Ivy League Misconceptions

ivy league misconceptions-stanford

The Ivy League schools are among the most prestigious, well-known universities in the world. Both the institutions and their alumni have had profound impacts on our world. But given its prominence, it’s surprising how little many people know about this group of schools. Even something as simple as “What schools are in the Ivy League?” is likely to trip up the average person.

Quiz Button

Ready to test your Ivy League knowledge?  Take the Ivy League Quiz before reading any further.

By exploring Google’s Keyword Planner tool, which estimates monthly Google search volume for given keywords, we discovered some interesting anomalies with consumer perceptions of the Ivy League.

Misconception: "500 Google searches in the United States for 'Top 10 Ivy League Schools.'"

For example, every month there are approximately 500 Google searches in the United States for “Top 10 Ivy League Schools” or a similar variation. The only problem is that there are only eight Ivy League schools. According to Keyword Planner, there are more than 10,000 searches per month in the United States for variations of “what are the ivy league schools?” Thousands more search for things like “ivy league colleges in California” (there are none), “is Columbia University ivy league?” (yep), and “is Stanford ivy league?” (nope).

The “Almost Ivies”

By analyzing Google search volume, you can get a pretty clear picture of Ivy League perceptions. On the outskirts of the Ivy League, Stanford appears to be the school most frequently thought of as a potential Ivy. In fact, we were able to identify at least 25 non-Ivies that get at least one person every day wondering if they’re in the Ivy League.

Note: “Ivy League” search volume consists of data from Google Keyword Planner for monthly U.S. searches related to “is SCHOOLNAME an ivy league school.”

Niche Overall Grade
School Name
"Ivy League" Search Volume
Year Founded
Acceptance Rate
A+Stanford UniversityStanfordCA88018917,0037%
A+Duke UniversityDurhamNC39018386,63114%
A+Penn StateUniversity ParkPA390185537,91752%
A+New York UniversityNew YorkNY210183121,24735%
A+Vanderbilt UniversityNashvilleTN17018736,73114%
A+Georgetown UniversityWashingtonDC14017897,28318%
A+Notre DameSouth BendIN11018428,46223%
A+University of ChicagoChicago IL11018905,37716%
A-Rutgers UniversityNew BrunswickNJ90176630,03861%
A+Carnegie MellonPittsburghPA7019006,17830%
APurdue UniversityWest LafayetteIN701869
A+Bucknell UniversityLewisburgPA7018463,51527%
A+Rice UniversityHoustonTX7018913,80317%
A+Boston CollegeChestnut HillMA5018639,53329%
A+Tufts UniversityMedfordMA5018525,16721%
A+Colgate UniversityHamiltonNY5018192,85029%
ABaylor UniversityWacoTX50184512,61561%
ABoston UniversityBostonMA50183916,72249%
A+UCLALos AngelesCA50191927,36527%
A+College of William & MaryWilliamsburgVA40
A+Emory UniversityAtlantaGA3018367,36827%
A+University of MichiganAnn ArborMI30181727,04637%
A-University of DelawareNewarkDE30174315,58858%

What Makes a School “Almost Ivy”?

Why these schools? Is this common across all schools?

First of all, this is not common across all schools. We checked several large and small colleges across the country (including Wisconsin, Pitt, Carlow, Kansas, Florida State, Reed, and Marlboro), and none showed any keyword volume with the phrase “ivy league.”

It appears a number of factors contribute to the Ivy League perception:

  1. The quality of the school – People may assume great schools are “Ivy League” and many “Almost Ivies” are among the best colleges in the United States.
  2. The age of the school – The Ivy League is made up of some of the oldest universities in the United States. Many “Almost Ivies” are also among the oldest colleges in the country.
  3. Prestige and exclusivity – Many “Almost Ivies” are among the hardest schools to get into. Others like College of William & Mary have names that sound almost “ivy.”
  4. “Alternative Ivy” lists – Public perception is likely impacted by the many formal and informal lists of alternative Ivies, such as Public Ivies, Little Ivies, and Sister Ivies.

Most and Least Recognizable Ivies

What about the inside looking out? What are the most and least recognizable Ivy League schools? Based on search volume, it appears Harvard and Yale are the most recognizable Ivies with relatively few people querying whether they are Ivy League schools, while more are unsure about Cornell and Brown.

Note: “Ivy League” search volume consists of data from Google Keyword Planner for monthly U.S. searches related to “is SCHOOLNAME an ivy league school”

Niche Overall Grade
School Name
"Ivy League" Search Volume
Year Founded
Acceptance Rate
A+Cornell UniversityIthacaNY480186514,24517%Private
A+Brown UniversityProvidenceRI48017646,1189%Private
A+Dartmouth CollegeHanoverNH32017694,13910%Private
A+Columbia UniversityNew YorkNY32017547,2367%Private
A+University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaPA170174010,32413%Private
A+Princeton UniversityPrincetonNJ9017465,3278%Private
A+Yale UniversityNew HavenCT7017015,3938%Private
A+Harvard UniversityCambridgeMA7016366,6526%Private

Trends Among the Ivy-Obsessed

Misconception: "480 monthly searches for 'easiest ivy to get into' and only 20 for 'hardest ivy.'"Even among the students obsessing over getting into an Ivy League school, you’ll find some interesting trends in Google searches. While there are 480 monthly searches for “easiest ivy to get into,” there are only 20 searches for “hardest ivy to get into.” Similarly, you’d think narrowing down to a list of just eight of the most prestigious schools out of more than 8,000 U.S. colleges would be good enough for our best and brightest, yet there are thousands of monthly searches for things like “ivy league rankings” and “best ivy league.”

Bottom Line

The Ivy League is a big deal.  Every year, more than 200,000 applications are submitted to the eight Ivy League colleges and universities. And although there is undeniable prestige that comes with an Ivy League diploma, an Ivy League degree won’t make or break you. Having “Penn State” (with its massive alumni network) on your resume may take you just as far (or farther) as having “Cornell” on your resume. Even within our office, only half of Niche employees could correctly name all eight Ivies off the top of their heads. So if you’re a high school senior stressing over Ivy League admissions or settling on a safety school, try to keep that in perspective.