Finding your Fit: How to Choose the Right Ivy League for You

The Ivy League is often viewed as a monolith. So, how do you choose the right Ivy League for you to apply to? 

Ivy League University Columns

by Cait Tysoe in collaboration with OpenAI // February 23, 2022 

If you’re interested in applying to an Ivy League school, you’re certainly in good company. These prestigious institutions are some of the most competitive and highly sought-after colleges in the country. With eight Ivies from which to choose —Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale—, it can be overwhelming to decide which one is the best fit for you. Here are some tips for selecting which Ivy League is the right fit for you:

Consider your academic interests and goals.

When deciding which Ivies to apply to, one of the most important factors to consider is your academic interests and goals. Each Ivy League school has its own unique strengths and areas of focus. Therefore, think about which school aligns best with your academic interests and career aspirations. For instance, if you’re interested in engineering, you may want to consider applying to Cornell or Dartmouth, which are known for their strong engineering programs. Alternatively, if you’re interested in the liberal arts, you might consider applying to Brown or Yale, whose undergraduate programs are known for their liberal arts-approach. If you’re interested in business, you may want to consider applying to the University of Pennsylvania or Harvard, which are known for their strong business programs.

Consider the location and campus culture.

When blinded by the idea of attending a prestigious college like an Ivy League, students often forget to ask themselves vital questions related their own living preferences, like:

  • Would you prefer a small, rural campus or a larger, urban campus?
    • If you would prefer the former, you might consider applying to Dartmouth or Cornell; the latter, Harvard, UPenn or Columbia.
  • Do you want to attend a school where fraternities and sororities dominate social life?
  • Do you prefer to study in libraries or coffee shops?
    • Good news for coffee shop-devotees: Yale is known for the uncanny number of coffee shops around its campus that are packed from opening to closing with hard-working students! 
  • Can you tolerate living in the snow?
    • If the answer is no, you may struggle with the cold winters all Ivy Leagues face. You may be interested in checking out some of the warmer Public Ivies or other warm-weather Ivy Equivalents.

There are dozens of similar considerations to take into mind—check out our article “Four Questions to Kick-Start Your College Planning” to find more!

Consider the size of the student body—and your major program.

The size of the student body—and your major of choice!—is another essential factor to consider when choosing which Ivies to apply to. Some schools, like Brown and Columbia, have larger student bodies, while others, like Dartmouth and Princeton, have smaller student bodies. Think about what size of school you prefer and which school aligns best with your goals and interests. Similarly, consider the size of your intended major program at each school. Some Ivy League schools have a greater focus on the liberal arts than on STEM subjects, and, others, vice versa; at such schools, you may find some majors are impacted, while others have an abundance of available resources! These subject preferences may also change your social experience on campus. Stanford, while not an Ivy League, is particularly known for this; students call it the fuzzytechie divide!

Consider Open & Closed Curricula

College curricula are often discussed as being “Open” or “Closed.” Here’s what that means: in a closed curriculum, students are required to take a specific set of courses in order to graduate and have little flexibility in choosing which classes they take; an open curriculum allows students to choose their own courses and create their own academic paths, giving students more flexibility to explore their interests and customize their educational experience. Some colleges, such as Brown University, have fully open curriculums, while others, like Columbia University, have more structured requirements. It’s important for you to consider your learning style and academic goals when deciding which type of curriculum is best for you.

Consider Admissions Requirements

Another critical factor to consider when choosing which Ivies to apply to is the admissions requirements and acceptance rates. Each Ivy League school has its own set of admissions requirements, including GPA, test scores, and extracurricular activities. Be sure to research the requirements for each school you’re considering—some are more stringent than others! while all Ivy League schools are competitive, some, like Cornell and Brown, have marginally higher acceptance rates than the others. 

Consider Other Schools

While the Ivy League schools are some of the most prestigious and competitive colleges in the country, there are also other top schools to consider, such as MIT and Stanford. If you’re not sure which Ivies to apply to or if an Ivy League school is the best fit for you, it might be worth considering these other top schools. You can read more about MIT and Stanford and compare them to the Ivies by checking out articles in publications like the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC, the Yale Daily News, and the Harvard Crimson.

In addition to the factors mentioned above, there are other considerations to keep in mind when deciding which Ivy League schools to apply to. For example, you may want to consider the research opportunities available at each school, the availability of internships and job placement services, the quality of the faculty, and the extracurricular activities and clubs available on campus.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the Ivy League schools, while prestigious, are not the only path to success. There are many other excellent colleges and universities out there that can provide you with a top-notch education and help you achieve your goals. Ultimately, the most important thing is to find a school that is the right fit for you, academically, socially, and financially.

When applying to Ivy League schools, it’s important to keep in mind that the admissions process is highly competitive. While a strong academic record is important, it’s not the only factor that admissions committees consider. Extracurricular activities, essays, letters of recommendation, and other factors can all play a role in the admissions decision.

If you’re serious about applying to Ivy League schools, it’s important to start early and be strategic in your approach. Work hard to achieve excellent grades and test scores, get involved in extracurricular activities that you’re passionate about, and start researching the schools and their admissions requirements as early as possible. For some students, working with an admissions coach or college consultant can be helpful from as young as 13!

Applying to Ivy League schools can be a daunting task, but it can also be an exciting opportunity to pursue your academic and career goals. By considering your academic interests, goals and preferences, as well as other factors like research opportunities and campus culture, you can make an informed decision about which Ivy League is right for you to apply to. Remember that there are many other excellent colleges and universities out there, and that the most important thing is to find a school that is the right fit for you. 

Good luck!



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