What Do Ivy League Rankings Really Mean?

Ivy League colleges are these prestigious and highly selective universities often grouped under the term 'Ivy League,’ and their history is pretty fascinating and vital to American higher education. 

Ivy League schools are often known as the gold standard of colleges in the US and in other parts of the world. If you’re a Hollywood movie fanatic, you must have seen movies like A Beautiful Mind and Good Will Hunting—a large majority of them take place in Ivy League colleges, all the exceptional parties, and characters that exist within the walls of these profoundly esteemed institutions.

Although many people know that all Ivy League schools are good, but which are the best Ivy League schools? Let’s find out with our exclusive 2021 Ivy League rankings.

In this piece, I'll rank the Ivy League schools. Moreover, I'll explain what makes the Ivy League unique, tell you how to find the Ivy League school that's right for you, and give you guidance on how to determine whether you should pursue an Ivy League education.

What Exactly Are The Ivy League Universities?

The Ivy League is the term used to refer to the eight schools that make up the Ivy League athletic conference. 

Below is the complete Ivy League schools list in no particular order:

Ivy League schools are all very selective private colleges in the Northeast. Plus, the Ivy League is the only NCAA Division I athletic conference that does not honor athletic scholarships.

Since the 1960s, these Ivy League schools gained a famous reputation for delivering high academic performances, social influence, and promising career futures. Even today, these schools maintain their reputation, and they have a substantial presence among the top-ranked universities in the U.S. 

Universities like Stanford, M.I.T., and Caltech are not technically Ivy League schools but manage to enjoy a similar reputation and social status.

How I Determine Ivy League Colleges Rankings

It's pretty difficult to rank the Ivy League colleges against one another because they're all excellent schools. There's no official data about which Ivy League school is better than the other, and each ranking list seems to rank the Ivies differently.

I went through the ranking lists on US News, Forbes, and Niche to discover my Ivy League rankings. Each list is distinct from the others, so there's no official data about how to rank Ivy League schools, there is just a common agreement that all Ivy League schools are among the best colleges in the country.

I equated these three rankings but counted the US News rankings twice since this list is most commonly cited of all college ranking lists.

These three lists complement each other well because they highlight different aspects of colleges that add to overall school quality.

Out of these lists, US News heavily emphasizes the academic reputations of colleges. The academic standing of a school is what education specialists think of the academics at a particular college. US News provides a peer assessment survey to university presidents, executives, and deans of admissions to help rate academic excellence, also surveying high school counselors across the US.

The Forbes list stresses student outcomes, taking into account alumni salaries, the number of debt students after graduating, student loan default rate, and even prestigious professional achievements and feats from alumni, such as winning an Oscar or Nobel Prize.

Lastly, the Niche list indicates the quality of life. While Niche also takes into account academic reputation and measurements of student outcomes into its rankings, unlike the other two lists, Niche considers the quality of campus housing, technology and innovation, athletics, the party scene, and diversity.

Ivy League Schools Rankings

Let’s look at the 2021 rankings of the Ivy League schools. Our team created a table with each school's ranking undergraduate enrollment and location. The overall ranking is based on calculating the school's US News ranking twice. 

Remember that US News classifies colleges into four categories (National Universities, National Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Universities, and Regional Colleges) for its ranking. All the Ivy League colleges are considered National Universities, so each school's ranking correlates with those of all other colleges in the National Universities category.

How Can You Determine Which Ivy League School Is Best for You

Many of the Ivy League schools are highly similar. They have an excellent reputation worldwide and are well-known for their academics. Besides that, they are all established in a similar location in theUS, they all have huge finical endowments, and they all do philanthropy.

If you want to an Ivy School, you'll have to do a huge amount of research to determine which Ivy League school is best for you. You can search websites, use guidebooks, and other ranking lists to try to find the right Ivy for you.

Have a look at the four factors to keep in mind as you research the Ivy League:

1. Location 

One of the significant differences between Ivy League schools is their location. Know whether you want to attend the school in an urban, suburban, or rural area. The urban Ivy League schools include Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Brown, and the University of Pennsylvania. 

If we talk about the urban environments, Columbia is in New York City—the most densely populated city in the US—while UPenn is situated in Philadelphia, another large city.

While Brown is located in the small city of Providence, Rhode Island, giving a much softer and subtle environment. Harvard is in a college town called Cambridge, which is found just outside of Boston. And Yale is located in New Haven, Connecticut, with a population of just 130,000 compared with the roughly 8.4 million people in NYC.

Princeton is the only school in a suburban setting. It's more reserved, and the surrounding area is quieter compare to other Ivies. Generally, there are fewer entertainment options and social attractions than you would find in a large city. Princeton is only an hour drive from Philadelphia and an hour and a half drive from NYC.

Cornell and Dartmouth are located in a rural environment, where students are surrounded by nature. In rural areas, you get more of a community atmosphere, but there are fewer jobs and internships in the vicinity.

If you enjoy being in the urban environment of Columbia, you might not enjoy the rural setting of Dartmouth and vice versa. Understand and make a decision on which type of location you'd feel most comfortable in.

2. Academic Programs and Requirements

Ivy League schools are known for degrees in the humanities, social sciences, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Each offers various programs, general education requirements, and majors.

For instance, Cornell is the only Ivy to offer a business management program focusing on hospitality through its School of Hotel Administration. In comparison, Penn offers one of the top business schools in the US and offers various undergraduate business majors that are not available at other Ivy Schools.

Columbia has broad general education requirements in its Core Curriculum, while Brown has very few.

If you have decided on a particular area of study, compare the majors and courses at the other Ivies to assure that you'll pursue your academic interests.

3. Size

One of the essential factors to consider as well. Most of the Ivy League schools are of similar size, and there are some minor differences we can point out. If you're confused between Cornell and Dartmouth, for instance, remember that Cornell's undergraduate enrollment is about three times the size of Dartmouth's. While some students prefer a more significant, more open atmosphere, others would enjoy a smaller, more peaceful community.

4. Campus Culture

In the end, check out the campus culture of each school. Each Ivy League schools have different statuses considering the types of students they attract. For example, Princeton students are considered more tailored, whereas Brown students are known to be more progressive.

Some stereotypes might be more accurate than others. Go through guidebooks, interact with current students or alumni, and visit the campuses to understand the culture.

Is The Ivy League Really The Best Choice For You?

When you finalize your college list, remember that Ivy League colleges are the schools that you shouldn’t expect to be admitted to when you apply to them. The odds of getting into an Ivy School are very low, despite your academic resume and extracurricular activities.

If you want to get into an Ivy League school, you have to be very dedicated. For more guidelines, check out. 


If you look more deeply, you will understand that there are various benefits of attending an Ivy League college. Some students might find that the sacrifices they have to make aren't deserving enough. So, as long as you're motivated, have a good work ethic, and a positive outlook for life, you can be prosperous in life regardless of the college you attend. 

We are all divided by polarity in life, and it’s always Ying and Yang. One might take a manageable class schedule or spend more time with friends while in high school. Doing all of these activities might decrease your overall chances of getting into an Ivy League. Still, it’s essential to consider what brings you peace and lets you enjoy your high school experience.

Besides that, if you're willing to put necessary efforts to gain admission to an Ivy League school and are determined to attend a top college, you'll have to be highly committed and work smart to be able to make it happen. 

You might have heard people saying that “The best way to get into an Ivy begins early in your high school career— well before you even apply to college.”

Finally, with enough energy and determination, you can give a real go for getting into an Ivy League college. In the end, it doesn’t matter. Even if you don't get accepted to an Ivy League, and you’ll still be able to attend a prestigious college.