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The Benefits and Drawbacks of Attending an Ivy League College

You hear a lot about the Ivy League, but what should you really know? Let's explore the pros and cons of attending one of these prestigious institutions.

The 2023–2024 admission cycle was a record year for many Ivy League colleges, with more students applying to Yale University and Dartmouth College than ever before. Academic excellence, a prestigious reputation, and diverse opportunities on campus are what draw in so many applicants to these renowned universities. However, as tuition costs continue to rise, accepted students might wonder if the prestige of being an Ivy League graduate is worth the high tuition bill. Here are the potential pros and cons that students should consider before committing to an Ivy League college or university.

Benefits of attending an Ivy League school

The Ivy League consists of eight institutions. With all but Cornell University predating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, these schools have had centuries to build their reputations as academic powerhouses that can offer you a plethora of higher education benefits. Here are just a few:

Intimate learning environments

Ivy Leagues tend to admit a select number of students, resulting in their competitive reputations. Princeton University's average first-year class size hovers around 1,370 from more than 35,000 applications received each year. Because of these low admission rates, Ivies tend to have favorable student-faculty ratios; for example, Brown University averages a very low 6:1 ratio. This means admitted students will find a more intimate, personalized learning experience in this educational setting, with potentially more individual attention from professors.

Diverse resources

Another significant benefit of attending an Ivy League college or university are the large endowment funds that allow these schools to provide cutting-edge resources like learning laboratories, expansive libraries, studio space, and extensive extracurricular options for students. The breadth of extracurricular activities on Ivy League campuses is often never-ending—Harvard University has a staggering 500+ student organizations for undergraduates to choose from.

Related: Colleges and Universities With Great Research Facilities and Opportunities

Robust alumni network

All the Ivies have famously strong alumni networks that extend far beyond the undergraduate years. For example, Yale's Office of Career Strategy helps students find internships by connecting them with alums, employers, and donors. Similar networking opportunities exist at any Ivy League institution, so if you are admitted to any of them, you can be sure you’ll be well supported.

Enhanced employability

Perhaps the most crucial factor for many students in choosing a college is the earning potential of graduates. Having the weight of an Ivy League diploma on your résumé could help you get noticed when applying for your first postgraduate job, especially combined with the internships, experiential learning opportunities, and extracurricular activities you participate in on campus. Need more convincing? In the Global University Employability Ranking 2023–2024, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale all cracked the top 10 among higher education institutions worldwide, and all the other Ivies (except the University of Pennsylvania) ranked among the top 100.

Drawbacks of Ivy League schools

While the Ivy League is undeniably prestigious, you will not have an easy time getting in, and they not are the only places where students find positive outcomes and high success rates. Other schools like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or Vanderbilt University are recognized for high value but lower costs. Graduates from places like Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Santa Clara University are also ranked in the top 10 for mid-career earning averages. To give you a clear picture, let’s explore some of the potential downsides that may lead you to choose a different notable institution instead of an Ivy League school.

No merit scholarships

In the late 1950s, the Ivies collectively agreed not to offer any merit-based scholarships to students. They believe all their accepted students are worthy of a merit scholarship, so instead, they elect not to award money to anyone based on merit. Middle-class families who make too much money to receive need-based financial aid might find it difficult to afford the steep tuition costs unless you can find funding elsewhere.

Related: What You Need to Know About Institutional Aid and Scholarships

High tuition costs

Coupled with a lack of merit scholarships, the exorbitant costs of an Ivy League education might be a major turnoff for you, depending on your family's income and whether you qualify for financial aid. For example, Dartmouth costs over $91,000 per year after estimated fees, tuition, and other associated costs, whereas similarly ranked UNC Chapel Hill costs just $27,000+ for in-state and $60,000+ for out-of-state students.

Not all Ivy League schools are equal

It likely goes without saying, but each Ivy League school has its own strengths and weaknesses. While many Ivy Leagues have small class sizes, the bigger Ivies like Cornell may have a higher proportion of classes taught by teaching assistants instead of professors. Additionally, major selections and the accolades of individual programs will vary by school. According to U.S. News & World Report, UPenn is ranked #1 for the best Business program in the country, but Cornell is the only other Ivy to break into the top 10. 

Related: Top 10 Ivy League Alternatives 

Ivy League or not, the college you choose to attend will be heavily influenced by your personal goals and interests. You should consider the academic major selection and reputation of programs, extracurricular learning opportunities, and the overall balance of costs vs. outcomes at each school you’re admitted to before deciding if an Ivy League is right for you. If you choose to attend an Ivy, congrats! But if you choose another path, congrats on that too!  

If an Ivy League degree feels financially or academically out of reach, there’s a less direct approach to make your dreams a reality. Read Want an Ivy League Degree? Consider Community College First to find out how!

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About Lindsey Conger

Lindsey Conger

Lindsey Conger is a college counselor and tutor at Moon Prep.


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