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Is the Ivy League Really Worth it? Pros and Cons

What’s Covered:


Each year, hundreds of thousands of students all over the world apply to the Ivy League, a group of eight elite universities in the Northeast. These schools are known for graduating leaders in practically every field.


But while these schools certainly boast world-renowned programs, they’re not the only top-tier colleges—and might not even be the right choice for some students. Is the Ivy League worth it? Here’s what you should consider.


What is the Ivy League?

The Ivy League is made up of the following schools:


  • Brown University
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Harvard University
  • Princeton University
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Yale University


The Ivies are synonymous with the most prestigious schools in the nation, but the Ivy League is actually an athletic conference. The first term appeared in 1935, when the Associated Press reported on a developing sports league consisting of long-established, Northeastern universities. 


The “League” became official in 1954, when the NCAA Division I athletic conference was established. The Ivy League brought together these 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.


Pros of Going to an Ivy League


1. You’ll Learn Under Well-Respected Faculty.


Lewis Black, Nadine Gordimer, Toni Morrison, Tony Shalhoub, B. F. Skinner, and Cornel West are just some of the world-famous professionals who have taught at Ivy League institutions. These eight schools attract some of the biggest names in their fields, and you’ll have the chance to learn under these brilliant minds.


2. You’ll Have Access to a Huge Network of Fellow Ivy League Alumni.


Each of these schools has graduated thousands of successful alumni. Many are eager to network with and help fellow alums. Moreover, given the sense of camaraderie (and often rivalry, especially on the field) among these eight institutions, you may also have access to other Ivy graduates through events that bring together graduates of different schools.


3. It Will Open Doors.


These brand names carry a lot of cache. Not only will you impress people, but you’re likely to 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.


4. The Ivies Offer Generous Need-Based Financial Aid.


All Ivies also promise to meet 100% demonstrated financial need, and many are even no-loan. For low-income students, attending an Ivy could be cheaper than attending a state school, and you may even receive a full ride! In fact, Harvard grants full rides for students with families making under $65,000 per year. Families with incomes between $65,000 and $150,000 will contribute from 0-10% of their income.


Not every Ivy is this generous, but in general, they offer some of the best aid in the country.


5. You’ll Have Plenty of Options in Terms of Courses, Majors, Activities, and More.


Thanks to their large endowments and long histories, the Ivies all have an abundance of resources to offer their students, from enormous libraries to performance venues to museums and cultural institutions. 


Each Ivy has its own personality and strengths, but in general, they all have options in a wide array of fields. You’ll also be able to take advantage of extracurricular activities across areas like sports, Greek life, arts, journalism, religion, ethnicity, and much more.


5 Reasons You Don’t Have to Go to an Ivy League School to Succeed


1. There Are Many Schools of Comparable Caliber.


The Ivies are highly prestigious, but there are plenty of other options when it comes to elite schools with great reputations, including several public institutions. You may want to consider these top non-Ivy League schools and these public universities known as the “public Ivies.”


You don’t need to go to an Ivy to get a great education and land your next great role. Remember, too, that after you land your first job, where you went to college is less likely to matter than how you performed in your previous roles.


2. You May Be a Small Fish in a Big Pond.


Most students who attend Ivies were at the top of their class in high school. But each of these eight schools is extraordinarily selective, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by peers who were equally impressive in their schools. As a result, some students have imposter syndrome or even struggle in their classes. If you attend a less selective school, you may end up performing better comparatively.


3. The Price Tags Are Steep


While the Ivies offer generous financial aid, the price tags themselves are quite steep. Depending on your family’s income, you may end up paying more than you would at a public school.


4. Ivies Don’t Offer Merit Scholarships.


As per an Ivy League agreement, none of the eight schools offers scholarships based on merit — they only offer aid based on financial need. You can still receive outside merit scholarships, but beyond need-based financial aid, you won’t get any money from the schools themselves.


5. Some Sections and Seminars Are Taught by TAs.


This is true of many large schools, including some of the Ivies: often, sections of big lectures and seminars are taught by teaching assistants rather than professors themselves, particularly at the introductory level. As you advance in your academic career, this is less likely to be the case, but you’ll also face stiff competition getting into courses taught by famous faculty.


The smaller Ivies tend to be more focused on undergraduate teaching, but you’ll need to look out for this at a larger school like Cornell.


How to Get into an Ivy League School


Each of the eight Ivies is enormously selective. Even if you’re a top candidate, there’s no guarantee of admission to any of these schools. They would be a reach for every student.


Still, there are ways to increase your chances of getting into your dream Ivy. And it starts with having an exemplary record of academic achievement. All of the Ivies, as well as other highly selective schools, use a tool called the Academic Index (AI) to assess whether a student meets their minimum standards for admissions. The AI weeds out students whose grades and test scores fall below a certain threshold even before their applications are reviewed (though this has changed due to COVID-19 test-optional policies).


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. Try to demonstrate cohesion, focusing on a few interests as opposed to casting a wide net. Learn more about the extracurricular profile the Ivy League wants.


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


Which Ivy League, if Any, is Right for You?


While the Ivies are all prestigious, highly selective schools with stellar academic programs, each institution has its own unique culture, along with strengths and weaknesses. Different Ivies will appeal to different students.


For example, if you’re looking for freedom to explore your interests and talents, Brown’s open curriculum will appeal to you. In contrast, Columbia adheres to a classical approach, with more requirements.


Some of the institutions have unique programs you’re unlikely to find at its peer schools. Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, for instance, hosts one of the few—and best—programs of its kind.


Location matters, too. Some of these schools, like Columbia, UPenn, Harvard, and Brown are in cities, while Princeton and Yale are in suburbs. Meanwhile, Dartmouth and Cornell are situated in some of the most rural areas you can find.


These are all important factors to consider when choosing the best college for you. To help you narrow down your search, check out CollegeVine’s school-search tool. It will allow you to search by criteria like program, size, location, and more. And don’t forget to estimate your chances of admission to top schools, including the Ivies, with our chancing engine. Both tools are free to use!



Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.