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Should College Students Care About the Ivy League?

The term 'Ivy League' gets bandied about quite a bit, but do you actually know what it means? More importantly, do you actually care? If the answer's no, you might want to reconsider.

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By Sarah Wright

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What Is the Ivy League, Anyway?

Ivy League. You've probably got a vague notion of what it means - privilege, prestige, overachievers in ugly hoodies - and you might even know the names of a few schools that are included in that group, like Harvard and Yale. The term gets thrown around a lot, but not a lot of people know exactly what it is. Is it an official thing? Do they have a logo? What are the criteria for being considered a member of the league?

The answer to the first two questions is yes. It is an official thing, and they do have a logo (with ivy; clever, eh?). The answer to the third question might be surprising to some. No, the criteria have nothing to do with massive endowments and stringent admissions requirements. No, you don't have to meet a certain number of alumni in the Senate to gain membership. The Ivy League is actually an athletic conference.

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Wait, What? An Athletic Conference?

Yep. It's an athletic conference, like the Big Ten and the SEC. The Ivy League is a Division I NCAA conference. If you don't follow college sports, that might seem like gibberish. NCAA stands for National Collegiate Athletic Association, which is an organization that oversees and helps to regulate college sports. There are three different divisions within the NCAA - Divisions I, II and III. Each division has conferences, and each conference has a certain number of member schools. That's a surprising amount of bureaucracy, isn't it?

As a Division I conference, the Ivy League has the right to offer athletic scholarships. In order to maintain that status, each school in the conference has to have at least seven men's and seven women's sports teams, or six men's and eight women's teams. Though Ivy League schools tend not to be major competitors in college sports, with teams that only occasionally win titles, they maintain their Division I status along with sports powerhouses. There are eight schools that are officially considered to be in the Ivy League. They are:

  • Harvard University
  • Princeton University
  • Yale University
  • The University of Pennsylvania
  • Dartmouth College
  • Cornell University
  • Brown University
  • Columbia University

So, Should You Care?

Ultimately, it's probably important to know a thing or two about Ivy League schools as institutions. For one thing, the hype is pretty justified - this nation is pretty well controlled by graduates of these universities. Congress, the Supreme Court, the White House and top posts in major corporations are all stocked with Ivy grads. But it's probably more important to know about these people as individuals than to just assume they're smart and competent because of the name of the school on their diploma.

So, sure, it's important to be aware of the Ivy League. Chances are, alumni of these institutions have a daily impact on your life. But it's probably more fun to know that the league isn't some shadowy organization of elites, but rather something as benign and ordinary as a college athletic conference.

Since the Ivy League is an athletic conference and not an academic designation, maybe we should come up with a new way to describe top-flight schools?

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