Fiske Guide to Colleges: The Ivy Leagues by Edward B Fiske - Read Online
Fiske Guide to Colleges
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Ever wonder what it would be like to walk the corridors of Benjamin Franklin's university? Or to study in the same library as countless Nobel laureates?

Take an in-depth look at the history and prestige of the most well-known and elite universities in the nation-the Ivy Leagues. With this exclusive sample from the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2014, you can uncover the traditions behind the prestigious reputations and discover which of these academic elites would be the best fit for you.


-Full-color photos
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-Links to school websites
-Links to admission email addresses
Published: Sourcebooks on
ISBN: 9781402294662
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Fiske Guide to Colleges - Edward B Fiske

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Taken literally, the term Ivy League refers to an athletic conference of eight elite privates in the Northeastern U.S.: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Penn, and Yale. More broadly, the phrase is shorthand for the best higher education that the U.S. has to offer. High school seniors often define their college-going aspirations in terms of whether they will be applying to Ivy League schools or settling for one of the other 2,610 four-year options the U.S. has to offer.

The term has been traced to Stanley Woodward, the legendary sports editor of the New York Tribune who in 1933 referred to the football teams of eastern ivy colleges. Formal establishment of the Ivy League athletic conference did not occur until 1954. Ironically, most of the ivy that inspired the term has been removed from campus buildings for reasons of structural soundness.

The eight Ivy schools have much in common, starting with their age. With the exception of Cornell (founded in 1865), all were established before the American Revolution. They all boast world-class professors and state of the art laboratories, studios, and athletic facilities. Collectively, they tap the cream of the crop of high school graduates as measured by grade point averages, test scores, and accomplishments outside the classroom. The Ivies all have stratospheric sticker prices, but they also have the resources to provide lavish need-based financial aid to students from low-income families who can meet their admission standards. Such students are likely to end up paying less at one of these schools than he or she would at, say, a flagship public university with a limited financial aid budget.

But such generalizations can be deceiving. The Ivies all have distinct personalities and institutional cultures. The sizes of the undergraduate bodies range from 4,200 to 14,000. Dartmouth, the smallest, is still technically a college, which means that its primary focus is on undergraduate instruction. The same can be said of Brown and Princeton, which have relatively small graduate schools. By contrast, undergraduates account for only one-third of students at Columbia and Harvard. However brilliant they might be, 18-year-old students who could still benefit from nurturing from full professors might be well advised to look beyond Harvard Yard to one of the smaller Ivies. Seven of the eight schools have some sort of core curriculum or set of distribution requirements; Brown has a philosophical objection to any such thing.

As with higher education generally, there are huge wealth disparities among the Ivies. Harvard’s endowment in excess of $30 billion, the highest of any university anywhere, is ten times that of Brown. Located as they are in major cities, Columbia and Penn have a distinctively urban feel, and it is no coincidence that the most popular student activity at rural Dartmouth is the Outing Club. Yale piles on the coursework and fosters a highly intellectual climate, and no one can walk through Harvard Yard without sensing the echoes of William James, Henry Adams, and other previous denizens of the place. By contrast, Penn was founded in the mid-eighteenth century by Benjamin Franklin, the archetypal pragmatist, so it is no coincidence that his university has been a leader in service learning and service research. Students at Brown and Penn demonstrate that it is possible to get a world class education and still have a good time. Yalies may not be so sure.

Thus, while academic rigor, status, and prestige are givens at every Ivy League school, the contexts in which they dish these up vary greatly from school to school. The write ups in the Fiske Guide to Colleges are designed to describe the particular cultures of each institution and to empower high-achieving college-bound students to decide which Ivy might be the best fit for them.


Each essay covers certain broad subjects in roughly the same order. They are as follows:

Certain topics are covered in all of the essays. The sections on academics, for example, always discuss the departments (or, in the case of large universities, schools) that are particularly strong or weak, while the sections on housing contain information on whether the dorms are co-ed or single sex and how students get the rooms they want. Other topics, however, such as class size, the need for a car, or the number of volumes in the library, are mentioned only if they constitute a particular strength or weakness at that institution.

We paid particular attention to the effect of the 21-year-old drinking age on campus life. Also, we noted efforts that schools’ administrations have been making to change or improve the social and residential life on campuses through such measures as creating learning communities, restricting fraternities, and constructing new recreational facilities.


Much of the fierce controversy that greeted the first edition of the Fiske Guide to Colleges three decades ago revolved around its unique system of rating colleges in three areas: academics, social life, and quality of life. In each case, the ratings are done on a system of one to five, with three considered normal for colleges included in the Fiske Guide. If a college receives a rating higher or lower than three in any category, the reasons should be apparent from the narrative description of that college.

Students and parents should keep in mind that these ratings are obviously general in nature and inherently subjective. No complex institution can be described in terms of a single number or other symbol, and different people will have different views of how various institutions should be rated in the three categories. They should not be viewed as either precise or infallible judgments about any given college. On the other hand, the ratings are a helpful tool in using this book. The core of the Fiske Guide is the essays on each of the colleges, and the ratings represent a summary—an index, if you will—of these write-ups. Our hope is that each student, having decided on the kind of configuration that suits his or her needs, will then thumb through the book looking for other institutions with a similar set of ratings. The three categories, defined as follows, are academics, social life, and quality of