The Ivy League schools are among the best and most prestigious institutions of higher learning on the planet. It’s hard to go anywhere in the world and meet someone who hasn’t heard of Harvard, Princeton, or Yale. Five of the eight Ivies are featured in Forbes’ top 10 American colleges, and for a good reason. In addition to academic excellence, all the Ivy League schools enjoy worldwide networks of successful alumni, making it far easier for graduates to gain ground in their chosen careers.
If you’re considering applying to an Ivy League school, then you’ve probably done a ton of research already on each one of these colleges. Even if you haven’t chosen one of these Ivies as a target school for your applications, you’re likely to have some knowledge about the Ivies. And yet, there are some surprising things about these elite institutions—from weird facts to unusual student traditions and rituals— that many people don’t know. Below, we present to you well over a dozen different things you probably didn’t know about Ivy League schools.
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1. Collectively, They’re Referred to as “The Ancient Eight”
The adjective “ancient” isn’t exactly flattering unless that is, you’re a long-standing symbol of wisdom and scholarly excellence. That’s exactly what the Ivies are, which is why the epithet “Ancient Eight” is considered a term of endearment. The nickname is fitting, too. The eight Ivy League schools are some of the oldest higher learning institutions in the United States, seven of them dating back to colonial times. Founded on September 8, 1636, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard is not only the oldest of the Ivy League schools but also the oldest nationwide.
2. Harvard Has a Hip Hop Archive
Speaking of Harvard, did you know the school is well-versed in the history of hip hop music? It may seem surprising that an Ivy League school would house a hip-hop archive, but the Harvard Hip Hop Archive and Research Institute was established fifteen years ago and is still going strong. The institute makes it a point to research old, new, and emerging trends and music in hip hop. It provides an invaluable resource to anyone interested in this important tradition of American and African-American music and history.
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3. Brown Holds Annual Halloween Concerts
Every year, Brown University celebrates Halloween with a concert of spooky music. Both performers and attendees come in costume, and the concert takes place at midnight (naturally). The concert consists of solely spooky organ music, and this glorious and macabre musical tradition at Brown has persisted for more than two decades.
4. Yale Is Home to an Unreadable Manuscript
The Voynich Manuscript, dating from the fifteenth century, is housed in Yale’s considerable rare book and manuscript archive. Reputed to be “the most mysterious manuscript in the world,” the Voynich has been the subject of intense academic and personal scrutiny for centuries now – and to date, not a single linguist, mathematician, or decipherer has been able to figure out what’s written on it. Two hundred and forty pages long, the Voynich will likely remain an object of mystery for many years to come.
5. Cornell Hosts a Black Fraternity
Cornell was the first university to break the long-standing restriction on African-American students joining fraternities or sororities, introducing Alpha Phi Alpha in 1906. An all-black fraternity at its start, the fraternity now has more than four hundred chapters and admits male members of every ethnicity.
6. One Year of Ivy League School Costs More than a Car
Everyone knows that an Ivy League education is worth a lot. To put it into perspective, though, ponder this: For every year you attend one of the Ivies, you could have bought a new car (and some fancy accessories to go along with it). While the average cost of a new vehicle was around 40,000 in 2020, two semesters at a university like Harvard or Yale will put you back over $56,000 on average. Of course, financial aid packages associated with Ivy League schools are notoriously generous, so you probably won’t end up paying the full sticker on tuition as you would on a brand new car.
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7. Columbia Uses a Marching Band as Exam Prep
At Columbia, “Orgo Night” consists of the university’s marching band putting on an hour-long show in the university library, complete with jokes and inspiring music. The students of Columbia largely seem to find this a wonderfully relaxing experience, and the tradition of Orgo Night has persisted for more than five decades.
8. Dartmouth Was Almost a State University
In a landmark Supreme Court case, Daniel Webster famously prevented Dartmouth College from becoming a public, state-run university in 1819. Signed by Chief Justice John Marshall, the decision is still considered important today since it prevents states from interfering with a private contract such as a college charter. The case was won in part by Webster’s vehement plea to the court: “It is, sir, as I have said, a small college, and yet there are those who love it!”
9. Two Hundred Thousand People Visit Princeton’s Art Museum Each Year
Part of the appeal of an Ivy League school is its state-of-the-art facilities. Consider, for example, Princeton University’s world-renowned art museum. As the second oldest museum in the country, the Princeton Art Museum was formally established in 1882. Today, it houses well over 100,000 different artifacts and works of art dating back to ancient times. The museum is open to the public and saw more than 205,000 visitors last year. It hosts a full calendar of annual events from special exhibits, educational programs, and rotating collections and displays.
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10. Benjamin Franklin Founded the University of Pennsylvania
One of the Founding Fathers of our nation also founded the Ivy League school now known as the University of Pennsylvania. It all started with one of Franklin’s famous pamphlets entitled “Proposals Related to the Education of Youth.” Published in 1749, the pamphlet earned Franklin two dozen supporters, and a building for the university was secured just three years later. Today, a life-size bronze sculpture of the iconic founder and former president of the university can be found on campus.
11. Princeton Alum Are Paid More than Other Ivy League Graduates
Some Ivy League hopefuls find it difficult to decide which Ivy League school they want to attend. If money was the deciding factor, they might all choose Princeton. According to PayScale, Princeton University graduates make more ten years into their careers than graduates of the other Ivies. This top school in terms of salary is followed closely by Yale. Columbia grads are paid the least mid-career, but they still make over $132,000 per year on average.
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12. Penn Has an Unusual Way of Toasting
Colleges and universities across the country have unusual traditions and rituals related to football season. Still, the Ivy League school UPenn may take the cake (so to speak) for the weirdest of them all. Between the final two quarters of every football game, Penn students toss baked goods, including slices of bread, on the field as a way of “toasting” the team. At the end of a good game, one can find over 20,000 pieces of the “toast” littering the field.
13. There’s No Filming Allowed at Harvard
At least not the professional kind. Since several popular films are purportedly set on the Harvard campus, it may come as a surprise that no commercial filming is allowed on the university grounds. It hasn’t always been this way, though. In the 1970s, filming was permitted, and viewers of the big screen got ample views of Harvard Yard in films like Love Story and A Small Circle of Friends. It is rumored that the filming ban was put in place after the shooting of these very films caused significant damage to the campus. Since then, movies like The Social Network and Legally Blonde that are supposedly set against Harvard’s background have been forced to use substitute sets like the University of Southern California’s campus, for instance.
14. Brown Doesn’t Require Specific Coursework
You might think an Ivy League school like Brown University has stringent academic requirements for its undergraduates, but you’d be wrong. While the university pushes its students towards scholarly achievement, it doesn’t accomplish this feat by requiring them to take certain courses. Instead, the school lavishes academic freedom upon its students, allowing them to create their own curriculum. According to Brown, this approach yields graduates who are “deeply creative thinkers, intellectual risk-takers and entrepreneurial problem solvers.”
15. The Ivy League Holds Presidential Status
One of the most appealing characteristics of an Ivy League school is its reputation. These colleges are known for their famous alumni, including past Presidents. An impressive 15 of our nation’s chiefs of state are Ivy League alumni. The list includes Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and George H. W. Bush, and John F. Kennedy. Of course, Presidential hopefuls have no guarantee of launching a successful political career upon graduation from an Ivy League school, but at least they’ll be in good company!
16. Harvard Students Bare All Prior to Test Day
In honor of what is perhaps the weirdest Ivy League tradition of all, Harvard students disrobe twice a year prior to exams and streak across Harvard Yard. Known as the “Primal Scream,” this unusual ritual dates back to the 1960s when Harvard students would open their windows and release a blood-curdling scream into the night. Whether it was fear of the impending exams or a mere stress reliever, no one knows. Students attending the university during the 1990s are responsible for adding the removal of clothing to the mix.
17. The Ivies Aren’t Always the Highest-Ranked Schools
Each year, college rankings are released by credible organizations (like us!). Surprisingly, the eight Ivy League schools don’t always dominate the top 10 colleges and universities featured in these publications. For example, in this year’s U.S. News & World Report ranking, a non-Ivy—the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT,–made the top 5. Cornell, Dartmouth, and Brown were not listed in the top 10.
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18. There Are More Than 8 Ivy League Schools
If you count the “Little Ivies,” that is. The term “Little Ivies” refers to nearby private liberal arts colleges comparable to the original Ivy League schools in terms of academic standards and social reputation. 18 schools are members of the Little Ivies, including Amherst College, Swarthmore College, Tufts University, and Wesleyan University.
The eight Ivy League schools are among the most well-known universities in the country—and even the world. That doesn’t mean they don’t have their secrets, though. These weird facts about the Ivy League demonstrate that there’s much more to these institutions of higher learning than just stuffy libraries and crowded lecture halls. Beneath the surface lies rich histories, and unusual traditions that only the chosen few are privy to.
- Brown University: The Open Curriculum
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- Princeton University Art Museum
- The Harvard Crimson: The Yard in the Movies
- The University of Pennsylvania: Penn’s History
- Wikipedia: Ivy League
- Wikipedia: List of Presidents of the United States by Education
- Wikipedia: Little Ivies
- Wikipedia: Primal Scream (Harvard)