Which Ivy League School Should I Go To?

Subject: College choice

Message: Hi! I’ve read your website and it seems like you’ve helped a ton of people get direction on their university choice. I was wondering if you could help me out too? I really have no idea where I want to go and I’m in my senior year of high school. I want to get into one of the Ivy’s but I don’t know particularly why or which one.

Full disclosure: we are about to completely drag this method of thinking. If you are someone who has grown up dreaming of going to an Ivy League school for no particular reason, then you probably won’t feel great after reading this blog post. We do our best to answer every email that we get, and when we’re asked a certain question a million times we try to turn it into a blog post so that we can reach as many readers as possible. In this case, we’re posting this question so that people will stop asking it. Please don’t ask us this question. It’s (one of) the questions we get the most, and the question we like the least.

We’ve gotten many variants of this question. Parents ask us to help their kids apply to every Ivy League school, and we’ve written (a lot!) about why that’s a bad idea. We’ve said it before and once more here for good measure: building out a target school list based on status is never a good application strategy.

To answer the question posed in this particular email, yes, we help students build out their school lists. But those lists are based on the student’s grades, test scores, academic areas of interest, personalities, and a number of other factors. We don’t start by asking the client which Ivy League school they want to go to.

To confirm, the Ivy League is a sports league comprised of 8 schools that play sports against one another. That’s what unifies Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and the rest of them. These schools are undoubtedly academically rigorous, but what they also possess is a top-notch branding team. Since birth, we’ve all been trained to believe that Ivy is best. Even young children who don’t really know what college is want to go to Harvard. We all think that we need to go to one, and that once we do our troubles will melt away. (Spoiler alert: that’s completely false.) It’s advantageous for Ivy League schools to continue this marketing strategy because more kids are applying by the year and that’s exactly what they want. The number of applications has been steadily increasing but the average class size doesn’t get any bigger. And because of that, Ivy League acceptance rates are all now in the single digits, with the exception of Cornell.

We are not suggesting that there aren’t students that belong at an Ivy League school. There are. But they don’t belong there “just because it’s an Ivy.” The students that get into Ivy’s have highly specific goals with regard to their major, specific professors that they want to learn from, and extracurricular interests that are best furthered at a certain school. Not to mention, killer grades. In other words, they’ve been working towards their goal of going to “X” Ivy League school long before the start of senior year. (This is not to say that people going to non-Ivy’s don’t have goals, we mean that certain students custom tailor their high school career in hopes of going to a certain Ivy.)

So, our answer to “Which Ivy League School Should I Apply To?” is none of them. If you don’t have any idea which Ivy you want to go to, stay strong and don’t give into the marketing plans. It’s really important to us that our readers and clients know that they don’t have to go to an Ivy League school to be successful. Plus, applying to all of the Ivy League schools “just to see if I get in” is extremely time consuming and more often than not a losing battle. Contrary to popular belief, applying to all of the Ivy’s does not increase your chances of getting into one of them.

What will happen is that you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time on those applications and fall short on the rest. And then you’re really in a bind. If you do want to read about the offerings at Princeton, browse the website as you would any other school. But be open to the fact that your best fit school is most likely not an Ivy League school, and that you only think that because you’ve programmed to do so. Remember that your value and future career is not determined by where you attend college.


We love helping students figure out where they want to apply, and why. Contact us here if you want to work with someone one-on-one.