How to Determine Which Ivy League Is Right For You?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A female student wearing glasses and carrying books is standing in the hallway.

How to Determine Which Ivy League Is Right For You?

The Ivy League is a well-known collection of academically prestigious schools. However, not much is known about these universities beyond a few common associations. Even though some of these stereotypes might be accurate (yes, all the Ivies are located in the northeast, and yes, they offer some of the best academic opportunities in the world) there’s more to these schools than meets the eye.

Given the high esteem surrounding the Ivy League, it’s no wonder so many students dream of attending one of the schools. However, one of the most important questions a student can ask is “which Ivy League is right for me?”

a female student studying outside with her laptop on her lap

Despite sharing some common characteristics such as academic excellence, geographical location, and history, there are critical differences that distinguish each of the Ivies. Understanding these unique characteristics is essential when determining which school is ideal for each student.

If your sole goal is to attend an Ivy League university, you’ll still want to take the time to explore each school in greater depth so you can better tailor your application. Admissions officers at these prestigious universities will be able to sniff out generic applications in a heartbeat.

Here, we’ll take a look at the unique characteristics of each of the Ivy League schools to help students better decide which university is the best match.

Origins of the Ivy League

When most people think of the Ivy League, their thoughts immediately go to rigorous academic standards, colonial-era architecture, fancy school uniforms, and successful alumni. While some of these tropes are outdated, the most common (and perhaps most accurate) association is that Ivy League schools have world-class academic offerings.

However, this leads many to assume that the Ivy League was created with academics in mind where only the universities with the best educational opportunities were accepted. But that’s not how the Ivy League originally got its start. Believe it or not, sports were the beginning of the Ivy League.

In 1954, the NCAA created the Division I athletic conference. All eight universities were prestigious at the time for their success in sports, although their academic achievements weren’t overlooked. Since the creation of the Ivy League, these universities have become less known for their sports – although many are still incredibly competitive.

Now, the Ivy League is directly associated with academic rigor, competitive admissions, and professional excellence. It’s a reputation that each university has rightfully maintained through decades of world-class academic offerings.

What are the Ivy League schools?

Since its inception as a sports conference many decades ago, the Ivy League has always comprised eight universities:

For all of you non-history buffs, all but one of the Ivies were founded before the American Revolution. Cornell was the only one founded after. Two other universities share this title of “Colonial College” – College of William & Mary and Rutgers University – although both ended up becoming public universities while the entire Ivy League remains private.

What kind of opportunities are available?

The Ivy League schools are among the largest beneficiaries of financial endowments in the country and in the entire world. These endowments play a major role in determining how much is invested in each student.

With such vast resources, the Ivies are able to provide their student body with world-class academic programs, generous financial aid, top-tier research opportunities, and much more. In fact, Harvard University has the largest endowment of any university with a whopping total of $41.9 billion as of 2020 which was even a record for the record-setting university.

One of the largest resources of these sizable endowments is the alumni of Ivy League universities which tend to be among the wealthier income groups. However, each of the Ivies also receives millions in research funding each year from private sources and the federal government. While it’s an interesting tidbit of information to know, it’s also helpful to keep in mind when determining which Ivy League to attend. It’s one less factor to worry about since you can rest assured that no matter which school you choose, you’ll have an abundance of financial aid, research opportunities, and academic offerings.

Which Ivy League is the best?

A common question amongst high school graduates is “which Ivy League is the best?” It’s a difficult question to answer for a few reasons. First and foremost, “best” can mean different things to different people. Secondly, but no less important, the ideal school will vary between each student depending on their personal strengths, academic interests, personality, preferences, and future goals.

For example, Cornell’s open curriculum is a great opportunity for open-minded students who want to explore various subjects. A student who wants to focus solely on their field of interest will be better suited at a less interdisciplinary school.

One of the most common mistakes applicants make is assuming that all Ivy League schools are identical. This leads many students to simply pick a school at random and apply without careful consideration for whether the university is a good match.

It’s important to keep in mind that Ivy League schools aren’t just looking for highly intelligent, accomplished, and dedicated students, although those factors are vital. Admissions officers at these universities also want to find students that can benefit from the unique opportunities the school can offer and that the applicant can contribute to the school community overall.

Which Ivy League is right for me?


Founded: 1764

Location: Providence, RI

Tuition: $58,404

Brown University is well-known for its Open Curriculum. Instead of having core course requirements which all students must follow, this Ivy League university gives students an ability to explore various fields. There are only a few requirements to graduate from Brown.

Brown University academic buildings

These include:

Completing a certain concentration along with all of its accompanying requirements

Finishing and passing a minimum of 30 courses

Enrolling in a minimum of eight semesters

Developing an ability to write well

Students are even free to pursue a concentration of their own making by pulling together pieces of various concentrations. However, this selection has to be approved by a faculty member.

Another element that Brown University is well-known for is its Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME). This eight-year degree has an undergraduate and professionals studies component. Students in this prestigious program can choose to receive a ScB or AB degree before spending the remaining four years completing their MD.


Founded: 1636

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Tuition: $51,925 (2020)

Harvard is one of the most popular and well-known Ivy League universities and the oldest school in the group. It’s developed a reputation for being an incredibly competitive school due to its low acceptance rate. However, this selectivity is backed up by Harvard’s long tradition of academic opportunities.

In fact, Harvard has the largest endowment out of any other school in the country, meaning there’s more dollars spent on each individual student. This is reflected in a world-class staff, competitive tuition assistance, top-tier research opportunities, and much more.

In terms of programs, Harvard is well-known for its liberal arts degrees with many prominent heads of state, authors, and even actors comprising this Ivy’s alumni list. However, the Harvard Business School and JHU and UCSF medicine programs are also very highly regarded.


Founded: 1754

Location: New York, New York

Tuition: $61,850 (2020)

Columbia University has a long tradition of teaching students a diverse array of fields through its Core Curriculum. For over a hundred years, this foundation has driven Columbia’s academics, ensuring that students from various subjects still gain a fundamental understanding of other fields.

Columbia University's big white building with students walking from every corner

There are ten components to the Core Curriculum with six essential courses that all students must take. These range from literature and art to philosophy. Four additional requirements are for physical education, Global Core, foreign language, and science. If you’re interested in exploring various fields or aren’t sure what you want to study yet, these requirements can be beneficial.

Another area in which Columbia seeks to differentiate itself from other Ivies is in diversity. It’s been attempting to break down the “ivory towers of academia” to allow more students to achieve a world-class, Ivy League education. But that doesn’t mean Columbia’s admissions process is easy!


Founded: 1865

Location: Ithaca, New York

Tuition: $57,222 (2020)

Cornell University might’ve been put on the map for many people through famed TV-show The Office where a certain beloved and comically passionate graduate of Cornell never let a moment go by without mentioning his alma mater. Despite being the youngest Ivy League school, Cornell has earned a unique reputation due in part to its open academic requirements when compared to other Ivies.

Instead of applying to Cornell University, students apply to one of eight undergraduate colleges. Between these individual colleges, Cornell offers over 4,000 courses. Furthermore, this Ivy League school is also known as one of the less selective. It regularly has an acceptance rate of around 10% which is nearly double that of more selective Ivies.

If you’re interested in attending an Ivy League school but don’t want to deal with the competitiveness of more discerning schools, Cornell is a great option. It’s also has one of the best hotel administration colleges in the world.


Founded: 1740

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tuition: $57,770 (2020)

The University of Pennsylvania, better known as UPenn, is comprised of four main colleges:

  • The College of Arts and Sciences
  • Penn Engineering
  • Wharton
  • School of Nursing

This Ivy has always been a proponent of interdisciplinary education, encouraging students to explore various fields and pull knowledge from one field to apply it to another.

Old red and white building of UPenn

UPenn has also earned a reputation for being service-oriented. In other words, it’s focused not only on having students develop academic capabilities. This Ivy is also interested in how that world-class education can make a real impact in the world. Students are often challenged to apply the theoretical elements they’ve learned in life to real-world scenarios.

If you enjoy exploring and pulling inspiration from various fields, UPenn is a great match. Students who are eager to make an impact in the world will also enjoy the school’s overall vision.


Founded: 1701

Location: New Haven, Connecticut

Tuition: $55,500

Yale University – along with Harvard – is one of the most selective Ivy League universities with an acceptance rate that regularly remains below 5%. As the third-oldest of the group, Yale boasts a long tradition of academic rigor which remains one of its most well-known attributes. Ever since its founding, Yale has been synonymous with academic excellence.

It’s student body is known throughout the Ivy League for being intellectually curious, dedicated to their education, and prone to leadership roles. With some impressive and accomplished alumni such as George H. W. Bush, Meryl Streep, Edward Norton, William Howard Taft, Anderson Cooper, and Amy Klobuchar, Yale’s commitment to producing impactful leaders is obvious.

If you’re a student who excels in a competitive environment and who is committed to making the most out of an Ivy League education, Yale is a perfect match. You’ll find success alongside like minded students and all of the world-class opportunities you could possibly need.


Founded: 1769

Location: Hanover, New Hampshire

Tuition: $57,204

The first thing you’ll notice about Dartmouth is its size. And we’re not talking about its campus. Dartmouth is the smallest Ivy League university in terms of student population. This makes for one of the most advantageous student-to-faculty ratios among all Ivies. As a student that means more attention, more intimate classes, and a better academic experience overall.

This smaller student body has also led to a tight-knit and well-connected college community. From unique traditions and competitive intramurals to an overall feeling of support and camaraderie, Dartmouth’s overall atmosphere is very welcoming. You’ll feel like one of the family when attending.

Dartmouth's academic building with trees and lawn in front

In terms of academics, Dartmouth has a strong tradition of world-class liberal arts education. However, some of the most popular undergraduate degrees are engineering, biological sciences, computer and information sciences, and mathematics. If small classroom sizes, a tight-knit community, and strong social support sounds like a good match, consider applying to Dartmouth.


Founded: 1746

Location: Princeton, New Jersey

Tuition: $52,800

Despite being one of the top research institutions in the world, Princeton University places just as much attention on its undergraduate students. In fact, it’s been ranked number one out of all universities in the country for undergraduate teaching more than half a dozen years.

Ever since its founding, Princeton has been committed to hiring the most talented and committed staff, ensuring students get the best education possible. No matter what you want to study, Princeton has an excellent degree program available. It offers 39 different undergraduate degrees with 36 majors and 16 larger fields of study.

Princeton is also well-known for its generous financial aid packages designed to help qualified students of all backgrounds receive an Ivy League degree.

How to get into the Ivy League

Now that you have a better understanding of the Ivy League and what makes each school unique, you’re ready to prepare for the college admissions process. Don’t worry if you feel uncertain or nervous. It’s a challenging process for all students, but that doesn’t mean you have to face it alone.

AdmissionSight is a highly experienced college entrance expert specializing in guiding students through the admissions process. We help students tailor their applications to their intended university in order to drastically increase their chances of getting admitted. With over a decade of experience, we know the college admissions process forward and backward.

With over 75% of our students getting accepted to an Ivy League or Top 10 university, we have a proven track record of success. How do we do it? We’ve perfected our services to reflect the most important parts of the college admissions process.

Our highly knowledgeable team can help you pick the most advantageous high school curriculum, the best summer programs, and the most intriguing and impactful extracurriculars. We’ll help you write excellent college essays, prepare for the admission interview, and much, much more. All of our services are personalized to meet the specific needs of each student.

If you’re interested in learning more about what we offer, feel free to contact AdmissionSight for a free consultation. We look forward to hearing from you.



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