A Profile of Every Ivy League School: Which One is Right For You?

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The Northeast is famous for its colorful autumns, brisk winters, world-class cities – and stellar Ivy League schools. In fact, all 8 of the schools in the Ivy League are located in the Northeast: Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, Dartmouth College, University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University, Columbia University, and Brown University.

Besides geography, these 8 institutions share something else in common: acceptance rates hovering at or below 10%.

  • What makes these schools so competitive?
  • Which Ivy League school is right for you?

Dive into this comprehensive list with exclusive profiles of each Ivy League school. You’ll learn about each school’s:

  • Acceptance Rate
  • National Ranking (according to U.S. News and World Report)
  • Most Popular Majors
  • Notable Graduates
  • Location
  • History
  • Fun Facts

With this information, you’ll be on your way to narrowing down your list of colleges to apply to and may even find your dream Ivy League destination. Grab a jacket, and let’s take a trip through the Northeast!

What Is an Ivy League School?

Connoting academic excellence, the Ivy League began as a collegiate athletic conference of sports teams from each of 8 outstanding schools. This is why Harvard and Yale students still gather each year on Thanksgiving to witness “The Game” – a high-stakes match of football played between the two rivals.

  • Many other schools in the United States, such as Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, may be equally prestigious yet do not have Ivy League status.
  • This lack of status has nothing to do with the schools’ academic strength but with the original sports-related purpose of the Ivy League.

Established in 1954, the Ivy League has come to symbolize academic excellence more than athletic ability. Ivy League schools pride themselves on accepting only the cream of the crop, and they can stand to be selective.

Today, Ivy League schools have lower acceptance rates than ever due to skyrocketing applications, but there are real keys to unlock those golden doors. One of those keys is knowledge, so let’s learn the important and interesting facts about each Ivy League school.

Harvard University

  • Founded: 1636
  • Acceptance Rate: 5%
  • Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Ranking: #2 in national universities
  • Notable Alumni: Barack Obama, Al Gore, Franklin D. Roosevelt

The oldest of the Ivy League schools, Harvard University is synonymous with brilliance. Unlike smaller Ivy League schools like Dartmouth or Brown, Harvard’s name and reputation are famous around the globe. Scholars travel from as far away as Africa to study at Harvard, as, notably, Barack Obama, Sr. did on a scholarship.

Other than its five centuries of history, what makes Harvard so compelling? The answer is in the academics.

  • Popular majors like economics, government, and computer science prepare students for exceptional careers as leaders in their fields. Further, Harvard boasts one of the top law schools in the United States, making it a desirable place to stay for those with a related major of government.

Speaking of government, Harvard has the distinction of having graduated the most U.S. Presidents: 8 out of a total of 15 who earned degrees from Ivy League schools. Harvard’s famous rival, Yale, isn’t too far behind, with 5 of 15 Ivy League presidents having graduated from the nation’s third oldest university.

Yale University

  • Founded: 1701
  • Acceptance Rate: 6%
  • Location: New Haven, Connecticut
  • Ranking: #3 of national universities
  • Notable Alumni: Angela Bassett, Fareed Zakaria, Anderson Cooper

A gritty urban setting in the heart of downtown New Haven contradicts the centuries-old Gothic architecture that characterizes Yale University. History, political science, and economics form the backbone of Yale’s undergraduate majors, but the university is also famous for its #1 rated law school and MFA theater program.

One of Yale’s most special offerings for undergraduates is its residential college system, a designation the Ivy League school uses instead of “dorms.” Students are assigned to a residential college in freshmen year and will remain as part of that individual community throughout 4 years of study. Each residential college has its own dining hall, courtyard, and other communal features to bring students together.

  • Yale also possesses extensive collections of art, including the largest collection of British art outside of England. The school’s multiple museums, art galleries, and theaters feed the creative appetites of its diverse student body that hail from more than 110 countries.

While some may claim that Yale lives in Harvard’s shadow, the #3 school in the nation has plenty of unique benefits that set it apart from other Ivy League schools.

Princeton University

  • Founded: 1746
  • Acceptance Rate: 7%
  • Location: Princeton, New Jersey
  • Ranking: #1 of national universities
  • Notable Alumni: Woodrow Wilson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cornel West

Nestled among the cherry blossom trees of suburban New Jersey, Princeton feels a world away from nearby New York City. The campus is so picturesque that it has provided the setting for several blockbuster movies including A Beautiful Mind.

But there’s much more to the nation’s undisputed #1 university than a scenic location.

  • The school earned that top spot with its unrivaled academics in a variety of disciplines. Economics and computer science are two of Princeton’s top majors along with policy making, analysis, and evaluation within the Woodrow Wilson School.

Further, Princeton sponsors eating clubs for juniors and seniors. The clubs provide a social outlet for upper-class students and are a Princeton cornerstone that many freshmen and sophomore students eagerly await. These exclusive dining clubs are almost as prestigious as the numerous Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, and MacArthur fellows who teach at Princeton.

Dartmouth College

  • Founded: 1769
  • Acceptance Rate: 11%
  • Location: Hanover, New Hampshire
  • Ranking: #11 of national universities
  • Notable Alumni: Robert Frost, Nelson Rockefeller, Daniel Webster

In the most rural setting of all 8 Ivy League schools, Dartmouth is unique for its designation as a “college” rather than “university.” Dartmouth does, however, offer graduate degrees in addition to undergraduate degrees. Off the beaten path in rural Hanover, New Hampshire, Dartmouth excels in the staples of economics, government, and history.

  • For students seeking a small liberal arts college rather than a large research university, Dartmouth may be the place.
  • With fewer than 5,000 students on its sprawling 237-acre campus, Dartmouth starts to feel like a home away from home for many students. The fact that more than 90% of undergraduates live on campus adds to the community vibe.

Academically, Dartmouth is considered a school with “very high research activity” according to the Carnegie Foundation. Solid programs in engineering and medicine contribute to Dartmouth’s standing as a research behemoth in a small package.

University of Pennsylvania

  • Founded: 1740
  • Acceptance Rate: 9%
  • Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Ranking: #8 of national universities
  • Notable Alumni: Elon Musk, Warren Buffett, Dr. Mehmet Oz

Perhaps most famous for its business school, Wharton, the University of Pennsylvania also has a number of outstanding bachelor’s degree programs. Finance and economics are two of the top majors at UPenn, along with nursing, a major not in the top 3 of any other Ivy League school on this list.

  • Just 2 miles from downtown Philadelphia, UPenn benefits from its prime urban location, and cultural opportunities abound.
  • Greek life also thrives at UPenn with more than 25% of the student body belonging to a fraternity or sorority.

As a sizable university enrolling more than 10,000 students, UPenn offers an exhaustive curriculum in every field imaginable.

Cornell University

  • Founded: 1865
  • Acceptance Rate: 14%
  • Location: Ithaca, New York
  • Ranking: #14 of national universities (tied with Brown)
  • Notable Alumni: Bill Nye, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Toni Morrison

If you’re preparing for a career in science, Cornell University may be the ideal Ivy for you.

  • Two of the university’s most popular majors are within the sciences: engineering and biomedical and biological sciences.
  • Business management completes the trio of most popular majors. As the youngest of the Ivy League schools, it’s not surprising that Cornell is at the cutting edge of science and technology.

Cornell’s location in chilly upstate New York doesn’t stop the school from breathing a little fire in Dragon Day. This lighthearted event takes place each year and features a dragon hand-built by first-year architecture students.

But Dragon Day isn’t the only quirky aspect of Cornell University. The school has one of the nation’s top-rated veterinary programs and hotel-restaurant management curricula, distinguishing it from its rival Ivies.

Columbia University

  • Founded: 1754
  • Acceptance Rate: 6%
  • Location: New York, New York
  • Ranking: #5 of national universities
  • Notable Alumni: Alexander Hamilton, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston

At the pulse of arguably the world’s greatest city, Columbia University appeals to a student population as diverse as Manhattan itself. Economics, political science, and psychology head off the list of popular majors at Columbia, but the school possesses an equally solid English and humanities curriculum.

  • In fact, Columbia has a required set of core humanities classes for incoming freshmen.
  • Coursework in literature and philosophy is a must at Columbia, whether you’re majoring in English or engineering.

Columbia is also notable for its Teachers College, making it a popular choice for future educators. Finally, Columbia’s affiliation with Barnard College for women offers opportunities for interdisciplinary coursework between the two institutions.

Brown University

  • Founded: 1764
  • Acceptance Rate: 9%
  • Location: Providence, Rhode Island
  • Ranking: #14 of national universities (tied with Cornell)
  • Notable Alumni: John F. Kennedy, Jr., Ted Turner, Bobby Jindal

In partnership with the nearby Rhode Island School of Design, Brown University offers a diverse curriculum whether you’re an aspiring doctor or designer.

  • Economics, computer science, and biology are the most frequently declared majors, but entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial studies are gaining ground at the urban institution.

Eclectic activities like Brown Ballroom Dance and the Brown Jug comedy magazine let students tap into their creativity. The Brown Bears team is also a powerful force in collegiate soccer. At Brown and the small but charming city of Providence, there’s never a shortage of things to do.

Which Ivy is Best for You? How Can You Get In?

While the figures may seem discouraging, there is hope for acceptance at your dream school. Here are a few things you can do to increase your chances of admission to an Ivy League school:

  • Apply early and you could more than double your chances of getting in. Yale, for example, has an early acceptance rate of 17% versus 6% for regular admission.
  • Retake those SAT’s until your score is the best it can be. Most Ivy League schools prefer scores over 700 in each section of the SAT. The math range for Princeton is incredibly competitive at 710 to 800.
  • Start at a junior or community college and apply as a transfer student, especially if your test scores are low. While transfer acceptance rates generally aren’t much higher (and can be lower) than freshmen admission rates, you can turn the spotlight on a strong college GPA rather than weak SAT scores.

There’s no magic formula to gaining acceptance at an Ivy League school, but there are ways to put your best foot forward and sway the odds in your direction. One great way to transform your reach school into a target school? Focus on polishing your college essay and supplements for an even better chance of acceptance at the Ivy League school of your dreams.

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