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Despite being considered among the most selective colleges in the United States, with admission rates from 6% to 16%, Ivy League schools show up frequently in fiction. In teen dramas, a main character (or two) will always get accepted into an Ivy League school. Expect this to become a key part of high school senior year stress, whether the character is trying to get into a certain Ivy League school, or deciding between an Ivy League college far away from home and a local college that keeps the show in the same setting.

In a particularly extreme version of this trope, there will be an "Ivy League or nothing!" mentality implying that if a character doesn't get into an Ivy League school they might as well study with the hobo in the alley. Characters who go to Ivy League schools seldom discuss their coursework or major.

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.

This has all been popularized by Author Appeal -- quite a few writers went to the Ivy Leagues, and enjoy name-dropping the institution to show off how cool they are. Beyond that, it's just plain convenient--why actually show a person being smart when you can just say they came from the Ivies?

Depending on the setting this trope can still be plausible, usually if it focuses on people whose career interests directly relate to their alma mater. A show about high-tier law firms, for example, is justified in having an above-average Ivy quotient because Harvard and Yale have high-quality law schools. However, even in the most extreme cases, any given environment will have plenty of people who graduated from other schools for the simple reason of sheer numbers.

The eight Ivy League universities are:

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

Don't feel bad if you've only heard of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, since those are referenced in fiction far more than the others. (They also happen to be the perennial "top three" schools in the United States, with only the order varying from year to year.) Columbia gets fewer mentions since NYU is the "go-to" institution to name-drop if you want your characters in The Big Applesauce, while many of the others are surrounded by inner-city and Dartmouth is in the middle of nowhere, the nearest cities offering much off-campus nightlife[1] being two hours' drive in opposite directions.


Some non-Ivy League schools can fall under this trope as well, due to their elite status and overuse in fiction. Examples include:

  • Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It is said that if Rutgers were not the State University of New Jersey it would have been in the Ivy League.
  • Stanford University, another elite, prestigious school located in Palo Alto, California. Common in works set on the West Coast.
  • MIT (The Massachusetts Institute of Technology) or Caltech (the California Institute of Technology). Most common with characters whose backgrounds are in math, science, engineering, or programming.
  • The Seven Sisters, a group of prestigious women's colleges.[2] 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 a case of Did Not Do the Research; Juilliard does not have a musical theater program.
  • The medical school of The Johns Hopkins University, common for elite doctors or medical researchers (for example, Dr. Gregory House).[3]
  • The film schools of University of Southern California (USC) and New York University (NYU), two of the best in the country, for budding directors.
  • The more prestigious Historically-Black Colleges, such as Spelman, Morehouse, and Howard, on shows with predominantly African-American casts.
  • Georgetown University in Washington DC for TV lawyers and politicians who don't go to Harvard or Yale.

A note before you add to this list: Being the best-known/most elite in a particular discipline does not mean a school fits this trope. They also need to be overused in media -- i.e. when a fictional character is talented in that area, they almost always end up going to that school. If that's not the case, it shouldn't be here. For example, believe it or not, Washington University in St. Louis has a medical school that is every bit as selective and prestigious as those at Harvard and Johns Hopkins, but is not nearly as well known or as well-represented in the media and thus does not belong here.

Why aren't any of these considered "Ivy League" schools, you wonder? The League is actually an athletic conference within the NCAA; the eight schools' sports teams compete primarily against each other in the playing season. The social connotations developed around this.

For the British equivalent, see Oxbridge. In Japanese works, the "Tôdai" or University Of Tokyo can fulfil this narrative role in a pinch. In Australian works, expect to see The Group Of Eight. For Taiwanese shows, Tai Da (National Taiwan University) is used in the same way. And in mainland Chinese works, expect to see the C9 League, especially Peking University and Tsinghua University.

Contrast California University.

Examples of Ivy League for Everyone include:


Anime and Manga

  • From Pani Poni Dash!, Child Prodigy Rebecca Miyamoto graduated from MIT at the age of ten, though in the manga she tells people she went to Columbia, simply because it's easier to pronounce than "Massachusetts."


Comic Books

  • Matt Murdock of Daredevil fame holds a Doctorate of Law from Columbia.
  • In Watchmen, Dr. Jon Osterman/Doctor Manhattan attends Princeton University from 1948?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"


Film

  • In 21, MIT senior math major Ben Campbell is accepted into Harvard Medical School but cannot afford the $300,000 cost. Even though he has a high 44 MCAT score and a 4.0 GPA, Ben faces heavy competition for the prestigious Robinson Scholarship, which would give him a full ride through medical school. He uses the story of the film to impress Harvard officers and to stand out from the other well-qualified applicants.
  • In Across the Universe, Jude befriends Max Carrigan, a rebellious student at Princeton. Max and his friends' upper class and wealthy families pay for their schooling while they spend their time drinking, smoking marijuana, and pulling pranks. Max's attendance at Princeton allows him to avoid the draft of the Vietnam War. When he drops out though...
  • Patrick Bateman of American Psycho went to Harvard University and Harvard Business School. It's also mentioned that Paul Owen went to Yale.
  • Linda and Andrew are Brown alumni in the movie Anger Management. Jack Nicholson's character Dr. Buddy Rydell went to Columbia University.
  • Natalie Ann August, played by Natalie Portman in Anywhere But Here applies and is accepted by Brown, despite the dismay of her mother, played by Susan Sarandon, over the distance.
  • The psychiatrist of Jack Nicholson's Melvin Udall mentions her son was accepted into Brown in As Good As It Gets.
  • In Batman Begins, Alfred casually asks Bruce Wayne if he plans to return to Princeton after the trial of his parents' murderer. Bruce tells him that he won't, adding that "I like it fine. They just don't feel the same way." He drops out and goes to China instead.
  • In the Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading, Osborne Cox, played by John Malkovich, is a CIA analyst and Princeton class of 1973 graduate. In a scene at a fictional Princeton Club, he leads a fast-tempo rendition of Princeton's anthem, Old Nassau.
  • In the movie A Cinderella Story, a major part of the storyline revolves around Sam and Austin's goal of getting into Princeton and studying writing. Of course, they get in.
  • In Citizen Kane, the eponymous character is said to have attended and been thrown out of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Cornell.
  • At the end of Coming Soon, Tricia Vessey's character, Nell Kellner, gets accepted to Brown University when she reveals that her father had donated a large sum of money to the school.
  • Tom Cruise's character Mitch McDeere in The Firm is a recent Harvard Law graduate hired by Memphis law firm that represents organized crime.
  • In The Girl Next Door, Eli Brooks is mentioned as having been accepted to Princeton
  • In The Godfather, main character Michael Corleone, wishing to avoid the family business, attends Dartmouth College. He later re-enrolls at Dartmouth after fighting in the Pacific Theatre of World War II, where he meets his future wife, Kay Adams.
  • In Hamlet 2, the main character, a drama teacher, assumes a Latino student is a gangster. In actuality, the student had gained early admission to Brown.
  • Alan Jensen, played by Adrian Grenier, is the point guard of the Harvard basketball team in Harvard Man.
  • In the stoner film How High, two underachieving pot smokers, Silas (Method Man) and Jamal (Redman), uses a magic weed to get perfect scores on their THC exams (Testing for Higher Credentials, as opposed to SAT) and to receive admission into Harvard University.
  • In the 2008 version of The Incredible Hulk film, Betty Ross and Bruce Banner are Harvard graduates.
  • In Iron Man, Tony Stark asks Christine Everhart, s Vanity Fair columnist who questions him about his weapons industry and accuses his company of killing people, if she attended Berkeley. She tells him she actually attended Brown.
    • Tony himself is said to have graduated summa cum laude from MIT, despite that school not granting Latin honors.
  • Meg Ryan's character, Catherine Boyd, is a mathematics doctoral candidate at Princeton University in the Romantic Comedy I.Q.
  • The eponymous character of the film Kissing Jessica Stein graduated from Brown.
  • In The Last of the Mohicans, Hawkeye says he attended Reverend Wheelock's school. This is presumably Dartmouth College, originally founded as a school to train Native Americans as missionaries.
  • In Leatherheads, Carter Rutherford, played by John Krasinski, is a star Princeton quarterback.
  • The entire story of Legally Blonde is about a blonde's quest to get into and be successful at Harvard Law.
  • The 1970 film Love Story, written by Harvard alumnus Erich Segal, is a romantic drama about a rich Harvard pre-law, hockey player, played by Ryan O'Neal, and a brilliant Radcliffe musicology scholarship student, played by Ali MacGraw. Segal also taught Greek and Latin literature at Harvard University, Yale University and Princeton University.
  • In Mars Attacks (Film), President James Dale, played by Jack Nicholson, is an alumnus of Princeton University.
  • The main characters of My Best Friend's Wedding, played by Julia Roberts and Dermot Mulroney, became friends and made their marriage pact when they were students at Brown.
  • Norah tells Nick in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist that she was accepted into Brown University.
  • The three main leads of Ninja Cheerleaders, Courtney, April and Monica gets accepted to Brown and attends the school at the end of the movie.
  • Jane Weston, played by Amy Smart, gets accepted to Brown University and attends the school at the end of Outside Providence.
  • The 1973 film version of The Paper Chase is an extremely faithful adaptation of the novel, telling the story of Hart's first year at Harvard Law School, and his experiences with Professor Charles Kingsfield, the brilliant, demanding contracts instructor whom he both idolizes and finds incredibly intimidating.
  • In Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, Princess Mia is referred to as a graduate of Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
  • Brittany Snow's character, Donna Keppel, protagonist of the 2008 film Prom Night, was accepted to Brown, but has doubts about leaving her boyfriend behind.
  • Happens at the end of Risky Business. In this case, though, not because the main character Joel Goodson is smart but because the Princeton admissions officer finds the ability to throw massive pimp parties to be a trait worthy of Princeton.
  • Soul Man, a 1986 comedy film, is about a man who undergoes racial transformation with pills so that he can qualify for an African-American-only scholarship at Harvard Law School.
  • In Spanglish, Cristina Moreno applies to Princeton University in the beginning of the film, telling the story of her childhood in her college essay.
  • During a brief exchange in Sphere, it's revealed that three of the main characters received their doctorates at M.I.T., and at early ages to boot.
  • Peter Parker is a student at Columbia University in Spider-Man 2.
  • In Stay Alive, the lead female character, Abigail, tells her friends that she got into Princeton, but later admits that she lied.
  • Main character John resorts to crime in order to pay for his niece's Harvard education in Stealing Harvard. John made a videotape many years ago, on which he promised to pay for Noreen's college tuition if she worked hard and was accepted into a university.
  • Nora Clark in Step Up has been accepted to Brown University, but wants to pursue her passion for dancing instead.
  • Lucy Whitman, the brains of the operation in teen comedy/heist film Sugar & Spice aspires of going to Harvard.
  • Evan and Fogell of Superbad are about to start college at Dartmouth College.
  • 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 ~There's Something About Mary~, Cameron Diaz's Mary attended Princeton University. Her ex-boyfriend "Woogie" also received a scholarship from Princeton.
  • The title character of The Thomas Crown Affair attended Dartmouth.
  • Sam Witwicky of Transformers goes to Princeton. The 2009 film shows him during his freshman year at college. Somewhat justified by the fact that, on Transformers Earth, Princeton is pretty much a party school.
  • Bill Wentz, U.S. Navy radioman in the film U-571 studied German at Brown.
  • Jonathan "Mox" Moxon, played by James Van Der Beek, the main character of Varsity Blues, receives acceptance to Brown. His coach blackmails him to play football by threatening to ruin his transcript.
  • Nick Mercer, the male escort hired by Kat Ellis to be her date to her sister's wedding in The Wedding Date, graduated from Brown with a degree in Comparative Literature.
  • In Where the Boys Are, Merritt's love interest Ryder Smith is a student at Brown University. Melanie is also involved with a boy from Yale.
  • The protagonist of With Honors, Montgomery 'Monty' Kessler, as played by Brendan Fraser, is a smart but cynical young man who got into Harvard without any money ties. He is set to graduate as a government student with honors if he can put the finishing touches on his senior thesis.
  • In Orange County, the main character fights like hell to go to Stanford, but ultimately decides to stay near his home and go to the local state college, which he considers a big step down. This, naturally, ignores the fact that Los Angeles is home to several world-class universities of its own, including especially the state schools.
  • Used in Accepted, where it's a plot point that one of the main characters emphatically did not get into Yale.
  • Averted in Election. In just about any other movie a character as intelligent and ambitious as Tracy would be trying to get into an Ivy League school, but her goal is Georgetown because of its very strong political science program and access to government internships. It also subverts the usual standards of this trope in that when Tracy actually gets to Georgetown, she discovers that far from being an intellectual utopia she still doesn't have much in common with her less ambitious classmates. Fortunately, the academic programs are still every bit as strong as she thought.
  • Johnny Rico of Starship Troopers is told by his father that he's going to go to Harvard. Since Johnny is repeatedly shown to be a dim bulb, it would appear that the trope name has come true. Possibly Justified in that Johnny's family is wealthy and presumably could buy him in, and that in the fascist Federation, liberal arts degrees from Harvard wouldn't carry the same status.
  • High School Musical sends one character to Stanford and another to Yale. It also sends two characters to Juilliard on a musical theater scholarship, despite the fact that Juilliard has no musical theater programs. Kelsi, one of the scholarship recipients, goes there for composition, despite the fact that in Real Life, Juilliard's composition program is focused on classical music, not musicals - she probably wouldn't have even gotten in, much less chosen it over a more MT-focused school like NYU.
  • In She's All That, Zach has been accepted to Dartmouth, Yale and Harvard.
  • In The Peacemaker, Col. Devoe and his commandos are interrogating a bomb-maker who is currently hanging off a bridge.

 Devoe: Do you speaking English?

Bomb-maker: I went to Harvard! Gooooooo Crimson!

  • In the film version of Up in the Air, Natalie is a Cornell graduate.


Literature

  • Subverted hard in Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson, when the main character thinks she falls under this trope, but doesn't get in.
  • The main character of American Psycho, Patrick Bateman, tells the detective Donald Kimball that he attended Harvard University and Harvard Business School.
  • In An American Wife, a Roman 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.
  • The Class, Erich Segal's 6th novel, is about the Harvard Class of 1958, and particularly refers to five fictional members of this class: Andrew Eliot, Jason Gilbert, George Keller, Theodore Lambros, and Daniel Rossi.
  • Dan Brown's lead character Robert Langdon in Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code, and The Lost Symbol is a professor of Religious Iconology and Symbology at Harvard University. He also graduated from Princeton University, where he played water polo.
  • The main character in the novel version of The Devil Wears Prada, Andrea Sachs, is a recent graduate from Brown University.
  • Another book by Erich Segal, Doctors, is about Barney Livingston and Laura Castellano of the Harvard medical class of 1962.
  • Marina Thwaite, Danielle Minkoff and Julian Clarke, characters from Claire Messud's 2006 novel The Emperor's Children, were all friends at Brown University.
  • Nathaniel Auerbach Clay, the protagonist of Geoffrey Wolff's coming-of-age story The Final Club, is a fictional member of the Princeton Class of 1960. Wolff was an actual member of this class, and he wrote The Final Club as homage to F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise and The Great Gatsby.
  • In the novel Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner, protagonist Cannie Shapiro is a Princeton alumna.
  • Serena's older brother, Eric van der Woodsen, attends Brown University in Gossip Girl.
  • In the novel In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner, protagonist Rose Feller is a Princeton graduate. Her younger sister Maggie camps out in a Princeton library. Jennifer Weiner is an alumna of Princeton's Class of 1991.
  • Subverted by Edwin O'Connor's novel The Last Hurrah, in which the Harvard-educated characters are clearly singled out as exceptions to the general rule. Given that the story is set among Irish-Americans in the 1950s, this is Truth in Television- until at least the early '70s, most Irish-American Catholics in the Northeast were expected to go to schools like Boston College or Holy Cross; those few who went to Harvard or Yale instead were ambitious, upwardly-mobile types who wanted to "make it" as "Americans". One famous example is typical.
  • In the Left Behind series, Cameron "Buck" Williams graduated from Princeton. Chloe was attending Stanford.
  • In the science-fiction novel Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen by H. Beam Piper, Calvin Morrison was a theology student at Princeton before dropping out to join the U.S. Army and fight in the Korean War.
    • Not strictly an example, as the Princeton Theological Seminary is a separate institution unaffiliated with Princeton University.
  • In the second half of Stephen Fry's Making History, Michael Young attends Princeton.
  • Written by John Jay Osborn, Jr., a 1970 graduate of Harvard Law School, The Paper Chase is about Hart and his first year as a law student at Harvard.
  • Former CIA-agent Wyman Ford, a fictional character in many of Douglas Preston's novels, is a Harvard alumnus.
  • The author of the 1994 autobiography Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurtzel, graduated from Harvard and Yale Law School.
  • Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist is partly set at Princeton. Changez and Erica are fictional members of the Princeton Class of 2001. Hamid was an actual member of the Princeton Class of 1993.
  • The Rule of Four is set on the Princeton University and the neighboring Princeton Theological Seminary. The protagonists are Princeton students.
  • The Second Happiest Day by John Phillips depicts Harvard University during World War II.
  • This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald's literary debut, is a loosely autobiographical story of his time as a student at Princeton. Protagonist Amory Blaine attends Princeton.
    • For an inverse example, most of the rich characters in The Great Gatsby are described with Ivy League degrees (Tom played football for Yale, for example), but they are not respectable in the least.
  • In the third Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants book, when the Four-Girl Ensemble have their last summer together before college, it's noted that although Bridget is the "sloppiest student" of the four, she got into Brown. The other three end up going to the Rhode Island School of Design, NYU's film school, and Williams College, not actually Ivy League but all comparably prestigious.
  • Quentin in William Faulkner's The Sound and The Fury attends Harvard. We see him as a freshman at the college in the second part of the novel.
  • The character Robert Cohn attended Princeton in Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.
  • In The Talented Mr. Ripley, Dickie Greenleaf, played by Jude Law, is a graduate of Princeton. Title character Tom Ripley pretends he is a Princeton alumnus.
  • In Twilight, Bella Swan and Edward Cullen plan to go to Dartmouth as an excuse for Bella to leave her father. It is heavily implied that the Cullens bribed the school to procure her admission.
  • Rae Spellman of Spellman Files has had issues with her grades, paying attention, doing her homework, being too obsessed with her social life or detective work or well, pretty much anything during the entire series, and she's not into school extracurricular activities. How on earth did she get into Yale, even after she told them of her new police record?
  • The narrator of Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle is a Cornell alumnus, and another major character flunked out of the university.
  • Talked about in the Private novel series by Kate Brian. Justified because the titular private school is an elite boarding school for the richest of the rich.
  • Scott, the protagonist of The Chronoliths, and his wife Janice met while attending to Cornell, and Ray, another character comes from MIT.
    • Justified in the case of Ray because he works in a government funded project, so probably they would just want to get their money's worth.
  • In The Areas of My Expertise, John Hodgman devotes several passages and a whole chapter to Yale's "true" history and plans for One World Government. (Hodgman and occasional sidekick Jonathan Coulton are Yale alumni.)
  • Unlike the later movie mentioned above, the original novel of Legally Blonde has Elle attending Stanford University.
  • The three original Ghostbusters are faculty at Columbia University, until their unorthodox research focus and lack of results leads to them being let go.
  • In The disreputable history of Frankie Landau-Banks, she 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.
  • 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.


Live Action TV

  • The Princeton episode of 8 Simple Rules embodied this trope. Bridget was the brainless one on the show ("Ivory League"), but to her family, all that stood between her and a full-ride athletic scholarship to Princeton was her being ineligible to play in the tennis match the scout was attending (the actual D grade itself that made her ineligible didn't concern them). The worst part was that her sister, a good student, was interested in Ivy League schools, yet never noticed that Bridget couldn't "just swing her tennis racket" and get into Princeton, as the core tenet of the very first Ivy Group Agreement was that "an applicant's ability to play on a team would not influence admissions decisions".
  • Twenty Four's Bill Buchanan obtained his English degree from Brown University.
    • President Charles Logan graduated from Princeton University.
    • Audrey Raines, Jack Bauer's lover and Inter-Agency Liaison in the U.S. Department of Defense, has a degree in public policy from Brown.
  • 30 Rock's Jack Donaghy attended Princeton University as an undergraduate. This is once used for comedic effect when Jack tells Kenneth he doesn't have bedbugs because he went to Princeton.
    • Also, Twofer attended Harvard. (As did many a television comedy writer in Real Life.)
  • The title character of Ally McBeal attended Harvard Law School.
  • General Michael Holden and Claudia Joy of Army Wives met while they were students at Harvard.
  • The title character of Becker likes to boast that he got his degree from Harvard - which actually means that somewhere, sometime, something went horribly wrong for him.
  • In The Beverly Hillbillies, Mrs. Drysdale's son Sonny mentions attending Princeton and Harvard and Yale. Pennants of the schools hang on his wall.
  • In Bones, Dr. Saroyan gets her adopted daughter into Columbia behind her back when said daughter decides to follow her boyfriend to a tiny college in Maine.
  • Justified in Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Willow's acceptance into Harvard, Yale, Oxford, etc, as she is consistently portrayed as intelligent. In the end, she remains in town and settles for UC Sunnydale to help Buffy in her fight against evil.
    • Subverted when Willow is wooed by Wesleyan University. While a great school, it's not an Ivy -- it's merely Joss Whedon's alma mater.
    • Cordelia gets accepted into several of the schools on this list, despite being the Alpha Bitch and The Cheerleader, because she does well on standardized testing. She tells Wesley in Angel that she was in the top 10% of her class.
    • Buffy herself got into Northwestern, every bit as prestigious as many of the schools here.
  • In Charles in Charge, the main character gets accepted as a graduate student to Princeton.
  • Chuck was thrown out of Stanford for cheating not really, and he got his degree eventually. Vivian Macarthur Volkoff was groomed to take over her father's villainous organisation after studying at the London School of Economics.
  • Dartmouth College is the alma mater of the fictional host of The Colbert Report; the real Colbert graduated from Northwestern University.
  • In Commander In Chief, former Communications Directors and current Press Secretary Kelly Ludlow, played by Ever Carradine, graduated from Princeton.
  • In Community, Jeff Winger goes to Greendale Community College after the State Bar found out that his bachelor's degree from Columbia was actually from Colombia.
  • On The Cosby Show, eldest daughter Sondra Huxtable attended Princeton, and she met her future husband Elvin Tibideaux there.
  • Criminal Minds: Special Agent Emily Prentiss went to Brown, as is revealed in her first episode. Justified in-universe as she's not only extremely intelligent (speaking several languages) but the daughter of a US Ambassador.
    • Reid went to either MIT or Cal Tech, depending on the episode you're watching. Garcia went to Caltech, and fans happily debate whether they would have attended at the same time.
  • Sam Arsenault, guest villain on Damages, sings Danny Boy at a cocktail party and tells the guests he sang it with the Jabberwocks when he was an undergraduate student at Brown. The actor, James Naughton, was a member of the Jabberwocks and graduated from Brown in 1967 in Real Life.
  • In the season 4 finale of Desperate Housewives, Susan's daughter Julie Mayer is accepted to Princeton and prepares to leave home.
  • On Doogie Howser, M.D., main character Douglas Howser, boy genius, graduated from Princeton at the young age of 10.
  • On Eureka, Zoe goes off to Harvard at the end of the third season.
    • Nearly every character aside from Sheriff Carter and Jo have a degree from the Ivy League or Oxbridge, but this is actually Justified given the premise.
  • In Even Stevens, Louis and Ren's mother, Eileen Stevens, is an alumna of Brown University.
  • In Everwood, Amy Abbott is accepted to Princeton. She chooses to defer her first semester at Princeton so that she can take care of her mother while she recovers from her cancer.
  • In Family Matters, Laura Winslow is accepted to Harvard but ends up attending the cheaper local college Illinois Occidental University (IOU).
  • In Family Ties, Alex P. Keaton spends the first two seasons preparing to attend Princeton. While visiting for an on-campus interview, his sister Mallory has an emotional crisis. Ultimately, Alex chooses to tend to her rather than complete his interview, thus destroying his chance of attending Princeton.
  • Dr. Frasier Crane of Frasier and Cheers earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard College. He also graduated from Harvard Medical School, where he obtained both his M.D. and Ph.D. in psychiatry.
    • And Niles went to Yale.
  • In the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Carlton Banks' dream school is Princeton University and he eventually attends the university at the end of the series. His father, Phillip, attended Princeton on scholarship, and went to Harvard Law School afterwards.
    • There's at least one Mention of Carlton wishing to attend Yale. Princeton only becomes his goal/dream after Philip informs him that's where he's going.
  • Friday Night Lights subverts this. Getting a scholarship for any college is what most of the players aspire for in order to get ahead in life. Schools from all over the country will offer players a spot on their team and Ivy League schools don't offer sports scholarships. Julie and Landry, both portrayed as hard working students and smart, don't go to Ivy League schools.
  • Thurston Howell, III of Gilligan's Island is a stereotypical WASP and a graduate of Harvard University.
  • Gilmore Girls. Through the first half of the series, Rory's ultimate goal is to get into Harvard. When she gets into all of her schools, including Harvard and Yale, she chooses Yale in order to stay closer to home.
    • Paris Geller also gets into Yale, but gets rejected from her life-long goal of Harvard.
  • Kurt and Rachel on Glee focus all of their energies in the third season on getting accepted at the fictional New York Academy of the Dramatic Arts ("NYADA"). They originally wanted to go to Julliard before being told it doesn't have a musical theater program. This storyline is related to the scrapped idea of creating a Spin-Off where they pursue their dreams in New York.
    • Glee had a variant on this with the storyline about about the Ohio State recruiter, Cooter Menkins, coming to McKinley to check out the members of the football team, and he was only interested in Shane. Finn acted like losing this shot meant he'd lost all chance of a football scholarship. The idea that he might get a football scholarship to a less competitive program is never entertained.
    • A more direct example is Quinn. After realizing she might have a life after high school after all, she reveals that she plans on applying to Yale and was later accepted, without even considering any colleges in Ohio (such as Case Western Reserve if she wants something prestigious), where she could theoretically maintain a relationship with her daughter.
  • Gossip Girl is a case where the trope is justified, as the characters go to the sorts of elite New York private schools which are known to be Ivy feeders:
    • Blair Waldorf considers the holy trinity among Ivy Leagues Schools to be Harvard, Princeton and Yale. She later refers to Princeton as a "trade school."
    • Nate, Serena and Blair all get into Yale University. Despite not wanting to attend Yale and also being a lackluster student, Nate gets accepted due to his grandfather's influence. Serena gets accepted for her socialite status. Yale later gets revokes Blair's acceptance for her manipulation of a teacher.
    • Nate Archibald goes to Columbia. His father, Howie Archibald, is an alumnus of Dartmouth.
    • Serena gets accepted to Brown University, but defers her enrollment.
    • Serena's mother attended Brown University. Her father went to Columbia University.
  • Meredith Grey is frequently seen in t-shirts of her alma mater, Dartmouth College, in Grey's Anatomy. Shonda Rhimes, creator of the show, is an alumna of Dartmouth College, and often references the college in her scripts.
  • Carol Seaver of Growing Pains attends Columbia.
  • Notably averted on House - although the hospital the show is set in is the fictional Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, and exterior shots are actually of the Frist Campus Center, there is no attempt to connect the setting to Princeton University, which doesn't have a med school.
  • In How I Met Your Mother, Marshall Eriksen is a Law student at Columbia.
    • Ted also becomes a professor of architecture at the end of season four. An especially Egregious example, as the show depicts becoming a Columbia professor as a fallback for someone who can't manage to hold a job as an architect or get a building built, whereas in Real Life, you can't get a professorship at an Ivy League until you're already prominent in your field.
      • It's pretty clear that Ted didn't earn this job; Tony, who is from a wealthy family, used his influenced to buy Ted the job because he felt bad for Stella leaving Ted at the alter for Tony. It isn't implied that being a professor is a fallback for everyone, just that Ted considers it a sign that his career has peaked and he has failed as an architect.
    • Though this trope may be subverted partially, as it's implied (if we can deduce from the name of the residence hall Marshall and Ted lived in) that Ted and Marshall went to Wesleyan University for undergrad, which is the alma mater of the show's creators.
      • At this point, it has been made explicit. I know they did a little animation to start a college-flashback or something where a yearbook was opened that said "Wesleyan University" on it. The characters might have actually used the school's name at some point, but maybe not.
  • Dennis and Dee of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia both attended University of Pennsylvania. Dennis graduated. Dee did not.
  • On The Killing, Councilman Richmond mentions that he met his late wife his sophomore year at Dartmouth.
  • Sean Alvarez, a honest stock broker and murder victim on an episode of Law and Order went to Brown.
  • Dr. Jack Shephard of Lost is an alumnus of Columbia.
  • Hit Korean romantic drama Love Story in Harvard is about two South Korean first-year Harvard Law School students and their romantic pursuit of a Korean student in her third year at Harvard Medical School.
  • Bette Porter of The L Word got her degree in Art History at Yale. She also was a graduate student there. Her Ivy League education is supposed to showcase her intelligence, drive, and affluent background.
  • Upperclass WASP-y Pete Campbell of Mad Men went to Dartmouth College.
    • The episode "My Old Kentucky Home," reveals that Paul Kinsey graduated from Princeton in 1955 and sang in the acapella group, the Princeton Tigertones.
    • Ken Cosgrove attended Columbia University.
  • Major Charles Emerson Winchester III of Mash graduated from Harvard College in 1939, where he lettered in Crew and Polo. He also received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1943.
    • In one episode, a visitor to the Swamp asks Charles if he went to Yale. He immediately snaps, "HARVARD!" before regaining his composure and reiterating, "...Harvard."
    • Trapper John McIntyre is a Dartmouth alum, at least in the original novel and film.
  • Ben Matlock, lead character of Matlock, worked for nine years before attending Harvard Law School, and therefore was significantly older than his law school classmates. He graduated from Harvard Law in 1967.
  • In Nip Tuck, Julia McNamara's mother, Dr. Erica Noughton, graduated from Columbia with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.
    • Sean also got accepted into Harvard Medical School, but the admission was rescinded when it was revealed that he failed a class because of cheating caused by Christian.
  • On Numb3rs, mathematical genius Charlie Eppes attended Princeton at age 13 for his undergraduate studies. He graduated when he was 16.
    • Larry Fleinhardt also went to Princeton and graduated when he was 19.
  • Summer Roberts from The OC gets into Brown, despite not being characterized as a nerd.
    • Seth Cohen, The Smart Guy, however, doesn't get in, even though Brown was his dream school. He does get into RISD though (which itself carries Ivy League-level prestige for arts students), so the couple gets to stay close to each other.
  • In The Office Andy Bernard constantly mentions his education at Cornell University and his participation in the acapella group, Here Comes Treble.
    • Which doesn't actually exist, although we Cornellians do have an all-girls a cappella group called Nothing But Treble.
    • In the episode "Job Fair," Jim brings Andy along golfing with a potential client because the client is an alumnus of Dartmouth.
    • In a deleted scene Andy claims to have "sang" his way into the school after he was wait-listed, and in another deleted scene it is mentioned that his father donated a building which is presumably how Andy even got onto the wait-list in the first place.
    • Dwight considers attending Cornell because of its agricultural program (and probably to take away Andy's main advantage over him) and gains an interview. It is notable that because of lower competition and state funding, Cornell's College of Agricultural and Life Science which Dwight presumably applied to, while selective, is significantly easier to get into then the other colleges at Cornell and has the reputation as a "backdoor" into the school, particularly if you grew up on a farm.
    • Its a subversion of how the trope is normally played as Andy seems to be the only character with an Ivy League background yet is one of the show's ditzier characters. But then, the show likes idiots with hidden depths of competence.
  • In Oz, Tobias Beecher attended Harvard Law.
  • Besides the original novel and subsequent film, The Paper Chase was also made into a television series. The show is about first year Harvard laws student Hart and his experiences with the intimidating yet brilliant contracts Professor Charles Kingsfield.
  • In Privileged, Joanna Garcia's character is a Yale alum, and has been hired to get her employer's two daughters into Duke.
  • Jessie Spano from Saved by the Bell goes to Columbia.
    • Zack Morris gets accepted into Yale, despite poor grades or a lack of academic interest, all because he scored high on the SAT.
  • Elliot Reid in Scrubs revealed that she was in a sorority at Brown University in the episode "My Turf War".
  • Matt Camden and Sarah Glass, from 7th Heaven attend Columbia Medical together.
  • Miranda Hobbes of Sex and the City got her law degree from Harvard. In one episode, she hides her educated background and pretends to be a flight attendant in order to get a date during a speed dating session because men are threatened by smart women.
  • Two characters - Thomas and Pandora - get to Harvard at the end of series 4 of Skins, under highly implausible circumstances. Admittedly this trope crosses over with Small Reference Pools to rightpondians.
  • Tony Soprano's daughter, Meadow, is an undergraduate student at Columbia in The Sopranos.
    • Interestingly, she wanted to go to Stanford until Tony intervened.
  • Mayor McDaniels of South Park graduated from Princeton University.
  • Dan Rydell in Sports Night is a Dartmouth alumnus, a subject that is mentioned several times.
  • On Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, another show written by Aaron Sorkin, Jordan (the new, unusually young head of the network) is a graduate of Yale Law School. In order to make it plausible that her character had time to go to law school and become a network head by her early-to-mid 30s, it was revealed that she was hired as the head of a major record label immediately upon graduating Yale Law -- even though there was nothing in her resume that would qualify her for such a position. She wasn't the only character with a Yale degree, either. We were supposed to believe that Simon, one of the sketch comedy actors, attended Yale Drama School.
  • On Supernatural, Sam Winchester was attending Stanford University on a full scholarship before the demon Azazel interfered.
  • In Weeds, Silas Botwin, the son of the main character, dates Megan, who is accepted to Princeton.
  • In The West Wing, Abbey Bartlet, wife of President Josiah Barlet and First Lady of the United States, received her M.D. from Harvard Medical School. (Bartlet himself chose Notre Dame over any Ivy League school, because until he met Abbey, he'd been thinking about becoming a priest, and his loyalty to the school comes up repeatedly. He also went to the London School of Economics, which plays into his background as a Nobel-prize winning economist.)
    • Sam (see below for his educational bonafides) reacts angrily when Ainsley (who is largely playing devil's advocate for an anti-Ivy League position advocated by many Republicans) refers to Bartlet's Ivy League education. First, Notre Dame isn't in the Ivy League and second, why shouldn't we encourage kids to strive for an education at America's best universities? Ainsley agrees, as Sam knows she would.
    • Amy Gardner, women's rights activist and later the First Lady Abbey Bartlet's Chief of Staff, tells Abbey that she got her smart mouth at "Brown, and then Yale Law School."
    • Cliff Calley, Senate Majority Counsel, is an alumnus of Brown and Harvard.
    • Deputy White House Communications Director Sam Seaborn graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University. He makes repeated references to his alma mater, especially in the earlier seasons, indicating a certain pride in his attendance there. "Princeton" is his Secret Service code name, and he mentions being the recording secretary of the Princeton Gilbert and Sullivan Society. His law degree is from Duke, and in one episode he recruits a Duke Law classmate to run in a Congressional election.
    • Ainsley Hayes went to Harvard. And Smith College, a bastion of liberal feminism, which comes up when she goes back to debate there regarding women's rights.
    • Josh Lyman went to Harvard and Yale, and he wants you to know that.
    • Characters who didn't go to Ivy League schools went to similarly prestigious ones like Berkeley, Georgetown and Stanford. The exceptions are Toby, who went to City College in New York, and Donna, who dropped out of the University of Wisconsin.
  • In What I Like About You Valerie Tyler attended Columbia. Holly applies to Columbia as well.
    • Henry Gibson, Holly's boyfriend, attended Princeton.
  • In Will and Grace, Will Truman and Grace Adler met they were students at Columbia University.
  • Jaye Tyler, main character of Wonderfalls, is a recent Brown University graduate with a philosophy degree and holds a dead-end job as a sales clerk at a Niagara Falls gift shop.
  • Special Agent Pete Lattimer from Warehouse 13 regularly wears his Dartmouth football shirt indicating he may be an alumnus.
  • FBI Special Agent Monica Reyes in The X-Files studied folklore and mythology at Brown University.
  • On Friends, Ross becomes a college professor at (where else?) NYU, a school that in reality would NEVER put up with the kinds of things he does (randomly changing grades, giving lectures about coming up with the idea for Jurassic Park first, etc.). Also, in real life, the process of becoming a college professor is much more rigorous and exhausting than how it was portrayed on this show.
    • Plus, most of the school's students are depicted as slackers. Being that NYU has very strict admission requirements, this is pretty unrealistic.


Music


Theater

  • 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.
  • In 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 also 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, as in real life, 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. [4]


Video Games

  • Gordon Freeman from Half-Life earned a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from MIT, and Eli Vance has a doctorate from Harvard. Issac Kleiner worked as a professor for MIT, so he presumably received his doctorate there.
    • Freeman earned his Ph.D before he turned 27! Pretty impressive, I must say.


Webcomics

  • 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-obsessed Mother hound her for two more years.


Western Animation

  • Brian Griffin of Family Guy dropped out of Brown one class short of graduating. He re-enrolls and fails in the episode "Brian Goes Back to College".
  • Mission Hill -- Kevin spends an entire episode trying to "crack" the supposed secret code in the SAT's believing that only a perfect score can get him into Princeton.
  • Quite a few characters in The Simpsons have gone to Ivy League:
    • 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 also 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, Otto nearly got tenure there.
    • 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!"

  • 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.
  • Subverted on Daria--the title character 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.


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.
    • 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."
  • Until the 1960s 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 (not sure about the other Ivies) gives out large amounts of need-based aid; if you are poor enough it covers tuition completely. Combined with grants and scholarships many can go there without paying a dime.
    • Brown has also eliminated loans for students living below a surprisingly high annual income, and eliminited tuition entirely for annual family incomes of below $60,000. It's worth noting that many selective schools such as the Ivies are desperate to increase their diversity -- whether racial, geographical, or financial.
    • However, no Ivy League school offers scholarships based on anything other than need, and none ever has. It is, in fact, a requirement of membership and one of the founding premises of the organization that no scholarships are offered. So every single time you see a character "win a scholarship from Harvard" the writer Did Not Do the Research, as scholarships based on merit only come from alumni foundations, not the school itself.
  • If we're counting law schools, the US Supreme Court's made up entirely of Harvard and Yale alums.
    • And 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 chief editor President of the Harvard Law Review.
    • And Michelle Obama (nee Robinson) is Princeton class of 1984.
  • Some East Coast prep schools ship their graduates to Ivies en masse.
  • Ivy Leaguers are not represented very frequently in professional sports[5] 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. (Incidentally, the quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is now starter.)
    • Jason Garrett, the new head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, is a former Princeton Tigers QB who also played at Columbia.
    • This is why it was such a big deal in the media when Cornell's basketball team actually advanced into the NCAA Basketball Tournament (aka March Madness) Sweet Sixteen in 2010.

Notes

  1. Burlington, VT and Concord, NH
  2. Includes Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mt. Holyoke, Radcliffe, Smith, Vassar and Wellesley. Currently down to just five "sisters," since Radcliffe (then Harvard's women's college) ceased to exist after Harvard started admitting women, and Vassar became co-ed -- but the old name stuck due to Added Alliterative Appeal.
  3. Despite popular misconception, JHU is not just a medical school, however, its association exclusively with medicine in the media means that the name-dropping of JHU in any other field would be an aversion of this trope.
  4. As a result, this exchange is rather popular amongst William and Mary students.
  5. The actual Ivy League does not play in the highest level of college sports and does not offer many athletic scholarships, which makes it hard to attract or produce elite talent.
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