The top universities in the United StatesOf the eight universities, seven are colonial colleges (the exception being Cornell), meaning they were founded before the start of the American Revolutionary War in 1775. Harvard University is the oldest university in the U.S., having been founded in 1636 as New College, and receiving its official charter in 1650. The Ivy League gets its name from a college tradition from the 1800s of “planting the ivy” at a university building. The name has been used for these eight schools since the 1930s, but only became official when they became part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1 in 1954.
Ivy League schools have a reputation for being elite institutions, with high selectivity during the admissions process. Harvard University is currently the most selective university in the country. Out of 57,435 applications received for the Class of 2025, Harvard admitted only 3.4 percent of applicants. While the admissions process is extremely selective, it is not impossible for first-generation students to earn a spot in these world-class schools. For example, 16 percent of Yale’s Class of 2025 are the first member of their family to attend university. However, the Ivy Leagues have recently come under fire for their admissions processes, which critics say favors legacy students (those who have had a parent attend the same university) to the detriment of minority students.
Endowments and student lifeIn addition to being some of the top schools in the United States, the Ivies are also the richest, with endowment funds in the billions of dollars. In the fiscal year of 2020, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton all cracked the top five richest colleges in the United States. Harvard was ranked as the richest school in the country, with an endowment fund valued at 40.58 billion U.S. dollars, far surpassing the third richest school, Yale, whose endowment fund was valued at 31.2 billion U.S. dollars. In 2019, the University of Pennsylvania spent the most out of the Ivies on research and development with 1.5 billion U.S. dollars.
Because of their small size relative to public and state universities, the Ivy League is also known for having small student-to-staff ratios, with Columbia University’s being the smallest out of the Ivies at 4.6 students to every one member of instructional staff. Academics at Ivy League institutions are rigorous; however, seven schools have retention rates of at least 75 percent for full-time students and an average four-year graduation rate of 86 percent.