Where did the name 'Ivy League' come from?
Why the Ivy League is so named is a surprisingly tricky question to answer. Some have suggested that the original Ivy League consisted of just four colleges (Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth), and that its name was derived from the Roman numeral for four (IV), but there isn’t a whole lot of evidence for this.
The more well-subscribed theory is that the name was coined in 1937 by Caswell Adams, a sportswriter for a New York newspaper who supposedly complained about being so frequently required to cover the ‘ivy-covered’ universities in his reporting, dubbing them the Ivy League (brick walls decorated with ivy vines were a common feature of older, more prestigious American colleges – in fact students at many such institutions participated in annual ivy-planting ceremonies during the 19th century). The term may have been initially used in frustration, but it stuck!
How did the Ivy League become what it is today?
So, how did an intercollegiate athletic conference go on to acquire such high academic status? To start with, the prestige of the Ivy League colleges predates the founding of the league itself. Seven of the eight member universities (excluding Cornell) have existed since before the American Revolution, and Harvard is the oldest university in the United States, founded in 1636.
Intellectual merit was, in fact, a founding principle of the league; one of the main intentions behind the original Ivy agreement was to ensure that sports did not take priority over academics. To this day, none of the eight universities award athletic scholarships, so that only the most academically qualified students gain admission.
Over the years, the Ivy League universities have garnered the popularity and funding that have made them so highly sought-after today. This was initially due to the success of their athletic programmes but has since been a result of their increasing focus on academic rigour. They have become known for producing highly successful and well-respected alumni, including eight of the nine current Supreme Court justices, and (almost) every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan (Joe Biden bucked this trend!). Enjoying sizeable financial endowments from these same alumni has also allowed the Ivy League schools to boast some of the most well-funded educational programmes in the country.
There’s a reason why places at Ivy League schools are in such high demand. With some of the largest financial endowments in higher education (Yale’s total endowment is $31.2 billion as of June 2020), Ivy League schools are equipped with world-class facilities and employ some of the most reputable academics in their fields.
The pay-off of attending an Ivy League school doesn’t stop at graduation. Once you’ve completed your degree, you’ll become part of an extensive alumni network, giving you the opportunity to connect with influential graduates for life.