Mark Montgomery, educational consultant and college admissions expert, reminds students of the true meaning of the “Ivy League“: it’s a sports league, simple as that. Despite the common impression that “Ivy League” describes academic excellence and one Ivy League school is like any other, there are many things that set them apart from one another.
Right now I’m on the campus of Cornell University, and a visit to Ithaca, New York is the easiest way to see the variety within the Ivy League. There are eight universities within the Ivy League, and the only thing that really unites them is the fact that they play sports against one another. There are some academic similarities in terms of the competitiveness of the schools, but in terms of the undergraduate experience, there’s a huge breadth of experience that a student might have. At Dartmouth, for example, with only 4,000 undergraduates, versus Cornell with over 14,000 undergraduates, it’s a huge research university, a beautiful campus but much more eclectic, much more a mix of old buildings and traditional architecture with very modern square buildings.
The other thing to keep in mind is that this really is a university with big graduate programs. It’s also a university that allows you to not only major in the liberal arts, like at Princeton, or at Dartmouth, or at Yale, which is the only thing that you can major in as an undergraduate. Here at Cornell, there’s a school of architecture, and art and planning, there’s an engineering school, there is the hotel management school, there’s the human ecology or something, I forget exactly what they call it, the human ecology school, and the labor relations school. All of these are professional tracks for an undergraduate that are quite apart from the traditional liberal arts where you might major in sociology, biology, chemistry, classics, English literature, etc.
So this is one of the Ivy Leagues that is more similar to the University of Pennsylvania than it is to, say, Princeton. That doesn’t mean that it’s bad, that doesn’t mean that it’s good, I think that it’s important to remember that the Ivy League, while it does denote a certain amount of competitiveness in the admissions process, that these institutions are quite different in their structure, in the organization of the curriculum, and in the offerings, the academic offerings that you could pursue here. So don’t be fooled by the title or the label of “Ivy League.” Remind yourself that it’s important to decide, do you want a great big university like this with 14,000 or 15,000 undergraduates, or do you want something more compact and more of a residential community like a Dartmouth, a Yale, or a Princeton? And on that residential piece, only 55% of undergraduates live on campus in Cornell, whereas virtually everyone at Dartmouth lives on campus.
So again, you have this variety, you need to think about what’s important to you, and then choose the school that matches your preferences. Don’t just pick the label “Ivy League,” pick the school that suits you the best.