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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 4% to 9%, 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.

For Real Life perspective, of the 20-21 million US college undergrads across the United States at any given time, only about 65,000-70,000 of them are in the Ivy League...a percentage of about 0.3%, and this includes international students as well, meaning the amount of American students is even lower. For graduate students (whether it be law, medicine, engineering, academia, etc.), the ratio is slightly less competitive of about 90,000-100,000 US graduate students out of about 3 million, a percentage of 3%, which again includes international students, often more than undergrad. Needless to say, the median American college student, let alone the median American teenager, does not attend or get into the Ivy League, and most likely don't even apply, knowing they will not make it.

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 hopefully learning how to tell when their pimp is cutting their crack 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.

A few institutions that aren't actually in the Ivy League but have strong reputations in certain contexts also count for this trope. Engineering hopefuls always go to MIT or Caltech. Juilliard is this for the performing arts. Elite West Coast students go to Stanford, UC Berkeley (especially as shorthand for them having left-leaning politics), USC (especially if they're a film student), and UCLA. Before the Ivies went co-ed, the Seven Sisters schools were this for women. In Japanese stories, the college of choice is typically Tokyo University, or "Todai".

Compare to Elite School Means Elite Brain, Geniuses Have Multiple PhDs. 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 leaves Shuchi'in halfway through third year to start attending. Kaguya was originally supposed to go with him, but circumstances involving her family forced her to withdraw her initial application and put off attending until after graduation. Maki's character profile in the final volume also revealed that she applied on a whim because both Kaguya and Shriogane were going and ended up attending alongside them.
  • Notably averted in Lupin III: The First, where Laetitia is trying to get into college, but rather than an Ivy League school or the Japanese equivalent, Tokyo University, she wants to go to Boston University. Lupin steals one of her papers and submits it to the applications board on her behalf, and gives her the acceptance letter they sent back during the finale.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Bruce Wayne 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.
  • Daredevil: Matt Murdock holds a Juris Doctor (doctorate of law) from Columbia.
  • Doctor Strange: Dr. Stephen 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.
  • 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.
  • She-Hulk: Jennifer Walters 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-and-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).
  • Watchmen: Dr. Jon Osterman/Doctor Manhattan attends Princeton University from 1948 to 1958, graduating with a Ph.D. in atomic physics.
  • X-Men: Professor Charles Xavier 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.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dilbert: Parodied in one 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".
  • Flash Gordon: Flash Gordon is identified in the first issue as a "Yale graduate and world renowned polo player."

    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.
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire: Sweet, the team's medical officer, is an alumnus of Howard University (presumably the College of Medicine).

  • 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.
  • John Putnam Thatcher: Pretty much everyone who holds a notable rank at the Sloan or one of its contemporary banks, brokerage houses, or big corporations went to either Harvard or Dartmouth. Come to Dust heavily features Dartmouth's admissions process and endowment system.
  • 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, 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 "some little school in New Jersey"...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.
  • In Songs for a New World, the narrator of "The World Was Dancing" attends Princeton on a scholarship. Averted since t's unclear whether or not he finished, and also the classmate with whom he had a fling transferred to McAlester.

    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.
  • Robert House of Fallout: New Vegas was a graduate of the setting's version of MIT (known as the Commonwealth Institute of Technology as of Fallout 4). In 4, the CIT is revealed to have become the Insitute, a cabal of sinister scientists.
  • In Yakuza: Like a Dragon, it's mentioned that Tokyo Governor and central antagonist Ryo Aoki studied Political Economics at Harvard alongside Hajime Ogasawara, with whom he would eventually start the "Bleach Japan" movement.
  • Defied in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, where the main villain brags about playing college ball, and not at some "Cushy Ivy League School" as Raiden puts it.
    Senator Armstrong: Try University of Texas! Coulda gone pro if I hadn't join the Navy!

    Visual Novels 
  • Parodied in Double Homework. With Dennis’s help, Henry, by far the stupidest character in the story, prepares for the Ivy League... which he thinks is a gardening competition.

    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. As she later admits to Becky (who found the acceptance letter), she plans to turn it down because they only accepted her once she resubmitted her application to talk about being in the hostage situation in the first semester, but she felt guilty about using that day-a day that ended with Becky losing her father, Amber also losing her father, and Mike dying of his injuries-as a stepping stone to her future greatness. Becky is annoyed that Dorothy is holding herself back because of her dad's actions, and pointed out that she is going to have to do much worse things than exploiting a traumatic situation for personal gain if she wants to make it in politics. (Also she was looking forward to having the dorm room to herself so she can canoodle with Dina.)
  • One comic in Kevin & Kell suggested in that Funny Animal universe, the Ivy League schools were only open to species that could eat ivy, at least until diversity became a issue. (Lindesfarne apparently got acceptance letters from all the schools, but she chose to go to the closer-to-home Beige University instead.)

    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.
    • "The Front" has a bit where it's revealed that most of the writers of The Itchy & Scratchy Show went to Harvard (a bit of Self-Deprecation, as they're also universally shown to be hacks). When Roger Meyers Jr. throws his nameplate at one of them, the writer tries to shoot back with another one of these.
      "You, sir, have the boorish manners of a Yalie!"
  • 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 (not Ivy League, but still prestigious) with a bachelor's degree...which irks her father Joseph, as he wanted her to come back from college with a husband.
    • Hollyhock eventually starts attending Wesleyan, and Bojack briefly begans teaching there so he could bond more with her. One imagine's she's able to afford it because she has eight fathers to fund it.
  • X-Men: The Animated Series shows a young Charles Xavier attending Bard College, which in the comics is one of Beast's many alma maters. Jean Grey is also implied to be a legacy, as her father was one of Xavier's professors.

    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 U.S. presidents attended Ivy League schools. That percentage is even higher in recent decades: Joe Biden was the first president without an Ivy League education since Ronald Reagan. This is justified as people who become president tend to come from wealthy and connected families. As you go further down the federal hierarchy, the numbers actually increase slightly. 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: 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.note 
  • 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.
    • Subverted in Owen Wister's "Philosophy 4" (written in 1904 and thus out of copyright and available on line), which tells the story of two would-be idle young men who match this description—and their poor, immigrant, striver classmate. This was Truth in Television even then.
  • 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, likewise a well-regarded but non-Ivy school. The Ivies returned in full force with Biden's only nominee so far, Ketanji Brown Jackson, who earned both her BA and JD at Harvard.
  • 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 or schools of equal prestige.
  • 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 sports.note  Despite this, the late-2000s 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 had also used this to build a once-moribund football program into a national power in its own right, and under longtime coach David Shaw, the Cardinal was 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. However, the team's recent prominence faded thanks to a combination of COVID-19 effects and changes to NCAA transfer policies; Shaw resigned after losing seasons in both 2021 and 2022.
  • It came out in 2019 that numerous wealthy parents, including Lori Loughlin of Full House fame and Felicity Huffman, were going beyond donating buildings and pulling strings to get their kids into prestigious colleges. The scandal, called Operation Varsity Blues, revealed that the ringleader was a college counselor named Rick Singer that rigged test scores for the SAT and ACT, faked disabilities for extended time on tests, falsified "evidence" that they were athletes. In some cases, he even hired proctors to take exams for the kids. Some of the students themselves were embarrassed when the scandal came out, with only a few willing to tell their side of the story. Singer has been arrested but not sentenced owing to his willingness to cooperate with authorities, and universities have withdrawn or expelled a few of the kids involved. It turns out Ivy League means nothing when money can manipulate the system.
  • A lot of major newspapers and magazines, especially in and around the publishing hub of New York City, almost exclusively recruit graduates of Ivy League universities for editorial positions.
  • Some high school students have resorted to computer hacking to change their grades to ensure Ivy League admission. As Ivy League demands exceptional grades from its applicants, those people may get upset over a weak or a single outright bad grade destroying their chances of acceptance; this leads to hacking school computer systems. Unfortunately for them, this is against the law and said students can end up in prison. A specific example happened in Tenafly, New Jersey in 2017 with a student being arrested for hacking his grades and then mailing out Ivy League applications. What is worse is that offenders are just not able to get into Ivy League; they can find themselves barred from any college or university. A criminal record can ban you from receiving financial aid in many jurisdictions and many universities actually deny applications from convicted criminals, even nonviolent ones. Obviously, safety plays a major role in said denial, and even nonviolent offenders are regularly seen as lacking in basic integrity.

Alternative Title(s): Every Engineer Is From MIT