Let’s understand the truth about the advantages and disadvantages of attending an Ivy League school.
I know it’s challenging to decide which schools to apply to. This significant decision is the first major step of your college application journey. And if you are a high-achieving student, you’re likely to apply to an Ivy League school.
Everyone is aware of the “Ivy League,” a group of eight private schools defined by their membership in the same collegiate athletic conference. The Ivy League includes Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, Columbia, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania. But what holds these eight schools together is more than their athletics—it’s their commonly shared world-renowned academics, prestige, and—obviously most anxiety-inducing— exclusivity, as evidenced by their low acceptance rates.
So how will you know if one of these universities would be the right fit for you? Is attending an Ivy League even worth it?
In this article, we’ll look at some of the benefits of attending an Ivy League, while digging into some common doubts.
Advantages of being part of an Ivy League Education
World-class peers and faculty
The very environment of each of these prestigious universities is such that you will be surrounded by exceptional students in the classroom, food hall, and dorm. Not only each student selected to an Ivy League university has excellent test scores and academic performance, but also most Ivy League undergrads are also proficient in extracurricular activities and actively engaged in their communities.
Such kind of a fantastic student body leads to an enriching academic and social experience for all students.
These schools don’t just attract the best students, but some of the most world-renowned faculty as well—winners of Pulitzers and Nobel Prizes. Because the materials of Ivy League schools allow them to offer small seminars taught by top-notch faculty, even to newcomers, you will have direct access to brilliant researchers and academics.
As a Harvard student, you will be able to choose from a range of freshmen seminars such as “Broadway Musicals: History and Performance,” personally directed by Carol Oja, the Chair of Harvard’s Department of Music and Leonard Bernstein Scholar-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic.
At Yale, you can take the freshman seminar “What History Teaches” with Pulitzer Prize winner and renowned historian John Gaddis.
That’s one of the significant differences between Ivy League schools and large public universities. The more prominent public universities no doubt have excellent teaching staff, but they may have comparatively less time with students, and be more concerned with publishing, issuing, or researching. More prominent Ivy League universities like Cornell and smaller colleges like Dartmouth alike put more emphasis on teaching.
Lifelong Ivy League network with World-class people
You will not only benefit from interacting with other excellent students and teaching staff during your four years of college. Your peers will go in several directions to pursue a wide variety of careers, indicating you will have access to a top-notch network for the rest of your life. Your network will also include the many notable faculty and alumni.
The advantages of such a network can begin as early as freshman year. At Yale, the Office of Career Strategy connects students to internships in various disciplines through Yale parents, alums, donors, and employers who are eager to hire Yale students.
Talking about Princeton, you can find similar internship opportunities in the United States and abroad through the International Internship Program. Every Ivy League school university will provide you with an alumni database that you can access to help find your dream internship.
And if there is a particular field you would like to attend, getting into an Ivy League may give you a good push-up. Harvard is known for having a robust entertainment industry network, organized as “Harvardwood.”
Research also proves how Ivy League graduates are overrepresented in leadership roles in the business, art, corporate and political worlds. One study showed that nearly a third of Fortune 500 directors and CEOs graduated from elite universities (note that these universities were not limited to the Ivy League).
Availability of resources
Ivy League schools command a considerable amount of resources. With their vast endowment funds, each of these schools can easily afford to offer research funding, Broadway-level performance spaces, massive libraries, and the support you need to start your distinctive extracurricular group, academic project, or small business.
Also, each Ivy League school provides a unique set of offerings, and you should consider which of these schools commands the resources that best fit your interests.
Ivy schools will have access to eminent faculty and studio space at Brown University if you are a potential visual artist. If you want to pursue a foundational education in social science and humanities, you would like to attend Columbia University for its Core Curriculum or Yale University for its Directed Studies Program. Or, if you are someone who likes thrill in life and access to hiking trails, skiing, or cabins, then you can rent through their college; Dartmouth might be a perfect fit.
People often talk that there isn’t much value to an Ivy League diploma other than the name. The truth in this statement is that “the name” does carry some value. Besides, serving as an entry point to the alumni network, an Ivy League university listed in your resume can help you get your first job out of college, as well as internships and other tremendous opportunities while you’re in college.
Ivy League schools took up half of the slots in the top ten of the 2019 Global University Employability Ranking, compiled based on the perspectives of job recruiters.
While research shows being a part of a selective institution may not positively impact student education, job satisfaction, or well-being, attending an Ivy League or comparably elite university has been found to have a measurable positive effect on future earnings for some students populations.
Attending a university with a 100-point higher average SAT score (most Ivy Leagues fall under this category than most other schools) has been found to increase future earnings for women by 14 percent. And another study showed that students from low-income backgrounds who attend elite colleges on average earn more than those from low-income backgrounds who attend less prestigious schools.
Attending an Ivy League college can also provide students with an edge if they decide to apply to graduate school.
Disadvantages of Attending an Ivy League School
Very Expensive tuition fees
One commonly held assumption about Ivy League schools is that they are expensive. Tuition and board for these schools are not cheap. In 2019-2020, the average sticker price of tuition and fees at an Ivy came to $54,414.
But while this number is undoubtedly high, it is also somewhat misleading, given that these schools generally have large endowments and can offer generous financial aid packages to all students with financial needs.
For example, while Yale’s cost of tuition and fees in 2019-2020 was $55,000, the average price for all Yale students, after factoring in financial aid and grants, came out to just $17,000, with the intermediate need-based scholarship offered coming out to $55,100. At Brown University, the most recent average financial aid award was $42,445, and at Princeton, that number came out to a whopping $53,100. Every Ivy League university needs blind, meaning that the ability to pay for college won’t hurt any student’s chances for admission.
And if your child does graduate from an Ivy League with loans, they’re likely to go on to make more money than their peers who attended other colleges, meaning they’ll be able to pay off those loans sooner.
The amount of need-based financial aid many Ivy League students receives and the ultimate return on investment helps explain why U.S. News ranks seven out of the eight Ivy League schools in the top twenty of their “Best Value Schools” (Cornell, ranked at #23, is just outside of the top twenty).
Many parents worry that sending their child to an Ivy League will mean sending them to be a small fish in a big pond. The freshman year of college can indeed be an adjustment period for students who are used to leading within their high school classrooms or those encountering imposter syndrome and worrying they can’t compete with their peers.
However, your child will soon realize that she was admitted because the admissions committee knew that she would excel in an environment where equally engaged academic leaders would surround her. In general, there’s a sense at Ivy League universities that instead of competing for a few plumb internships, educational opportunities, or, eventually, jobs, there is room for everyone in the student body to thrive.
A non-representative student body
Ivy League schools have a reputation for admitting legacies and other students who aren’t representative of the U.S.’s socioeconomic and racial diversity. They have also been criticized for failing to support undergraduate students of color. And a group of Asian American students recently sued Harvard for discriminating against them with their admissions policy.
While the Ivies still have a long way to become more inclusive and supportive institutions, they have made strides in recent years. Previously mentioned generous financial aid policies allow these universities to offer financial support to students from low-income backgrounds. The undergraduate communities at these schools are also becoming more racially diverse, with the majority of Harvard’s incoming class being nonwhite for the first time in 2017 and 55 percent of students accepted into Cornell’s class of 2023 identifying as students of color.
Low student to faculty ratios
While most Ivy League universities are not considered “small,” with undergraduate enrollment ranging from around 4,000 at Dartmouth to over 15,000 at Cornell, the level of resources they offer means that your child may receive more individual, personal attention than they would many other colleges. The Ivies have a low student-to-staff ratio, with Yale’s the weakest at 5.4 students to every staff member.
At an Ivy League school, your student will also have access to various academic and student life advisors, tutors, and one-on-one relationships with professors. Residential advisors may be more involved and supportive than they would be at other schools, with Yale’s First-Year Counselor Program and Harvard’s Proctor Program giving first-year students the chance to foster relationships with exceptional upper-level students who can help with the transition to college.
Gaining admission to an Ivy League university is never easy. That adage about the most challenging part is getting in isn’t entirely accurate either, but should your child be accepted at one of these schools, a wide range of benefits will be available to them. If your child will be served by what an Ivy League university can offer, applying is worth the effort.