Ivy League Rankings: What Do They Really Mean?


Ivy League colleges are often viewed as the gold standard of colleges in the US and worldwide. While most people know that all Ivy League schools are good, which are the best Ivy League schools? Now you can find out with PrepScholar's exclusive 2023 Ivy League rankings. Get excited!

The Ivy League schools are ranked in this article. Furthermore, the answers to what makes the Ivy League unique, how to find the Ivy League school that’s right for you, and how to decide whether you should pursue an Ivy League education are all broken down.

Feature image: Kzirkel/Wikimedia


What Is the Ivy League?

The Ivy League is the term used to refer to the eight schools that make up the Ivy League athletic conference. Below is the complete Ivy League schools list in alphabetical order:

Ivy League schools are all extremely selective private colleges in the Northeast. Also, the Ivy League is the only NCAA Division I athletic conference that doesn't award athletic scholarships.

The term Ivy League has become synonymous with extremely prestigious, highly selective colleges. For this reason, many people incorrectly label other prestigious private colleges, such as MIT and Stanford, as Ivy League schools.



Stanford's Memorial Church is impressive, but Stanford isn't in the Ivy League. (Justin Kern/Flickr)


PrepScholar's Ivy League Colleges Ranking Methodology

It's difficult to rank the Ivy League colleges against one another because they're all outstanding schools. There's really no consensus about which Ivy League school is the best, and each ranking list seems to rank the Ivies differently.

The ranking lists on US News, Forbes, and Niche were used to determine these Ivy League rankings. Each list differed from the others, so though there's no consensus about how to rank Ivy League schools, there is general agreement that all Ivy League schools are among the best colleges in the country. The rankings from each of these lists were averaged, but since US News is the most prestigious and most commonly cited of all college ranking lists, it was counted twice.

For a more thorough breakdown of the methodologies used to determine how schools are ranked for each list, check out PrepScholar's article on all the college ranking lists you should read.

These three lists complement each other well because they emphasize different aspects of colleges that contribute to overall school quality.

Of these lists, US News most strongly emphasizes the academic reputations of colleges. The academic reputation of a school is what education experts think of the academics at a particular college. US News gives a peer assessment survey to university presidents, provosts, and deans of admissions to help rate academic quality. It also surveys high school counselors across the US.

The Forbes list most heavily emphasizes student outcomes, factoring in alumni salaries, the amount of debt students have upon graduating, student loan default rate, and even prestigious professional accomplishments from alumni, such as winning an Oscar or Nobel Prize.

Finally, the Niche list most heavily emphasizes quality of life. While Niche also incorporates academic reputation and measurements of student outcomes into its rankings, unlike the other two lists, Niche takes into account the quality of campus housing, athletics, technology, the party scene, and diversity.


Ivy League Schools, Ranked

Here are PrepScholar's 2023 rankings of the Ivy League schools, broken down in a table with each school's ranking, location, and undergraduate enrollment. The average ranking is based on counting the school's US News ranking twice. You can click on each school's link to see the average high school GPA of admitted applicants, its standardized test scores, and its acceptance rate.

Note that US News separates colleges into four categories (National Universities, National Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Universities, and Regional Colleges) for its ranking lists. All the Ivy League colleges are considered National Universities, so each school's ranking is being compared with those of all other colleges in the National Universities category.

School Location Undergrad Enrollment US News Ranking Forbes Ranking Niche Ranking Average Ranking*
Princeton University Princeton, NJ 5,321 1 1 5 2
Yale University New Haven, CT 6,536 3 (tie) 2 1 2.25
Harvard University Cambridge, MA 7,153 3 (tie) 9 4 4.75
University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA 9,962 7 (tie) 8 7 7.25
Dartmouth College Hanover, NH 4,556 12 16 8 12
Brown University Providence, RI 7,349 13 (tie) 15 10 12.75
Cornell University Ithaca, NY 15,503 17 12 22 17
Columbia University New York, NY 8,148 18 (tie) 6 6 12

*As a reminder, the US News ranking for each school is counted twice due to the prominence of the US News ranking list.


What Can You Determine From These Ivy League Rankings?

As you probably know, Ivy League colleges have extremely good reputations. All Ivies are ranked in the top 18 National Universities by US News. In terms of numerical rankings, there isn't much distinction among Ivy League schools, but there are some notable differences.

In most Ivy League rankings, Princeton, Harvard, and Yale are at the top. They're the top Ivy League schools and some of the very best colleges in the US. They're most comparable to top-tier non-Ivy League schools such as Stanford and MIT.

There's probably some debate about which schools compose the next tier of Ivy League schools, but our rankings put Columbia and Penn in the second tier. Their academic reputations aren't quite as established as those of the first-tier schools, and as a whole they're slightly less selective. Comparable non-Ivy League schools include Duke and Caltech.

The final tier of Ivy League schools are Brown, Dartmouth, and Cornell. Cornell has the highest acceptance rate of all Ivy League institutions (but it still only admits 9% of its applicants). Non-Ivy League schools that are comparable in terms of quality include Northwestern and Vanderbilt.

Remember that rankings are subjective, but they can reveal how colleges are viewed by employers, graduate schools, and the general public. Even though Harvard and Cornell are both incredibly prestigious schools where you can receive a world-class education and become part of a successful alumni network, the general consensus is that Harvard is the better school.



Matt Damon went to Harvard, but he left a little early to do the acting thing.


How to Decide Which Ivy League School Is Right for You

PrepScholar's expert admissions consultants can help make the entire college admissions process smooth sailing. For instance, many of the Ivy League schools are extremely similar, so it can be tough to build your college list. We'll help you really drill down into the differences between schools, including professionalization opportunities and financial aid packages you might be eligible for.

PrepScholar's admissions services adapt to your admissions needs. For example, if you're in 9th, 10th, or 11th grade, our Annual Mentorship Package is a great choice. We'll help you through every year of high school so you can plan challenging coursework to build your academic skills, explore future career options that will help determine your choice schools, prep for important entrance exams, and more.

For high school seniors who just need some expert help on putting together a stellar application, our Complete Admissions Package can help maximize your chances of getting into your top schools, Ivy or not. Our experts will walk you through each portion of your application, including helping you get the best letters of recommendation possible and crafting exceptional application essays

Our tactics are tried and true. With 83% of students in PrepScholar’s College Admissions Consulting admitted into their reach schools, meeting with one of our expert consultants is the first step toward achieving your Ivy League goals.

But even without the help of our consultants, we want to help you make your best college decision. Here are four factors to keep in mind if you’re researching Ivy League on your own:


#1: Setting

One of the biggest differences between Ivy League schools is their settings. Figure out whether you want to go to school in an urban, suburban, or rural area. The urban Ivy League schools include Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Brown, and the University of Pennsylvania. However, they're all in cities of very different types and sizes.

In terms of urban environments, Columbia is in New York City—the most densely populated city in the US—while UPenn is situated in Philadelphia, another large city.

By contrast, Brown is in the small city of Providence, Rhode Island, offering a much more subdued environment. Similarly, Harvard is in a college town called Cambridge, which is located just outside of Boston. And Yale is located in New Haven, Connecticut, which has a population of just 130,000 compared with the roughly 8.4 million people in NYC.

Princeton is the only Ivy League school in a suburban setting. It's more self-contained and the surrounding area is quieter than those of other Ivies. Naturally, there are far fewer entertainment options and cultural attractions than you would find in a large city (though more than you'd find in a rural area). Princeton is only an hour from Philadelphia and an hour and a half from NYC.

Cornell and Dartmouth offer students a rural environment, where students are surrounded by nature and there's not much going on in the town unrelated to the college. Rural colleges tend to provide more of a community atmosphere, but there are usually fewer jobs and internships in the vicinity.

A student who'd really enjoy being in the urban environment of Columbia might not enjoy the rural setting of Dartmouth, and vice versa. Be sure to think about which type of setting you'd feel most comfortable in.


#2: Academic Programs, Majors, and Requirements

While all Ivy League schools are strong in the humanities, social sciences, and STEM, each offers different programs, general education requirements, majors, and concentrations.

For example, Cornell is the only Ivy to offer a business management program with a focus on hospitality through its School of Hotel Administration. Meanwhile, Penn is home to one of the most prestigious business schools in the US and offers a number of undergraduate business majors that aren't available at other Ivies.

Lastly, Columbia has extensive general education requirements in its Core Curriculum, whereas Brown has very few.

If you have an intended major or area of study, compare the majors and course offerings at the different Ivies to ensure that you'll be able to pursue your academic interests.


#3: Size

The size of the school is a factor to consider as well. While most Ivy League schools are a similar size, there are some differences to be aware of. If you're deciding between Cornell and Dartmouth, for instance, keep in mind that Cornell's undergraduate enrollment is about three times the size of Dartmouth's. While some students prefer a larger, more vibrant atmosphere, others would enjoy a smaller, more tight-knit community.


#4: Campus Culture

Finally, consider the campus culture of each school. Different Ivy League schools have different reputations in regard to the types of students they attract and admit. Princeton students are often viewed as more preppy, for example, whereas Brown students are perceived as more progressive.

Some stereotypes might be more accurate than others. Read guidebooks, talk to current students or alumni, and visit the campuses to get an idea of the culture and to determine whether you'd fit in.




Do your college research.


Is the Ivy League (or Another Top-Tier School) Right for You?

When finalizing your list of colleges, remember that Ivy League colleges are reach schools for almost everybody who applies to them. The odds of getting into an Ivy are low, regardless of your academic resume and extracurricular activities.

So, why choose Ivy League in the first place? There are certainly benefits that come along with studying at these prestigious universities. For one, they are all research universities, which means they have been classified as having the highest levels of research activity. They offer students opportunities like funded internships, lab research opportunities, and access to the latest technology.

Another benefit of choosing Ivy is the lifelong network that students form between peers, faculty, and alumni. Studying alongside exceptionally driven students and renowned faculty gives students the opportunity to build and maintain connections with successful people far beyond college, which can expand career opportunities.

However, you don’t have to go Ivy to access these benefits! If you’re a committed and driven student, these benefits and more will be yours no matter where you go to college. There are plenty of research universities that aren’t Ivy—most aren’t Ivy, in fact—that can give your research opportunities. Additionally, if you’re committed to building lifelong career connections with successful people, you’ll find those people no matter where you go. So while attending an Ivy League can make accessing research and networking opportunities easier, you can still achieve any of this and more with or without an Ivy League education. 

If you're committed to getting into an Ivy League school, you have to be extremely dedicated. For more tips, check out PrepScholar's other Ivy League-related guides:

Although there are undeniable benefits of attending an Ivy League college, some students might find that the sacrifices they have to make aren't worth it. As long as you're motivated and have a good work ethic, you can be successful in life regardless of the college you attend. On one hand, you might decide to take a less challenging class schedule or spend more time with friends while in high school. Doing all of this might decrease your overall chances of getting into an Ivy League school, but it's important to consider what makes you happy and what will let you enjoy your high school experience.

On the other hand, if you're willing to put in the necessary work to gain admission to an Ivy League school and are determined to attend a top college, you'll have to be extremely committed to be able to make this happen. The process to get into an Ivy begins early in your high school career— well before you even apply to college.

Ultimately, with enough determination and hard work, you might be able to give yourself a realistic shot of getting into an Ivy League college. Even if you don't get accepted to an Ivy, chances are that you'll still be able to attend a selective, prestigious college.

Good luck!


What's Next?

Learn more about how PrepScholar's mentorship packages can boost your chances of getting into your dream school.

To help identify schools that you have a good chance of getting into, read our guide on target schools. Also take a peek at our guide on how to set your SAT/ACT target score based on the colleges you're applying to.

One good way to pick a college is by thinking about which offer the best programs in your major. But that involves knowing what you want to major in! This article explains how to choose a major that's right for you.

For many students, paying for college is as important as getting into an Ivy League school. We'll explain everything you need to know about financial aid, including how to fill out your FAFSA paperwork.



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About the Author
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Justin Berkman

Justin has extensive experience teaching SAT prep and guiding high school students through the college admissions and selection process. He is firmly committed to improving equity in education and helping students to reach their educational goals. Justin received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics at Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies.

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