We’ve become so used to the term “Ivy League” that we may never have asked ourselves where the term originated, or even why Ivy League colleges are so highly regarded. Which colleges are “ivy league,” and why does a qualification from one of them give you an advantage? Some of the answers may surprise you!

“Ivy” or IV?

It turns out that nobody’s quite sure how some of America’s top colleges came to be called “Ivy League.” We do know that “going ivy” means getting a place at one of the top educational institutions in the States. But why the ivy?

There are two possible reasons for this most frequently suggested. One is that “ivy” refers to the ivy plants that clamber up the walls of some of America’s most respected colleges’ buildings. The other idea is rather more frequently cited, and sounds plausible. It seems that at one point, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and  Dartmouth established a football league. Because the league consisted of four colleges, it was dubbed the IV League, and in pronouncing the roman numerals, that term evolved into “ivy.”

Whatever the original reason for the term “ivy league” it does refer to an athletic conference and its members are Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, and Yale University. Although the athletic relationships are of interest, the main thing these universities have in common is that they are seen as the top academic universities in the United States.

Why is “Ivy League” so Important?

The word we’re looking for here is “excellence.” And ivy league colleges have a reputation for excellence on several levels. These colleges have a long history of producing the highest quality graduates, and their alumni network is known to be exceptionally strong and close-knit. And with entrance requirements being extremely stringent, they have a reputation for attracting the best and brightest of students who are generally seen as becoming the most respected professionals in their fields of study.

Beyond that, the campuses of ivy league colleges are, without exception, beautiful and inspiring places of learning, and the independent research they conduct is highly respected around the world. In short, these are elite colleges, and their graduates are seen as being a cut above the ordinary.

For a young person with the ink on their certificates barely dry, having been to an ivy league college is something that will make recruiters for top jobs sit up and take note. That college’s name says you’re a consistent achiever with a high standard of education to back you up.

Whether it’s intentional or not, “ivy league” is a brand that sets you up for success. So, if you use your degree in marketing to get a job, for example, ivy league candidates already have their brand to back them up. An unfair advantage? Perhaps. But would you pass up a chance at gaining it? Definitely not!

Is There a Downside?

As fitness instructors love to say “no pain, no gain.” And yes, there are pain points in an ivy league education. The first of these is cost. None of these colleges offer cheap tuition fees, and only exceptional students will be eligible for bursaries.

Admission rates are low too. If you can get in, that’s an advantage because it demonstrates your ability to be competitive. If you don’t get accepted, it’s a blow to your ego and “rejected by Harvard” isn’t the kind of thing you’d put on your resume.

It’s also fair to see “ivy league” as a brand with a buzz. The fact that there are many world-class colleges that aren’t seen as ivy league is often overlooked. They might be younger institutions, they might lack the sizzling-hot reputation, but they’re still highly respected. They just aren’t as “elite.” Despite this, if you can afford it, and if you can get accepted, ivy league education is going to confer advantages.