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The Ivy League is an association of eight American universities, named for the ivy plants traditionally covering their older buildings. The term "Ivy League" has connotations of academic excellence, as well as a certain amount of elitism. These schools are also sometimes affectionately referred to as the Ancient Eight.
All of the Ivy League universities share some general characteristics: They are among the most prestigious and selective universities in the U.S.; they consistently place close to the top of college and university rankings; they rank within the top one percent of the world's universities in terms of financial endowment; they attract top-tier students and faculty (although many undergraduate classes are taught by people other than the distinguished faculty, such as graduate students - the extent of this practice varies greatly, for example, Brown University requires all its professors to teach undergraduates as part of its university-college model); and they have relatively small undergraduate populations, ranging between 4,100 for Dartmouth and 13,700 for Cornell. The Ivies are also all located in the Northeast region of the United States and are among the oldest universities in the country—all but Cornell University were founded during America's colonial era.
The Ivy League universities are privately owned and controlled, with the exception of Cornell, which has both private and public components. Although many of them receive funding from the federal or state governments to pursue research, only Cornell has state-supported academic units, termed statutory colleges, that are an integral part of the university.
The members of the Ivy League are, in alphabetical order:
- Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island, founded 1764 as Rhode Island College
- Columbia University, in New York City, New York, founded 1754 as King's College
- Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, founded 1865
- Dartmouth College, in Hanover, New Hampshire, founded 1769
- Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, founded 1636 as the New College
- University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded 1749 as the Academy of Philadelphia
- Princeton University, in Princeton, New Jersey, founded in 1746 as the College of New Jersey
- Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut, founded 1701 as the Collegiate School
The term Ivy League was first coined informally to refer to these institutions of higher education, who compete in both scholastics and sports, but it also refers to the formal association of these schools in NCAA Division I athletic competition.
The term Ivy League refers strictly to the original eight schools. However, the term "Ivy Plus" is sometimes used to refer to the eight plus several other schools for purposes of alumni associations and university affiliations. The inclusion of non-Ivy League schools under this term is not highly consistent across uses. Among these other schools, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University are almost always included. The University of Chicago and Duke University are often included as well.   .
As an informal football league, the Ivy League dates from 1900 when Yale took the conference championship with a 5-0 record. For many years Army (the United States Military Academy) and Navy (the United States Naval Academy) were considered members, but dropped out shortly before formal organization.
On October 14, 1937, when Caswell Adams , a sports writer for the New York Herald Tribune, was assigned a Columbia-Pennsylvania football game, he remarked, "Do I have to watch the ivy grow every Saturday afternoon? How about letting me see some football away from the ivy-covered halls of learning for a change?" Stanley Woodward , a fellow writer, overheard this and coined the phrase "Ivy League" in a column, informally describing the eight competitive universities in advance of any formal sports conference, and his phrase quickly caught on.
In 1945 the presidents of the eight schools signed the first Ivy Group Agreement, which set academic, financial, and athletic standards for the football teams. The principles established reiterated those put forward in the Harvard-Yale-Princeton Presidents' Agreement of 1916.
In 1954, the date generally accepted as the birth of the Ivy League, the presidents extended the Ivy Group Agreement to all intercollegiate sports. Competition began with the 1956 season.
As late as the 1960s many of the Ivy League universities' undergraduate programs remained open only to men, with Cornell being the first (1872) and Columbia being the last (1983) to become coeducational. Before they became coeducational, many of the Ivy schools maintained extensive social ties with nearby Seven Sisters women's colleges, including weekend visits, dances and parties inviting Ivy and Seven Sisters students to mingle. This was the case not only at Barnard College and Radcliffe College, which were situated very near to Columbia and Harvard, but at more distant institutions as well. (The movie Animal House includes a satiric version of the formerly common visits by Dartmouth men to Massachusetts to meet Smith and Mount Holyoke women, a drive of more than two hours.) Some sources suggest that the Seven Sisters group was so named as a parallel to the Ivy League. 
A fake etymology attributes the name to the Roman numerals for four (IV), incorrectly asserting that there was such a sports league originally with four members. The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins helped to perpetuate this myth, claiming that over a century ago, Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Princeton formed an athletic league called the "Four League." 
All Ivy League schools are currently known for their highly selective undergraduate programs. Indeed, acceptance rates to all of the schools have dropped consistently over the past decade, ranging from 9.1% for Harvard to 26.1% for Cornell. These rates are far lower than they were in the 1990s. As recently as 1992, acceptance rates ranged from 16% for Harvard to 47% for the University of Pennsylvania (1).
Many of the universities are well known for their top-rate graduate and professional programs (the acceptance rate at Harvard's medical school is around 2%). Some notable programs include:
- Brown's Medical School
- Columbia's Business School, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Law School, Columbia School of the Arts , School of Journalism, and Teacher's College
- Cornell's College of Engineering, Law School, Johnson School of Management, Weill Medical College, NYS College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, NYS College of Veterinary Medicine, and School of Hotel Administration
- Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, Medical School, Thayer School of Engineering
- Harvard's Business School, Kennedy School of Government, Law School, Medical School, and School of Education
- Penn's Law School, School of Education , School of Medicine , School of Nursing , and Wharton School of Business
- Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
- Yale's Law School, School of Management , School of Art , School of Drama, School of Medicine, and School of Music
Although the Ivy League is usually regarded as a cohesive group from the outside, there is a considerable amount of internal academic rivalry and competition among its eight members. In particular, students at Harvard University, Yale University, and Princeton University have been known to claim that they are in a league of their own (sometimes called HYP). This sentiment is based on the fact that these three schools, unlike the other five in the Ivy League, are the only ones whose nationwide rankings have consistently been at the top. Even among these three elite universities, there is a heated competition for students. In 2002, admissions officers at Princeton on several occasions browsed into the Yale admissions website and logged in to view the admissions status of cross-applicants, using the names, birthdates, and social security numbers indicated on their Princeton applications . Yale's administration notified the FBI about the actions after conducting its own investigation. One admissions official was removed over the incident and Princeton's Dean of Admissions retired soon thereafter.
The Ivy League is well-represented in the annual U.S. News and World Report rankings. In the 2005 ranking, all of its schools are ranked between #1 and #14. The rankings include all eight of the schools: Harvard University (#1), Princeton University (#1), Yale University (#3), University of Pennsylvania (#4), Columbia University (#9), Dartmouth College (#9), Brown University (#13), and Cornell University (#14). Only Duke University (#5), Stanford University (#5), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (#5), the California Institute of Technology (#8), Northwestern University (#11), and Washington University in St. Louis (#11) rank higher than at least one Ivy League university in this widely-read ranking of U.S. colleges.
The Ivy League schools are among the wealthiest private universities in the U.S., a status commensurate with their ages and long-standing relationships with the highest echelons of American society. All of the Ivy League schools have endowments over $1 billion of assets. Harvard, with a $22.6 billion endowment (as of 2004), is the wealthiest university in the world, and is the second non-profit organization in the world (after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) to report an endowment over $20 billion. Yale, with an endowment size of $12.7 billion, is the second-wealthiest. Next come Princeton with $8.7 billion, Columbia with $4.3 billion, Penn with $4 billion, Cornell with $3 billion, Dartmouth with $2.4 billion, and Brown with $1.5 billion. Princeton has the highest per-student endowment at $1.32 million, followed by Harvard with $1.15 million, Yale with $1.12 million, Dartmouth with $420,000, Brown and Columbia with $200,000, Penn with $190,000, and Cornell with $150,000. These are the highest in the nation for Princeton, Harvard, and Yale; only Rice University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford University have higher endowment-per-student ratios than Dartmouth.
Harvard owns nearly 430 acres (1.8 km²) of property in the Boston area. Columbia is notably among the largest private landowners in New York City, which has some of the highest property values in the world. Dartmouth owns 26,800 acres (108 km²) in the northern part of New Hampshire as part of the Second College Grant , making it the largest land owner in the state. 
Seven of the eight schools (excluding Harvard) participate in the BorrowDirect interlibrary loan program, making a total of 40 million items available to participants, although the ILL program is not affiliated with the formal Ivy arrangement. (Harvard holds another 15 million items in its collection.)
Ivy champions are crowned in 33 men's and women's sports. In some sports, Ivy teams actually compete as members of another league, the Ivy championship being decided by isolating the members' records in play against each other. (For example, the six league members who participate in ice hockey do so as members of the ECAC Hockey League; but an Ivy champion is extrapolated each year.) Unlike every other Division I basketball conference, it has no playoff for the league title; the school with the best conference record represents the conference at the national championship.
On average, each Ivy school has more than 35 varsity teams. All eight are in the top 20 for number of sports offered for both men and women among Division I schools. In some sports, notably baseball and tennis, the Ivy League teams also compete against Army and Navy.
Harvard and Yale are celebrated football and crew rivals. Princeton and Penn are mainly basketball rivals. Cornell and Harvard are hockey rivals. Unlike most Division I athletic conferences, the Ivy League prohibits the granting of athletic scholarships . As a result, the schools are typically less competitive in football and basketball, even when compared to universities with comparably rigorous academic standards such as Stanford or Duke.
In the time before recruiting for college sports became dominated by those offering athletic scholarships, the Ivy League was successful in many sports relative to other universities in the country. In particular, Princeton won 24 recognized national championships in college football, and Yale won 19. Both of these totals are considerably higher than those of other historically strong programs such as Notre Dame, which has won 12, and USC, which has won 10. Yale, whose coach Walter Camp was the "Father of American Football," held on to its place as the all-time wins leader in college football throughout the entire 20th century, but was finally passed by Michigan on November 10, 2001.
1. U.S. News and World Report 1993 College Guide - June 4, 1993.
- Colonial colleges
- Seven Sisters (colleges) (A group of prestigious U.S. Women's colleges)
- Oxbridge rivalry
- Russell Group (leading UK universities)
- Coimbra Group (leading European universities)
- Group of Eight (leading Australian universities)
- Universitas 21 (international network of universities)
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