The Best of the Best: The Rise of the Ivy League

Ivy League schools-final

The best of the best. The crème de la crème. These eight institutions have been known as the most prestigious universities in the world for more than 100 years. Why?

Ivy League: "The phrase 'Ivy League' came from sportwriter Stanley Woodward."

While the term “Ivy League” often conjures up images of overachieving students hitting the books on campuses crowded with Gothic architecture, the phrase became official after the formation of the NCAA Division 1 athletic conference in 1954, so the designation also has a sports connection.

In fact, the first reference to “ivy colleges” came from sportswriter Stanley Woodward in 1933:

“A proportion of our eastern ivy colleges are meeting little fellows another Saturday before plunging into the strife and the turmoil.”

Key Ivy League Statistics

Stat
Name
Fact
Oldest Ivy League SchoolHarvard University1636
Easiest Ivy League School To Get IntoCornell University17% acceptance rate
Largest Ivy League SchoolCornell University14,245 undergrads
Hardest Ivy League School To Get IntoHarvard University6% acceptance rate
Smallest Ivy League SchoolDartmouth College
4,139 undergraduates
Total Ivy League EnrollmentN/A59,434 undergraduates
Ivy League Acceptance RateN/A9%
Number of Ivy League SchoolsN/A8

According to the Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins,  Woodward had taken this term from New York Tribune sportswriter Caswell Adams, who had compared Fordham’s football team to those of Princeton and Columbia, saying the latter were, “only Ivy League.” Since northeastern institutions like Harvard and Yale were known for ivied walls and “Ivy Day” customs (Princeton even had an Ivy Club), the expression was apt, with the media using the phrase to refer to these older colleges, or schools dating back to the colonial era.

The age of the schools is integral to the term, with the association of ivy being linked to these venerable institutions.

Ivy League Rankings: Top Ivy League Schools by Niche Grade

Niche Overall Grade
Name
City
State
Size
Acceptance Rate
Date Founded
A+Harvard UniversityCambridgeMA6,6526%1636
A+Columbia UniversityNew York CityNY7,2367%1754
A+Princeton UniversityPrincetonNJ5,3278%1746
A+Yale UniversityNew HavenCT5,3938%1701
A+Brown UniversityProvidenceRI6,1189%1764
A+Dartmouth CollegeHanoverNH4,13910%1769
A+University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaPA10,32413%1740
A+Cornell UniversityIthacaNY14,24517%1865

Of more than 800 Niche users surveyed, 51 percent believe that outstanding grades and test scores are the leading factor for admission into Ivy League schools, while 21 percent believe having enough money to attend is the main element that leads to acceptance.

Formation of an “Ivy League”

Ivy League: "21 percent of Niche users believe wealth aids in getting accepted."

In 1936, undergraduate newspapers at Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale, ran an editorial backing the formation of an “Ivy League” to unite common interests in scholarship as well as in athletics, but it wasn’t until 1945 that an agreement was signed “for the purpose of reaffirming their intention of continuing intercollegiate football in such a way as to maintain the values of the game, while keeping it in fitting proportion to the main purposes of academic life.”

By the 1950s, the “Ivy Group” established schedules in sports other than football and competed against each other. In the 1970s, women’s teams were included in the Ivy League program.

The idea of “Ivy League” became so prestigious that other schools wanted the reputation. In the 1920s, Ivy League Sister Schools developed, which went on to become known as “the Seven Sisters.”

The Bottom Line

Born out of sports, but today denoting some of the most elite learning in the world, the Ivy League continues to prevail as the oldest and, some believe, highest standard of education in the United States.



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