivy League ranking for Columbia, U.S. News recalculated data from the federal government. As a result, the Columbia University ranking plummeted from #2 in the Ivy League rankings to #18.
As we mentioned earlier, the Ivy League schools ranking can differ based on the source. Below is another list of Ivy League rankings, according to Forbes.
Forbes- Ivy League Rankings
|Ivy League schools ranking||Ivy League university name|
In 2021, Forbes redesigned the way they rank colleges and universities. After this redesign, several Ivy League universities slipped in the rankings.
As you can see in the chart above, Forbes placed Harvard, the oldest Ivy League school, at #15 in the Ivy League Schools ranking. This drop happened for several reasons.
Explaining the Harvard ranking
First, Harvard’s retention rate declined from 98% to 90% as a result of classes being held online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many returning students chose to take a leave of absence and international students were kept off campus due to travel restrictions. These factors impacted Harvard’s retention rate, as well as the retention rates of other Ivy League colleges.
Harvard also scored poorly on the Forbes Pell index, which tracks the percentage of Pell Grant recipients along with their six-year graduation rate. Harvard does not enroll as many Pell Grant recipients as other Ivy League universities. For the 2020-2021 academic year, 11% of undergraduates at Harvard received Pell Grants. By comparison at some of the other Ivy League colleges, 21% of undergraduates at Princeton received Pell Grants,18% at Yale, 16% at Dartmouth, and 13% at Brown.
Looking beyond rankings
However, keep in mind that while the Ivy League rankings are a useful tool, they don’t always tell you everything you need to know about the Ivy League schools. As you build your college list and prepare your college applications, you shouldn’t get too caught up in college rankings or prestige, especially where the Ivy League universities are concerned.
Additionally, all of the Ivy League universities (and so many other colleges!) are excellent schools. One ranking point on U.S. News’s rankings for any of the Ivy League colleges doesn’t mean that much on an individual basis for any given student.
Also, please note that the Ivy League universities are almost always highly ranked in the broader scheme of things. Compared to Little Ivies, you’ll almost always find the Ivy League colleges at the top of the lists. However, you will notice a bit of variation from year to year among the top 5-10 schools nationally.
Best Ivy League University
So, what is the best Ivy League school out of all the Ivy League colleges?
Based on the current U.S. News college rankings, Princeton is the best Ivy League school.
However, many of the Ivy League universities are highly ranked, and a difference of one or two ranking points doesn’t mean everything. Although Princeton is currently considered the best Ivy League school, that doesn’t mean it is better than any of the other Ivy League universities or other top-ranking schools. As we noted earlier, the Ivy League schools ranking is subject to change based on a variety of factors, including retention rates, academics, and more.
Best universities for you
Furthermore, a higher college ranking does not equal a better experience. The best Ivy League school will be different for everyone. It might be that your best fit is among the Little Ivies instead of the Ivy League schools. That’s okay! Before you begin your college applications, you should focus on building a college list with the best universities for you.
Don’t worry about filling your college list with Ivy League schools or applying to all the Ivy League colleges just to say that you did. If you are committed to applying to Ivy League schools, focus on the ones that are best for you. Remember, the best Ivy League school for you will be the one that meets your needs and matches your interests and goals.
Cheapest Ivy League School
The estimated cost of attendance at an Ivy League university is an important factor to consider as you begin the college application process. If you are interested in submitting college applications to any of the Ivy League universities, you should know how much it’ll cost to attend.
Because Ivy League colleges are highly ranked private institutions, you can expect to see hefty sticker prices among all of the Ivy League schools. The estimated cost of attendance at Ivy League universities is made up of tuition, room and board, books, transportation, and other personal living expenses. As college tuition continues to increase, you can expect that the most expensive schools, including Ivy League colleges, will get more expensive in the future.
Besides the Ivy League schools ranking, it’s important to know which of the Ivy League universities is the most expensive and which is the least expensive. So, what’s the cheapest Ivy League school? Let’s review the chart below to determine which of the Ivy League colleges is the cheapest.
Ivy League Tuition Chart
|Ivy League College name||Ivy League Campus Location||Estimated Cost of Attendance|
|Princeton||Princeton, New Jersey||$83,140|
|Yale||New Haven, Connecticut||$87,705|
|Dartmouth||Hanover, New Hampshire||$87,793|
|Brown||Providence, Rhode Island||$87,648|
|Cornell||Ithaca, New York||$88,150|
|Columbia||New York, New York||$85,967|
Based on the information above, the cheapest Ivy League school among all of the Ivy League colleges is Harvard University.
However, just because Harvard has the lowest estimated cost of attendance doesn’t mean that you will be expected to pay the full sticker price at this university or any of the Ivy League universities.
Although Ivy League universities don’t offer academic, merit, or athletic scholarships, they do have large endowments which can translate into larger award packages than other top colleges. For U.S. citizens, many of the Ivy League schools are need-blind. This means that your ability to pay for college is not a factor in the Ivy League admissions process.
Meeting demonstrated need
Additionally, many of the Ivy League colleges meet 100% of a student’s demonstrated need. This means that the Ivy League university will cover the difference between the cost of attendance and your family’s expected contribution. With financial aid policies like those mentioned above, attending an Ivy League college could end up being more affordable than a state school!
It’s important to do your research before you begin any of your Ivy League applications. You’ll want to know everything about an Ivy League college before you attend. This includes how much it will cost per year to go to any of the Ivy League universities.
Remember, the cheapest Ivy League school for you will depend on a variety of factors, including your family’s income and your financial aid package. You might be given more aid at one of the Ivy League schools over another.
Are you wondering which college or Ivy League university to go to? Check out our College Finder Series for all things college applications. You can read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 for more information about other considerations as you strategize how to get into the Ivy League colleges.
What Is The Easiest Ivy League School To Get Into
Now that we know more about the Ivy League schools ranking and the cheapest Ivy League college, you might be wondering what is the easiest Ivy League college to get into.
In short, none of the Ivy League universities are easy to get into. With Ivy League acceptance rates that fall under 10%, all of the Ivy League universities will be reach schools for any applicant.
That said, the Ivy League university with the highest acceptance rate is Cornell. The latest Cornell University acceptance rate was 9%. In general, the Cornell University acceptance rate tends to hover around 8-10% depending on the year. So, while it might be the highest of the Ivy League acceptance rates, it is still low by any other standard.
Gaining acceptance to an Ivy League School
Additionally, with such low Ivy League acceptance rates, there are no guarantees that a student who gets into one Ivy League university will get into another. For instance, a student could reasonably get into Princeton but be rejected from Columbia or Brown. As we noted above, the Brown University acceptance rate, Columbia University acceptance rate, and the Princeton acceptance rate are all similar.
In other words, with such a large amount of Ivy League applications being submitted each year, you cannot bank on being admitted to one Ivy League college over another based on acceptance rates alone.
Ivy League admissions are incredibly competitive for a reason. The Ivy League universities attract huge numbers of applicants each year. Many of these students have similar backgrounds and sparkling credentials. So, as you plan your Ivy League applications, you should do all you can to stand out. Doing so will give you the best chance at boosting your Ivy League admissions chances.
Check out our Ivy League college resources before you begin the Ivy League admissions process. You can learn more about how to set yourself up for success when you are applying to Ivy League schools. Additionally, you can check out one of our many Ivy League webinars by visiting our website.
How To Get Into An Ivy League University
In this section, we’ll highlight some of the most useful content in our CollegeAdvisor resource library pertaining to Ivy League universities. If you’re wondering how to get into any (or all) of the Ivy League universities, you’ll want to check out the articles we’ve linked below.
One of the first ways to know if you’ll get into any of the Ivy League universities is to understand the Ivy League admissions process. This includes acceptance rates, test scores, GPA requirements, and general college admissions requirements.
As we previously stated, acceptance rates for the Ivy League universities are going to be extremely low and highly competitive. For example, the Dartmouth acceptance rate, Harvard acceptance rate, UPenn acceptance rate, and Yale acceptance rate are all under 7%. This means that you’ll need to be a stellar applicant with a near-perfect GPA and great essays to truly stand out in the admissions process.
Each of the Ivy League schools remained test-optional for the latest admissions cycle. In fact, all eight Ivy League colleges made our list of best test-optional colleges. Check out the link below to read more about the 25 best test-optional colleges.
More resources on test scores
Even though the Ivy League universities went test-optional, you can choose to submit your standardized test score along with your Ivy League applications. Check out our guide on what makes a good SAT, ACT, and PSAT score before you decide to send your scores to any of the Ivy League colleges.
As we mentioned earlier, the best Ivy League school for you will be the one that matches your goals and interests. So, if you are having a hard time narrowing down your list of Ivy League colleges, you can do some research to break your list down by best major.
Economics, Business, and STEM majors
According to U.S. News, Harvard University, MIT, and Stanford University offer the best undergraduate admissions programs for economics. However, just because these colleges made the “best of” list doesn’t mean that their college applications are all the same. You’ll want to read over the Harvard admissions, MIT admissions, and Stanford admissions websites before you begin your college applications.
However, if business is not your preferred major and your academic interests are more STEM-oriented, you should check out our guide on the best colleges for science, engineering, and computer science majors.
In truth, it’s no surprise that Harvard University, Cornell University, Yale University, Princeton University, and UPenn top the lists for each of these STEM-related majors. The popularity and competitiveness of these areas of study greatly contribute to the high Cornell University ranking, Yale University ranking, Princeton University ranking, and UPenn ranking.
Liberal Arts majors
Maybe the liberal arts are more your speed. If that’s the case, you will want to look at the Ivy League colleges that offer the best liberal arts programs.
The Ivy League colleges that top the “best of” lists for liberal arts include Yale University, UPenn, Harvard University, Columbia University, Princeton University, and Brown University.
Again, the Yale University ranking, UPenn ranking, Columbia University ranking, Princeton University ranking, and Brown University ranking are all going to be influenced by the popularity of these majors and programs.
Reviewing the location of a college can be another useful tool to help you choose between the Ivy League colleges. In fact, you’ll want to check out where exactly the Ivy League colleges are by looking up an Ivy League schools map. Our guide on the best college towns talks more about the importance of campus location. Thus, it can help you narrow down where exactly you want to go to college.
Once you have been admitted to one (or more) of the Ivy League universities, you’ll need to accept your admission offer by the national college enrollment deadline of May 1st. Doing this tells the Ivy League university that you are intending to enroll there in the fall.
Additionally, you’ll want to research the Ivy League schools as much as possible in order to perfect your “how to get into the Ivy League colleges” strategy and if one of these is your dream school. This includes looking at the Ivy League schools map, watching Ivy League webinars, visiting an Ivy League campus, knowing facts like which is the oldest Ivy League school, and so much more.
What Is “Ivy Day”?
Also, if you’ve been looking into how to apply to the Ivy League colleges, you might have come across the term “Ivy Day” in your research. What exactly is Ivy Day? Well, Ivy Day is the day when all of the Ivy League colleges release their admissions decisions at the same time.
Ivy Day decisions only apply to Regular Decision (RD) applications. So, if you apply early through Early Decision or Early Action deadlines, you will receive your decision or acceptance letter in December.
At times, other schools’ decision days will overlap with Ivy Day, but other top schools outside of the Ivy League universities tend to release decisions on different days. This means that you may receive your acceptance letter to an Ivy League campus either before or after other universities release their admissions decisions.
On Ivy Day, there is a huge amount of web traffic on the Ivy League web portals, so you may or may not be able to access your acceptance letter or decision immediately. Because of this, it’s okay to wait a few hours to check your decision to see if you received an acceptance letter, although you certainly don’t have to!
When is Ivy Day?
Ivy Day has typically fallen towards the end of March/early April. The chart below shows when Ivy Day has occurred for the last three Ivy League campus application cycles:
|2023||Thursday, March 30||7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time|
|2022||Thursday, March 31||7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time|
|2021||Tuesday, April 6||7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time|
Although we can’t say for certain each year, we think Ivy Day usually falls toward the end of March.
Ivy League Universities – Final Thoughts
So, how many Ivy League schools are there? There are a total of eight Ivy League universities: Brown University, Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, Yale University, Harvard University, Princeton University, and Cornell University. The term “Ivy League” has been traced back to when Stanley Woodward used it in 1933 to describe the eight schools that had common athletic programs. Now, the term “Ivy League” has evolved to signify academic prestige.
We hope our guide on the Ivy League universities, including the Little Ivies and Hidden Ivies, has helped you learn more about these prestigious colleges and universities.
Ivies getting more competitive
Since the Ivy League universities were founded in the 1700s, they have become increasingly competitive with each passing admissions season. You can use the information in this article to guide you as you begin your applications to the Ivy League colleges. Remember, the Ivy League schools have some of the most competitive acceptance rates among top-ranking colleges, so you’ll want to do everything you can to stand out in the admissions process.
You might be wondering how to know which Ivy League college to apply to. To answer this question, you’ll want to do your research on the Ivy League colleges to determine which one(s) might be right for you. This includes watching Ivy League webinars, visiting an Ivy League campus, and reviewing the Ivy League admissions requirements.
If you know that the Ivy League universities are right for you, be sure to start the application process early. As more students apply to Ivy League colleges than ever before, you’ll want to make sure that you have plenty of time to perfect your application.
CollegeAdvisor is here to help you prepare for the Ivy League application process. To maximize your admissions odds at Ivy League schools, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today. Good luck!
This article was written by Claire Babbs, Sarah Kaminski, and Alex Baggott-Rowe. Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile. We will help you increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.