What it's really like to attend an Ivy League school

Yale Law School/FacebookViews like this aren’t exclusive to Ivy League students.
  • Life at an Ivy League school isn’t as glamourous as Hollywood would have you think.
  • While it’s true Mark Zuckerberg graduated from Harvard, the dorm room from which he started Facebook was no more luxurious than a dorm room at any other top school.
  • When it comes down to it, eating, sleeping, studying, and working out at an Ivy looks a lot like it would at any other university.

It’s no wonder people put Ivy League schools on such a pedestal. Between all the movies and television shows featuring Harvard and Yale – remember Rory Gilmore’s inner struggle when it came to choosing between the two? – and the clout of having a degree from one of the elite eight northeastern universities, who wouldn’t think everything about the schools is a dream?

While the academics at these schools is unquestionably prestigious – and they have educated some of the country’s most well-known minds – it doesn’t mean life on the campuses is as well.

Dorm rooms are small and dining hall food is exactly that. The campuses are beautiful, but there are a vast amount of non-Ivy campuses that are as well. While the Ivy League was originally formed to create a sport conference, and its teams often make it into tournaments, there are plenty of teams at schools all across the country that are constantly beating them out for titles.

Take a look at these photos proving life at an Ivy is no different from life at any other top university in the country.

Growing up, it’s easy to think of Ivy League colleges as the pinnacle of higher education in every way.

Yana Paskova/Stringer/Getty ImagesMillions of people dream of attending a school that’s part of the Ivy League.

Whether you watched “Gilmore Girls” …

‘Gilmore Girls’/Warner BrothersEdward Herrmann’s character Richard Gilmore was a Yale graduate.

… “Legally Blonde” …

MGMReese Witherspoon’s character Elle Woods attended Harvard Law.

… or “Gossip Girl,” the idea of attending an Ivy was everywhere.

There is some confusion, though, about what schools are actually part of the Ivy League.

Scott Eisen/Stringer/Getty ImagesThere are eight universities that are part of the Ivy League.

The elite group of eight includes Harvard University …

Paul Marotta/Stringer/Getty ImagesLawrence Seldon Bacow is Harvard University’s 29th president.

… Yale University …

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Stringer/Getty ImagesYale Professor William Nordhaus won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.

… Dartmouth College …

Dartmouth/YouTubeMindy Kaling gave Dartmouth’s 2018 Commencement Address.

… Columbia University …

Kevin Hagen/Stringer/Getty ImagesDr. Joachim Frank of Columbia University was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

… Princeton University …

Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesPrinceton University professor F. Duncan Haldane (second from right) was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics.

… Brown University …

Mike Cohea/Brown University via Getty ImagesBen Affleck received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Brown University at the May 2013 Commencement ceremony.

… University of Pennsylvania …

Gilbert Carrasquillo/Stringer/Getty ImagesDenzel Washington speaks during the may 2011 University Of Pennsylvania Commencement.

… and Cornell University.

Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesDaniel Huttenlocher, dean at Cornell Tech, spoke at the dedication ceremony to mark the 2017 opening of the new Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island.

While the Ivys are known for their academic prestige, the grouping of Northeastern schools was originally conceived out of athletic competition.

Corey Perrine/Stringer/Getty ImagesThe 2017 and 2018 Ivy League tournament finals were held at The Palestra in Philadelphia.

Many people believe Stanford University is an Ivy League school.


Source: Quora

By academic standards, it more than fits the bill.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Source: Quora

And so does the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Marcio Jose Bastos Silva/Shutterstock

Source: Quora

However, neither of these schools is part of the Ivy League conference. The formation of the league had little to do with academia; it is — at it’s core — a sports conference, much like the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Ten Conference (B10), and Pacific-12 Conference (Pac-12).

Abbie Parr/Stringer/Getty ImagesStanford University is in the Pac-12 conference.

The schools within the Ivy League conference compete in all types of sports. From track and field …

J. A. Hampton/Stringer/Getty ImagesThe rivalries date back to the beginning.

… to crew …

General Photographic Agency/Stringer/Getty ImagesPictured is the Princeton rowing crew preparing for a Cornell-Yale race in 1930.

… baseball …

Adam Glanzman/Stringer/Getty Images

… basketball …

Corey Perrine/Stringer/Getty ImagesPenn defeated Harvard 68 to 65 in the 2018 Men’s Ivy League Championship Tournament.

… and football — just to name a few.

Possibly the most well-known of the Ivy League rivalries is the one between Harvard and Yale.

Adam Glanzman/Stringer/Getty ImagesThe term ‘The Game’ refers to the seasonal football game when Harvard and Yale face off.

Source: Quora

Even in terms of athletic excellence, though, there’s nothing exceptional about the teams at Ivy League schools.

Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesThe Michigan State Spartans beat the Harvard Crimson in the Third Round of the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Because of the academic reputation, high tuition rates, low acceptance rates, and the label of a private college, it’s easy to assume that life on any of these campuses is unimaginably luxurious.

LENS-68/ShutterstockThe library at Columbia University.

The ivy-draped stone buildings do give the scenery a certain nuance …

WikipediaPictured here is a building on the campus of Princeton University.

… but in reality, these campuses aren’t much different from others around the country.

Peter Aaron

Like many universities, the dorms don’t really look like they do in the brochures or movies.

‘Legally Blonde’/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.Students may expect room for lounge furniture and workout equipment.

While students may be dreaming of an Elle Woods-esque setup, reality at Harvard looks a bit more like this.

In fact, living arrangements can be so cramped that students at Harvard have been known to remove their closet doors because there’s no room for them to swing open.

Source: Quora

Many Ivy universities were some of the first in the country.

Hulton Archive/Stringer/Getty ImagesA Yale dorm room circa 1908.

And while that is a great draw for a student looking for rich history …

… it also means there are a number of historical buildings lacking updated necessities like air conditioning.

Source: Quora

The amenities at Ivy League schools are similar to those at other universities. Campuses typically have several gyms for both personal and group fitness …

Tess Heder/FlickrPictured here is the gym at Harvard’s Adam House.

… multipurpose common areas and work spaces …

Jeffrey Bary/FlickrPictured is a study space at Dartmouth College.

… and various libraries with different study environments.

Jeffrey Bary/FlickrOne of several libraries at Dartmouth College.

The stacks inside Brown’s John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library look like those at any normal library.

And the food in the dining halls is hardly gourmet. After all, “Cafeteria food is cafeteria food,” one Quora user wrote.

BerkleeWithSandra/YouTubeFood at a Harvard dining hall.

Source: Quora

Students at Ivy schools aren’t immune to having to trek across campus during less-than-perfect weather.

Mario Tama/Getty ImagesA vast campus means lots of walks across it in the rain.

In fact, since the entire league is located in America’s Northeast, they get hit hard with snow and cold during the winter.

John Moore/Getty ImagesStudents walked to class at Yale after the ‘bomb cyclone’ in January 2018.

Northeast winters can be extremely tough.

Maddie Meyer/Getty ImagesWinter in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Just like anyone else studying in a snow-prone area, Ivy students may have to dig their bikes out of a mound of powder before they can get to class.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The schools have well-earned reputations for stunning architecture …

… stone, cathedral-looking buildings …

Christopher Capozziello/Stringer/Getty ImagesThe buildings are historic.

… and amazing grounds.

Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

And let’s not forget those famously popular iron gates that welcome visitors onto campus.

But they’re not the only schools with beautiful campuses.

Princeton University/FacebookPrinceton also shows off it’s stone-clad buildings.

Indiana University, Bloomington is well-known for images of these pillars.


And palm trees make Stanford University’s campus a West Coast dream.



The Rutgers campus also has manicured lawns and walkways. The New Jersey school faced off against Princeton in the first game of intercollegiate football in 1869 — it sparked quite the rivalry.

jass/FlickrRutgers is one of nine colonial colleges established before the American Revolution.

Source: Rutgers and ScarletKnights.com

Wellesley College has the same beautiful buildings.

As does the College of William and Mary.

Facebook/William and MaryWilliam and Mary was founded in 1693, making it the second oldest institute of higher education in the US.

Source: William and Mary

The University of Maryland, College Park campus is centered around a brick building-lined mall that’s modelled after the National Mall in Washington D.C.

carmichaellibrary/FlickrThe university was founded in 1856 as an agricultural college, nine years before Cornell.

Source: University of Maryland

When you break down all the elements of Ivy League schools, they’re actually very similar to other top universities across the country. Sure, they have their share of famous alumni.

Paul Marotta/Getty ImagesMark Zuckerberg started Facebook in his Harvard dorm room.

Source: Business Insider

But, of course, non-Ivys have some pretty famous alumni of their own.

Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesMark Cuban attended both the University of Pittsburgh and the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

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