Ye Olde Colleges (at least in America)
Despite being considered among the most selective colleges in the United States, with admission rates from 6% to 16%, Ivy League
schools show up frequently in fiction. In teen dramas
, a main character (or two) will always get accepted into an Ivy League school. Expect this to become a key part of high school senior year stress
, whether the character is trying to get into a certain Ivy League school, or deciding between an Ivy League college far away from home and a local college
that keeps the show in the same setting.
In a particularly extreme version of this trope, there will be an "Ivy League or nothing!" mentality implying that if a character doesn't get into an Ivy League school they might as well study with the hobo in the alley. If they get in, don't expect the characters to actually discuss their coursework or major, the name is enough to convince the audience that it's prestigious and important and that's all that matters.
In the case that we're past the high school setting, this information will commonly show up in a character's educational background
. Usually this will be done as a shorthand to show that a character is either smart
, or filthy rich. The rule about not discussing coursework also holds at this stage.
This has all been popularized by Author Appeal
—quite a few writers went to the Ivy Leagues, and enjoy name-dropping the institution to show off how cool they are. Beyond that, it's just plain convenient - saying that a character came from a university infamous for its selectivity and alumni is a quick way to show the audience they're well-educated.
Depending on the setting this trope can still be plausible, usually if it focuses on people whose career interests directly relate to their alma mater. A show about high-tier law firms, for example, is justified in having an above-average Ivy quotient because Harvard and Yale have high-quality law schools. However, even in the most extreme cases, any given environment will have plenty of people who graduated from other schools for the simple reason of sheer numbers.
The eight Ivy League universities are:
- Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island, founded 1764)
- Columbia University (New York City, founded 1754)
- Cornell University (Ithaca, New York, founded 1865)
- Dartmouth College (Hanover, New Hampshire, founded 1769)
- Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts, founded 1636 and is the oldest college in the US)
- Princeton University (Princeton, New Jersey, founded 1746)
- University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded 1740)
- Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut, founded 1701)
Don't feel bad if you've only heard of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, since those are referenced in fiction far more
than the others. Columbia getting fewer mentions since NYU is the "go-to" institution to name-drop if you want your characters in The Big Applesauce
, while many of the others are surrounded by inner-city and Dartmouth is in the middle of nowhere, the nearest cities offering much off-campus nightlifenote
being two hours' drive in opposite directions.
Some non-Ivy League schools can fall under this trope as well, due to their elite status, overuse in fiction, and fulfilling a specific niche. Examples include:
- Stanford University, another elite, prestigious school located in Palo Alto, California. Common in works set on the West Coast.
- The University of Notre Dame, a Catholic research university known for its prestige, it's high academic standards and its football team, which used to be great.
- Duke University, another university with high standards and a elite curriculum. Also known for it's perennially high-ranked basketball teams.
- Northwestern University located in Evanston, Illinois is generally the go-to great school when the setting is Chicago or if the character has a journalism degree.
- MIT (The Massachusetts Institute of Technology) or Caltech (the California Institute of Technology). Most common with characters whose backgrounds are in math, science, engineering, or programming.
- The Seven Sisters, a group of prestigious women's colleges.note Historically, this was the equivalent of the Ivy League for women; in fact, many of them started as "sister schools" to Ivy League colleges back when those schools only admitted men. Nowadays, having a character choose a Seven Sisters school is usually a way to show that she is a Granola Girl and/or Straw Feminist.
- The Juilliard School, a prestigious arts school in New York City with programs in music, theater and dance. If your Teen Drama includes an amazing classical musician or the star of the school musical, they will always go here, even though the latter is impossible in reality; Juilliard does not have a musical theater program.
- The medical school of The Johns Hopkins University, common for elite doctors or medical researchers (for example, Dr. Gregory House). While JHU is not just a medical school, its association exclusively with medicine in the media means that the name-dropping of JHU in any other field would be an aversion of this trope.
- The film schools of University of Southern California (USC) and New York University (NYU), two of the best in the country, for budding directors.
- The more prestigious Historically-Black Colleges, such as Spelman, Morehouse, and Howard, on shows with predominantly African-American casts.
- Georgetown University in Washington, DC for TV lawyers and politicians who don't go to Harvard or Yale.
Why aren't any of these considered "Ivy League" schools, you wonder? The League is actually an athletic conference within the NCAA; the eight schools' sports teams compete primarily against each other in the playing season. The social connotations developed around this.
- UK: University of Oxford and University of Cambridge. The London School of Economics is a popular choice for slick ultra-modern business people. If the Character must come from Scotland for some reason, the University of St. Andrews is a good choice, as the place was explicitly built on the Oxbridge model.
- Japan: The University Of Tokyo or "T˘dai" for short.
- Italy: The University of Bologna - that is, the first and oldest uni in the Western world (founded in 1088) - followed by the Sapienza University of Rome (1303), the Polytechnic University of Milan (1863), the University of Naples Federico II (1224) and the Polytechnic University of Turin (1859). If you need a good business school, there's the prestigious Bocconi University (1902).
- Australia: The Group Of Eight, particularly the University of Sydney (Australia's oldest university), the University of New South Wales, and the University of Melbourne.
- Taiwan: Tai Da (National Taiwan University)
- China, The C9 League, especially Peking University and Tsinghua University.
- France: Les grandes Úcoles, e.g. L'Ecole Polytechnique and La Sorbonne.
- Ireland: Trinity College.
- Canada: Interestingly, Canada seems to be devoid of any universities bearing prestige; this is not to say bearing no good universities (the ones most likely to be namedropped being University of Toronto, Queen's, and McGill, all three schools being in a fierce competition over the title "Harvard of the North"), but due to a lack of competition and long travel between major centers students usually just choose either the nearest relevant university to home, or a university one province over thanks to common dissatisfaction (justified or not) with the one they live in (and subsequent plans to move into their university's city after graduating).
- Hong Kong: Hong Kong is unusual in that it has a number of world class universities that attract a significant number of international students in a single city including: The University of Hong Kong (HKU), Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), Hong Kong Baptist University (Baptist U), and Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). HKU held the top spot both in Hong Kong and Asia for many years but a lack of innovation and development in the school meant that it dropped significantly in world rankings.
- Korea: Seoul National University (SNU) is traditionally considered to be every university-bound Korean student's dream. But students and alumni of schools like Yonsei University, Ewha University (for women), and Korea University will also elicit impressed reactions by just saying where they study/studied.
Contrast California University
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Anime and Manga
- From Pani Poni Dash!, Child Prodigy Rebecca Miyamoto graduated from MIT at the age of ten, though in the manga she tells people she went to Columbia, simply because it's easier to pronounce than "Massachusetts."
- Might be because in the first episode of the anime, Rei (teasingly, it turns out) asked where Becky studied. Becky answered "MIT", whereupon Rei asked what it stood for. Becky continually stumbles over "Massachusetts" and when she finally notices the class's reaction, she notices Rei and the others snickering over her stuttering because it sounds like rapid-fire farts. Cue "Hau-Hau"-ing and Curtain Camoflogue, because she's still an 11-year-old.
- Matt Murdock of Daredevil fame holds a Doctorate of Law from Columbia.
- In Watchmen, Dr. Jon Osterman/Doctor Manhattan attends Princeton University from 1948 to 1958, graduating with a Ph.D. in atomic physics.
- A version of this is in the comic Gold Digger: At one point, a discussion is made on how just about everyone in the area is a doctor, with multiple degrees, ridiculous accomplishments, etc. Ace, the Ace Pilot, is a bit annoyed.
- Flash Gordon is identified in the first issue as a "Yale graduate and world renowned polo player"
- Played with in a Dilbert strip where the PHB hires a career criminal purely because he went to Yale. When Dilbert asks the man about it, he replies "I yust got out last veek."
- Subverted in Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson, when the main character thinks she falls under this trope, but doesn't get in.
- The main character of American Psycho, Patrick Bateman, tells the detective Donald Kimball that he attended Harvard University and Harvard Business School.
- In An American Wife, a Roman Ó Clef about President George W. Bush and Laura Bush by Curtis Sittenfeld, main character Charlie Blackwell is a Princeton alumnus. One section of the book describes the couple attending a Princeton reunion in great detail.
- The Class, Erich Segal's 6th novel, is about the Harvard Class of 1958, and particularly refers to five fictional members of this class: Andrew Eliot, Jason Gilbert, George Keller, Theodore Lambros, and Daniel Rossi.
- Dan Brown's lead character Robert Langdon in Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code, and The Lost Symbol is a professor of Religious Iconology and Symbology at Harvard University. He also graduated from Princeton University, where he played water polo.
- The main character in the novel version of The Devil Wears Prada, Andrea Sachs, is a recent graduate from Brown University.
- Another book by Erich Segal, Doctors, is about Barney Livingston and Laura Castellano of the Harvard medical class of 1962.
- Marina Thwaite, Danielle Minkoff and Julian Clarke, characters from Claire Messud's 2006 novel The Emperor's Children, were all friends at Brown University.
- Nathaniel Auerbach Clay, the protagonist of Geoffrey Wolff's coming-of-age story The Final Club, is a fictional member of the Princeton Class of 1960. Wolff was an actual member of this class, and he wrote The Final Club as homage to F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise and The Great Gatsby.
- In the novel Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner, protagonist Cannie Shapiro is a Princeton alumna.
- Serena's older brother, Eric van der Woodsen, attends Brown University in Gossip Girl.
- In the novel In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner, protagonist Rose Feller is a Princeton graduate. Her younger sister Maggie camps out in a Princeton library. Jennifer Weiner is an alumna of Princeton's Class of 1991.
- Subverted by Edwin O'Connor's novel The Last Hurrah, in which the Harvard-educated characters are clearly singled out as exceptions to the general rule. Given that the story is set among Irish-Americans in the 1950s, this is Truth in Television- until at least the early '70s, most Irish-American Catholics in the Northeast were expected to go to schools like Boston College or Holy Cross; those few who went to Harvard or Yale instead were ambitious, upwardly-mobile types who wanted to "make it" as "Americans". One famous example is typical.
- In the Left Behind series, Cameron "Buck" Williams graduated from Princeton. Chloe was attending Stanford.
- In the science-fiction novel Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen by H. Beam Piper, Calvin Morrison was a theology student at Princeton before dropping out to join the U.S. Army and fight in the Korean War.
- Not strictly an example, as the Princeton Theological Seminary is a separate institution unaffiliated with Princeton University.
- In the second half of Stephen Fry's Making History, Michael Young attends Princeton.
- Written by John Jay Osborn, Jr., a 1970 graduate of Harvard Law School, The Paper Chase is about Hart and his first year as a law student at Harvard.
- Former CIA-agent Wyman Ford, a fictional character in many of Douglas Preston's novels, is a Harvard alumnus.
- The author of the 1994 autobiography Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurtzel, graduated from Harvard and Yale Law School.
- Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist is partly set at Princeton. Changez and Erica are fictional members of the Princeton Class of 2001. Hamid was an actual member of the Princeton Class of 1993.
- The Rule of Four is set on the Princeton University and the neighboring Princeton Theological Seminary. The protagonists are Princeton students.
- The Second Happiest Day by John Phillips depicts Harvard University during World War II.
- This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald's literary debut, is a loosely autobiographical story of his time as a student at Princeton. Protagonist Amory Blaine attends Princeton.
- For an inverse example, most of the rich characters in The Great Gatsby are described with Ivy-league degrees (Tom played football for Yale, for example), but they are not respectable in the least.
- In the third Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants book, when the Four Girl Ensemble have their last summer together before college, it's noted that although Bridget is the "sloppiest student" of the four, she got into Brown. The other three end up going to the Rhode Island School of Design, NYU's film school, and Williams College, not actually Ivy League but all comparably prestigious.
- Quentin in William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury attends Harvard. We see him as a freshman at the college in the second part of the novel.
- The character Robert Cohn attended Princeton in Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.
- In The Talented Mr Ripley, Dickie Greenleaf, played by Jude Law, is a graduate of Princeton. Title character Tom Ripley pretends he is a Princeton alumnus.
- In Twilight, Bella Swan and Edward Cullen plan to go to Dartmouth as an excuse for Bella to leave her father. It is heavily implied that the Cullens bribed the school to procure her admission.
- Rae Spellman of Spellman Files has had issues with her grades, paying attention, doing her homework, being too obsessed with her social life or detective work or well, pretty much anything during the entire series, and she's not into school extracurricular activities. How on earth did she get into Yale, even after she told them of her new police record?
- The narrator of Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle is a Cornell alumnus, and another major character flunked out of the university.
- Talked about in the Private novel series by Kate Brian. Justified because the titular private school is an elite boarding school for the richest of the rich.
- Scott, the protagonist of The Chronoliths, and his wife Janice met while attending to Cornell, and Ray, another character comes from MIT.
- Justified in the case of Ray because he works in a government funded project, so probably they would just want to get their money's worth.
- In The Areas of My Expertise, John Hodgman devotes several passages and a whole chapter to Yale's "true" history and plans for One World Government. (Hodgman and occasional sidekick Jonathan Coulton are Yale alumni.)
- Unlike the later movie mentioned above, the original novel of Legally Blonde has Elle attending Stanford University.
- In ''The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks', Frankie aspires to attend Ivy League. Her sister goes to Berkeley and her boyfriend and his friends are going to Harvard next year. Justified, as it takes place on an elite school and Frankie and most of her classmates are legacies.
- Zimmerman's Algorithm has the rogue scientist, Julia Zimmerman, enter an argument with her parents about which university to go to. The parents want her to go to Harvard, but the Child Prodigy is more interested in computer science.
- In Erica Jong's Fear of Flying, one of the protagonist's lovers thinks his C-average from Harvard is vastly superior to her Phi Betta Kappa from another school. (Jong herself attended Barnard and Columbia)
- Somewhat realistically portrayed in The Princess Diaries where most of the characters end up going to Ivy League (Most go to Columbia). Justified in that they go to an elite private school and most of the kids are wealthy and legacies. Despite this, a great number don't get into their first choice schools. The only character to get accepted to all of them is Mia but it's made clear that she was only accepted because she's a Princess. This disappoints Mia and, in the end, she ends up attending Sarah Lawrence.
- Lana's parents tell Lana that they won't pay for her college unless she gets into an Ivy League. Luckily, she gets into Penn.
Live Action TV
- 2 Broke Girls's Caroline Channing went to Wharton.
- The Princeton episode of 8 Simple Rules embodied this trope. Bridget was the brainless one on the show ("Ivory League"), but to her family, all that stood between her and a full-ride athletic scholarship to Princeton was her being ineligible to play in the tennis match the scout was attending (the actual D grade itself that made her ineligible didn't concern them). The worst part was that her sister, a good student, was interested in Ivy League schools, yet never noticed that Bridget couldn't "just swing her tennis racket" and get into Princeton, as the core tenet of the very first Ivy Group Agreement was that "an applicant's ability to play on a team would not influence admissions decisions".
- Even funnier since Princeton (and Ivy League schools in general) do not offer "athletic scholarships." Yes, they will recruit athletes (although a bit more circumspectively) and yes they will be offered financial aid if they need financial help, but it will not be because they are athletes.
- 24's Bill Buchanan obtained his English degree from Brown University.
- President Charles Logan graduated from Princeton University.
- Audrey Raines, Jack Bauer's lover and Inter-Agency Liaison in the U.S. Department of Defense, has a degree in public policy from Brown.
- 30 Rock's Jack Donaghy attended Princeton University as an undergraduate. This is once used for comedic effect when Jack tells Kenneth he doesn't have bedbugs because he went to Princeton.
- Also, Twofer attended Harvard. (As did many a television comedy writer in Real Life.)
- The title character of Ally McBeal attended Harvard Law School.
- General Michael Holden and Claudia Joy of Army Wives met while they were students at Harvard.
- The title character of Becker likes to boast that he got his degree from Harvard - which actually means that somewhere, sometime, something went horribly wrong for him.
- In The Beverly Hillbillies, Mrs. Drysdale's son Sonny mentions attending Princeton and Harvard and Yale. Pennants of the schools hang on his wall.
- Blue Bloods' Jamie Reagan graduated Harvard Law, then decided to turn cop after his brother Joe was killed in the line of duty. Deconstructed in that he's mentioned to be having money problems due to his student loans.
- In Bones, Dr. Saroyan gets her adopted daughter into Columbia behind her back when said daughter decides to follow her boyfriend to a tiny college in Maine.
- Justified in Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Willow's acceptance into Harvard, Yale, Oxford, etc, as she is consistently portrayed as intelligent. In the end, she remains in town and settles for UC Sunnydale to help Buffy in her fight against evil.
- Subverted when Willow is wooed by Wesleyan University. While a great school, it's not an Ivy — it's merely Joss Whedon's alma mater.
- Cordelia gets accepted into several of the schools on this list, despite being the Alpha Bitch and The Cheerleader, because she does well on standardized testing. She tells Wesley in Angel that she was in the top 10% of her class. Cordelia is also reasonably intelligent despite being forthright and taking care to hide her studious side.
- Buffy herself got into Northwestern, every bit as prestigious as many of the schools here.
- In Charles In Charge, the main character gets accepted as a graduate student to Princeton.
- Chuck was thrown out of Stanford for cheating not really, and he got his degree eventually. Vivian Macarthur Volkoff was groomed to take over her father's villainous organisation after studying at the London School of Economics.
- Dartmouth College is the alma mater of the fictional host of The Colbert Report; the real Colbert graduated from Northwestern University.
- In Commander In Chief, former Communications Directors and current Press Secretary Kelly Ludlow, played by Ever Carradine, graduated from Princeton.
- In one episode, a family uncovered a film (e.g., undeniable proof) of the Speaker of the House ranting against minorities. They offer it to President Allen in exchange for an acceptance to Brown University for one of their children (it is implied the child was not able to attend an Ivy League school without it). President Allen is able to secure an acceptance for them, then destroys the film, realizing that, while it would have been a major chip to hold over the Sot H, he did not expouse these ideals and was only making a (badly influenced) political speech for a specific audience.
- In Community, Jeff Winger goes to Greendale Community College after the State Bar found out that his bachelor's degree from Columbia was actually from Colombia.
- On The Cosby Show, eldest daughter Sondra Huxtable attended Princeton, and she met her future husband Elvin Tibideaux there.
- Criminal Minds: Special Agent Emily Prentiss went to Brown, as is revealed in her first episode. Justified in-universe as she's not only extremely intelligent (speaking several languages) but the daughter of a US Ambassador.
- Spencer Reid is said to have multiple degrees, bachelors and doctorates, from MIT, Cal Tech AND Yale. Garcia went to Caltech, and fans happily debate whether they would have attended at the same time.
- Sam Arsenault, guest villain on Damages, sings Danny Boy at a cocktail party and tells the guests he sang it with the Jabberwocks when he was an undergraduate student at Brown. The actor, James Naughton, was a member of the Jabberwocks and graduated from Brown in 1967 in Real Life.
- Later seasons of Degrassi have turned into this, despite most Canadian students preferring Canadian universities if only because of lower tuition costs or not having to take the SATs to get acceptance to Canadian universities, with Alli Bhandari getting early acceptance to MIT, Danny Van Zandt attending Cornell, Eli Goldsworthy at NYU (not Ivey League but still seen as being more prestigious than Canadian universities), Jane Vaughn and Katie Matlin at Stanford University and acceptance into Yale being a major plot point for Holly J Sinclair.
- In the season 4 finale of Desperate Housewives, Susan's daughter Julie Mayer is accepted to Princeton and prepares to leave home.
- On Doogie Howser, M.D., main character Douglas Howser, boy genius, graduated from Princeton at the young age of 10.
- On Eureka, Zoe goes off to Harvard at the end of the third season.
- Nearly every character aside from Sheriff Carter and Jo have a degree from the Ivy League or Oxbridge, but this is actually Justified given the premise.
- In Even Stevens, Louis and Ren's mother, Eileen Stevens, is an alumna of Brown University.
- In Everwood, Amy Abbott is accepted to Princeton. She chooses to defer her first semester at Princeton so that she can take care of her mother while she recovers from her cancer.
- In Family Matters, Laura Winslow is accepted to Harvard but ends up attending the cheaper local college Illinois Occidental University (IOU).
- In Family Ties, Alex P. Keaton spends the first two seasons preparing to attend Princeton. While visiting for an on-campus interview, his sister Mallory has an emotional crisis. Ultimately, Alex chooses to tend to her rather than complete his interview, thus destroying his chance of attending Princeton.
- To compensate, the show created a fictitious university that looked suspiciously like Stanford in Ohio, complete with a tree mascot!
- Dr. Frasier Crane of Frasier and Cheers earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard College. He also graduated from Harvard Medical School, where he obtained both his M.D. and Ph.D. in psychiatry. It's stated on the show that he also attended Oxford.
- And Niles went to Yale and Cambridge.
- In the The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Carlton Banks' dream school is Princeton University and he eventually attends the university at the end of the series. His father, Phillip, attended Princeton on scholarship, and went to Harvard Law School afterwards.
- There's at least one Mention of Carlton wishing to attend Yale. Princeton only becomes his goal/dream after Philip informs him that's where he's going.
- Friday Night Lights subverts this. Getting a scholarship for any college is what most of the players aspire for in order to get ahead in life. Schools from all over the country will offer players a spot on their team and Ivy League schools don't offer sports scholarships. Julie and Landry, both portrayed as hard working students and smart, don't go to Ivy League schools.
- Thurston Howell, III of Gilligan's Island is a stereotypical WASP and a graduate of Harvard University.
- Gilmore Girls justifies and realistically portrays this trope. Through the first half of the series, Rory's ultimate goal is to get into Harvard and a major plot point is her move to the more academically challenging Chilton in order to improve her grades and participating in numerous extracirriculars to put on the her CV. When she gets into all of her schools, including Harvard and Yale. (Yale is especially believable as her grandfather Richard has a legacy there.) She chooses Yale in order to stay closer to home. note The equally high-achieving, Paris Geller is even more justified with the hyper-intensity she puts into her studies and extra-cirriculars, and also gets into Yale, but gets rejected from her life-long goal of Harvard, showing how competitive Ivy League application really is.
- The less believable part of Rory's acceptance is while she's shown becoming Valedictorian / school vice-president / writer on the school paper / 4.0 GPA student, you have to ask how she has time to do it all, with all the scenes Rory spends inanely wasting time with her mother, in the diner, with boys, her grandparents, reading constantly and being a part of many quaint and massively time-consuming town events. With all that going on it's unlikely she would have gotten enough done to get in to an Ivy League school, much less three at once.
- Kurt and Rachel on Glee focus all of their energies in the third season on getting accepted at the fictional New York Academy of the Dramatic Arts ("NYADA"). They originally wanted to go to Julliard before being told it doesn't have a musical theater program. This storyline is related to the scrapped idea of creating a Spin-Off where they pursue their dreams in New York (which sort of happens later in season 5,despite not being a Spin-Off).
- Glee had a variant on this with the storyline about about the Ohio State recruiter, Cooter Menkins, coming to McKinley to check out the members of the football team, and he was only interested in Shane. Finn acted like losing this shot meant he'd lost all chance of a football scholarship. The idea that he might get a football scholarship to a less competitive program, or going to college on financial aid, is never entertained.
- A more direct example is Quinn. After realizing she might have a life after high school after all, she reveals that she plans on applying to Yale and was later accepted, without even considering any colleges in Ohio such as Case Western Reserve University if she wants something prestigious, where she could theoretically maintain a relationship with her daughter.
- Not to mention that none of the main characters go to college in state and aside from Ohio State, not one in-state school is mentioned as an option despite the fact that Ohio has one of the highest number of colleges in the US. In fairness, many of the kids moved to New York and LA to pursue performing careers, but there's no reason why, say, Finn can't go to the open-admission University of Dayton on financial aid.
- Lauren Zizes, after being Put on a Bus for all of the third season, returns for a single episode in the fourth, at the end of which she reveals that she's applying for a wrestling scholarship at Harvard. This is despite the fact that Ivy League schools rarely provide athletic scholarships. The show isn't even trying to be realistic anymore.
- Tina gets accepted to Brown University after being waitlisted.
- Gossip Girl is a case where the trope is justified, as the characters go to the sorts of elite New York private schools which are known to be Ivy feeders:
- Blair Waldorf considers the holy trinity among Ivy Leagues Schools to be Harvard, Princeton and Yale. She later refers to Princeton as a "trade school."
- Nate, Serena and Blair all get into Yale University. Despite not wanting to attend Yale and also being a lackluster student, Nate gets accepted due to his grandfather's influence. Serena gets accepted for her socialite status. Yale later gets revokes Blair's acceptance for her manipulation of a teacher.
- Nate Archibald goes to Columbia. His father, Howie Archibald, is an alumnus of Dartmouth.
- Serena gets accepted to Brown University, but defers her enrollment.
- Serena's mother attended Brown University. Her father went to Columbia University.
- Meredith Grey is frequently seen in t-shirts of her alma mater, Dartmouth College, in Grey's Anatomy. Shonda Rhimes, creator of the show, is an alumna of Dartmouth College, and often references the college in her scripts.
- And then there's Christina who graduated top of her class at Stanford.
- However this trope is also subverted. Derek Shepard, one of the most renowned neuro-surgeons, is frequently shown wearing Bowdoin College shirts/sweatshirts. While Bowdoin is still an elite, private school, it is not nearly as widely known as the schools in this trope.
- Not really, Addison and Derek met while they were both students at Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons.
- Yes really, since the trope usually refers to undergraduate attendance.
- Carol Seaver of Growing Pains attends Columbia.
- Notably averted on House - although the hospital the show is set in is the fictional Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, and exterior shots are actually of the Frist Campus Center, there is no attempt to connect the setting to Princeton University, which doesn't have a med school.
- In How I Met Your Mother, Marshall Eriksen is a Law student at Columbia.
- Ted also becomes a professor of architecture at the end of season four. An especially egregious example, as the show depicts becoming a Columbia professor as a fallback for someone who can't manage to hold a job as an architect or get a building built, whereas in Real Life, you can't get a professorship at an Ivy League until you're already prominent in your field. Ted finally becomes slightly more prominent,though,with the GNB Building (he's even on the cover of New York Magazine because of it).
- Dennis and Dee of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia both attended University of Pennsylvania, despite the fact that they are complete idiots. However, they were wealthy and were possibly legacies. Dennis graduated. Dee did not.
- Though none of the main characters in JAG have law degrees from the Ivy League (Harm went to Georgetown, Mac went to Duke, and Bud went to George Mason), two recurring characters did: Caitlin Pike went to Harvard and Congresswoman Bobbi Latham graduated first in her class at Yale. It is never stated throughout the series from where Meg, AJ and Sturgis got their degrees.
- The title character of Judging Amy is a graduate of Harvard Law School.
- On The Killing, Councilman Richmond mentions that he met his late wife his sophomore year at Dartmouth.
- Sean Alvarez, an honest stock broker and murder victim on an episode of Law & Order went to Brown.
- Dr. Jack Shephard of LOST is an alumnus of Columbia.
- Hit Korean romantic drama Love Story in Harvard is about two South Korean first-year Harvard Law School students and their romantic pursuit of a Korean student in her third year at Harvard Medical School.
- Bette Porter of The L Word got her degree in Art History at Yale. She also was a graduate student there. Her Ivy League education is supposed to showcase her intelligence, drive, and affluent background.
- Upperclass WASP-y Pete Campbell of Mad Men went to Dartmouth College.
- The episode "My Old Kentucky Home," reveals that Paul Kinsey graduated from Princeton in 1955 and sang in the acapella group, the Princeton Tigertones.
- Ken Cosgrove attended Columbia University.
- Major Charles Emerson Winchester III of Mash graduated from Harvard College in 1939, where he lettered in Crew and Polo. He also received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1943.
- In one episode, a visitor to the Swamp asks Charles if he went to Yale. He immediately snaps, "HARVARD!" before regaining his composure and reiterating, "...Harvard."
- Trapper John McIntyre is a Dartmouth alum, at least in the original novel and film.
- Ben Matlock, lead character of Matlock, worked for nine years before attending Harvard Law School, and therefore was significantly older than his law school classmates. He graduated from Harvard Law in 1967.
- In Nip/Tuck, Julia McNamara's mother, Dr. Erica Noughton, graduated from Columbia with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.
- Sean also got accepted into Harvard Medical School, but the admission was rescinded when it was revealed that he failed a class because of cheating caused by Christian.
- On NUMB3RS, mathematical genius Charlie Eppes attended Princeton at age 13 for his undergraduate studies. He graduated when he was 16.
- Larry Fleinhardt also went to Princeton and graduated when he was 19.
- Summer Roberts from The O.C. gets into Brown, despite not being characterized as a nerd.
- Seth Cohen, The Smart Guy, however, doesn't get in, even though Brown was his dream school. He does get into RISD though (which itself carries Ivy League-level prestige for arts students), so the couple gets to stay close to each other.
- In The Office Andy Bernard constantly mentions his education at Cornell University and his participation in the acapella group, Here Comes Treble.
- Which doesn't actually exist, although we Cornellians do have an all-girls a cappella group called Nothing But Treble.
- In the episode "Job Fair," Jim brings Andy along golfing with a potential client because the client is an alumnus of Dartmouth.
- In a deleted scene Andy claims to have "sang" his way into the school after he was wait-listed, and in another deleted scene it is mentioned that his father donated a building which is presumably how Andy even got onto the wait-list in the first place.
- Dwight considers attending Cornell because of its agricultural program (and probably to take away Andy's main advantage over him) and gains an interview. It is notable that because of lower competition and state funding, Cornell's College of Agricultural and Life Science which Dwight presumably applied to, while selective, is significantly easier to get into then the other colleges at Cornell and has the reputation as a "backdoor" into the school, particularly if you grew up on a farm.
- Its a subversion of how the trope is normally played as Andy seems to be the only character with an Ivy League background yet is one of the show's ditzier characters. But then, the show likes idiots with hidden depths of competence.
- In Oz, Tobias Beecher attended Harvard Law.
- Besides the original novel and subsequent film, The Paper Chase was also made into a television series. The show is about first year Harvard laws student Hart and his experiences with the intimidating yet brilliant contracts Professor Charles Kingsfield.
- Sarah Reeves in Party of Five is accepted to Brown, though she chooses not to go. As the show takes place in San Francisco, Berkeley is mentioned quite a bit - though none of the main cast actually attend there. Subverted elsewhere when it's time for Claudia to look at colleges - we're never actually told the names of the ones she looks at.
- In Privileged, Joanna Garcia's character is a Yale alum, and has been hired to get her employer's two daughters into Duke.
- In the Irish drama Raw Rebecca is a student at Trinity College, to emphasise how posh she is. And in season 3 when Maeve decides to take a course, she enrolls at Trinity as well.
- Jessie Spano from Saved by the Bell goes to Columbia.
- Zack Morris gets accepted into Yale, despite poor grades or a lack of academic interest, all because he scored high on the SAT. Of course in the spin-off Zack, Slater, Screech and eventually Kelly end up attending California University.
- Elliot Reid in Scrubs revealed that she was in a sorority at Brown University in the episode "My Turf War".
- Matt Camden and Sarah Glass, from 7th Heaven attend Columbia Medical together.
- Miranda Hobbes of Sex and the City got her law degree from Harvard. In one episode, she hides her educated background and pretends to be a flight attendant in order to get a date during a speed dating session because men are threatened by smart women.
- Two characters - Thomas and Pandora - get to Harvard at the end of series 4 of Skins, under highly implausible circumstances. Admittedly this trope crosses over with Small Reference Pools to rightpondians.
- Tony Soprano's daughter, Meadow, is an undergraduate student at Columbia in The Sopranos.
- Interestingly, she wanted to go to Stanford until Tony intervened.
- Dan Rydell in Sports Night is a Dartmouth alumnus, a subject that is mentioned several times.
- On Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, another show written by Aaron Sorkin, Jordan (the new, unusually young head of the network) is a graduate of Yale Law School. In order to make it plausible that her character had time to go to law school and become a network head by her early-to-mid 30s, it was revealed that she was hired as the head of a major record label immediately upon graduating Yale Law — even though there was nothing in her resume that would qualify her for such a position. She wasn't the only character with a Yale degree, either. We were supposed to believe that Simon, one of the sketch comedy actors, attended Yale Drama School.
- This trope is part of the premise of Suits. The show takes place in a law firm that only hires graduates of Harvard Law. In the first season, much of the drama is focused on Mike Ross, a college dropout brilliant enough to pretend he has the necessary Harvard diploma.
- On Supernatural, Sam Winchester was attending Stanford University on a full scholarship before the demon Azazel interfered.
- Ash was kicked out of MIT for fighting (the specifics are not revealed), and he uses his knowledge of computers to run simulations and help hunters find patterns in the monsters' victimology.
- In Ugly Betty, Betty's boss, Mode Editor-in-Chief Daniel Meade, is an alumnus of Harvard.
- In Weeds, Silas Botwin, the son of the main character, dates Megan, who is accepted to Princeton.
- In The West Wing, Abbey Bartlet, wife of President Josiah Barlet and First Lady of the United States, received her M.D. from Harvard Medical School. (Bartlet himself chose Notre Dame over any Ivy League school, because until he met Abbey, he'd been thinking about becoming a priest, and his loyalty to the school comes up repeatedly. He also went to the London School of Economics, which plays into his background as a Nobel-prize winning economist.)
- Sam (see below for his educational bonafides) reacts angrily when Ainsley (who is largely playing devil's advocate for an anti-Ivy League position advocated by many Republicans) refers to Bartlet's Ivy League education. First, Notre Dame isn't in the Ivy League and second, why shouldn't we encourage kids to strive for an education at America's best universities? Ainsley agrees, as Sam knows she would.
- Amy Gardner, women's rights activist and later the First Lady Abbey Bartlet's Chief of Staff, tells Abbey that she got her smart mouth at "Brown, and then Yale Law School."
- Cliff Calley, Senate Majority Counsel, is an alumnus of Brown and Harvard.
- Deputy White House Communications Director Sam Seaborn graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University. He makes repeated references to his alma mater, especially in the earlier seasons, indicating a certain pride in his attendance there. "Princeton" is his Secret Service code name, and he mentions being the recording secretary of the Princeton Gilbert and Sullivan Society. His law degree is from Duke, and in one episode he recruits a Duke Law classmate to run in a Congressional election.
- Ainsley Hayes went to Harvard. And Smith College, a bastion of liberal feminism, which comes up when she goes back to debate there regarding women's rights.
- Josh Lyman went to Harvard and Yale, and he wants you to know that.
- Characters who didn't go to Ivy League schools went to similarly prestigious ones like Berkeley, Georgetown and Stanford. The exceptions are Toby, who went to City College in New York, and the too-clever Donna, who dropped out of the University of Wisconsin, but is surprisingly able to keep up with the intelligentsia around her, issue for issue, as if she's one of them. In reality, she's just an under-educated secretary. The case with Toby is an interesting one as Toby is generally portrayed as the smartest of the senior staff and the only one intellectually on par with Bartlet himself. Toby's less-than-prestigious university is likely a result of his far less privileged background than most of his colleagues.
- In What I Like About You Valerie Tyler attended Columbia. Holly applies to Columbia as well.
- Henry Gibson, Holly's boyfriend, attended Princeton.
- In Will and Grace, Will Truman and Grace Adler met they were students at Columbia University.
- Jaye Tyler, main character of Wonderfalls, is a recent Brown University graduate with a philosophy degree and holds a dead-end job as a sales clerk at a Niagara Falls gift shop.
- Special Agent Pete Lattimer from Warehouse 13 regularly wears his Dartmouth football shirt indicating he may be an alumnus.
- FBI Special Agent Monica Reyes in The X-Files studied folklore and mythology at Brown University.
- Alexis ends up attending Columbia in season 5. Granted, her dad is a rich and successful best-selling author. Alexis is an ambitious straight-A student who would probably get a scholarship if they couldn't afford the tuition.
- Subverted in season 4 when Alexis applies for early admission to Stanford. She is not accepted, despite everybody (including herself) taking it for granted.
- In the finale of The Suite Life on Deck, the spin off of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Cody, The Smart Guy, does not get into Yale, however, his equally smart girlfriend, Bailey, gets in.
- Played with in David Ives's Sure Thing, a one-act premised on two people being able to change aspects of each other by ringing a bell. Upon hearing that the male lead went to a less than prestigious college, she rings the bell until he says he went to Harvard.
- Rent: The ambitious, straitlaced girlfriend of Maureen, Joanne, is a public interest lawyer who received her degree from Harvard Law School. The stage show elaborates a little more on where Joanne falls in this trope as her parents have a lot of connections — her mom is about to become a diplomat and they are hanging out with a Senator over the holidays. It's mentioned in "Tango: Maureen" that she went to Miss Porter's, a very selective all-girl boarding school in New England.
- In the musical South Pacific, Lieutenant Joe Cable attended Princeton.
- In the Heights: Nina attends Stanford.
- In 1776, John Adams went to Harvard. Slightly played with as Adams stating this during a congressional debate only evokes derisitory laughter and results in his opponent Thomas Jefferson dryly countering that he attended William & Mary - at which the other delegates applaud. note
- The male MC in Djanet Sears' Harlem Duet is a professor at Columbia University, derisively nicknamed "Harlumbia" for reasons explored in the play.
- Gordon Freeman earned a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from MIT before he turned 27!
- Eli Vance has a doctorate from Harvard.
- Issac Kleiner worked as a professor for MIT, so he presumably received his doctorate there.
- Justified, as they would have to have such outstanding qualifications to earn employment at a place like Black Mesa.
- Emily in Misfile has two years of her life wiped out by the eponymous filing error, including an acceptance to Harvard. She struggles to do it all over again, taking tests she's already passed, touring campuses she's already seen, and having her Education Mama hound her for two more years.
- The Autobiography of Jane Eyre: Present-day Canadian Mr Rochester doesn't have many friends, but Harvard graduates are prevalent in his social circle — himself, his long time aquaintance Blance Ingram and their friend Warren Danton all went to Harvard and have a degree in Business.
- Brian Griffin of Family Guy dropped out of Brown one class short of graduating. He re-enrolls and fails in the episode "Brian Goes Back to College".
- Mission Hill — Kevin spends an entire episode trying to "crack" the supposed secret code in the SAT's believing that only a perfect score can get him into Princeton.
- Quite a few characters in The Simpsons have gone to Ivy League:
- Brown University is referenced on Futurama by the same-named institution in the ruins of Old New York, where sewer mutants learn how to maintain the pipes for surface dwellers.
- Rocky and Bullwinkle one ups the Ivies by introducing the ultra-prestigious Double Dome University, where having degrees from Harvard, Columbia and Caltech is just good enough to make janitor.
- Deconstructed. Daria applies to Bromwell, implied to be an alternate version of Yale, but doesn't get in despite her excellent grades; her boyfriend does, in large part because he has a family legacy. She goes through a version of the "Ivy League or nothing" version of this trope herself before her mother helps her realize that her second choice college is also a very fine school.
- Also Played With regarding Jodie—she does get accepted into Crestmore (possibly a Harvard analogue, since it's alumni are "literally running this country") but would rather go to Turner, a historically black college that her father and grandmother both graduated from. Her parents eventually allow this, though she says she may still transfer to Crestmore after a year or two.
- The Flintstones shows Bedrock is home of "Prinstone University," a prehistoric version of Princeton; its archrival in the "Poison Ivy League" is "Shale" (Yale's Stone Age counterpart). Fred is briefly enrolled at Prinstone in one episode (where he mainly plays for its football team). The 90s TV-movie "Hollyrock-A-Bye Baby" has Wilma's mother hope one day her great-grandchildren get to attend Prinstone.
- Mayor McDaniels of South Park graduated from Princeton University.
- If you happen to be an East Coast-dwelling American of the right age and background, you likely know someone who wants to be or has been accepted into an Ivy League school. Many high school (or even middle school) students bust their ass to try and get accepted with varying results. There are articles about this phenomenon.
- 31% of American Presidents attended Ivy League schools, and as you go further down the Federal hierarchy the numbers actually increase slightly. Although this is justified in that people who tend to become Presidents also tend to have Important Connections.
- This probably peaked in 2004, when opposing candidates John Kerry and George W. Bush were not only both Yale alums, they were both members of the same exclusive secret society while there: The Skull and Bones. In response to comments that the campaign looked like a class war, one reporter quipped: "Yeah, Yale Class of '66 vs. Class of '68."
- They were only for rich people who went to the right feeder schools and now almost anyone has the opportunity (as long as they are smart enough and special enough to stand out from all the other smart people applying for the same spot). Fortunately, you no longer have to be rich, thanks to financial aid — as long as you don't mind a mountain of student loan debt after graduation. Princeton eliminated student loans in 2001 and now does all its financial aid through repayment-free grants. Harvard gives out large amounts of need-based aid; if you are poor enough it covers tuition completely. Combined with grants and scholarships many can go there without paying a dime. Brown has also eliminated loans for students living below a surprisingly high annual income, and eliminited tuition entirely for annual family incomes of below $60,000. It's worth noting that many selective schools such as the Ivies are desperate to increase their diversity—whether racial, geographical, or financial.
- If we're counting law schools, the US Supreme Court's made up entirely of Harvard and Yale alums. Both of Obama's nominees — Sotomayor and Kagan — got their bachelors' at Princeton. Obama himself went to Harvard Law School and was the first black President of the Harvard Law Review. And the latter part of his undergraduate career was spent at Columbia - the first couple of years, however he studied at Occidental College which... is not an Ivy League school.
- Justice Thomas has a strained relationship with Yale Law School, his alma mater. In 2013, he cracked a joke at their expense during oral arguments. It was the first thing he said in oral arguments for seven years.
- Quite a few show business persons have gone to Ivy League.
- Screenwriter Erich Segal to Harvard.
- Jodie Foster to Yale
- Brooke Shields to Princeton
- Emma Watson and her armed bodyguard (disguised in cap and gown) just graduated from Brown
- Henry Winkler holds an MFA (Drama) from Yale.
- Natalie Portman was attending Harvard during most of the filming for the Star Wars prequels, under her real name. She actually advised Aaron Sorkin about Harvard social life when he was writing Social Network. The movie has a shout out to her attending.
- Masi Oka graduated Brown in '97.
- Some East Coast prep schools ship their graduates to Ivies en masse. Likewise, there are cram schools in Asia (especially China and Korea) that try to get their pupils into the Ivies as much as they can.
- Ivy Leaguers are not represented very frequently in professional sportsnote Despite this, the late-2000's Buffalo Bills had a General Manager from Harvard, a head coach from Yale and a backup quarterback from Harvardnote . (Incidentally, then-backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is now starter.)
- Jeremy Lin, who made a brief sensation when he was signed by the New York Knicks in 2011, was a Harvard graduate
- Jason Garrett, the new head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, is a former Princeton Tigers QB who also played at Columbia.
- This is why it was such a big deal in the media when Cornell's basketball team actually advanced into the NCAA Basketball Tournament (aka March Madness) Sweet Sixteen in 2010.