by Soliana Habte
Everyone knows about the Ivy League, but not many people can name every school in it, and even fewer realize how different these colleges are. Do you want to go to college in New York City? What about rural New Hampshire? Are you looking for the flexibility to design your own curriculum, or are you after a pre-professional degree? While all of the Ivies have top-notch professors and incredible resources, they have wildly different personalities. Here’s a breakdown of some of the key differences:
Brown University—Providence, RI—7,043 undergraduate students
Brown is generally considered the most liberal and progressive Ivy League school. The campus is stunning, and Providence has the amenities of a city while feeling like a college town. The Open Curriculum requires only one writing class, encouraging students to take whatever courses they want. Students can even take classes Pass/Fail, which encourages them to experiment without worrying about their GPAs. Some of the classes you might want to explore at Brown include Introduction to iPhone/iPad Moviemaking Using 3-D and 4K Comparisons, Ghanaian Drumming and Dancing Ensemble, and Meditation. Brown is great for intellectually-curious hippie kids.
Columbia University—New York City, NY—6,202 undergraduate students
Columbia is great for independent thinkers who are motivated by their own interests and passions. Located on the Upper West Side, Columbia is great for students who want to take advantage of all NYC has to offer. While the campus is very urban, it’s a 20-minute subway ride from downtown Manhattan, so you really have to seek out opportunities in the city yourself. Columbia is the most diverse Ivy and has one of the highest percentages of international students in the country. Columbia College students are required to take the Core Curriculum, which emphasizes reading and writing, especially classical literature. Columbia is an intellectual school, not a pre-professional one, and ideal for the type of student who wants to read beyond what’s on the syllabus.
Cornell University—Ithaca, NY—15,182 undergraduate students
Cornell is different from the rest of the Ivies for a number of reasons. It’s by far the biggest and is funded both publicly and privately—making it feel similar to a large public university. Cornell has seven undergraduate schools, including its competitive agriculture and engineering schools, and world-renowned School of Hotel Administration. Ithaca’s rural setting makes outdoor activities very popular amongst the student body; hiking and canoeing are favorites. Greek life also plays a significant role in the social scene, unlike most of the other Ivies. Cornell is for students who want an Ivy education with a local college feel.
Dartmouth College—Hanover, NJ—4,417 undergraduate students
Located in a town of just 11,000, Dartmouth is the most rural and smallest of the Ivies. Dartmouth proudly emphasizes undergraduate education, calling itself a “college” even though there are four graduate schools. The student body is a small and very close-knit community. Half of the students participate in Greek life, making Dartmouth the frattiest Ivy. The relatively isolated campus makes student clubs and intramural sports very popular and an important part of the social culture. The small size creates many opportunities for research and getting to know professors well, though there are fewer resources available than at Ivies with more graduate schools. Dartmouth is great for students who want to study hard and party in the woods.
Harvard University—Cambridge, MA—6,788 undergraduate students
Situated in Cambridge, Harvard is a world unto its own, as well as a ten-minute T ride to Boston. Freshmen live in Harvard Yard before moving to one of twelve residential houses, which each have a dining hall and library as well as cool facilities like theaters, dark rooms, gyms, practice rooms, and squash courts. All students are required to fulfill general education requirements designed to encourage an interdisciplinary approach to learning. Each semester begins with a two-week long shopping period, where students can sit in on as many classes as they like before registering. Harvard has unparalleled resources that facilitate nearly any academic interest. Harvard is also super, super competitive. Famous for being impossible to get into, and impossible to flunk out of, it can be very hard to carve out space for yourself in a sea of high-achievers. From final clubs to community service to the school paper, you have to apply or “comp” every activity. Harvard is perfect for students who think they’re the best and don’t need a lot of support.
University of Pennsylvania—Philadelphia, PA—10,183 undergraduate students
Unlike the rest of the Ivies, which emphasize a liberal arts education, Penn prides itself on their strong pre-professional programs. Penn is a large research university with excellent graduate schools in medicine, dentistry, nursing, business, and law. There are four undergraduate schools: The College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of Nursing, and the Wharton School of Business. The curriculum requires students to study various disciplines as well as specific skill sets, based on Penn’s philosophy to give students a practical, worldly education. In recent years, Philadelphia has become a more and more desirable place for undergraduates to explore, making Penn an urban, well-connected campus most similar to Columbia. Greek life also plays a bigger role at Penn than at most of the other Ivies. Penn is great for pre-Wall Street types who have their careers mapped out.
Princeton University—Princeton, NJ—8,623 undergraduate students
Princeton is one of the most conservative Ivies (the other is Dartmouth). Think sprawling green laws, a former plantation in central campus, and pastel colored cable-knit sweaters as far as the eye can see. Princeton also emphasizes undergraduate education as their top priority. Students are required to take general education requirements, and everyone writes a thesis their senior year. Independent research is also strongly encouraged and supported. Social life revolves around eating clubs, which are private social organizations with an application process called “bicker.” It’s as rarefied as it sounds, and Princetonians are unabashed about their traditions. Students can choose between traditional dorms and themed residential colleges. Princeton is great for the student who actually wants to attend a school covered in ivy.
Yale University—New Haven, CT—5,964 undergraduate students
Yale students are cerebral and ambitious, as well as artsy and emo. You can find your niche, regardless of what it is. Half of incoming students are interested in a STEM major, but Yale also has the best drama and fine arts schools in the world. Though there are some loose educational requirements, there isn’t a core curriculum, leaving students a lot of flexibility to design their own course of study. Like Harvard, each semester starts with a shopping period. Students are randomly put into residential colleges freshman year, and continue to live there for the duration of their time at Yale, creating close-knit communities on campus. Colleges have awesome amenities like dark rooms, gyms, and practice rooms, making them an important part of the social scene. Secret societies are another part of Yale’s social fabric, which is known for quirky activities, like a jugglers club and several acapella groups. The school is situated halfway between New York and Boston, but New Haven itself doesn’t hold much interest for most Yalies. Students love the many time-honored traditions that create a lot of school spirit and school pride. Yale is great for students who have many interests and want a challenging, supportive environment in which to pursue them.