Advertiser disclosure

The Ivy League: What It Is and Where Schools Rank

Widely considered the cream of the crop when it comes to higher education, the Ivy League is a group of eight private universities in the northeastern U.S. While they’re all highly prestigious, you may be curious about how these schools stack up against each other. The truth of the matter is that there are actually no definitive Ivy League rankings. Some publications rank the schools based on academic reputations, while others focus on other factors such as quality of student life and career outcomes. As a result, rankings vary depending on who you ask. In this guide, though, we’ll break down what you need to know about the Ivy League and each of its members. 

Related: Ivy League scholarships: What students need to know

What is the Ivy League?

At the most basic level, the Ivy League is a collegiate athletic conference that was founded in 1954. But the schools that make up the Ivy League have been around for much longer, some of them predating the founding of America itself. They’re known for being highly selective and offering excellent academic programs. Students admitted to Ivy League schools are guaranteed a top-notch education and promising post-graduate opportunities. In short, these schools help set the bar for higher education in the U.S. In the next section, we’ll talk about individual Ivy League schools and how they’re ranked. 

Don’t miss: Top scholarships based on GPA

How are the Ivy League schools ranked? 

As we’ve mentioned, various publications rank Ivy League schools differently. Although there are no official Ivy League rankings, you’ll generally see the same three schools at the top of most lists – Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Collectively known as the “Big Three,” they carry a certain prestige within the League. They’re also the three oldest universities out of the bunch. 

While some rank Ivy League schools in a certain order, they’re all incredible institutions when it comes down to it. Every university features exceptional academics, while still maintaining its own personal flavor. Enrollment size, school setting, campus culture, and specialized academic programs all help distinguish the Ivies from each other. Determining the school that’s right for you comes down to a matter of personal preference. 

Related: What are my admissions chances? Start with a Scattergram!

Below is the complete list of Ivy League schools in alphabetical order: 

Brown University

Location: Providence, Rhode Island
Acceptance Rate: 7.1%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,792

Tucked away in the capital city of Rhode Island, Brown University distinguishes itself by its college-town atmosphere. Known for its open curriculum, the university allows students the chance to be the “architect of their own education.” Through this system, students have the freedom to design a personalized course of study. Renowned for its medical track, Brown University allows students to earn an undergraduate degree and medical degree in a single eight-year program.

Also see: How to complete the Brown University supplemental essays

Columbia University

Location: New York City, New York
Acceptance Rate: 5.4%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,170

Located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Columbia University is a prime destination for students eager to explore the vibrant culture of New York City. It’s also an excellent school for top-notch academic programs, ranging from journalism and history to engineering and computer science. The university offers three undergraduate colleges – Columbia College, the School of General Studies, and the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Also see: How to ace the Barnard College supplemental essays

Cornell University

Location: Ithaca, New York
Acceptance Rate: 10.9%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 14,743 

Although Cornell has the highest acceptance rate of any Ivy League school, it boasts world-class academics nonetheless. Not to mention, students get to enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings of upstate New York. Cornell also has the largest undergraduate student population out of all the Ivy Leagues, which may appeal to students seeking a bustling campus culture. The university is divided into eight undergraduate colleges, the two largest being the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. 

Don’t miss: How to complete the Cornell University supplemental essays

Dartmouth College

Location: Hanover, New Hampshire
Acceptance Rate: 7.9%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 4,170

Featuring the smallest undergraduate enrollment out of all the Ivy Leagues, Dartmouth is an attractive option for students seeking a tight-knit community. The school has a 7-to-1 student-faculty ratio and the majority of classes have fewer than 20 students. Dartmouth is located in a rural setting, making it a hub for outdoor recreation. The school’s most popular student organization is the Outing Club, which explores the beautiful natural landscape of New Hampshire. 

Also see: How to complete the Dartmouth College supplemental essays

Harvard University

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Acceptance Rate: 4.6%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 5,222

Harvard carries immense name recognition, and for good reason. The university is the oldest institution of higher education in the U.S. and one of the most selective in the Ivy League. Harvard lives up to its lofty reputation, as indicated by the school’s incredibly high (92%) freshman retention rate and long list of successful alumni. The school is located just outside of Boston in the quintessential college town of Cambridge. 

Don’t miss: How to complete the Harvard supplemental essays

University of Pennsylvania

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Acceptance Rate: 7.7%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 9,872

Located in Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania is a great option for students seeking an urban setting. It’s also a popular school for students who want a fulfilling life outside of rigorous academics. The school’s work-hard, play-hard culture and vibrant party scene has earned it a nickname as the “Social Ivy”. UPenn also has the largest international student population out of any Ivy League, attracting students from over 100 countries around the world. 

Also see: How to complete the UPenn supplemental essays

Princeton University

Location: Princeton, New Jersey
Acceptance Rate: 5.8%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 4,773

Founded in 1746, Princeton has long maintained its status as one of the nation’s absolute best universities and one of the “Big Three” Ivies. The school is located in a small town in New Jersey, but within reach of both New York and Philadelphia. Something unique about Princeton is that almost every student writes a senior thesis in order to graduate. These capstone projects give students a chance to explore their academic interests and demonstrate the knowledge they’ve gained throughout their studies. 

Don’t miss: How to complete the Princeton University supplemental essays

Yale University

Location: New Haven, Connecticut
Acceptance Rate: 6.1%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 4,703

Another of the Ivy League’s “Big Three” schools, Yale University dates all the way back to 1701. It ranks only behind Harvard when it comes to oldest universities in the U.S. The school is known for its exceptional drama and music programs, as well as its longstanding college humor magazine. Students have no shortage of extracurricular activities, which range from bookbinding clubs to social justice groups. Yale is located in the town of New Haven, which is about 90 minutes away from both New York City and Boston. 

Related: How to complete the Yale University supplemental essays

Other top-notch schools 

So, although there are no official Ivy League rankings, you can feel confident that all of the Ivy Leagues are excellent universities. But remember, they’re certainly not the only schools where you can receive a high-quality education. Many universities boast academic programs rivaling that of Ivy League schools. For instance, the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) is a group of academically competitive and highly selective private schools in the northeast. These schools are so highly regarded that they each claim a “Little Ivy” title.  

There are also many public universities featuring superb academic programs. In fact, there’s a group of public schools considered so prestigious that they’ve been dubbed the Public Ivies. There’s countless other outstanding colleges and universities throughout the country, which just goes to show that the Ivy League isn’t the be-all, end-all of higher education. 

If you have your sights set on attending an Ivy League school, that’s great! You should definitely pursue that goal to the best of your ability. But don’t worry too much about Ivy league rankings; each school will provide a world-class education and great opportunities after graduation. And don’t forget– if you want a first-rate education and your heart isn’t set on the Ivy League, there’s many other phenomenal schools out there. The reality is that you have a wealth of great options when deciding where to attend school. 

Also see: How to choose a college

Additional resources

As you are looking at different schools to apply to, there are a lot of decisions to make. Luckily, we can help you through many of them. Check out our guides on how many schools to apply to, how to find safety, reach, and match schools, and how to plan a college tour. We can also help you finance your education and keep your options open with our free scholarship search tool.

Finally, help get your college applications in tip-top shape with our guide as to what to include in college applications and our insider’s guide into what happens inside an admissions office. Good luck!