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10 Things to Know About Ivy League Schools

a statue outside of a law school

When my son was a young boy, he often talked about going to Harvard, one of the Ivy League colleges in the United States. Where he got that notion in his head, I will never know. It was so ingrained that he wanted a Harvard sweatshirt one year for Christmas.

Did my son attend Harvard? No. He opted to join the Marines and attend college later with the GI Bill. Perhaps a wiser and more logical financial choice in the grand scheme of things. Still, I have no doubt he would have excelled if he was one of the few to get into Harvard.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of students from all over the world apply to the Ivy League. These colleges are known for graduating leaders in almost every field. Students put these colleges on their lists of dream schools and aspire to be one of the few applicants who are accepted and given the chance to attend.

What makes a school Ivy League?

 The Ivy League began as an athletic conference. It first appeared in 1935 when a sports reporter commented on a developing sports league made up of long-established Northeastern universities.

The “League” of sports teams became official in 1954 when the NCAA Division I athletic conference was established. It brought together eight schools, which were considered elite for their athletic prowess. 

Today, these schools continue to compete against one another in the Ivy League as well as the NCAA Division I. But this prestigious club also has a reputation for academic excellence in addition to athletic prestige. 

Although the creation of the Ivy League began in athletics, these schools are famous for their academic prestige and famous alumni. All the Ivy League colleges have large endowments that are the product of wealthy alumni contributions over the years. In addition to competitive undergraduate programs, Ivy League universities offer some of the best professional programs for law and medicine.

How many schools are in the Ivy League?

The Ivy League consists of eight of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the United States:

Ivy League schools are considered the most sought-after institutions of higher learning in the country and worldwide.

Here are ten things you need to know about Ivy League schools:


1. An Ivy League college gives you access to a huge alumni network.

The Ivy League has graduates dating back to the 1700s. One of the Ivy League's most beneficial aspects is the alumni network's power. The alumni network consists of all graduates from a particular university and typically extends well beyond college friendships. Alumni connections often lead to your first post-graduation job. Each of these schools has graduated thousands of successful alumni. Many are eager to network with and help fellow alums.

Before graduating, students can tap into this network for internships, leading to future employment opportunities. Attending an Ivy can provide you with the resources and contacts needed to get your foot in the door at world-renowned companies and agencies.

2. Ivy League colleges offer students world-class resources.

Attending an Ivy League gives you access to research and studying materials crafted by the most brilliant minds. Professors at Ivy League universities are well-educated and passionate about well-known topics and issues. These professors are encouraged and, most times, expected to perform research on these topics for the university. These colleges and universities attract some of the biggest names and most brilliant minds in their fields; as a student, you will have the opportunity to learn from them.

3. All Ivies offer generous need-based financial aid.

 All Ivies also promise to meet 100% of demonstrated financial need, and many do not include loans in this aid. For low-income students, attending an Ivy could be cheaper than attending a state school, and you may even receive a full ride.

Harvard, for instance, grants full rides for students with families making under $65,000 per year. Not every Ivy is this generous, but in general, they offer some of the best aid in the country.

4. An Ivy League degree can give you a head start on a career path.

An education from an Ivy League school can give you a head start in highly competitive fields like finance, law, and business. Top global companies seek the best and brightest students and understand that the Ivies can provide them. Here are just a few of their impressive job statistics:

  • Of the 114 Supreme Court Justices, more than half attended an Ivy League University. Currently, all nine justices attended law school at either Yale or Harvard.
  • In CNN’s top 100 startups list, 34 CEOs went to Harvard.
  • UPenn is the top feeder school for companies like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Citigroup.

5. An Ivy League degree means a higher starting salary.

A study conducted by the US Department of Education revealed that graduates with a bachelor’s degree had an average income of $54,700, and those with a master’s degree or higher had an income of $65,000 per annum. 

Although having a college degree increases your salary, statistically, attending a university in the Ivy League can improve it even more. Here are the numbers for the average early career salary per year for an Ivy League graduate:

·  Brown-$85,200

·  Columbia-$89,300

·  Cornell-$86,100

·  Dartmouth-$89,000

·  Harvard-$91,700

·  U Penn-$89,100

·  Princeton-$93,000

·  Yale-$89,700

If you attend an Ivy League, you have the potential to secure an above-average early career salary.

6. An Ivy League college degree can open doors.

 These brand names carry a lot of weight. Not only will you impress people, but you will likely find that attending an Ivy opens doors. For example, when you’re looking for your first job out of college, hiring managers and recruiters will probably look favorably on your application because of your alma mater.

The alumni network alone will help open those doors as well. Ivy League alumni are employed in almost every prestigious company and will be looking for fellow alumni when hiring.

7. Many courses at the Ivies are taught by TAs or adjunct faculty.

 Interestingly, Ivy League colleges don’t always have the highest quality of instruction for undergraduate students. Since their faculty tend to be focused on academic research, professors spend less time teaching and more time on their research projects. If one of these distinguished professors is teaching, competition is stiff getting into one of their courses.

This means many lectures are taught by teaching assistants or adjunct faculty. Just because an Ivy League college touts its famous faculty, it doesn’t mean you will ever get to study under them. You could end up with a better learning experience at a small, highly selective private college because the professors are there primarily to teach.

8. An Ivy League degree doesn’t guarantee automatic success.

Your college experience and success are determined by your willingness to study and learn. Just because you attend an Ivy League school doesn’t mean you’ll graduate with honors or even graduate at all. You make your success through the hard work you do in school, whether it’s Princeton or the local community college.

9. You must be the best of the best to get into one of these colleges

Each of the eight Ivies is enormously selective. Even if you’re a top candidate, admission to any of these schools is not guaranteed. They would be a reach for every student.

Having top grades and test scores is only part of the battle. Because most other candidates are also high achievers, you must set yourself apart by demonstrating your unique talents and interests beyond the classroom. Extracurriculars — especially impressive and outside-the-box activities — are an important part of your profile. You must demonstrate cohesion, focusing on a few interests as opposed to casting a wide net.

You can also show your unique qualities and characteristics in areas like your essay. This is also a good place to demonstrate your interest in and compatibility with the school. It’s not enough to want to attend any Ivy — you should indicate why that institution in particular appeals to you.

10. Ivy League colleges’ acceptance rates are low

On March 30th, 2023 (Ivy Day), the eight Ivy Leagues released their acceptance rates for the class of 2027. The Ivy League schools accepted a record-low number of students into their Class of 2027. Harvard only accepted 3.4% of its 56,937 applicants, and UPenn only reported 4.1% of its applicants received admittance letters. Cornell had the highest number of admitted applicants, accepting close to 8%.

What does this mean? Applications are high, and acceptances are low. The competition to get into an Ivy League school is fierce and, for most, almost impossible.

What would be better than attending an Ivy League college?

While an Ivy League education is certainly something to aspire to and is seen as a badge of success for many students, it’s not necessarily the best decision. Where you go to college is not nearly as important as you might think. The college education itself is more important than the college name.

You can get an excellent education at a community college, a small liberal arts college, or a large state university. If you aren’t invested in college, the college reputation won’t make you any more committed to the education. Attitude is everything. A student who desires a learning and life experience can make that happen in any college environment.

Expensive institutions would want you to believe their price is high because you will receive a better education. That is not the case. With over 4000 colleges and universities in this country, it will serve you better if you look at some of the lesser-known colleges and examine their benefits. As my daughter did, she found her perfect match when she moved beyond the college with the ranking to the college that was a better fit for her academically and socially.

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