What Does Ivy League Mean?

(Last Updated On: March 10, 2020)

What Does Ivy League Mean?

Waiting to hear back on a college admissions application can be a stressful experience to say the least. And it gets worse when your peers start bragging about all the great schools they got into. Maybe you’ve got that one friend who applied to only Ivy League schools, and felt compelled to tell everyone about it. But what exactly does that distinction mean anyway? Is your friend really that special?

Let’s break down just what the Ivy League actually is.

What Are the Ivy League Schools?

Ivy League schools are generally viewed as some of the most prestigious in the world. There are eight in total, listed below:

  • Brown (Rhode Island)
  • Colombia (New York)
  • Cornell (New York)
  • Dartmouth (New Hampshire)
  • Harvard (Massachusetts)
  • University of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania)
  • Princeton (New Jersey)
  • Yale (Connecticut)

Thanks to the rising prices of college, and the fact that these eight schools are private, the Ivy League is often associated with extreme wealth. Tuition at these schools averages on the high end of $50,000, and the low end of $60,000 (undergrad). Which yeah, is a lot of money.

So regardless of what it may or may not mean to be in the Ivy League, all of these institutions are very expensive and very exclusive. And because of this, TV and film media often enjoy poking fun at the alumni of these schools. Andy from The Office comes immediately to mind.

How Old Is the Ivy League?

Ivy (the plant) only lives between five and ten years. But these colleges have existed for much longer.

Depending on how far back you go, the origin of the Ivy League has roots in the Colonial Era. That was when seven of the eight schools were founded. If you’re curious, Cornell was the odd school out, founded after that period. So we suppose we found the weak link? (we’re kidding, of course.)

The actual term “Ivy League” has been used informally since the 1930s. Though it wasn’t until 1954 that the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) made it official. 

What exactly does this mean? Well, it means that the “Ivy League” is really just a sports thing. There’s really not much else to the idea when you get down to it. It all started as eight schools who like sports and wanted to compete with each other. 

Much like the Pac-12 or ACC, the Ivy League is simply an American collegiate athletic conference (albeit smaller and less influential than the two other conferences mentioned).

What Does “Ivy” Mean?

We know ivy is a plant, but why exactly did our eight institutions choose to dub themselves “Ivy”?

Okay, straight up, it’s because people just liked the plant. Old buildings and walls grew ivy on them, and it was something students appreciated. 

Even today, there are seven universities that take part in annual “Ivy Day” festivities, where an ivy stone is put in front of a building to celebrate “academic excellence”. There’s also a lot of honors given to students, as well as other activities. But the funny part is, only two of the seven schools are actually in the Ivy League–Princeton and UPenn.

And this leads us to another aspect of the term “ivy”–it has since been applied to various other, non-sports related things. “Ivy” in our contemporary vernacular can refer to things like exclusivity, price, and academic rigor. It’s gotten to the point where other universities meeting similar parameters have weird “sub-ivy” statuses. We won’t list all the schools, but there are:

  • Little Ivies: For Liberal Arts schools
  • Public Ivies: For Public schools
  • Hidden Ivies: For “lesser known” schools
  • Southern Ivies: For Southern schools

We’re still holding out for Community College Ivies to become a thing.

We may have taught you the names of each Ivy League School, but what about the associated sports teams? Test yourself here.

About the Author:

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Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.