The Ivy League

The Ivy League-What is the Ivy League?

The Ivy League is made up of eight elite northwestern universities in the USA. It was originally conceived as an athletic league, to encourage the schools to play each other, and was founded in 1954. The following universities make up the prestigious, world-famous Ivy League:

The Ivy League-Ranking

Ivy League School2024 US News Ranking Among Ivies Only2024 Ivy Coach Ranking Among Ivies Only
Brown University#5#5 (Tie)
Columbia University#6#4
Cornell University#7#8
Dartmouth College#8#5 Tie
Harvard University#2#1
Princeton University#1#2 (Tie)
University of Pennsylvania#4#5 (Tie)
Yale University#3#2 (Tie)

The Ivy League-Overview

The Ivy League universities have a number of traits in common: they are among the finest academic institutions in the world; they have huge endowments and thus the best resources and staff money can buy; they are situated in a really cold region of the US and winters can be hard – and freezing. In addition, getting a place at an Ivy League institution is a demanding and difficult task, and one which needs to be started well in advance and planned carefully.

The Ivy League campuses differ in architectural style and size, with collegiate Gothic Princeton regularly being voted the most attractive, followed by Cornell, with its breathtaking landscape, and then Yale – while Harvard’s glorious Widener library regularly receives an honourable mention. If you believe that you need the anonymity of a large institution, or the intimate community feel of a smaller university, then the following chart will give you a general picture of each Ivy League university:

UniversityLocationFoundedSize overall/undergraduateNickname
YaleNew Haven170114,560/6,530Bulldogs
DartmouthHanover17696,760/4,556Big Green
CornellIthaca186525,480/13,280Big Red

As you can see, some university teams are referred to by colour and others by mascot. Intervarsity matches are incredibly competitive, important, and attract huge crowds to cheer on their teams. Currently, Princeton is the top Ivy League school for athletics, basketball, football, rowing, women’s lacrosse and volleyball – with Harvard coming second, and UPenn rising through the ranks and snapping at their heels.

The Ivy League-Choosing a course

While it is certainly important to decide where you would like to live and study for four years, you must not overlook the fact that specific Ivy League universities are renowned for their research in particular fields, and that not every university will necessarily offer the course you want to take. For example, Princeton does not have a medical school, and Princeton, Dartmouth and Brown do not have law schools.

The following table gives you an idea of Ivy League university specialisms, the staff to student ratio, and the overall “feel” of the campus.

Main information:

UniversitySubjectsStaff to student ratioEthos and disadvantages
YalePolitical Science and Government, Psychology, History, Economics, Law6:1Sense of community, beautiful setting,100 per cent of students live on campus, in shared suites of a high standard/New Haven can be depressing.
PrincetonPublic Policy Analysis, Computer Hardware Engineering, Economics, Philosophy5:1Over half of students find Princeton academically focussed and challenging, with highly supportive staff/Extremely competitive, food is not fantastic.
UPennFinance, Accounting, Nursing, Economics Business, Medicine6:1The philosophy here is work hard, play hard. It is a good choice for independent individuals/Philadelphia is a challenging city, not the most community-spirited of campuses.
HarvardEconomics, Computer Science, Anthropology, Sociology, History, Political Science7:1Passionate and diverse, exceptionally committed lecturers, vibrant social life/Constant tour groups on campus, large classes.
DartmouthNeurosciences, Political Science and Government, Mathematics, Economics, Engineering7:1Strong school culture. Wide variety of clubs and societies and many outdoor activities/ A 30 minute drive from nearest town, Hanover, very cold winters.
CornellBiology, IT, Agricultural Sciences, Business, Architecture, Engineering9:1Hard working, not particularly sporting, challenging/Large classes, you need a car, Ithaca is not an exciting town.
ColumbiaResearch and Experimental Psychology, Philosophy, English6:1A communal spirit, with many events clubs and organisations, on-campus jobs. Diversity and safety are priorities/New York is expensive and there is little on-campus life.
BrownBiology, Economics, Computational And Applied Maths, Engineering, Entrepreneurship7:1Liberal, progressive, offers an open curriculum so students can follow a wide variety of courses, before choosing their own field. Holistic approach to student achievement/ Harsh winters, very little free time due to heavy workload.

The Ivy League-The advantages of attending


If you went to the University of Pennsylvania along with Elon Musk, it does not take a huge leap of imagination to recognise how helpful his friendship could be in your future career. Networking is one of the most compelling reasons for applying to an Ivy League university, since who you know is often as important as what you know, at least initially, and the tight, large alumni organisations created by Ivy League universities certainly offer contacts that would be impossible to collect from outside the Ivy League inner circle.

It is virtually impossible to list all the famous businessmen, politicians, heads of state, actors, writers, philosophers, scientists, journalists and entrepreneurs who have an Ivy League pedigree.

To give you an idea of the huge mixture of successful individuals who studied at an Ivy League university, glance through the following list of alumni:

Harvard: Matt Damon, Barack Obama (US president), Franklin D. Roosevelt (US president)

Yale: Meryl Streep, Paul Newman, George Bush (US president), George W. Bush (US president)

Brown: Emma Watson, John F.Kennedy, Amy Carter, Masi Oka

UPenn: John Legend, Donald Trump (US president), Elon Musk, Noam Chomsky, Warren Buffet

Cornell: Bill Nye, Pearl S. Buck, Toni Morrison, Barbara McClintock

Princeton: Brooke Shields, Jeff Bezos, James Stewart

Dartmouth: Nelson Rockefeller, Robert Frost, Mr. Rogers

Columbia: Christopher Reeve, Jack Kerouac, Jake Gyllenhaal, Isaac Asimov, Milton Friedman. 

Internationally recognised actors, inventors, economists, politicians, Olympians, Nobel Prize  winners have all succeeded in different fields, but are united in the need to excel, to be the very best, to seek success and make a name for themselves. When you come to filling in your Ivy League application form, bear the calibre of past alumni in mind and demonstrate how you, too, can be outstanding, innovative and make a difference to your community and the world we live in.

In addition, you will be able to secure internships in your field more easily if you are studying at an Ivy League university, and this will give you a distinct advantage when it comes to looking for a position on graduating. Certain multinationals recruit directly from Ivy League universities, particularly in the field of business and finance.

The Ivy League-Salary benefits of attending

It has been calculated that graduates from Ivy League universities generally attract above-average salaries, but there is a fierce ongoing debate about whether this is because of the prestige factor and the brand advantage of going to, say, Harvard, or because Ivy League students have made connections which open professional doors once they venture into the world of work.

The principle of Return on Investment (ROI) shows, for example, that a student who goes to Princeton will spend approximately $275,000 on their education and, 20 years later, their ROI will be $895,000- a statistic which emphasises high earning potential and an excellent return on university fees.

UniversityAverage annual salary upon graduating 2023

The Ivy League-How difficult is it to get into?

The short answer is – very!

The first thing you need to think about is whether you are going to apply through the Common App for Early decision/Early action or Regular decision, since the statistics show a wide gap between the number of students who get admitted, according to which option they chose:

ApplicationDeadline for applicationBenefitsDrawbacks
Early decision1 NovemberYou will not have to go through the stress of applying to multiple universities. You are more likely to be offered a place in this round than Regular decisionYou can only apply to one school and you are not allowed to change your mind, because this is a binding agreement to take up a place. You will not know what kind of financial aid package you will be offered, so if you do not get the aid you requested, you will still be liable to pay the fees. If you reject the offer of a place, you cannot reapply there through Regular decision.
Early action1 NovemberYou can apply to other universities and wait to see what financial aid they will give you, then compare the packages and make a final choice. More people get accepted in this round than in Regular decision.Not offered by every university (Harvard, Princeton and Yale all offer early action)
Regular decision1 JanuaryA more competitive round, because the pool of applicants is larger. You will therefore have to wait longer for a response.Lower acceptance rate.

The Ivy League-Admission rates

The following table compares admission rates according to when you apply to the Ivy League universities:

UniversityOverall acceptance rate, percentageEarly decisionRegular decision

As you can see, there is a definite advantage to applying for the early round of admissions.

Other factors also need to be taken into consideration, since the numbers do not tell the whole story.

1. Remember that international students are vying for a place with domestic and legacy students. Legacy admissions are 2-3 times more likely to be successful than non-legacy applicants.

2. The overall figures do not reveal course admission statistics. For example, while Brown University may, in theory, have an admission rate of 5 per cent, if you wish to apply for the eight – year highly sought–after Liberal Medical Education course, this figure drops to 3 per cent, and falls to 2.9 if you are applying for the RISD dual degree. Similarly, Cornell’s School of Human Ecology has an acceptance rate of 23 per cent, whereas its Dyson School of Economics and Management only takes 2.9 per cent of applicants, and agriculture and life sciences accepts 11.5 per cent. At Harvard, it is easier to get in to social sciences than biosciences etc. Thus, be careful when you are looking through tables of admissions, and make sure you check your particular department or course to get an accurate picture.


The Ivy League-How to apply?

Applying through the Common App

As well as filling in all the educational and personal details required by the Common App, you will also have to answer each Ivy League university’s supplemental questions. These vary from university to university, and range from the straightforward to the more esoteric:

“Genghis Khan with an F1 race car. George Washington with a SuperSoaker. Emperor Nero with a toaster. Leonardo da Vinci with a Furby. If you could give any historical figure any piece of technology, who and what would it be, and why do you think they’d work so well together?”

“ Reflect on a time when you have worked to enhance a community to which you feel connected.

Why have these efforts been meaningful to you? You may define community however you like.”

“Committing to a future career as a physician while in high school requires careful consideration and self-reflection. What values and experiences have led you to believe that becoming a doctor in medicine is the right fit for you?”

These three examples, from Chicago, Yale and Brown give you an idea of the types of prompts you may be given for your essay. Expect word lengths of 200-250 and to be asked to write 2-3 essays.

In addition, you may also come across short 50-75 word questions such as:

What brings you joy? 

What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment?

Try and answer the short pieces spontaneously, and remember that there is no right or wrong answer.

Are Ivy League universities need-blind or need-aware for international students?

At present, Harvard, Princeton, Yale and, most recently, Dartmouth are all need-blind, and commit to covering all your expenses if you are offered a place. Need-blind universities do not ask for any information regarding your financial situation and therefore this does not influence their admissions decision.

Brown University is changing its status to need-blind in 2025.

UPenn, while need-aware, offers generous financial aid to international students and can cover up to 100 per cent of their financial needs.

The Ivy League universities have huge endowments and are famed for supporting their students through financial aid packages.

The Ivy League-What are the tuition fees?

Unsurprisingly, given their outstanding academics, buildings, resources and campuses, Ivy League university tuition fees, which apply for four years, rather than the three years undergraduates pay in Europe, are hefty.

Here are the tuition fees being charged by Ivy League institutions, based on the fees for 2023 and anticipated rise:

UniversityAnnual Tuition fees 2023 (estimated)

The Ivy League-Are there any alternatives?

As the old saying goes, a wise man does not put all his eggs in one basket, and unless you are committed to a specific course at a particular Ivy League university, it is worth considering also applying to outstanding non-Ivies.

These include: MIT (ranked 1 st in the QS world university rankings,2024); Stanford (5 th ); Caltech (6 th ); University of Chicago (11 th ); Johns Hopkins (28 th ); University of California, Berkeley (10 th ) or Northwestern University (47 th).

Elab’s specialist US team of consultants is here to answer any questions you may have, offer guidance and mentorship, and make sure that you maximise your chances of being accepted by a world-renowned Ivy League university – and start an amazing educational journey.

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