Harvard Business School

Does attending an Ivy really matter? Pro’s & Con’s

Tara Cunningham College Life

If you’re asking the question then you as a student or your child is giving it some thought. There’s no reason why an Ivy shouldn’t be part of your college application. Here’s the pro’s and con’s of attending.

Does attending an Ivy really matter? What are the true benefits of attending an Ivy? There are certainly benefits but also some concerns to be aware of. Read on to discover if it’s for you.

1. Prestige

2. Networking

3. Small numbers - highly competitive

4. What is required to get in to an Ivy?

5. Pick the one that suits you best

If you are truly interested in pursuing the Ivy route, let me fill you in on everything you need to know about attending an Ivy, both positives and we won’t call them negatives but simply challenges.


Attending an Ivy is for some legacy driven. Their great great grandfather and every other male in the family since the start of time went to an Ivy (and usually a particular Ivy). But for most of the student population it’s hard work, determination and the drive to succeed that gets them there.

So why do people want to attend an Ivy? The prestige. 

The acceptance rate to an Ivy is so low that if you get a place you are already so far ahead of the curve. We need to look at the overall picture. 

The Ivy school listed on the CV/ Résumé.

The internship opportunities.

It all boils down to, Ivy League schools lead to higher future earnings and better future job prospects.

And at the end of the day, your college education is all about where you see your life going. 

So yes of course money can buy a place in an Ivy, but an Ivy place will also bring you to the next level in terms of top jobs. A third of all Fortune 500 company directors attended Ivies or top institutions. It truly is the old boys network but with new blood.


So what’s the importance behind the networking? The reality is that no matter how good your college grades are it’s still very much who you know when applying for a job or internship. It’s all in the name. 

Oh you went to / you attend Harvard.

Do you have any classes with.....?

Everyone who’s anyone knows someone at an Ivy, or attended one themselves. Of course, that shouldn’t be the case but we’re human and we always like to help someone that has a connection to us. If two people are applying for a job, one went to an Ivy, one didn’t and the interviewer is an alumni, chances are the Ivy is going to come out on top.

Most schools offer an alumni database, where freshmen and up can find information relative to their chosen field. These are invaluable lists of prospective employers who are more than happy to keep jobs within the Ivy family.

But not only will the students have access to whom has gone before them but also to current students.

These are all from a wide variety of backgrounds and skill sets, whom they will study, socialise and live with for four years.

As a student at an Ivy, you also have the huge privilege of being taught by some of the best professors in the world. It’s not just students that want to attend but also lecturers want to be part of the prestigious faculty, including Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners.

If you are being taught by these people then you will always have them at your disposal, if, obviously, you are hardworking and interested which, if you attend an Ivy, you more than likely are.

Small Numbers - High Competition

One of the major pluses of attending an Ivy is the small student staff ratio. It’s approximately 6:1. This gives students phenomenal access to tuition expertise.

As an Ivy student you are expected to be hungry to succeed. Extra classes are the norm. Pushing the whole time to achieve that extra goal.

But the competition is stiff. Everyone attending has a high GPA. Excellent SAT’s. Extraordinary extracurricular activities. Where you as a high school student were once the idol of the debate team, or the top scorer on your basketball team, you are now surrounded by the best of the best. You are no longer the big fish. 

Everyone attending is amazing at something and in most cases lots of things. 

Lots of students find this difficult to come to terms with. In high school you maybe didn’t need to try too hard to ace that chemistry test but now everyone aces it and the competition for the top spot may no longer be within your grasp.

How do you overcome this? Unfortunately some can’t take the pressure and quit. But not many. Ivies have the lowest drop out rate of all schools. 

You need to see the pressure and competitiveness as a positive. As a factor that pushes you even further.

The small class sizes are the added bonus of an Ivy. Ivy schools have huge amounts of money behind them, Harvard has endowment funds of just under $40bn. With this money they can buy the best libraries, research teams, and public speakers that money can buy.

All you have to do is recognise and appreciate what’s on offer.

What is required to get there?

If only it was as easy as deciding and then going / attending. They are prestigious for a reason. An Ivy is incredibly difficult to get accepted into. 

Most of the 8 schools have an acceptance rate of less than 10%. Harvard being the most choosy at 4.5%, and a GPA requirement of 4.18 (2020 figures)

But nearly everyone applying has a GPA of 4+. You have to be more than just your high scores. Of course they matter. You’re not even going to make it to the maybe pile with a less than 4 GPA, but you must also stand out from the crowd.

In times gone by, it was sport achievement or talent based that might have secured you a place but not any more.

Your application now has to have that something extra special. That you not only did you help in a soup kitchen for the summer but that you altered the menu to make it more nutritious and also more cost efficient. 

Not that you went to a third world country to help poor children for the summer but that you raised money from local businesses at home and set up an education fund for these children instead. 

It’s about out of the box thinking, future planning your extracurricular so they are connected in some way to your course choice.

It’s not about being involved in every after school club or activity, or taking every AP class going.

The admissions officers want to see commitment, leadership, compassion.

So you may well be the best archer (my son is an archer, on the National Squad) but you need to take that to the next level. How could there be anything above the National Squad?

Well, is there any way you can teach underprivileged kids to shoot a bow, or start a club for disadvantaged kids?

This is what I mean by standing out. High scoring kids are a given at an Ivy.

They are looking for the next generation leaders, Nobel Prize winners, that will do all of their amazing achievements in the name of the Ivy.

Pick an Ivy that suits you

Do you know the differences between the top 8 Ives? It’s sometimes all very daunting and overwhelming when you sit down to pick your schools. It’s always good to have a plan.

I’m a great one for a list.

Your wish list and your realistic list. Yes, you may be the top performer in your high school but that, as we have discussed doesn’t guarantee your place.

So when I say pick an Ivy that suits you, you need to do your homework and research, and select your preferred school based on your findings.

Harvard for example, the most popular majors are Social Science, Biology, Math. But what most don’t know is that Harvard has a non-profit organisation called Harvardwood which was set up in 1999 by three Harvardians to support people in the arts, media and entertainment business. A network group of 10,000 plus members.

Dartmouth is best known for engineering, STEM and an emphasis on undergraduate education. But it’s also the smallest Ivy with just over 6k students. It is located in rural Hanover, New Hampshire and apparently has great food.

Yale is renowned for excellent music and drama courses. They have a famous a capella group called Yale Whiffenpoofs. But Yale is also unique as it has 12 residential colleges in total.

Brown University has a distinct research led student population. Brown students are driven by the fact that they will change the world.

Princeton is unique in that it is the only Ivy that has neither Fraternity or Sorority houses. This is generally a big deal at the Ivies but not at Princeton. They do however have co-ed eating clubs if you are a sophomore, and follows a selection process called ‘bicker’.

Apart from Cornell and Dartmouth which are rural schools, all Ivies are city based but Princeton is very much suburban.

So as I say, don’t just look at the course options. Go and visit as many schools as you can. Get a feel for the atmosphere and imagine yourself as a student there.

If you are not into the countryside then Dartmouth is not for you. If you love to be surrounded by the bustle of people then consider Cornell. 

All Ivies will offer fantastic courses, but your college life will be so much more than just class. Choose somewhere that you will be with likeminded people, not just academically but also socially.

It will be a long four years if you are not happy with your choice.

So does attending an Ivy matter, yes, it does, but also choosing the right one is even more important.

Mum, Graphic designer, Website owner, Writer at | Website

Tara Cunningham is a Mum and Graphic Designer. My children's education has always been very important to me. I feel that if you are willing to put in the time they will appreciate the effort.
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