Prestige, academia and selectivity come to mind when you hear the term ivy league. In reality the Ivy League is an athletic conference comprising eight private institutions of higher education located in the Northeastern United States. Although all these universities share similar characteristics ranking among the top 20 universities in the United States, the term ivy league actually comes from the ivy plants that cover their historic buildings. Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania and Yale conform the group of ivy league universities.
The Oxford English Dictionary first cites “Ivy League” from a sports-writer in 1933. Back then the term referred to the established eastern schools, which had very strong athletic teams and national champions. They could afford elaborate training grounds and athletic scholarships. These colleges then had a smaller, and much more homogeneous, student body than they now do: male, white, largely from wealthy families of pre-Revolutionary descent (and so often of British stock), largely Protestant. They had always had distinguished faculties – some of the first Americans with doctorates had taught for them; but they now decided that they could not both be world-class research institutions and be competitive in the highest ranks of American college sport.
After the Second World War, the present Ivy League institutions slowly widened their selection of students. Currently, these institutions enroll more students who come from diverse ethnic backgrounds. For example, Yale’s student body is 8% international, 8% African American, 14% Asian, 7% Hispanic and 1% Native American. Due to need-blind admissions, certain incentives to recruit more minorities and generous financial aid, “the economic backgrounds of students are very diverse.” (Princeton Review)
All Ivy League schools are known for their highly selective undergraduate programs, and acceptance rates now range from 8.6% for Yale to 24.7% for Cornell. These rates are far lower than they were up until the late 1990s. As late as 1992, acceptance rates ranged from 16% for Harvard to 47% for the University of Pennsylvania. This trend may be due to an increasing application pool. Nowadays, more students are better prepared and more knowledgeable about their college options than 15 years ago.
For more information on the history of the ivy league: Wikipedia – Ivy League
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