What Are the Ivy League Schools? Where They Are and Things To Do Nearby

 

Ivy League schools are some of the world’s most highly coveted educational institutions. The universities have a reputation for a very competitive admissions process for applicants and unlimited career potential for graduates. Merely being an Ivy League college student brings instant prestige because those colleges hold such strong name recognition in the corporate world.

Ivy League Athletic Conference

ivy league schools penn state football players
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Although synonymous with academic excellence, ironically, the Ivy League was formed for athletics. The athletic conference comprises eight private colleges in the northeastern United States. Despite clear name recognition for the athletic conference and individual schools, many need help naming the eight schools and their locations.

Unfortunately, most of us will never attend an Ivy League college due to acceptance rates regularly scoring in the single digits. However, the beautiful Ivy League college campuses are worth visiting. Beyond the lovely architecture and manicured grounds, the college towns offer plenty to see and do.

We will outline the Ivy League schools, so you know their names, locations, interesting facts, and things to do in their respective towns.

How Did the Ivy League Get Its Name?

Students of Harvard University gather for their graduation ceremonies on Commencement Day
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Various theories exist on the origin of the Ivy League name. Some claim it stems from the Roman numeral IV, recognizing the four initial schools. Others will tell you the name comes from an 1800s tradition where students planted ivy around campus.

Stanley Woodward used the term “ivy colleges” in a 1933 New York Tribune article discussing the college football season. The member schools signed an Ivy Group Agreement in 1945 to establish guidelines for football, and the Ivy League formed in 1954.

How Many Ivy League Schools Are There?

Beautiful fall colors outside Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University
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So, what are the Ivy League colleges? In total, there are eight ivy league schools:

  • Princeton University
  • Harvard University
  • Yale University
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Dartmouth College
  • Brown University
  • Cornell University
  • Columbia University

1. Princeton University

Photograph of the Blair Arch, in Mathey College at Princeton University
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Location: Princeton, New Jersey

Founded: 1746

Mascot / Athletic Nickname: Tigers

Princeton University, originally named the College of New Jersey, is the fourth-oldest college in the United States. It has a reputation as one of America’s best research universities and is renowned for its economics curriculum, public and international affairs program, and engineering and applied science program.

All undergraduate students must complete a junior paper and a senior thesis, requiring independent research skills.

The school has many student organizations but is known for its eating clubs, of which it has more than ten.

One of Princeton’s most cherished traditions is the Bonfire. The students build a giant bonfire to celebrate when the varsity football team defeats Harvard and Yale in the same season. Since these victories do not occur every year, not all students experience this tradition.

Famous Princeton alums include former presidents James Madison and Woodrow Wilson, former first lady Michelle Obama, actors Jimmy Stewart and Brooke Shields, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Things To Do in Princeton, New Jersey

View of people eating on outdoor patios on Witherspoon Street in downtown Princeton, New Jersey, United States.
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Princeton, a quiet town with tree-lined streets, houses various shops, restaurants, and lovely parks. You will find several churches with gorgeous architecture.

Lake Carnegie is perfect for peaceful walks, picnics, and fishing. You can ice skate in winter.

Morven Museum and Garden, a national historic landmark, offers five acres of grounds to explore. Blooming flowers in spring elevate the exquisitely landscaped grounds to another level.

Princeton Battlefield State Park, the site of a fierce 1777 battle during the American Revolutionary War, is a must-see for history lovers.

2. Harvard University

People rowing, running and walking around Harvard University in the spring
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Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Founded: 1636

Mascot / Athletic Nickname: Crimson

Harvard University, named Harvard College initially, holds the distinction as America’s oldest institution of higher learning. The school ranks well in nearly all areas of study but shines brightest in its theology, law, business, biology, medicine, and political science programs.

A tradition since 1875, “the game” occurs every year when the Harvard football team clashes with Yale on the gridiron. Although it receives less attention, the rival schools have competed against one another in rowing even longer.

Harvard has a first-year social committee to help all incoming first-year students adjust to their new lives.

The Harvard Lampoon, founded in 1876, is a humor magazine published by undergrad students. Past contributors include Conan O’Brien and Greg Daniels, creator of the television show, The Office.

Eight former presidents have graduated from Harvard, including John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, and George W. Bush. Other famous Harvard alums include:

  • Actors Natalie Portman and Matt Damon
  • Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson
  • Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Bill Gates attended Harvard but did not graduate.

Things To Do in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Street view in Harvard University Area in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Tourists in the street.
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Tourists may view Cambridge as part of Boston. Although across the Charles River from Boston, it is technically a separate city consisting of many neighborhoods or squares with beautiful riverside views and brick buildings.

The iconic Harvard Square, a plaza in the center of historic Cambridge, delivers landmark buildings, coffee shops, restaurants, and theaters. Harvard University offers museums for art, science, and history.

If you enjoy strolls with a scenic view, visit the gorgeous Mount Auburn Cemetery or walk along Memorial Drive, where you can view the Boston skyline across the Charles River.

If you enjoy history, visit the Longfellow House, the former home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. George Washington used the house, now a national historic site, as his headquarters during part of the American Revolutionary War.

3. Yale University

Yale university buildings in spring blue sky in New Haven, CT USA
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Location: New Haven, Connecticut

Founded: 1701

Mascot / Athletic Nickname: Bulldogs

Yale University, originally called the Collegiate School, has maintained a reputation for academics for more than three centuries. The Ivy League college is outstanding across all areas of study but receives acclaim for teaching, music, drama, economics, law and management, history, political science, and psychology.

Its medical school adopted the “Yale system,” where students do not receive grades in their first two years. The philosophy is to encourage creativity, exploration, and free thinking.

Yale offers many extracurriculars, including knitting clubs. At the end of the fall semester, first-year students get treated to a lavish holiday feast called the Parade of Comestibles, where the dining staff parades around the room and serves mounds of delicious food like shrimp, sushi, lobster, roasted turkey, pasta, cakes, and chocolate truffles.

Former presidents William Howard Taft, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush received degrees from Yale. Other famous Yale alums include:

  • Inventors Eli Whitney and Samuel F.B. Morse
  • Actors Jodie Foster and Edward Norton
  • Journalist Anderson Cooper

Things To Do in New Haven, Connecticut

The New Haven Lighthouse, at Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven, Connecticut.
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Dubbed the “Cultural Capital of Connecticut,” New Haven is nestled along the coast of Long Island Sound. The city offers much to do for those who appreciate nature, history, art, and pizza.

Lighthouse Point Park is a scenic beach with sweeping views across Long Island Sound. The park’s star is Five Mile Point Lighthouse, a 70-foot sandstone beacon built in 1845. New Haven Green and East Rock Park deliver peaceful walks and lovely views with greenery and open spaces to relax.

There are several museums in the area for those who enjoy history. Art lovers can visit the Yale Center for British Art and the Yale University Art Gallery.

After exploring, head to New Haven’s Little Italy for mouthwatering pizza and pasta. The area has earned a reputation for outstanding Italian cuisine.

4. University of Pennsylvania

Students and adults walk in front of the Old Main building, on the campus of Penn State University, in State College, Pennsylvania.
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Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Founded: 1740

Mascot / Athletic Nickname: Quakers

The University of Pennsylvania houses more than 180 buildings, including landmarks like America’s first student union and double-decker college football stadium. Ben Franklin was its primary founder, instilling a philosophy of expanding the classroom to include community engagement and real-world application.

Some refer to the school as UPenn or Penn. Outsiders sometimes confuse the Ivy League school with Penn State, a public university part of the Big Ten Conference.

Penn is renowned for business, social sciences, biology, medicine, philosophy, religious studies, mathematics, engineering, education, and law.

Penn’s motto, “work hard, play hard,” emphasizes the importance of extracurricular activities. Accordingly, Penn is often called the “social ivy.”

Famous Penn alums include former president Donald Trump, singer John Legend, actress Elizabeth Banks, and Elon Musk.

Warren Buffett attended for two years, finishing his undergraduate business degree at the University of Nebraska. Former president William Henry Harrison attended Penn but did not graduate.

Things To Do in Philadelphia

People run on famous Rocky Steps in Philadelphia. The steps were made famous by the film "Rocky" and are known among runners of the world.
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Philadelphia is full of American history, including the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, the signing location of our Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence. Ben Franklin Avenue abounds with museums for you to explore.

Although the city houses many critically acclaimed restaurants, many visitors prefer to savor an authentic Philly cheesesteak.

If you enjoy touristy activities, capture a photo by the LOVE sculpture to memorialize your time in the “City of Brotherly Love.” You can also run up the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps with your best Rocky Balboa impression.

5. Dartmouth College

Looking down the Dartmouth Green with trees beginning to show fall colors and a blue sky with puffy white clouds on a nice autumn day the Baker Library and its bell tower is in the background.
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Location: Hanover, New Hampshire

Founded: 1769

Mascot / Athletic Nickname: Big Green

Dartmouth College, the smallest Ivy League school based on enrollment, is known for its outdoorsy vibe and rural setting. The Appalachian Trail passes through Hanover. First-year students embark on an outdoor orientation program to explore the area’s natural beauty and forge bonds with fellow students.

The Ivy League college is known for its Greek life. Many claim it influenced the movie Animal House.

Candidates frequently stop at Dartmouth on the campaign trail. The school has hosted numerous presidential debates. As such, many students major in politics. Dartmouth is also known for its strong economics and engineering programs.

The school operates on a flexible quarterly schedule called the D-plan, where many students take off one quarter a year. Some students opt to graduate in three years, while others utilize the extra quarter for an internship or to study abroad.

Dartmouth students engage in a snowball fight on the first day with snow. They attend an annual Winter Carnival to honor their winter athletes and participate in fun events. The yearly spring Dartmouth Powwow celebrates Native cultures and history.

Famous Dartmouth alums include:

  • Children’s author and illustrator Dr. Seuss
  • Actor David Harbour
  • Actress and comedian Mindy Kaling
  • Television screenwriter and producer Shonda Rhimes
  • Former vice president Nelson Rockefeller

Things To Do in Hanover

Red bows adorn wreaths hanging in the windows on a quiet, snowy, small-town Mainstreet, Hanover, New Hampshire.
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Hanover is located on the Connecticut River and is bursting with New England history, culture, and charm. The college town, containing portions of the Appalachian Trail and Connecticut River, is a prime spot for outdoor adventure where you can enjoy anything from hiking to kayaking.

If you favor the arts, try to catch a show at the Hopkins Center for the Arts or peruse the lovely galleries of paintings, sculptures, photographs, and mixed media in the Hood Museum of Art.

Grab a bite to eat at Molly’s Restaurant and Bar. At first glance, the place appears to be a college bar. With your first bite, you will realize that you have stumbled into a culinary paradise.

6. Brown University

Unidentfied individuals, and Sayles Hall on the campus of Brown University, one of the ivy league schools
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Location: Providence, Rhode Island

Founded: 1764

Mascot / Athletic Nickname: Bears

Brown University boasts world-renowned faculty and student-centered learning. Creativity, curiosity, and open-mindedness are encouraged, and students have a deep sense of purpose, knowing their work will impact the world.

The Ivy League college is known for its Open Curriculum, where students can develop a more personalized course of study. Despite more freedom, its programs are rigorous and require complex problem-solving skills.

Brown regularly scores high academic marks in computer science, economics, biology, political science, and engineering.

Students can participate in clubs and groups like a cappella singing, sailing, comedy, and improv.

The Campus Dance is a reunion and commencement tradition where everyone dances the night away on the College Green under a night sky lit by more than 600 glowing paper lanterns.

A Brown superstition states that any student who walks through the Van Wickle Gates more than twice will be doomed to lead a cursed life. The curse means the student will not graduate and will never marry. Thankfully, the gates only open three times a year.

Famous Brown alums include actors Emma Watson and John Krasinski and the late John F. Kennedy, Jr.

Ted Turner, the founder of CNN and Turner Broadcasting, attended Brown for three years and was later awarded an honorary degree.

Things To Do in Providence

People visit downtown Providence. Providence is the capital and most populous city in Rhode Island
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The capital of Rhode Island may be eccentric, but the trendy city offers tons of creative art, diverse restaurants, and culture. Waterplace Park has cobblestone paths along the waterfront, Venetian-style bridges, and local street art displays.

Waterfire is a one-of-a-kind experience, usually held twice a month from May through November. The downtown sky gets illuminated by a string of bonfires just above the river’s surface. A feeling of peace envelops your soul as you take in the glowing river, crackling flames, and alluring scents of cedar and pine.

Suppose you have kids, head to the Rhode Island Children’s Museum or the Roger Williams Park Zoo, one of America’s oldest zoos. When you are ready to eat, you will discover many delis, bakeries, and cafes to satisfy your hunger.

7. Cornell University

Ivy covered gothic college building on a hilltop at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
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Location: Ithaca, New York

Founded: 1865

Mascot / Athletic Nickname: Big Red

Cornell University, a land-grant institution in the beautiful Finger Lakes area of upstate New York, is considered the “easiest Ivy” because it has the highest acceptance rate of all the Ivy League schools. Unlike most schools, students apply to an individual college rather than the whole university.

All first-year students are required to take two physical education (PE) courses. Some students participate in a varsity or club sport instead of PE classes.

Students may earn dual degrees or concurrent degrees across multiple colleges. These programs typically take five years to complete. Cornell offers many opportunities for students to study abroad.

Cornell stands out in hotel management, engineering, architecture, business management, biology, and agriculture. Many graduates stay at Cornell to attend law, medical, or veterinary school.

Students are happy to eat on campus since Ithaca is a farming area known for delicious food. It is so good that Cornell regularly ranks as one of the top universities in the country for campus food.

The Ivy League college offers many clubs, including kung fu, archery, and rock & roll. Cornell’s most popular varsity sport is ice hockey. Students enthusiastically attend home games, making a festival out of the experience.

One of Cornell’s legendary traditions is called Dragon Day. First-year architecture students wear costumes while parading a dragon they made around the quad. Students also look forward to the Fireworks and Laser Light Show during homecoming week.

Famous Cornell alums include late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Superman actor Christopher Reeve, author E.B. White, political commentator Bill Maher, actor Jimmy Smits, and comedian and actor Jane Lynch.

Things To Do in Ithaca

Ithaca, the home of Cornell University, has a lively downtown with shopping and restaurants, including this pedestrianized street.
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The rural town, bursting with natural beauty, is known for its wonderful parks, cascading waterfalls, dense forests, and beautiful gorges. If you love the outdoors, you will find plenty to do. Hiking, kayaking, and biking are just a few activities waiting for you.

You can explore two of America’s best state parks within a two-hour drive. Watkins Glen State Park delivers an exhilarating hike beside, behind, over, and under 19 gushing waterfalls as you get a firsthand look at 200-foot-high shale cliffs. There are many fabulous restaurants in the town of Watkins Glen to enjoy a meal after your day of exploring.

Letchworth State Park provides an equally thrilling experience as you explore the “Grand Canyon of the East.” You gain fantastic views of the 600-foot-deep Genesee River Gorge and dozens of plunging waterfalls. If you are feeling adventurous, Balloons Over Letchworth will take you on a hot-air balloon ride over the canyon.

In and around Ithaca, you will find many other parks and waterfalls. For a more leisurely walk, head to Cornell Botanic Gardens to admire blooming flowers and manicured grounds.

The Ithaca Farmers Market is a seasonal weekend market with delicious food, hot coffee, local goods, fresh-cut flowers, and produce. Visit the crepes stand. People drive for miles to eat the mouthwatering crepes.

8. Columbia University

Columbia University Library buildings with columns and dome.
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Location: New York, New York

Founded: 1754

Mascot / Athletic Nickname: Lions

Being located in New York City in and of itself makes Columbia University unique. England’s King George II founded the school, naming it King’s College. Shockingly, the university comprises only three undergraduate colleges.

Columbia is known for its Core Curriculum, where students start their education with a broad range of studies before funneling into technical classes. The Ivy League college has a reputation for top-notch research facilities, extensive global programs, and intimate learning environments due to small class sizes. Columbia receives engineering, economics, political science, and computer science accolades.

The university boasts one of the nation’s oldest and best fencing programs. Columbia offers many groups and organizations, with many based on leadership and mentoring. Their student-led noncommercial radio station, WKCR, is well known.

Columbia has a few proud traditions to note. Columbia faculty and staff sing the school fight song as first-year students walk through the gates in a ceremony aptly called Through the Gates.

The Residence Hall Leadership Organization (RHLO) hosts the RHLO Send Off, where the three colleges participate in carnival games. Rumors claim one of the events is an inflatable jousting tournament. In addition to the games, students get treated to live music and carnival foods like funnel cakes and cotton candy.

Orgo Night is a legendary tradition where at midnight of the night before the Organic Chemistry final, the school marching band commandeers the library by playing music, performing skits, and telling jokes. The goal is to distract students from studying to lower the exam curve.

Famous Columbia alums include:

  • Alexander Hamilton
  • Former president Barack Obama
  • Actors Brian Dennehy and Julia Stiles
  • Comedian and actress Kate McKinnon
  • Singer Art Garfunkel
  • Baseball legend Lou Gehrig

Things To Do in New York

statue of liberty new york city
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The city that never sleeps offers unlimited entertainment. Near the Columbia campus, you can walk through iconic Manhattan, visit Madison Square Garden and Lincoln Center, and catch a Broadway show.

You will find Morningside and Riverside Parks close to the prestigious school if you enjoy parks. There are many eateries nearby as well. You can easily visit any of New York’s famous attractions with the subway and taxis.

Is MIT Ivy League?

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, is not an Ivy League college. The elite school proudly boasts academic excellence but is not in the Ivy League. Ironically, like Harvard, MIT is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

People may mention schools like Stanford and Duke related to the Ivy League. The same thing applies to them. Although renowned for academics, the schools are not in the Ivy League.

Now that you know the names and locations of the Ivy League colleges and some interesting facts, are you ready to visit? The beautiful school campuses and compelling college towns offer many wonderful things to see and do. Simply visiting an Ivy League school is educating.

This article originally appeared on Savoteur.


Scott McConkey