A number of the English-speaking countries can boast a set of elite universities. Most people have heard of Oxford and Cambridge in the UK. Perhaps not quite so well-known, at least outside Australia, is the ‘Australian Group of Eight’ – but if you’re thinking of studying there you will certainly be aware of it. Needless to say, the obvious equivalent in the USA is the Ivy League.
The Ivy League consists of eight universities. Six of them are in a line extending from Boston to Philadelphia, and in different states: Harvard (Massachusetts), Brown (Rhode Island), Yale (Connecticut), Columbia (New York), Princeton (New Jersey), University of Pennsylvania – UPenn (Pennsylvania, as you might have guessed). The two remaining Ivies are located in relatively small towns inland: Dartmouth (in Hanover, New Hampshire) and Cornell (in Ithaca, New York).
You can see straight away that all the Ivies are in one part of the country: the North-East. And so, even though other parts of the country have some top universities, they don’t have any Ivies. In California, UC Berkeley and Caltech often feature in the top 10 nationally, but they are not Ivies – and never will be. Similarly, MIT, located almost literally down the road from Harvard, is not an Ivy, even though it is one of the highest ranking universities in the world.
So what makes an Ivy?
Well, ivy is a plant which grows on the walls of buildings! It’s often found growing on older, brick buildings, sometimes covering the whole wall in green. (To be honest, it probably wouldn’t grow as well in the climate of California as it does in the North-East of the country…) In the context of the universities in question, it conveys an idea of age and maturity – it takes some time for ivy to cover a wall, and when you visit these campuses, this particular plant is much in evidence.
Technically, the Ivy League is a sporting association: a ‘league’ being a grouping of teams which compete against one another. And certainly there is a lot of sporting rivalry between the different universities. But in practice, the Ivy League has come to mean much more: it’s a grouping of long-established, more traditional universities, with a strong focus on the highest levels of academic achievement, at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The Ivy League universities are all private, and are completely independent of one another, but they share the same aspirations.
The Ivies also share a few other characteristics. First of all, compared to many of the state universities, they are not huge: most have fewer than 10,000 undergraduate students. Second, they are all wealthy – though some are wealthier than others: Harvard has endowments amounting to a staggering $36.4 billion, and can claim to be the richest university in the world. Needless to say, they all set very high entry criteria, and only a small percentage of those who apply are accepted. They are all housed on beautiful campuses, and are visited every year by thousands of tourists keen to admire the architecture and the sense of history which each of them has to offer: Harvard, Yale and Princeton are perhaps the most impressive visually, as well as the most famous of all.
The Ivies have played an enormous role in the life of the United States – and of the world as a whole. 14 Ivy alumni have gone on to be President, while their influence in science, business – in fact, in pretty much every sphere of human endeavor – has been extraordinary. A degree from an Ivy is not an automatic passport to success – every university degree comes with a person, who has to prove himself or herself as an individual as well as a scholar. However, it is a very valuable springboard towards a bright and prosperous future.
The Ivy League universities are very much open to receiving applications from international students, and our KE programs based in Amherst give you the opportunity to visit four of the Ivies (Harvard, Brown, Yale and Columbia). In this way, you get a feel for the Ivy League lifestyle, and of course for the rather special qualities which they are looking for on the part of their freshmen. Fees will certainly be high, but there are options for scholarships, and it’s perfectly possible for a student of exceptional ability to earn a 100% scholarship. Harvard, for example, maintains that it looks at talent first and foremost, and worries about where the money is coming from later…
It’s already been mentioned that no one is expecting the number of Ivy League universities to grow, but there are other leading universities which are in some ways comparable to the Ivies. First of all, there are the so-called ‘Little Ivies’. This an informal grouping of 18 liberal arts colleges, all of them still to be found in the North-East of the US. A liberal arts college focuses on undergraduate study, not on postgraduate research and, as the name suggests, it encourages study across a fairly broad range of academic interests. The Little Ivies are indeed small, most having between 1,000 and 3,000 students. But, like the Ivies, they have very tough entrance criteria, and the courses they offer are academically rigorous. A high proportion of students, on graduating from a Little Ivy, will go on to pursue postgraduate study elsewhere.
One of the best-known of the Little Ivies (and one of the three that first bore the name) is Amherst College. This College is very different from the University of Massachusetts, where KE programs are based, but all our students in Amherst go and visit it. The campus is beautiful, and it’s very interesting to find out about a rather intimate sort of institution.
There are more! The Southern Ivies are an informal grouping of universities in the South of the US which aspire to very high standards. The Public Ivies include some of the top public universities across the country – and here the UCs in California may put in an appearance. Again, this is an informal grouping of publicly-funded universities whose academic standards may be comparable to those of the private Ivies.
At which point, one has to ask whether the term ‘Ivy League’ is losing its meaning… Well, not to the Ivy League members themselves: they know where they stand.
Want to visit some of the Ivies? Apply now to our Kingdom Education summer programmes!