What Are the Ivy League Schools? List of Schools, Ranking, Acceptance Rates, and More

There’s nothing inherently superior about ivy, but the “Ivy League” has become synonymous with academic excellence and social prestige.

Originally, the name referred to the ivy-planting tradition that began in the 1800s at member colleges Harvard, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania. Only by the 1930s did “Ivy League” begin to refer to these and five other schools as a national collegiate athletic conference, which averages 35 varsity teams per school.

Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia invented the rules of pre-NFL football in 1876. Today the Ivies are best known for churning out the world’s top innovators, thinkers, creatives, leaders, and businesspeople.

Getting into an Ivy League is not a guaranteed marker of success, but it does open doors that would otherwise remain closed. Few non-Ivies match the learning, service, and research opportunities available at Ivy League colleges.

The Ivies are also known for their low acceptance rates; whoever gets in must have an eye-catching application.

In this guide, we’ll give a rundown of the eight Ivy League universities, their rankings according to three different publications, and — most importantly — how to get in. With the right tools, you’ll have a fair shot at the elite school of your dreams.

List of Ivy League Schools & Acceptance Rates

Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)

Harvard University
chensiyuan, Sanders theater, CC BY-SA 4.0

Harvard’s reputation precedes itself.

As America’s first university, founded in 1636, Harvard has stood the test of time, evolving from a modest college educating future Puritan ministers during the colonial era to the elite research university it is today.

Harvard’s endowment is the largest in the world, making it possible for the school to offer generous financial aid to accepted students from lower-income brackets.

Today Harvard is home to world-class faculty, an impressive and diverse student body, and 13 different schools and institutions. According to U.S. News, it is the #1 best value college, giving students the highest quality of education for the best price — and Harvard isn’t cheap.

Harvard has produced more Nobel Prize winners than any other university globally and the most U.S. Congress members than any other American university.

Early Action Acceptance Rate: 7.4%

Regular Action Acceptance Rate: 4.6%

Columbia University (New York, NY)

Columbia University
Andrew Chen (Achen33), Butler Library, CC BY-SA 3.0

Like Harvard, Columbia is one of nine colonial colleges established before the creation of the Declaration of Independence. Since its founding in 1754, Columbia has educated this nation’s founding fathers, three presidents, and nearly 100 Nobel laureates.

Columbia researchers have pioneered brain-computer interface, invented lasers, and did much of the initial work on the Manhattan Project, the U.S.’s first nuclear program. Today, the university is on the cutting edge of fields such as computer science and engineering.

The school doesn’t just teach the best students. The Teachers College is the oldest and largest graduate school in the nation dedicated to training the next generation of teachers. With programs targeting specific teaching conditions — from low income to special needs — Columbia is perhaps the best place in the U.S. to get an education degree.

Early Action Acceptance Rate: 10.1% (class of 2025, marking a 5% drop from the prior year)

Regular Action Acceptance Rate: 5.4%

Cornell University (Ithaca, NY)

Cornell University
sach1tb, Cornell University, Ho Plaza and Sage Hall, CC BY-SA 2.0

Ithaca, located in New York’s Finger Lakes region, is the scenic home to Cornell University.

Known as one of the “easiest” Ivy Leagues to get into, Cornell is the only one from this group founded after the American Revolution. Though not as old as Harvard or Columbia, Cornell is renowned for its superior engineering, veterinary medicine, and hotel administration programs.

If you’re interested in business as an undergrad, Cornell offers two different business degrees. Students who earn a B.S. in Applied Economics & Management or Hotel Administration can enter the workforce after graduation without taking additional time and money to earn an M.B.A.

Furthermore, the school’s picturesque backdrop lends itself well to the Cornell Botanic Gardens, a 3,600-acre botanical garden reflecting the university’s interest in natural sciences and agriculture. The gardens are a local tourist haunt nestled amidst the university’s academic buildings.

Early Action Acceptance Rate: 23%

Regular Action Acceptance Rate: 10.9%

Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH)

Dartmouth College
Kane5187, Dartmouth College campus, marked as public domain

With a total student enrollment under 6,500, Dartmouth College is the smallest Ivy League school. Admission is highly selective, but students should choose the school if they’re interested in a rigorous liberal arts education.

At Dartmouth, it’s easy for students to customize their specializations or pursue dual degrees among the school’s 57 total majors. The most popular majors include economics, computer science, history, and engineering.

The school is known for its undergrad focus, as well as its prominent Greek life and campus traditions, such as bonfires welcoming incoming freshmen.

Famous alumni include actress Meryl Streep, poet Robert Frost, and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

Early Action Acceptance Rate: 21% (class of 2025, down 5% from the prior year)

Regular Action Acceptance Rate: 7.9%

University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)

University of Pennsylvania
Rehua, Hamilton Walk at the Perelman School of Medicine, CC BY-SA 3.0

Back in 1740, UPenn founder Benjamin Franklin promoted education in trade, government, and public service.

Since then, the Ivy League school has been true to its roots, teaching leading economists, entrepreneurs, public servants, and more. Notable alumni include Elon Musk, John Legend, and Warren Buffet.

The university has long been an innovator in higher education. Penn’s School of Medicine was the nation’s very first medical school, established in 1765, while the Wharton School was the U.S.’s first business college. The university’s psychology department is also the oldest of its kind in North America.

As is the case with most Ivy Leagues, athletics are a significant part of student life. UPenn made big contributions to football in its early days, including the quarterback kick, which would later become the forward pass.

Early Action Acceptance Rate: 15%

Regular Action Acceptance Rate: 7.7%

Brown University (Providence, RI)

Brown University
chensiyuan, Brown university, CC BY-SA 4.0

Like Dartmouth, Brown University encourages students to take control of their own education. Even with a choice of over 81 majors, students have the option of designing their own course of study.

Brown’s School of Engineering is the oldest Ivy League engineering program, and it lacks the traditional divisions that exist between STEM and non-STEM departments. Rather, Brown fosters an atmosphere of interdisciplinary cooperation, where engineers regularly work with non-engineers to create unique solutions.

Brown is also known for its International Relations concentration — the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs is a leading institute in the U.S. for global studies.

This Ivy League school’s partnership with the Rhode Island School of Design has resulted in a dual degree opportunity for students interested in the intersections between academics and art.

The university is also one of few in the U.S. to offer Egyptology as a major. The Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World has active field workers in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Sudan, Italy, Mexico, and more.

Early Action Acceptance Rate: 15.9%

Regular Action Acceptance Rate: 7.1%

Yale University (New Haven, CT)

Yale University
Helpfullguy99, Benjamin Franklin College Yale, CC BY-SA 4.0

Yale’s residential college system encourages closer social and academic ties between faculty and students since they live in the same residences. The system is modeled after that of Oxford University and Cambridge University.

This also means Yale students can experience the intimacy one may experience at a small liberal arts college while accessing a large research university’s resources. Yale undergrads have a choice of 100+ different majors, all of which are research-focused.

Meanwhile, twelve of its fourteen total colleges are dedicated to post-grad professional degrees. These include separate schools for drama, law, nursing, music, medicine, and engineering.

The university has educated five U.S. presidents, many members of Congress, and 65 Nobel laureates. Its roster of famous alumni — which includes actress Jodie Foster, musician Cole Porter, Olympic figure skater Nathan Chen, and many more — only continues to grow.

Early Action Acceptance Rate: 10.5%

Regular Action Acceptance Rate: 6.1%

Princeton University (Princeton, NJ)

Princeton University
Smallbones, Italian Renaissance Princeton, NJ, CC0 1.0

Princeton has been the #1 National University according to U.S. News since 2010. The report cites the school’s small class sizes, top-tier research and faculty, and almost perfect graduation rate.

In 2011, Travel+Leisure called Princeton one of the most beautiful campuses in the U.S. Like Cornell, Princeton is surrounded by natural beauty, making it an ideal spot to learn and think critically.

Princeton offers undergrad and graduate degrees in humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering. The university also manages the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, a research and development lab for fusion power under the U.S. Department of Energy.

Prominent alumni include Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, former first lady Michelle Obama, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and The Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Early Action Acceptance Rate: 13.9%

Regular Action Acceptance Rate: 5.8%

Ranking the Ivy League Schools

Any student would be fortunate to get into any of the Ivy League schools.

But as highly competitive institutions, they also vie with one another for the coveted #1 spot. We’ve mentioned a few rankings already, but how do the Ivies rank on different lists? Below you’ll find rankings by three separate publications, as well as explanations for the differences between them.

Here is the US News ranking (based on the order of their appearance in their National Universities list):

  1. Princeton University
  2. Harvard University
  3. Columbia University
  4. Yale University
  5. University of Pennsylvania
  6. Dartmouth College
  7. Brown University
  8. Cornell University

From just the top 18 national universities, Ivy Leagues populate almost half the list. U.S. News rates national universities on their ability to offer “a full range of undergraduate majors, plus master’s and doctoral programs, and emphasize faculty research or award professional practice doctorates.” Princeton has claimed the number one spot for the past eleven years.

Here is the Washington Monthly Ranking:

  1. Harvard University
  2. Yale University
  3. Princeton University
  4. University of Pennsylvania
  5. Columbia University
  6. Cornell University
  7. Dartmouth College
  8. Brown University

Washington Monthly calls U.S. News’ rankings “crude” because they rely on “easily manipulated measures of wealth, exclusivity, and prestige.” In contrast, WM ranks their national universities based on “what they do for the country.” As a result, the Ivies are more spread out, with Brown falling to #37 when compared to other U.S. colleges.

Here is the Niche.com Ranking

  1. Harvard University
  2. Yale University
  3. Princeton University
  4. Brown University
  5. University of Pennsylvania
  6. Columbia University
  7. Dartmouth College
  8. Cornell University

Niche.com analyzes academic, admissions, financial, and student life data from the U.S. Department of Education to put together their list of best colleges. Notably, the website also considers millions of student and alumni reviews, which are published under each school.

How to Get Into an Ivy League School

With acceptance rates as low as the ones we’ve reported here, getting into an Ivy League school is notoriously difficult.

These elite schools accept brilliant students, exceptional performers (star athletes, actors), and legacy scholars (or those similarly connected to the institution, like wealthy donors). Even if you don’t fall into the latter two groups, you can still control how well you perform in school.

Grades and test scores are important, but strong academics alone won’t get you admitted.

Below we’ll explain the specifics of what it takes to get an Ivy League’s attention.

GPA and SAT/ACT scores

The average GPA of students accepted to Ivy Leagues is 4.0. For some schools the average is even higher. This usually means scoring A’s and B’s in multiple AP or IB classes. But for reasons that we’ll get into below, a lower GPA of, say, 3.9 doesn’t automatically put you out of the running.

SAT and ACT scores must also be top-tier — no lower than 1400 for the SAT or 30 on the ACT. While an applicant scoring 35 on the ACT has a better chance than an applicant that scores 31, admissions officers for Ivy Leagues weigh other factors as well.


Contrary to popular opinion, Ivy Leagues don’t look for the most well-rounded students. Instead, they want students that have shown remarkable achievement and potential in a given field.

This preference stems from the assumption that a jack of all trades is a master of none. The most prestigious schools want students that are most likely to change the world — to become the next Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk.

Unfortunately, that means a well-rounded student — the straight-A varsity tennis player, dance team member, art club leader — may not stand out from the crowd unless they demonstrate extraordinary performance in a specific pursuit.

This is good news. Instead of burying yourself in advanced courses and sacrificing your free time to extracurriculars you’re indifferent to, focus that time and effort on feats that tie in with the rest of your application.

For example, if you’re passionate about STEM subjects, make sure you earn good grades in advanced STEM classes. Do summer STEM programs, tutor science and math at your local library, find research opportunities at your local community college. Admissions officers prefer outstanding success in a particular field rather than average accomplishments in every field.

Being such a strong STEM-oriented candidate would make up for slightly lower grades in humanities and social sciences. Do as well as possible, of course, but don’t sweat it if you don’t have comparable extracurriculars for these subjects as well.

Becoming the next Bill Gates or Sheryl Sandberg won’t be possible without leadership experience, too. Highlight important leadership positions you’ve held in your school and community, as these will help Ivy Leagues picture you on their campuses, which are famous for nurturing future leaders.


If this sounds good to you, shoot for the stars. If not, don’t worry. There are plenty of other exceptional colleges that are just as selective but happen not to have the Ivy League brand name. Your college experience is what you make of it, regardless of school reputation.

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