Does an Ivy League Education Make a Difference?

Posted a year ago
How to get into the Ivy Leagues header

You've heard of the Ivy League, right?

Those impressive, elite colleges that feature in US movies with all the preppy students, tech geniuses, fraternities, and billion dollar endowment funds.

Legally Blonde featuring Reese Witherspoon is my personal favourite.

What? It's a freakin' classic! And obviously a totally accurate depiction of Harvard Law School.

Actually, not at all.

Harvard and the other Ivy Leagues are more renowned for their competitive application processes, academic prowess, and elite alumni.

But so are other unis!

Have you ever stopped to wonder why the Ivy League schools are considered so much more impressive and elite than other world class colleges like UC Berkeley, Stanford, MIT, or any other competitive West Coast school?

Surely their academics are equally as reputable, right?

Ivy League facilities couldn't be that much better than other elite schools. Surely?

Why, then are the Ivies considered the best of the best? What is it an Ivy League education will actually do for you? And is it worth the often hella expensive tuition fees?

All together, there are eight Ivy Leagues:

Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, UPenn and Princeton.

Each has a different approach to education, but each opens doors to opportunities unavailable to students at other colleges.

To begin, let's consider some notable Ivy League alumni.

Does an Ivy League make a difference?

How to get into the Ivy Leagues - Ivy league tips 2


The Ivy Leagues are renowned for social networks in various forms.

From Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook to the elite network of alumni you gain access to as an Ivy student.

Staying in touch with Ivy League graduates can have a huge impact on your life.

The network you become a part of is the first major benefit you receive from enrolling. Heck, you don't even have to graduate to reap the benefits this can provide!

Look at Zuckerberg, he dropped out of Harvard after creating a college social network with his roommates... now his social network has developed into Facebook, which has over 2.01 billion monthly active users!

He dropped out and now he still makes serious bank thanks to his time at an Ivy League.

These universities are considered the best of the best because they only accept the best of the best.

You can build connections with the brightest minds on a daily basis. Start building lasting friendships, connections, and potential business partners for your multimillion dollar app idea.

Additionally, some of the most powerful people in the world have attended Ivy League schools, from presidents and prime ministers to CEOs and billionaire entrepreneurs.

Generally speaking, these people look favourably upon graduates of their own institution. In fact, often many of these powerful graduates donate endowment funds to their colleges and keep a connection between themselves and the school.

When you consider:

  • Of the 113 Supreme Court Justices, 40% of them attended an Ivy League university. Currently, all of the nine Justices went to an Ivy League.

  • In CNN’s top 100 startups list, 34 of the CEOs went to Harvard.

The positive impact of this network can be HUGE!

If you attend an Ivy, essentially, you are provided with one foot in the door before you've even graduated simply by being an ivy league attendee as opposed to student at a standard US college.

An Ivy degree can be a one-way ticket to a great job at a top global firm!

Ivy League Career Paths

How to get into the Ivy Leagues - choosing a college

With all that in mind, let's consider whether an Ivy League degree will guarantee you a successful career.

The short answer is yes!

Particularly when it comes to your average income.

A study conducted by the US Department of Education in 2015 revealed that a decade after enrolling in a four-year college degree, the average income of a typical student is $40,500 USD a year.

Now let's take a moment to consider how much more an Ivy league graduate might get... 10 to 15 thousand more, maybe?

Well, take a seat, friend, because these numbers get wild:

+ Harvard University: $87,000 USD a year

+ Princeton University: $77,900 USD a year

+ University of Pennsylvania: $79,700 USD a year

+ Yale University: $74,200 USD a year

+ Columbia University: $75,200 USD a year

+ Cornell University: $72,100 USD a year

+ Dartmouth College: $67,800 USD a year

+ Brown University: $59,700 USD a year

Yep, that's right, at the very least you'll receive on average $19,200 USD more than the standard US college graduate, and at the widest range an Ivy league degree can even offer you more than double the average income of a typical US student!

More than double!

Ohhhh, we eatin' lobster and drinking Moët tonight, gurrrl!

That expensive tuition just paid for itself. In fact, Harvard graduates make more money than graduates from any other college (with the exception of MIT).

And like I said earlier, you don't even have to graduate from an Ivy League to become successful, like our good friend Mark Z.

Take, for example, these "dropouts" who have kicked goals and are raking in the cash dollars despite never even graduating from college:

+ Matt Damon, actor, dropped out of Harvard

+ Robert Frost, poet, dropped out of Dartmouth

+ F. Scott Fitzgerald, author, dropped out of Princeton

+ Bill Gates, Microsoft founder, dropped out of Harvard

Success is not built on luck alone and despite not finishing, all of these people got accepted into an Ivy, which is a huge feat in and of itself.

Their time at these respective schools obviously played a role in getting them to where they are today… even if they didn’t end up graduating!

You get much more than just an education with an Ivy League degree, and you gain access to whole new world of opportunities.

Important message:

With all this being said, if you get into an Ivy League school, you'll be more likely to succeed if you actually graduate, so don't go applying with the intention of dropping out!

Having said that, if you think up a priceless app idea, create a world changing social network, or write Good Will Hunting 2, by all means, drop out...

Actually, just to be safe, maybe don't. Yeah, definitely don't.

There are some common threads running through the Ivy Leagues and one is the fields in which people gain employment post graduation.

At a majority of the Ivies, the most popular career fields for leaving students are economics and finance, business consulting, and education.

Some schools, including Harvard and Brown, also provide world renowned Computer Science degrees and have a large portion of students jet off to Silicon Valley or other tech epicentres like New York and London post graduation.

If any of these areas tickle your fancy, the Ivy League will put you ahead of the pack when it comes to applying for graduate jobs, as it will in many other areas too.

Are Ivy League graduates more successful?

How to get into the Ivy Leagues - Ivy League Tips 1

If you graduate from an Ivy League, there are a number of heights you can reach with much greater ease!

An Ivy League education undoubtedly gives you a head start in highly competitive fields, such as finance, law, and business consulting.

Top global companies understand that the Ivies house the best and brightest students, so more often than not they'll cut out the middleman and hire directly from the source.

This is where the term “feeder schools” comes from, because you literally get fed to the top global firms.

Yum, yum, yum!

For example, UPenn is the top "feeder school" to finance companies such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Citigroup.

Without an Ivy degree, your chances of gaining admission into these top firms are much slimmer.

Popular Ivy League Degrees


So with that in mind, what are the most popular courses at Ivy League schools?

Well, in 2016, the most popular degree was the same at six of the eight schools:


At the other two Ivies, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania, the most popular degrees were engineering and finance, respectively.

Here are the top three most popular courses at each Ivy:


  1. Economics
  2. Computer Science
  3. Biology


  1. Economics
  2. Political Science
  3. Psychology

Cornell University

  1. Engineering
  2. Business, Management & Marketing
  3. Biological and Biomedical Sciences

Dartmouth College

  1. Economics
  2. History
  3. Government

Harvard University

  1. Economics
  2. Government
  3. Computer Science

University of Pennsylvania

  1. Finance
  2. Economics
  3. Nursing

Princeton University

  1. Economics
  2. Woodrow Wilson School (policy making, analysis, and evaluation)
  3. Computer Science

Yale University

  1. Economics
  2. History
  3. Political Science

Ivy League Costs


At this stage it's all sounding a little too good to be true!

What's the catch?

The good news is that despite its reputation, the US college system can be a financially realistic option for many students.

There are a multitude of scholarships and varying forms of financial aid available to help students attend US colleges, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

The bad news:

There are only five colleges in the US that offer need-blind admissions for international students. Thankfully, three of them are Ivy Leagues

  • Harvard
  • Yale
  • Princeton

Basically, need-blind colleges are what you want to aim for in a school. It means they don't take your financial situation into account when considering your application – a massive bonus as an international student!

While it doesn’t mean that they'll help you out 100%, it does mean they can't deny you admission because you can't afford it, making it more accessible for you! With all the other Ivy League colleges, they will be able to view your need requirements and take into consideration whether your cost to them will make you more of a liability than an asset.

Beyond this, each Ivy league will determine the amount of financial aid for each student by calculating and assessing your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

The EFC is essentially just a scaling of the total value of aid offered in relation to your family's assets and wealth.

The more your family earns, the more you pay; the less your family earns, the less you pay. Pretty straight forward, right?

Let's take a look at each Ivy League's expectation and limits for family contribution:

Brown and Cornell

At Brown and Cornell, they apply the same limits to determine your EFC.

For students from families with total parental earnings lower than $60,000 and assets less than $100,000, you will not be required to make any parental contribution!

"Time to start downsizing, mum, I'm off to college!"

Total cost of attendance: ~$71,050 per year


At Columbia, it's a similar amount. Families with total incomes of less than $60,000 and just your "typical assets" are expected to contribute zilch to the cost of attendance.

That's right, nada, zero, nothing!

However, if your family's calculated total income falls somewhere between $60,000 and $100,000, Columbia offers a reduced parent contribution.

Anything above that, and you can expect to start forking out some serious cash!

Total cost of attendance: ~$79,890 per year


At Dartmouth, free tuition is offered if your family is making less than $100,000 per annum and possesses just a "standard amount" of assets.

Not bad at all!

Total cost of attendance: ~$67,044 per year


Less than $65,000? No worries! You are not expected to contribute toward the cost at all!

Between $65,000 and $150,000? Still not bad, but you'll be expected to contribute up to 10% of your income, depending on your individual circumstances.

More than $150,000? Now you're gonna need contribute some big bucks – proportionately more than 10%, based on individual circumstances.

The final amount will be determined by the assets your family possess. Obviously, families with significant assets must pay more than families with less assets. Seems fair.

Total cost of attendance: ~$63,025 per year


At UPenn, again we have a different system. If you earn less than $40,000, you'll probably pay absolutely nothing. This includes tuition, room and board!

If your family income is below $70,000, you will generally receive full tuition, room and board.

Additionally, 46% of UPenn’s undergraduate students receive need-based grants from the university.

Most undergraduates from families with incomes of less than $180,000 are receiving some form of grant assistance. Above that threshold and you can expect to be paying a bit more!

Total cost of attendance: ~$69,340 per year


Families with incomes of $140,000 or lower will get free tuition.

I repeat: free tuition at Princeton.

Additionally, families that make less than $65,000 will benefit from free room and board!

Total cost of attendance: ~$67,100 per year


Does your family earn less than $65,000 and possess just your standard assets? This is actually a good thing, because you're not expected to make any financial contribution towards your education at Yale.

Alternatively, does your family earn between $65,000 and $200,000? Then tough luck, buster. Your parents will contribute a percentage of their yearly income, on a sliding scale that begins at 1% just above $65,000 and moves toward 20% at the $200,000 level.

Living in a $200,000+ household? Get ready to PAY UP!

Total cost of attendance: ~$70,570 per year

Why wouldn't you apply to an Ivy League?

Study abroad guide - how affordable

The benefits greatly outnumber the negatives, but that's not to say there aren't any.

For starters, the admissions process can be stressful, particularly for students who have put all their eggs in one basket.

Hint: this is never a good idea.

Just like other colleges, there are essays, standardised tests such as the SAT and ACT, and interviews to complete. The main difference between the Ivy League application process and that of a non-Ivy university is the fact you're competing against the absolute best!

Not that this is a reason not to apply, but it's important to have a back up plan!

But wait, there's more.

If you thought admission was hard, the pressure of actually being an Ivy League student can be much worse.

There's an expectation of Ivy League students to be the absolute best, even if it's just in your own head.

When you're a big fish from a small pond and you become a small fish in a big pond, this can be taxing!

Long study hours and a lack of social life can take it's toll if you let it get it you.

Sadly, it's true!

So if you're looking for a healthy study-life balance, the Ivy leagues mightn't be for you, my friend.

In this regard, applying to a competitive school that isn't an Ivy League can really take the pressure off.

In fact, that's another thing; everything that an Ivy League affords you can actually be attained elsewhere, it just might require a little more work.

Getting your foot in the door will require you to build connections off your own back as opposed to instantly gaining them from being an Ivy League student. This will mean completing internships, attending networking events, even volunteering and working wherever possible in your student schedule.

Plus, the education is equally as good at other competitive US colleges, in fact, according to QS World University Rankings, five of the top ten US colleges aren't even Ivy League schools.

What's more, the top four schools in the world are US colleges and three of them are non-Ivy League schools from the US.

That's right, three of the top four in the world ain't even in the Ivy Leagues. They are:

1st: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

2nd: Stanford University

3rd: California Institute of Technology

Added bonus:

At two of those three universities, you get to live within close proximity of the beach and in the sun-drenched state of California. This is in stark comparison to the often oppressive East Coast Ivy League weather.

Lastly, but certainly not least, you must consider whether you're applying to the Ivy Leagues for the title or because it's the right fit for you.

Just because you are afforded all the inherent benefits of being an Ivy League student does not mean it's the right college for you. This is a trap that too many students fall into.

Before applying, you must consider the cultural and social life of the school as well as the location, courses, and cost, among other aspects.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, it really comes down to one word:


As an Ivy League graduate, your career gets a head start.

With the networking opportunities, the fast track to top companies, and the higher income, life as an Ivy graduate is made much simpler.

This is not to say that lacking an Ivy League degree means you’ll be less successful, but you might just have to work a little harder to compete with Ivy League grads.

Whether that be overdelivering at an internship, networking on your nights off, or working your way up to a decent salary post-graduation, you'll still be able to develop into a success, despite the prestige (or lack-thereof) of the tertiary institution you attended.

The Ivies do have many benefits. So if you feel that one of them is right for you, by all means, go for it.

If you're looking for a more balanced time at college and don't mind working a little harder to get to where you want to be in life, maybe look elsewhere.

Wherever you end up applying, good luck and godspeed.

Transform your life, get a dream college offer