The 8 College Secret Societies in the Ivy League and Beyond You Should know

09 AUG 2021

Secret college societies lurk in the shadows of the Ivy League, Oxbridge, and many elite colleges worldwide. Despite the rumors and whispers about these private clubs, what happens behind closed doors is largely unknown, only adding mystery and allure.

From hazing rituals to Illuminati conspiracies, let’s take a look at some of the most secretive, mysterious, and outrageous college societies in the US and Europe.

What are college secret societies?

Typically made up of selected individuals, a collegiate secret society makes a significant effort to keep all aspects of their organization a secret. Secret societies in the US date back to 1750 when students at The College of William and Mary formed the F.H.C. Society. Its most famous members included Thomas Jefferson, St. George Tucker, and George Wythe.

While they vary in their “secrecy” and how closely they associate themselves with their university, most secret societies make a strong effort towards keeping their affairs, members, initiations, and membership rolls out of the public eye.

Some secret societies only invite final year students to their groups, so they have the chance to observe them during their third year at the university. These groups are often called “senior societies.”

Most secret societies have similar characteristics. They include:

  • Difficult membership qualifications
  • Secret ceremonies or rituals
  • Close friendships between members

What do college secret societies do?

What happens behind closed doors is largely unknown. Rumors of hazing rituals, Illuminati conspiracies, and conspiracy theories involving government agencies only add to the allure of university secret societies.

Unfortunately, the majority of these rumors are just that, rumors. Many “secret” societies use the term loosely, preferring to focus more on the “society” part.

Throughout the year and particularly around graduation, secret societies find ways to give back to their university through anonymous philanthropic acts. Some secret societies also host literary debate groups, lecture speakers, and various events throughout the year.

How to join a college secret society?

Every secret society has initiations, rituals, oaths, or handshakes that help distinguish its members. Most societies limit membership to a specific number of students or a particular class year.

While the selection process differs from one university to the next, the original selection process for entry into a collegiate secret society began at Yale University. Their approach, called “tapping,” started with a public announcement inviting undergraduates to meet in the College Yard. Members of Yale’s secret society would walk through the crowd and tap prospective members and walk with them back to their dorm rooms. Then they would ask them if they wanted to join their secret society, and the student would choose to accept or reject the membership offer.

Today, most colleges have a less formal process, but it’s still typically a public event. Some societies put seal-stamped letters under doors of prospective juniors, while others send cryptic emails inviting them to rush parties.


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Top 8 College Secret Societies

Here are the top 8 college secret societies, some unusual facts about each, and their most famous members.

1. Skull and Crossbones - Yale University

College Secret Society in Yale - Skull and Bones

Founded: 1832

Yale’s Skull and Crossbones is arguably the most famous and well-known of all Ivy League secret societies. Its infamous history is shrouded in mystery and extends back to 1832, when the society was first established.

The club chooses 15 new members to join each year. Those selected become Bonesmen and Boneswomen. All Bonesman and Boneswomen are sworn to secrecy and forbidden to reveal what goes on behind closed doors. Members meet twice a week in a windowless building called the Tomb.

The Tomb presumably comes from a rumor that in 1918 a group of Bonesmen (allegedly including Prescott Bush, father of George H. W. Bush) dug up the skull of Apache leader Geronimo, who died in 1909, and took it back to their headquarters as a trophy.

Further emphasizing the prestige and exclusivity of Yale’s secret society, it is also alleged that new members receive $15,000 and a grandfather clock.

Many members have become wealthy and famous business leaders of the world. Due to members’ success and power, it is also rumored that Bonesman and Boneswoman are a faction of the Illuminati.

Fact or Fiction?

Skull and Crossbones was allegedly involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the creation of the nuclear bomb. Some even believe it was created by the CIA to recruit Yale students to the secret service.

Most famous members of the Skull and Crossbones:

  • George H.W. Bush
  • George W. Bush
  • Paul Giamatti
  • John Kerry
  • William F. Buckley
  • William Howard Taft

Crimson Students are 4x more likely to gain admission to Ivy League universities such as Yale.

If you’d like to know if you could get into Yale, use our US College Admissions Calculator to see where you could be accepted.

2. Seven Society - University of Virginia

Founded: 1905

College Secret Societies in UVA - Seven Society

This secret society is built on superstitions and bizarre traditions. Seven Society is so secretive that members aren’t made public until after their deaths. Yet, even the member reveal is mysterious, with a giant wreath of black magnolias in the shape of a “7” appearing on the gravesite of the deceased.

The biggest mystery, however, is speculation surrounding how one actually gains a membership. For example, no one knows if they’re co-ed yet or if you even have to be a University of Virginia alumni to join.

The most concrete evidence of the society existing is the number seven markings left around the campus and their generous philanthropy to the university. Their donations arrive in letters signed with the seven astronomical symbols in the order: Earth, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, Neptune, Uranus, and Venus. Donations and scholarships are given in quantities that include the number seven. For example, $777 or $1,777.

Additionally, the college’s bell tower at the chapel rings at seven-second intervals at the seventh dissonant chord when it is seven past the hour. There is so much to suggest this society exists, yet there is still so little we know about them.

Fact or Fiction?

In 1947, a small explosion interrupted the commencement ceremony. When the smoke cleared, a check for $177,777,77 floated to the ground. The university used the money to create an interest-free loan for students and faculty members in financial trouble.

Most famous members of the Seven Society:

  • John Lloyd Newcomb
  • Joseph W. Twinam
  • Edward Stettinius Jr.

If you’d like to know if you could get into the University of Virginia, use our US College Admissions Calculator to see where you could be accepted.

3. Sphinx Society - Dartmouth College

Founded: 1885

College Secret Societies in Dartmouth - Sphinx Society

Dartmouth is a hotbed of college societies. According to its website, nearly 31% of seniors are involved in a society, with at least 14 on the campus - five of which keep their membership secret.

The Ivy League school’s most well-known secret society is the all-male Sphinx Society. Just 24 juniors are shoulder-tapped each year to become part of “the Krewe.” These elite few get to see behind the walls of the Egyptian Tomb, which acts as their headquarters.

Allegedly, Sphinx headquarters provides members access to underground tunnels throughout campus, and they have an indoor pool known as Cleopatra’s Swimming Pool. Krewe members’ identities remain hidden until graduation when they reveal themselves by walking around the campus with canes emblazoned with Sphinx symbols.

Fact or Fiction?

In 1989, 16 members were suspended for stealing USD $12,000 worth of art and photographs from around campus.


Crimson Students are 4x more likely to gain admission to Ivy League universities such as Dartmouth.

If you’d like to know if you could get into Dartmouth, use our US College Admissions Calculator to see where you could be accepted.

4. The Cadaver Society - Washington and Lee University

Founded: 1957

College secret societies: The Cadaver Society - Washington and Lee University
This Cadaver Society is another group that has shared so little information that it’s unclear whether it still (or ever) existed. Yet, the rumors of this secret society alone are worthy of it securing a place on our list.

While it’s only speculation, many people believe members of the Cadaver Society are pre-med students with leadership qualities, high academic grades, and an appreciation of university traditions.

The most concrete evidence of this club is the society’s sign, a skull and the letter C, scrawled around campus. They are said to wander the campus at night, dressed in black, their faces covered with skull masks as they mark their sign.

Like any good secret society, they also seem to have plenty of money, often making philanthropic donations to the college. In 1988, the Cadavers reportedly donated $150,000 to renovate the frat houses.

Fact or Fiction?

The most salacious of all the Cadavers’ rumors is that they are a branch of the Illuminati! It’s also rumored that Cadavers travel around campus via a series of secret tunnels.


If you’d like to know if you could get into Washington and Lee University, use our US College Admissions Calculator to see where you could be accepted.

5. Order of Gimghoul - University of North Carolina

Founded: 1889

College Secret Societies: Order of Gimghoul - University of North Carolina

The Order of Gimghoul is one of the creepiest secret societies, mainly because it's named after a University of North Carolina student, Peter Droomgole, who mysteriously vanished from campus in 1833. Originally called the Order of Droomgole, it changed its name to sound more sinister.

Membership is invite-only and open to both students and faculty. What happens behind the castle walls, though, is anyone's guess. However, based on the little photo evidence of the club, members also seem to have a fondness for satanic iconography. Nearly every photo of Order of Gimghoul members has something related to Satan in it. Despite its sinister history, the club's foundations are based on Arthurian legend and the Knights of the Round Table.

Fact or Fiction?

Rumor has it Peter Droomgole lost a duel with a love rival. The society's headquarters sits in an on-campus castle constructed on the spot Peter disappeared.


If you’d like to know if you could get into the University of Northern Carolina, use our US College Admissions Calculator to see where you could be accepted.

6. The Bullingdon Club - The University of Oxford

Founded: 1780

College Secret Societies: The Bullingdon Club - The University of Oxford

Founded in 1780, the Bullingdon Club is the most infamous university society in the UK due to its prestige, elitism, and fascination with trashing local restaurants.

Initially, the Bullingdon was a sporting club dedicated to cricket and horse racing. They’re officially known as an all-male “dining club,” a social group that usually requires membership and meets for dinners and discussion.

Though restaurants may be where the Bullingdon Club starts, the evening often escalates into more of a drinking club than a dining club. Drinking with the Bullingdon boys often escalates into mayhem. Their behavior is so bad that the University of Oxford refuses to recognize the club officially, and many local restaurants refuse to host its events.

Fact or Fiction?

In 1927, they smashed 400 windows at Christ Church college and, in 2004, smashed 17 bottles of wine and crockery at the 15th Century White Hart pub.

Most famous members of the The Bullingdon Club:

  • Prime Minister David Cameron
  • Former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne
  • Current Prime Minister Boris Johnson
  • George Osborne

Crimson Students are 2-4x more likely to gain admission to Oxford University.

If you’d like to know if you could get into the University of Oxford, use our UK University Admissions Calculator to see where you could be accepted.

7. Ivy Club - Princeton University

Founded: 1879

College Secret Societies: Ivy Club - Princeton

While secret societies are banned at Princeton, the Ivy Club operates entirely above ground. The reason it’s on our list is because of its strict barriers to entry.

To join the Ivy Club, the oldest “eating club” at Princeton University, candidates must sit for ten interviews with members. In total, the interview process may take up to 7.5 hours over a few days. After the interviews, their 130 current men and women vote to accept or reject the new candidate. If one member rejects the candidate, they do not get in.

At Princeton, the tradition of eating clubs dates back over 100 years. There are six selective clubs and five open clubs at Princeton, yet none are more selective than the Ivy Club. While membership costs $9,550, it includes full entry into the club’s three-story brick mansion behind iron gates and daily meals at the clubhouse.

The food varies day-to-day. However, there’s grilled chicken, a salad bar, bagels, cereal, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches available ’round the clock. The Ivy Club also offers members the opportunity to become involved in community activities and fundraisers.

Fact or Fiction?

Initiation week includes passing new members down a staircase. The men are naked, and the women are in their underwear.

Most famous members of the The Ivy Club:

  • Lauren Bush-Lauren
  • James Baker
  • Woodrow Wilson
  • Michael Lewis

Crimson Students are 4x more likely to gain admission to Ivy League universities such as Princeton.

If you’d like to know if you could get into Princeton, use our US College Admissions Calculator to see where you could be accepted.

8. Porcellian Club - Harvard University

Founded: 1794College Secret Societies Porcellian Club - Harvard University

The Porcellian Club was founded in 1794, making it one of North America’s first college societies. Its motto is “dum vivimus vivamus,” which translates to “while we live, let us live.” Porcellian parties and get-togethers are not open to non-members, so nobody knows what happens behind closed doors.

The club’s mascot is a pig. Members of the club are recognized by the clothing items and accessories they have with pigs or pig heads printed on them. The clubhouse is known as the “Old Barn” and is a three-story mansion located directly across the road from the famous Harvard Yard.

Membership is competitive and invitation only. Legend has it the only non-member invited into the Old Barn was US president Dwight D. Eisenhower. Yet, when he tried to gain entry again after his presidency had ended, he was turned away.

Fact or Fiction?

There is a rumor that if members of Porcellian have not earned their first million by the time they turn 40, the club will give it to them.

Most famous members of the Porcellian Club:

  • Winklevoss twins
  • Teddy Roosevelt
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes

*Franklin D. Roosevelt was famously not asked to join.


Crimson Students are 4x more likely to gain admission to Ivy League universities such as Harvard University.

If you’d like to know if you could get into Harvard University, use our US College Admissions Calculator to see where you could be accepted.

Final Thoughts

Everyone loves the mystery surrounding college secret societies. Determining what’s rumor and what’s truth is all part of the fun. And the tunnels? That’s all part of the mystery. If you get accepted to a university with secret societies, keep your eyes open. You might be the next one getting shoulder-tapped!

Further Reading:


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