What Is the Ivy League?

What are the Ivy League schools? Learn about how the Ivy League was formed, how much Ivy League tuition costs, and how selective these colleges are.

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Updated August 12, 2022

Edited by Hannah Muniz
Share this Article
What Is the Ivy League?
Image Credit: kickstand / E+ / Getty Images


Elite students, ivy-covered campus buildings, tree-lined quads, and prestigious alumni. Such a description likely makes you think of the Ivy League schools — and you wouldn't be alone.

The Ivy League includes many of the highest-ranked colleges in the world. Every U.S. president since the 1980s holds an Ivy League degree. Even celebrities like Jodie Foster, John Legend, and Emma Watson attended Ivies.

www.bestcolleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to start your journey?

But what is the Ivy League exactly? What does "Ivy League" mean? And how much does an Ivy League education cost?

What Are the Ivy League Schools?

The Ivy League is made up of eight private schools, all of which are based in the Northeast:

Zoom in on the map of the Ivy League schools below to see where each college is located.

The Ivy League universities vary in size, with each institution enrolling between 4,500 and 15,500 undergraduates.

Dartmouth is the smallest Ivy, with a total enrollment of about 7,000 students. Meanwhile, Columbia and Harvard enroll the most students of any Ivy, with over 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

A Brief History of the Ivy League

The Ivy League started out as an athletic conference consisting of eight private colleges. But these days, the Ivy League refers to much more than just college athletics.

The schools in the Ivy League boast centuries of history, tradition, and prestige. Located in the Northeast, all but one of the Ivies predates the American Revolution. Harvard, for example, was established in 1636, making it the oldest institution of higher education in the U.S.

The term "Ivy League," however, didn't appear until almost three centuries later.

In 1933, a sports writer named Stanley Woodward wrote about the football season at the "ivy schools," and the name quickly caught on. The athletic conference officially began two decades later in 1954.

Now, most people associate the term "Ivy League" with extremely competitive, renowned universities and use it as a benchmark for measuring high-quality education.

What Are the Ivy League Acceptance Rates?

Gaining admission into an Ivy League school isn't easy. In 2021, all but one Ivy League school admitted less than 7% of undergraduate applicants.

More recently, Harvard — one of the most selective Ivies — admitted just 3.2% of its more than 61,000 applicants for the class of 2026.

Ivy League Acceptance Rates
School Location Undergraduate Acceptance Rate (Fall 2021)
Brown University Providence, RI 6%
Columbia University New York, NY 4%
Cornell University Ithaca, NY 9%
Dartmouth College Hanover, NH 6%
Harvard University Cambridge, MA 4%
Princeton University Princeton, NJ 4%
University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA 6%
Yale University New Haven, CT 5%

Source: NCES

As you can see in the table above, the Ivy League acceptance rates are all extremely low, hovering at under 10%, as of fall 2021. This means that fewer than 1 in 10 undergraduate applicants — and at some Ivies, fewer than 1 in 20! — gets accepted.

What Are the Ivy League Rankings and Reputation?

The Ivy League schools consistently rank among the top 20 national universities on lists by sites like Forbes and U.S. News & World Report. They also rank highly on many BestColleges lists.

Because of their esteemed academic reputations, Ivies boast large endowments in the form of donations and assets. Colleges use these endowments to build facilities, hire prestigious faculty members, and support students through grants and scholarships.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Harvard held endowments totaling $42 billion at the end of the 2020 fiscal year, which ranked as the largest endowment in U.S. higher education.

Yale, Princeton, Penn, and Columbia also rank highly for endowment size, with each having endowments above $10 billion in 2020.

The benefits of attending an Ivy League institution continue well after graduation, as the Ivies enjoy strong alumni networks. At Princeton, for example, the first president of the Alumni Association was former U.S. President James Madison, who graduated in 1771.

Current Ivy League alumni include Jeff Bezos, Michelle and Barack Obama, and dozens of Nobel laureates.

How Much Does Ivy League Tuition Cost?

In 2021-22, the cost of an Ivy League education exceeded $55,000 in tuition and fees at every school. Harvard, which charged less than $56,000 per year, was the least expensive option, while Columbia's annual tuition and fees stood at almost $64,000.

Fortunately, the Ivies provide generous financial aid packages to many students thanks to their large endowments.

Ivy League Tuition and Financial Aid
School Tuition and Fees (2021-22) Tuition-Free if Family Makes …
Brown University $62,304 $125,000 or less per year
Columbia University $63,530 $150,000 or less per year
Cornell University $61,015 Less than $60,000 per year
Dartmouth College $60,870 $125,000 or less per year
Harvard University $55,587 Less than $75,000 per year
Princeton University $56,010 Less than $160,000 per year
University of Pennsylvania $61,710 Less than $140,000 per year
Yale University $59,950 Less than $75,000 per year

Source: NCES

At Brown and Dartmouth, for example, students whose families make $125,000 or less a year receive free tuition.

Columbia and Princeton offer the most generous packages of the Ivies, providing free tuition for students whose families make less than $150,000 and $160,000 per year, respectively.

As a result of these hefty aid packages, few Ivy League students pay the full listed price for tuition and fees. At Yale, for instance, the average need-based scholarship is over $50,000 per year.

All Ivy League schools admit students on a need-blind basis, meaning they do not consider an applicant's ability to pay during the admissions process.

Nevertheless, many Ivy League students come from wealthy families. Data from The New York Times shows that two-thirds of Yale and Harvard students come from households in the top 20% of earners.

How Does the Ivy League Compare With Other Colleges?

Ivy League schools may have prestige and history, but they aren't the only great universities in the U.S.

Schools like Stanford, MIT, and the University of Chicago often outrank Ivies in terms of academics. However, since they aren't in the same athletic conference, they technically aren't Ivy League schools.

The so-called "little Ivies," which include Amherst College, Bowdoin College, and Wesleyan University, are known for their selectivity and academic rigor. However, they emphasize a liberal arts education and boast smaller undergraduate enrollments than the eight Ivy League members.

And then there are elite public institutions, like UC Berkeley, the University of Michigan, UCLA, and the University of Virginia. These schools, dubbed the "public Ivies," offer a high-quality education at far cheaper public university tuition rates.

Is the Ivy League Still Relevant Today?

While it's true that many political and corporate leaders attended Ivy League schools as undergraduates and graduate students, an Ivy League education is far from the only route to professional advancement.

A 2017 study conducted by researchers at the University of California at Riverside found that roughly 10% of senior executives in the public and private sectors attended an Ivy League school. While an Ivy League education can certainly help, it doesn't guarantee career success.

The Ivy League includes some of the most prestigious colleges in the country, but dozens of other schools offer similarly rigorous academic programs, strong traditions, and extensive alumni networks.

Additionally, although attending an Ivy can provide many benefits, it might not necessarily be the best fit for you. Take time to explore your options and research colleges that interest you. You never know what you'll uncover!

Frequently Asked Questions About the Ivy League

How many Ivy League schools are there?

There are eight Ivy League schools: Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University.

All Ivy League schools are private and located in the Northeast. They also hold big endowments, boast strong alumni networks, and have extremely low acceptance rates. Ivy League schools are known for their academic excellence, research, and accomplished faculty.

Is Stanford Ivy League? Is Duke? Is Penn State?

No, Stanford University, Duke University, and Penn State are not part of the Ivy League. That said, it's common for people to assume most or all prestigious and highly selective schools belong to the Ivy League.

This often happens because many mistakenly conflate prestige and selectivity with the Ivy League. The truth is that there are dozens of colleges around the U.S. that are comparable in academic reputation to the Ivy League, without actually being in the Ivy League.

Other examples of schools often thought to belong to the Ivy League include Northwestern University, MIT, the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins University, and Georgetown University.

What's the easiest Ivy League school to get into?

While all Ivy League schools are incredibly difficult to get into, Cornell University would likely be considered the easiest since it has the highest acceptance rate of all Ivies. As of fall 2021, Cornell's acceptance rate for first-year applicants was 9%. Most other Ivies have acceptance rates of around 4-6%.

Nevertheless, Cornell is still an extremely selective school. A 9% acceptance rate means fewer than 1 in 10 applicants are admitted.

Are there any Ivy League schools in California?

No, there are no Ivy League schools in California. All eight Ivy League schools are based in the Northeast in states like Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

That said, California is home to many prestigious and highly competitive schools, such as Stanford, Pomona College, Caltech, the University of Southern California, and the University of California system.

How can you get into Ivy League schools?

To get into an Ivy League school, most students need to submit an extremely impressive application with perfect or near-perfect grades, top standardized test scores (if required), a well-written personal statement, and compelling letters of recommendation.

Extracurriculars, hobbies, awards, and honors are also valuable, as these demonstrate your commitment to education.

Note that even if you meet all these guidelines, you're not guaranteed admission into an Ivy. These days, Ivy League schools receive tens of thousands of applications for a limited number of spots, meaning admissions officers often have to reject many qualified applicants.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.