Why the Ivy League May Be Overrated

Want the gold standard in higher education? Go to an Ivy League school, says the societal norm.

However, is an Ivy really the best option for most people?

Let’s get one thing out of the way here: all the Ivies are excellent schools, and all of them have countless alumni who are successful and at the top of their industries. 

Their professors are among the most accomplished in the world. The research the Ivies conduct has changed lives. 

No one is denying the quality of the schools in the Ivy League. 

However, when we think about objective evaluation metrics – things like job outcome, student satisfaction, return on investment, study abroad options, extra-curricular opportunities, and more – our research tells us that many other schools are equally good to the Ivies.

Princeton University
popejon2, Princeton, CC BY 2.0

And, if other schools are equally good/better to the Ivies, then we ask this question: 

Are the Ivies overrated? 

It’s an important question, especially for the college-seeking student or someone with a background in higher education.

Let’s examine this one question today.

Looking at a number of factors evaluating a higher education institution, let’s see how other schools stack up against the Ivies.

Return On Investment

This is perhaps the most discussed data metric in higher education today. 

How do other schools compare to the Ivies when it comes to return on investment?

Simply put, ROI is the amount of money you make from a degree minus the cost of the degree. 

There are different ways of calculating ROI, however one standard is the “40-year NET ROI,” which is the total money made by a school’s average alum minus the expense on the degree after 40 years of graduation.

Considering 40-year NET ROI, Business Insider tells us the top 5 schools nationwide are Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, St. Louis College of Pharmacy, MCPHS (another pharmacy school), MIT, and Stanford.

In fact, in the same top 20 list, only two schools are Ivies – Harvard at No. 8 and UPenn at No. 16.

Ahead of Harvard are not just pharmacy specialty schools, but also a small business school in the greater Boston area called Babson, a college specializing in entrepreneurship. 

So, one trend we see in college ROI are schools specializing in high-paying fields, such as health sciences (pharmacy), business, engineering, etc. However, other non-Ivies that aren’t necessarily specialist schools, including Harvey Mudd, also made the top-20 list.

Employment Rating

Employment rating is generally defined as the percentage of students who are employed within a year of attending college, or are studying in graduate school.

The Ivies do have excellent employment outlooks, no question, however according to Zippia.com, the top 10 schools nationwide for “Getting a Job” might surprise you.

At the top of the list? Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. 

Quinnipiac is a great school, but how many people think of Quinnipiac when they think of the top-ranked schools in the nation? 

But, when we look at objective data, perhaps we should start thinking of Quinnipiac as a top school nationwide.

After all, if a school like Quinnipiac has the best employment outlook nationwide, and may be a much more realistic, and less expensive, option for most students and their families – why don’t we cherish and promote schools like Quinnipiac instead of the already-accoladed Ivies?

Other schools in the top-10 nationwide, in terms of highest employment rating, include Western New England University, Providence College, and Marquette University.

Extra-Curricular & Study-Abroad Opportunities

This category is objectively hard to measure.

Some of the world’s most famous extra-curriculars exist at the Ivies. Maybe you know of Yale’s famed Whiffenpoofs, the oldest men’s collegiate choir nationwide, or Harvard’s widely circulated Crimson newspaper.

However, the opportunities at other schools can be equally good to an Ivy League, or better. 

Speaking of student newspapers, one of the most important in the country is at the University of Nevada, Reno. Their paper, known as The Nevada Sagebrush, has produced students who have worked at USA Today, the Washington Post, and The Miami Herald. They’ve also won dozens of awards.

If you are an aspiring journalist, would you rather work at an accoladed paper, or a paper that has produced a pathway to real-world journalism and a career?

The point is not really to highlight Nevada, or really any one school or one extra-curricular program, but rather to shed light over a misguided conception, which is that the Ivies are better than other schools when it comes to opportunities.

Definitely, without question, all 8 Ivies have great programs and great opportunities. I don’t think any person would question this.

But, are their opportunities really light years ahead of those of other schools? 

Not really, in our opinion.

While the opportunities at Ivies are life-changing, so are programs at other schools.

Considering The Prestige Factor

Is school reputation important?


Especially if you are looking for a job after college – which is nearly everyone who goes to college.

No matter how much research comes to light, changing widespread public perception is pretty much impossible on any topic – at least in the short-term.

Go to any local professional – lawyer, doctor, engineer, musician, artist, entertainer, marketer – anything at all, and tell them you attended Princeton or Harvard.

You will get preferential treatment. I know this as I see the treatment colleagues with Ivy League credentials get.

The automatic status that comes along with the prestige of an Ivy League is overwhelming, in a good way.

It’s not an automatic success marker, but it is absolutely a positive status symbol to have an Ivy league name on your resume.

So how important is that really?

Well, it may be the best argument for objectively attending an Ivy.

However, we are talking about education here.

The point of education is not just to help a student get a job, but “finish” their education as well – from both social and humanities perspectives.

And to that end, the Ivy League may be the best fit for some students…

But for the majority? Quality options are endless.

Are They the Best for Research?

A recent label in higher education has been the Carnegie Classification.

Essentially, in the Carnegie Classification, schools are divided into categories by their expenditure. The more you spend on research, the higher your Carnegie Classification Rating. 

This isn’t necessarily an indication of the quality of research an institution creates; that metric is more subjective and could be analyzed with any number of criteria.

However, what it does measure is the availability of a school’s resources. 

And, more resources tend to correlate with higher prestige.

To that end, not just the Ivies, but other very traditionally prestigious schools are ranked in the highest tier by the Carnegie Classification – they include schools like CalTech, Brandeis, MIT, and others.

Why is this point so important?

Well, in the top two tiers of the same ranking list are also institutions that are not traditionally placed among the top 50 schools nationwide.

Schools like University of South Florida, UT-Arlington, Wayne State University are all in the same research classification as these Ivies are.

Keep in mind that less than 2% of all schools in the country make the highest ranking here.

What does that tell us?

That even traditional metrics of evaluating a prestigious school may also tell us that other schools have equally good resources.

Specialized Majors 

Here’s where the argument against Ivies may be most superior.

For a well-rounded liberal arts education, it can be argued that the Ivies are just as good as, or better, than many other schools.

However, how would the music program of an Ivy stack up against, say, Juilliard or New England Conservatory for a Music major?

What about a Pharmacy school vs. an Ivy?

Some majors are not best served by the resources of an Ivy League school.

Let’s take performing arts as an example. From an extracurricular perspective, any Ivy League school will certainly have top-tier opportunities. 

We’re talking plays, choirs, musicals, orchestras, dance, theatre, the whole nine yards.

However, what if a student wants a more intensive performing arts program built into their daily curriculum?

I’m talking about actual classes where students study their specialty interests – acting, music, dance, etc.

Although the Ivies can offer this, there are specialty programs at other universities and colleges in which students can dedicate up to 80% of their Bachelor’s-degree granting credits towards performing arts.

The Ivies, on the other hand, don’t normally offer more than 30% – 50% of credits to be arts-oriented for an undergraduate student.

On the other hand, some programs at the Ivies may actually lead to better career outcomes.

An MBA or JD from Harvard? That’s nearly guaranteed to lead to a lucrative job offer by the end of graduation.

But, so can an MBA/JD from a non-Ivy, or even a school that isn’t considered top-30 in the country.

So, it’s not black-and-white; some interests are well-served by a top-name school, and others are better served by other schools.

One of the reasons we started College Gazette, this website, was to share news and information about some lesser-known schools. We have a whole series of “hidden gem” articles that we have shared with readers across the globe.

If you are looking into colleges, find options that are perhaps outside the box but could fit you well.

TLDR; Ivies are good, but for many students, other options can be equally good or even superior depending on their individual needs.

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