Colleges and universities as old and prestigious as the Ivy League will, inevitably, be surrounded by stories — and some myths. Here are a few fun and, we think, interesting facts about Ivy League Universities.
1) They first named them ‘Ivies’ as an insult.
The term started as a way of referring to the sporting rivalry between the eight universities. However, the sports journalist who first referred to the Ivy League was a graduate of Fordham, which had a strong football reputation, and unhappy at having to cover a Columbia-Pennsylvania match. It’s thought his use of ‘Ivy League’ was intended as a disparaging reference, suggesting the universities were more famous for foliage-covered walls than football.
2) ‘The Ancient Eight’ are not that ancient...
This is despite the name being totally inaccurate. The Ivy League colleges are about 500 years from being the eight oldest universities in the world, but aren’t even the eight oldest in the United States. Although Harvard is America’s oldest university, Cornell wasn’t founded until 1865, 96 years after the next youngest Ivy League university, Dartmouth. There are plenty of universities older than Ivy League members, including the University of William and Mary, America’s second oldest, founded in 1693.
3) …but they’re older than America itself.
Seven of the members (all of them except Cornell) were colonial colleges, the nine universities established before the Declaration of Independence. The University of Pennsylvania even counts Ben Franklin, one of America’s founding fathers, as its founder. And Columbia University began life as King’s College, being founded by Royal Charter, before changing its name after the American War of Independence.
4) Brown has a 'pick-your-own degree'.
Because the university wants to promote individuality and creativity, students can pick almost any course they want. The only limits are that, to graduate, students much complete at least 30 courses and have one concentration (or major). Each semester begins with a shopping period when courses can be sampled, and the system is designed to be as flexible as possible, with many courses having no pre-requisites, and even some taught master’s courses open. It means that it might be possible to have a unique degree!
5) The 'primal scream' has become part of Harvard tradition.
In the 1960s, Harvard students would open their windows before exams to shot and yell for ten minutes to relieve stress, a practice that became known as the primal scream, although the tradition has now largely been replaced by streaking. Cornell also has a pre-exam ritual, with the university band taking over the library for an hour before exams begin, making last-minute revision difficult! And other Ivy League traditions are odder, at Penn they will throw bread and baked goods onto the sporting field to ‘toast’ their team.
These facts just scrape the surface of the Ivy League universities. With thousands of students and faculty, and hundreds of years of history, when you start studying at one, you’ll soon start finding your own fun facts.