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What Are Ivy League Schools and Why They Matter

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

By Vibha Kagzi, Founder,

It’s everybody’s dream to study at  Harvard, or Yale, or some Ivy League school. The Ivy League schools seem like they are on the other end of the rainbow like a pot of gold. One even wonders how the name “Ivy League” came about in the first place. What’s the history and the origin of the term “Ivy League” school?

Origin of the Term “Ivy League”
There is no clear indication of where the name Ivy League exactly originated. Here are top 4 theories that are accepted, which explain how the term “Ivy League” took birth.

The Ivy Covered Schools
In the days of old, planting the ivy was a ritual conducted in many colleges of that time. Some of the universities which were founded in 1636 had walls of their building covered with ivy plant just like it was done in Medieval Europe. It was considered elitist, a cultural trend from ancient Rome. The ivy plant was an ornamental covering used to adorn buildings of importance back in those days. Thus, the custom of planting ivy at a university building took birth, and this ritual came to be known as Ivy Day in the year 1874. This ceremony soon became popular in other colleges, and remained an integral part of the school traditions.

Over the years, these schools which had ivy planting came to be known as the “old ivy universities.”

The League of 4 Schools
Another theory that is strongly believed is that Ivy is actually a misnomer. The top 4 schools namely Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Dartmouth were the big four. Or as we write in Roman numerals, The IV League. Somehow over a period of time, the letter ‘y’ creeped into the term and it got corrupted from “IV” to “IVY”. What started out as the “IV” League Schools, came to be known as “Ivy League schools.”

The League of Sports Conference Consisting of Top 4 Schools in the USA
The third popular theory is that the name originates from the sports association of eight colleges. Intercollegiate football events began to take place at Dartmouth since 1887. Over the years, Dartmouth grew into a strong football team. By 1925, Dartmouth became of college with a prominent football team. Eventually, Dartmouth and seven other colleges formed an association for college athletics. These 8 colleges continue to be a part of the same association. Thus Ivy League was the name of a league of football teams from eight colleges.

A Reporter Who First Coined the Term “Ivy League”
In 1933 Stanley Woodward, a sports writer for the New York Herald Tribune, used the phrase “Ivy colleges” to describe these schools, which had common sporting programs. In the article, Woodward talked about “a proportion of our eastern ivy colleges” meeting lesser powers in football games. Apparently, the reporter had complained to his boss about having to write about those old “Ivy-covered” universities, and coined the term “Ivy League” to scoff at the old colleges for growing ivy plant on their building. The term stuck on, and instead of maligning the universities, the colleges became prestigiously known as the Ivy League.
In 1945, an “Ivy Group Agreement” governing intercollegiate football was signed between the eight colleges, and thus the term “Ivy League” became an official status.

Which are the Ivy League Colleges?
The eight members are Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, and Yale University.

Of these eight Ivy League schools, seven were founded before the American Revolution. Cornell was latest edition, founded just after the American Civil War.

Famous People Who Studied at Ivy League Schools
Ivy League schools have been the birthplace of many thinkers, leaders, political persona, and change leaders. Of them, Harvard itself has seen the most future presidents out of any school. John Adams, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin D Roosevelt and John F Kennedy also received undergraduate degrees from Harvard. Barack Obama earned his law degree in 1991 at Harvard Law. Bill Clinton was a product of Yale. Warren Buffet studied at Wharton. American economist and statistician Milton Friedman completed his PhD in Columbia University. Pulitzer Prize winners Robert Frost and Richard Eberhart were alumni of Dartmouth.

The writer is a a study abroad and career advisory. Vibha holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a Bachelors from Carnegie Mellon University.

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