Chasing the Clean Sweep: Yale University

For students wanting an undergraduate experience that embodies the intimacy achieved at smaller schools like Dartmouth and Princeton without dealing with the “bubble” effect of being located on a small campus, Yale offers the perfect solution. Resting at a comfortable 11,300 students, of which 5,500 are undergrads, Yale has the offerings of a large university with a dedication to undergrads usually exclusive to schools half its size. While most introductory courses are done in a larger lecture hall, professors make an effort to be accessible to every student, and lectures are not led by graduate students like they are at other large Ivies. However, graduate students are utilized in small discussion sections meant to complement larger lectures, breaking down the concepts addressed in lecture in a more open setting that encourages inquiry.

Of course, no discussion about Yale is complete without addressing residential life, both on and off campus. Harvard, Columbia, UPenn, and Brown enjoy easy access to the largest cities in the Northeast; Princeton is located in a chic, safe town; and Dartmouth and Cornell are surrounded with awe-inspiring natural beauty. Yale is located in New Haven, a small city in Connecticut traditionally known for having some rough neighborhoods. This means that the gates blocking Yale’s campus from the rest of New Haven are more than decorative wrought-iron. New Haven is steadily improving and the area surrounding Yale has a college town feel. Students can of course venture further out into the city, but with many feeling uncomfortable with doing so, most of student activity takes place on-campus. Accordingly, Yale has given students reasons to love being on-campus, creating communities called “houses” that both act as social hubs and foster a feeling of comradery some describe as “family-like” between housemates. The entire campus has 12 houses, each with its own library and dining hall. However, your keycard only gives you access to your house, so while Yale breaks down the large campus for intimacy it also somewhat isolates the student body by the House system.

Chasing the Clean Sweep: Princeton University

Long-term US News ranking favorite, Princeton is a small school with a low acceptance rate, a laundry list of accomplished alumni, and an enormous endowment. Princeton, on the surface, combines some of best qualities found in other Ivies to create a campus uniquely its own. By offering students world class faculty and copious amounts of endowment money, Princeton is similar Harvard in terms of research quality, with most professors regularly leading ground-breaking efforts in their disciplines. Its small size rings similar to that of Dartmouth, allowing the school to prioritize discussion-based courses and strong student-professor relationships. Utilizing a residential system built around small “house” communities instead of individual dorms, students enjoy a sense of community with their house peers similar to the closeness often lauded by students at Yale under the Yale house system. It seems students at Princeton are able to enjoy the best the Ivies have to offer, further cementing its position at the top of the ranks.

However, no school is perfect for everyone, and what makes Princeton distinct defines its students and their experience. Princeton is notoriously less diverse than the other Ivies, historically similar to Yale and Harvard in its overwhelming catering to the progeny of the highest, and usually Northeastern, elite. Like Harvard and more recently Yale, admissions at the university is working on programs to increase socioeconomic diversity, achieving much success and applause in their endeavor. However, despite its success and a change in policy to admit more socioeconomically diverse students, the campus is still one of the most elite and exclusive in the country, and students from more diverse, less privileged backgrounds may face a great deal of culture shock. Moreover, those who want a balance of upperclassman and underclassman would be left wanting at Princeton, where the house system ensures that class years are largely kept separate.

Chasing the Clean Sweep: University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania, commonly referred to as UPenn, is a large research-oriented university in a large city, similar to Harvard and Columbia. However, it distinguishes itself from Harvard with its small class sizes and close student to professor relationships, and unlike Columbia’s Core Curriculum, UPenn’s programs seem to contain “undercurrents” of pre-professionalism. For those who are looking to achieve intimate faculty relationships without attending a liberal arts school or adhering to a liberal arts curriculum, UPenn strikes an unusual balance, offering the advantages of a large research university while maintaining the tight-knit community and professor relationships found at smaller colleges.

In addition to its tight-knit community and pre-professional slant, UPenn is known as the “Happy Ivy,” offering the same level of academic rigor as the other Ivies without the same level of stress and competition that plague top-tier schools. This is not to say students at UPenn are not stressed or competitive, but rather that there is a greater work-life balance at UPenn than there is at peer institutions. This work-life balance encourages students to be more social and take advantage of opportunities to blow off steam and alleviate stress. Students participate in a vibrant Greek life culture, attend football games, and adopt a “work hard, play hard” philosophy that separates social weekends from coursework-filled weekdays. Those who desire a challenging, Ivy League education without being confined to the library for days on end will find in UPenn an oasis of balance greater than that found at other Leaguers.

Chasing the Clean Sweep: Dartmouth College

Dartmouth is the only Ivy to call itself a college, and this distinction in title encompasses the differences between Dartmouth and its fellow League members. Dartmouth is the smallest school in the League with 4,000 undergrads and 1,600 graduate students. This is a stark contrast to the other Ivies, which enroll anywhere from 3,000 to 19,000 graduate students in addition to the standard 5,000+ undergrads. Utilizing its small size, Dartmouth students not only enjoy small, discussion-based courses from freshman year onward, but also have the opportunity to develop close relationships with professors and advisors. While larger Ivies might have 25% or more of their courses clocking in at 50+ students, over 60% of Dartmouth’s courses have fewer than 20 students, and only 9% of courses have 50+ students. For students who require smaller classes and frequent access to professors, Dartmouth provides a reprieve from the lecture halls common at its larger peer institutions.

Separating Dartmouth’s academics from the pack isn’t their liberal arts focus, which more closely resembles Columbia than Brown, but rather its academic calendar, referred to as the “D Plan.” The D Plan is divides the academic year into four 10-week terms, including a 10-week summer block, with the intention of providing students unparalleled flexibility. Freshman and seniors must attend at least three terms on campus, and every sophomore must attend the 10-week summer term. Otherwise, students may choose which 10-week terms to attend, allowing them to take time-off for internships, research, or travel without any penalty. Like Cornell, Dartmouth is also more isolated than its counterparts, but in turn students enjoy a rich landscape and myriad of outdoor activities.

Chasing the Clean Sweep: Cornell University

Having introduced two opposing views of the liberal arts, Columbia’s strict curriculum and Brown’s open curriculum, we pivot to Cornell, a league of its own within the Ivies. Cornell is sometimes referred to as a public-private university hybrid, being both an Ivy League institution with rigorous academics and a large land-grant institution with a more pre-professional focus. Applying to Cornell requires choosing a specific college, such as the renowned School for Hotel Administration, and most of the courses students take are within their chosen major/college. This is not to say Cornell is a pre-professional school, but rather, a place where students have the opportunity to apply a pre-professional focus to their liberal arts education. Cornell’s pre-professional outlook allows students the opportunity to truly immerse themselves in the select discipline(s) of their choice, and explore other disciplines in a less in-depth manner as they desire.

Also unique to Cornell is its location and size, being the largest Ivy in terms of both undergraduate population and campus acreage. Cornell is also the Ivy located farthest from an urban center, secluded in Upstate New York but in turn also surrounded by natural beauty. Students happily take advantage of their school’s location and large campus by utilizing more than 3,000 acres of woodlands, natural trails, streams, and gorges as spaces for physical exertion and contemplation. Cornell is not for those who desire an urban setting or the intimacy of a smaller school, yet it is ideal for those who want an Ivy League education with professional programs typically exclusive to public universities surrounded by an idyllic wilderness.

Chasing the Clean Sweep: Columbia University

For the cosmopolitan who wants a traditional liberal arts curriculum without the “bubble” of a small liberal arts college, there is Columbia University, situated just a few street blocks north of Central Park in New York City. Students at Columbia enjoy complete integration with the city, often citing that their location, being the biggest city in the US, allows them to have “a campus identity” while “living in the real world.” Students longing for a smaller, more isolated campus would feel lost in the sea of 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students and 1.6 million Manhattan residents; however, students at Columbia are very extroverted. Students traditionally energized by the possibility of new experiences and by meeting new people will find endless opportunities to enjoy and explore Columbia’s and New York’s diversity.

While some Ivies have evolved to embrace a curriculum that prioritizes a pre-professional educational philosophy over the liberal arts, Columbia has retained its liberal arts focus and its “Core Curriculum.” While each student is free to determine what courses they take to fulfill the Core requirements, the Core can occupy up to a third of a student’s first two years. For those who want to be challenged by taking classes across all disciplines and those who want a wider academic focus, the Core is a great mechanism for encouraging exploration and course variety. However, for those who desire a specialized education, only taking courses in engineering and STEM fields for example, Columbia’s distribution requirements might seem cumbersome.

Chasing the Clean Sweep: Brown University

Brown University is the Ivy for those who are open-minded and flexible. It’s known for its liberal academic curriculum and even more liberal student body. Brown embraces a far more open curriculum compared to other Ivy fellows, allowing each student the opportunity to “choose their own adventure.” With no distribution requirements aside from student-specific major requirements and two writing courses, students are free to pursue all of the liberal arts, or conversely, free to take courses in just two or three departments. Adding even more flexibility to its academics, Brown also offers the option for students to take courses “credit/non.” This provision means that students can elect to take a course on a pass/no pass scale instead of the traditional letter grade scale, making the class exempt from GPA calculation while still receiving credit. Because of the ability to deprioritize GPA, students at Brown are able to prioritize taking the classes they are interested in instead of being confined to courses in which they would earn high marks.

Beyond its academic freedom, Brown is known best for its on-campus student activism, often home to student leaders who manage social change and home to student protesters. For those who want the chance to create their own curriculum and those who are interested in hands-on activism, Brown offers a unique campus environment, fueled by student liberty, that is distinct from its peers.