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Ivy League for Everyone

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Warner: You got into Harvard Law?
Elle: What, like it's hard?

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, then their only other option is going to community college and learning how to tell when their pimp is cutting their coke with baking soda. 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, ambitious, or filthy rich. The rule about not discussing coursework also holds at this stage, so expect characters to somehow get stellar grades even when they're never actually seen studying at any point.


This has been popularized in part by Author Appeal—if a writer went to the Ivy Leagues, they might 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 or is going to a prestigious university is a quick way to show the audience they're well-educated, hardworking or intelligent, and beyond that more prestigious colleges simply have national or even international name recognition less prestigious schools won't.

Depending on the setting this trope can still be plausible, such as if it focuses on people whose career directly relate to their alma mater. Something set at a high-tier law firms, for example, is justified in having an above-average Ivy quotient because Harvard and Yale have high-quality law schools, or something set at a large high school or a prestigious private school would almost certainly have some students going to more prestigious schools. However, even in the most extreme cases, any given environment will have plenty of people who graduated or are planning to attend other schools as well.


The eight Ivy League universities are:

  • Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts, founded 1636 and is the oldest college in the US)
  • Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut, founded 1701)
  • University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded 1740)
  • Princeton University (Princeton, New Jersey, founded 1746)
  • Columbia University (New York City, founded 1754)
  • Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island, founded 1764)
  • Dartmouth College (Hanover, New Hampshire, founded 1769)
  • Cornell University (Ithaca, New York, founded 1865)

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 gets fewer mentions since NYU is the "go-to" institution to name-drop if you want your characters in The Big Applesauce.note  These others are also surrounded by inner city, except Dartmouth, which is in the middle of nowhere, the nearest cities offering much off-campus nightlife note  being two hours' drive in opposite directions. Cornell's in the slightly more urban Ithaca, New York (three times the population of Hanover), and quite a bit closer to significant cities, but isn't really as inner-city as the rest. As for Penn, for some reason Penn's business college The Wharton School is referenced far more than the rest of the university, to the point that many people might not realize that Wharton isn't a standalone school.

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 Universitynote  is another elite, prestigious, highly selective school located in Palo Alto, California that has been viewed as the west coast equivalent to Harvard. Common in works set on the West Coast. UC Berkeley and UCLA (in Los Angeles) are also highly desired schools and as California public universities the tuition is a fraction of the price of private schools for in-state students. On the West Coast, these are the schools that ambitious kids (and their parents) want to get into, along with Caltech for the science-and-engineering-minded.
  • Northwestern University, an elite institution with especially strong journalism and theatre programs, with its main campus located in Evanston, Illinois (immediately to the north of Chicago) and its medical and law schools near the Chicago Loop (local lingo for downtown). It is commonly seen in works centered in the Midwest.
  • MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) or Caltech (California Institute of Technology). Most common with characters whose backgrounds are in math, science, engineering, or programming. UC Berkeley and Stanford are also strong in these areas, given their location near the major technology hubs of San Francisco and the Silicon Valley.
  • 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 since Juilliard, interestingly enough, does not actually have a musical theater program. Alternately, they'll want to go to the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
  • The medical school of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, common for elite doctors or medical researchers. While Hopkins is not just a medical school, its association exclusively with medicine in the media means that the name-dropping of Hopkins in any other field would be an aversion of this trope.
  • The film schools of the University of Southern California (USC) and New York University (NYU) are two of the best in the country for budding directors. The American Film Institute (AFI) conservatory is one of the top graduate schools.
  • In shows about wealthy African Americans, someone WILL have attended one of the "Black Ivy League" schools, the most prestigious historically-black colleges in the US. The most oft-mentioned are Howard University in DC, the coordinate colleges of Morehouse (all-male) and Spelman (all-female), both in Atlanta, and Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama.
  • Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. 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? There's an urban legend running around about the origin of the term "ivy league", namely that it comes from the roman numerals I V, and the original four were Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and whatever other school the legend-teller can remember. In fact, it merely comes from the fact that old stone buildings tend to get covered in ivy. As for who gets to be a member, the League is actually an athletic conference within the NCAA, and the social connotations developed around this. However, if your teen heroine is talking about getting a gymnastics scholarship to Harvard, it's another case of poor research since the Ivies don't offer athletic scholarships. Not officially, anyway.note 

International equivalents:

  • 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. A few British works might bother to remember that the rest of the Russell Group exists, but don't count on it.
  • 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).
  • France: Les Grandes Écoles, e.g. L'École Polytechnique and La Sorbonne.
  • Germany: Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, or simply Heidelberg University. Founded in 1386, making it the oldest university in Germany and the third university founded in the Holy Roman Empire (after Vienna and Bologna). In addition to many fields of science, it boasts a very prestigious medical school. A character who is a prominent German philosopher, doctor, scientist, politician, or businessperson, especially if they've won a Nobel Prize, is likely to have gone to Heidelberg. Additional schools may include Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and Humboldt University of Berlin.
  • Ireland: Trinity College.
  • Canada: Universities in Canada are far less stratified than in other countries, both because of the high government education funding and strict standards making them more homogeneous with each other and because the very great distances between urban centres usually mean a student will choose a university close to home, with few exceptions.note  The "top tier" generally consists of the few universities to predate Confederation in 1867, particularly McGill in Montreal (1821), Queen's in Kingston (1841), and the University of Toronto in Toronto (1828). (Works set in Western Canada will usually sub in the University of British Columbia and, to a lesser extent, the University of Alberta.) However none of these stands out as a singular "Harvard of the North" or "Oxbridge" as in the US or UK. There are also universities which are basically mandatory if a student is studying a particular subject, most famously the University of Waterloo ("Geek Heaven North") for math or computer science, along with the University of Guelph for agriculture or veterinary school. If you're studying law or engineering or medicine, you'll want to go to a school in the aforementioned top tier, which is one of the rare occasions Canadian students will travel just to go to school (U of T and McGill are both in highly-populated metro areas, but the metro area served by Queen's has barely 150,000 people.) Canadian students who can afford the comparatively exorbitant tuition fees and who are willing to do the extra work to get admitted will attend American (or to a lesser extent British) universities as well.
  • Japan: The University Of Tokyo or "Tōdai" for short. Kyoto University is a close second.
  • 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 Women's University (for women), and Korea University will also elicit impressed reactions by just saying where they study/studied. SNU, Korea, Yonsei are bound together to form the "SKY " universities, a colloquial term used by parents and students alike, which is considered a model example of a prestigious college. Also, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), and Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) are depicted as schools for geniuses in math and science.
  • Taiwan: National Taiwan University, National Tsing Hua University, National Chiao Tung University, National Chunggung University
  • China: The C9 League, especially Peking University and Tsinghua University.
  • Australia: The Group Of Eight (also known as the Sandstone Universities), particularly the University of Sydney (Australia's oldest university), the University of New South Wales, and the University of Melbourne.
  • Sweden: Uppsala and Lund University are generally considered to be the most prestigious, due to being by a large margin the two oldest institutions (founded in 1477 and 1666, respectively) in the country. The Stockholm School of Economics and The Royal Institute of Technology can generally be viewed as the best in their fields.
  • Finland: University of Helsinki and Aalto University are the most prestigious. University of Helsinki, located in Helsini, is the oldest and also largest university in Finland (founded 1640). The Aalto University was formed as merger of Helsinki University of Technology (HUT), Helsinki School of Economics (HSE) and University of Indistrial Arts in Helsinki (UIAH). Its campus is in Otaniemi, Espoo.
  • Poland: Jagiellonian University, also known as the University of Kraków, founded in 1364.
  • Russia: Lomonosov Moscow State University/MSU, Saint Petersburg State University - these two are the closest Russian equivalents of the Ivy League. Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology is a rough Russian equivalent of MIT and Caltech, albeit almost exclusively STEM-oriented, the epitome of nerdishness. Moscow State Institute of International Relations is an equivalent of Harvard Kennedy School, it was a college of choice for children of the Soviet elite who wanted, hypocritically, their offspring to be able to find their way around the decaying bourgeois West. Higher School of Economics is an equivalent to LSE, it is a mostly social science college founded after the breakup of the Soviet Union, so it has the fewest Soviet legacies of all.
  • Spain: The University of Valencia, which officially dates its founding to 1499, although a papal bull authorizing it was decreed more than 200 years previous. Slightly younger is the University of Granada, founded in 1531.

Contrast California University.


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    Anime & 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 Camouflage, because she's still an 11-year-old.
  • Kaguya-sama: Love Is War:
    • Part of the convoluted backstory that Hayasaka made for her butler disguise for whenever Fujiwara comes over is being a Harvard graduate.
    • Shirogane mentions during the parent teacher conferences that he was going to attend Stanford. He actually ends up getting accepted a year early, and asks Kaguya to come with him.

    Comic Books 
  • Matt Murdock of Daredevil fame holds a Juris Doctor (doctorate of law) from Columbia.
  • She-Hulk earned both her B.A. and her Juris Doctor from UCLA, the top-ranked public university in the world (according to ARWU, CWUR, U.S. News, and Times Higher Education) and the foremost Public Ivy (neck-in-neck with UC Berkeley). Though some later writer at some point didn't get the memo and said she went to Harvard Law, that seems to have been explained away as a post-J.D. LLM (a specialized master's degree).
  • 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."
  • Professor Charles Xavier of X-Men fame has a master's degree in biophysics from Oxford University, a doctorate in anthropology from Columbia University, and another doctorate in medicine from University College London.
  • Doctor Strange got his M.D. from Columbia.
  • Fantastic Four: exaggerated with Reed Richards, who went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Columbia University, and Empire State University (fictional equivalent of New York University). He had several hard science graduate degrees by the time he was twenty.
  • Batman went to an Ivy League school, fitting his old money WASP backstory, but which one (and what his degree was in) varies by the story and adaptation. One March 1974 issue suggests he earned an LL.B from Yale University. The Dark Knight Trilogy has him dropping out of Princeton University short of graduation. So on and so forth.

    Comic Strips 
  • Parodied in one Dilbert strip where the Pointy-Haired Boss hires an ex-con purely because he's an Ivy League grad. When Dilbert questions the guy about having been to Yale, the man says "I yust got out last veek".

    Films — Animated 
  • Parodied in The LEGO Batman Movie, where Barbara Gordon "was top of her class at Harvard for Police." No, that's not comparing her training to Harvard, that's literally the name of the school. It says so on her shirt.

  • Subverted in Catalyst, in which the protagonist has her sights set on MIT. She 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 à 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.
  • Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake frequently feature Indians (specifically Bengali-Americans) going to prestigious universities such as Columbia, Oxford, Yale, and Stanford.
  • Likely because he himself attended the school, several of Erich Segal's novels are set there—The Class 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, Doctors is about Barney Livingston and Laura Castellano of the Harvard medical class of 1962, and of course, Oliver and Jenny of Love Story meet in the Harvard library.
  • Dan Brown's lead character Robert Langdon in Angels & 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.
  • 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 Good in Bed, 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.
  • By the end of The Mother-Daughter Book Club series, the girls have just graduated high school and will soon be going to college. Several years earlier, Emma's brother Darcy was accepted into Dartmouth along with several other selective universities, though justified because he has been mentioned to have been an exceptional student. Meanwhile, Cassidy's sister Courtney attends UCLA and Becca's brother Stewart was rejected from his dream school, Stanford, but did get into some other smaller-scale but still-respectable schools. As for the girls themselves, Emma, Cassidy, and Becca are all anticipating beginning several decent but not incredible colleges, while Jess has been accepted into the highly-competitive Juilliard School and Megan will be attending Parsons School of Design, well-known as one of the most prestigious design schools in the world. Justified in Jess's case, since from eighth grade on she was one of the top pupils of an elite private school for gifted students.
  • 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 The 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 Beta 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.
  • The majority of Danielle Steel characters attend or are alumni of Ivy League schools, their equivalents, or schools that are excellent in their own right.
  • In Spellsinger, Jon-Tom is a law student at UCLA despite showing little evidence of being anything more than a pot-smoking wannabe rock star. Flores is also a student there, but she actually comes across as someone with legitimate accademic skill.
  • In the Cormoran Strike Novels, Cormoran met his onetime girlfriend and full-time obsession, Charlotte, at Oxford University (on top of being a decorated war veteran and a member of military police), which is also where a lot of the aristocrats in Lethal White went to university.


  • 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. As a result, this exchange is rather popular amongst William and Mary students.
  • The male MC in Djanet Sears' Harlem Duet is a professor at Columbia University, derisively nicknamed "Harlumbia" for reasons explored in the play.

    Video Games 
  • Half-Life, where all the named scientists we know of came from elite universities. Justified in that a place like Black Mesa would be on the lookout for people with such outstanding qualifications.
    • Gordon Freeman earned a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from MIT before he turned 27!
    • Eli Vance has a doctorate from Harvard, as he proudly displays with his Harvard t-shirt.
    • Issac Kleiner worked as one of Freeman's professors at MIT, and worked in the same department at Black Mesa, so he presumably received his doctorate in physics there.
    • Gina Cross from Decay has a Ph.D in electrical engineering from Caltech. She's 25, according to the manual.
  • In Plants vs. Zombies, the upgrade plant Cob Cannon attended Harvard.

    Web Comics 
  • 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.
  • Dumbing of Age: Dorothy aspires to be admitted to Yale and leave Indiana University. She receives an acceptance letter from Yale's undergraduate equivalent about the time second semester begins, though her hastily covering it up shows something had changed about her aspirations.

    Web Original 
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • Brian Griffin of Family Guy dropped out of Brown one class short of graduating. He re-enrolls in the episode Brian Goes Back to College and fails.
  • Mission Hill — Kevin aspires to attend into Yale. He 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 Yale, with help from a reclusive computer expert who was trying to get into Princeton. In an unfinished episode, he fakes a terminal illness to gain admittance.
  • Quite a few characters in The Simpsons have gone to Ivy League. This is doubtlessly inspired by how many of the writers are Harvard graduates, specifically writers for the Harvard Lampoon:
    • Mr. Burns is a Yale alum, as part of his general "old money" characterization.
    • Sideshow Bob is also an alumnus of Yale, and is dismissive of his brother Cecil's history at Princeton ("clown college" as far as he's concerned).
    • Snake/Jailbird attended Princeton, but took a year off, presumably never to return.
    • Lisa fervently hopes to go to an Ivy League School when she reaches college age, and not just any Ivy League school, either. She has a mini-freakout at the thought that she might have to settle for Brown. Of course, there's nothing wrong with Brown — after all, bus driver and drug enthusiast Otto nearly got tenure there.
    • Speaking of Otto, a throwaway gag in "Team Homer" has him playing a "prize-crane" arcade machine, with one of the prizes inside he hopes to win being a Harvard diploma. (This was partially a joke on how Mike Scully, the episode's writer, was one of the few writers on staff who didn't go to Harvard.)
    • In an episode where the whole family is arrested, Lisa worries that she'll never get into an Ivy League college now. Cue Bart mockingly singing "You're going to Staaanford! You're going to Staaanford!"
      "I've had JUST ABOUT ENOUGH of your Vassar-bashing, young lady!"
    • Sideshow Mel is an alumnus of Cornell.
    • Lionel Hutz claims to have graduated from Princeton. As you might expect, Princeton has never had a law school.
    • Barney Gumble was Harvard bound until Homer introduced him to beer the night before he took his SATs.
    • Lindsay Naegle has an MBA from the Wharton School, Penn's business college.
    • Mrs. Krabappel has a masters from Bryn Mawr.
    • Prof. Frink attended Cornell, which he deems the worst Ivy League university. He got in for not exposing the admission test's flaws.
  • 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.
  • Daria:
    • 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.
  • In Gargoyles, "Dominique Destin" is quite impressed that the woman applying for a job as her assistant graduated from the Sorbonne. Of course, since this woman is actually one of the new Hunters and Dominique is the gargoyle Demona, it's possible that this was a lie just so that she could get the job and investigate her new boss's identity.
  • Gary Andrews, otherwise known as Gary the Rat, graduated from Harvard law before signing on with the firm he works for throughout the series.
  • Bojack Horseman: Beatrice graduated from Barnard with a bachelor's degree...which irks her father Joseph, as he wanted her to come back from college with a husband.

    Real Life 
  • 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. Ditto for corporate executives, especially in companies based on the East Coast.
    • 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."
    • The 2020 Democratic ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is the first of either party since 1984 to not have an Ivy League alum.
  • 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 eliminated 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 was made up entirely of Harvard and Yale alums with the half-exception of Ruth Bader Ginsburg before her death in 2020. She started law school at Harvard, but transferred to Columbia when her husband took a job in New York City. 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 - however, for the first couple of years he studied at Occidental College which... is not an Ivy League school. Trump's first nominee, Neil Gorsuch, also got his bachelor's at Columbia and JD at Harvard—though unlike Obama, he did all of his undergrad work at Columbia. Trump's second nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, earned both his bachelor's and JD at Yale. Finally averted with Trump's third nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, who had no Ivy League education at all—she earned her bachelor's at Rhodes College, a well-regarded liberal arts school in Memphis but by no means an Ivy, and her JD at Notre Dame.
  • Justice Thomas has a strained relationship with Yale Law School, his alma mater.note  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 schools.
  • 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 Harvard.note  (Incidentally, then-backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick later became a 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 current 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.
  • Although lately, schools like Harvard and Yale have begun to use this exact trope and a recruiting pitch to bring talented basketball players (within reason, players still have to qualify academically) to their teams and have experienced post-season success.
  • Stanford has also used this to build a once-moribund football program into a national power in its own right, and under current coach David Shaw, the Cardinal are noted for playing a very physical style of play. Stanford has a team of Genius Bruisers. First overall 2012 draft pick and retired Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is an alumnus.

Alternative Title(s): Every Engineer Is From MIT


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