Chances are that at some point, regardless of where you’re from, you will have heard the term Ivy League to refer to a collection of prestigious universities in the United States. This list of institutions, all located in the north-eastern part of the country, includes; Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, Columbia University, Brown University, Dartmouth College, University of Pennsylvania, and Cornell University. Although not technically part of the list, Stanford University, MIT, and Caltech, are often given honourable mention, and enjoy a similar reputation. In this article we will attempt to break down what it is that makes these institutions so highly-regarded in the world of academia and beyond.


Ivy League schools enjoy an excellent reputation, and even undergraduate degrees are highly recognized when graduates enter the work force. While originally it is reported that these schools gained popularity through their sports teams, becoming sought after for admissions, they quickly parlayed this into academic excellence, leading to higher standards for admission. Currently these schools are accepting fewer students into their programs each year, increasing the level of competition for these slots. Whether it is worth it in the end or not, admission to these schools will require strong grades and a good work ethic.

What these schools are known for most are the achievers that they produce. Graduates from these institutions have a greater chance of becoming CEOs, or filling other top positions in their field. While in part this may be due to the doors that are opened simply by having a degree from one of these schools on the CV, they are also known for the assistance they give their students in making professional contacts, and finding opportunities after graduation.

Costs & Benefits

While the attraction to Ivy League schools is perhaps understandable, the question of whether or not to seek admission comes down to a question of return on investment. Research shows that, on average, graduates from these schools do make more money over their careers, with numbers reaching potentially into the millions. However, the cost to attend these schools is substantial; up to 200% higher than a public university. If it is a question of just numbers, one could potentially choose a public university, and invest that extra 200% wisely, and make the same money or more.

In the end it may be a question of personal ambition. Starting salaries for students from Ivy League skills average close to US$70k per year, while for public universities it is closer to US$50k. If the differences remain not much greater than that over time, then the public university student will likely win out financially in the long run. If, however, you have the ambition to capitalize on opportunities, not just through vocational success, but through taping into the networking and connections that exist within the alma mater communities, then the potential for earning and advancement is much greater. But like everything, that can only come through dedication and hard work.