Written by Zoe Elyse
As the 2020 school year comes to close, rising seniors are tasked with the near-impossible chore of deciding which schools to apply to. This can be a long and arduous process, especially when considering the ever-falling acceptance rates of top tier schools.
Why are these schools so highly regarded? What makes them sought after by high school students, and many times, their parents? Some may chalk it up to prestige alone, but these schools have interesting histories that led them to their statuses today.
Harvard University is possibly the most famous college in the world. It was the first college I was ever exposed to, thanks to Legally Blonde.
The oldest ‘institution of higher learning’ in the continental United States, Harvard was founded in 1636. Originally named ‘The New College’ (not to be confused with the contemporary ‘The New School’ in New York), like many colonial colleges, its purpose was to educate clergymen.
According to Harvard’s website, the school gained its current name from John Harvard, “who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution”, which consisted of £779 pounds sterling and some 400 books (Columbia Encyclopedia).
Radcliffe College was founded in 1879 as an all women’s sister school to Harvard when Arthur Gilman wanted a substantial higher education for his daughter but found that many staff at other women’s colleges were largely untrained.
Radcliffe College as an ‘annexation’ of Harvard was approved by the residing Harvard president (Howells). Radcliffe thus came to fruition, with its first president being Elizabeth Cabot Agassiz.
In 1963, Harvard degrees were awarded to Radcliffe students for the first time. In 1967, Lamont Library allowed women access.
In 1975, the two Colleges merged their admissions. In 1977, “a critical date,” Harvard’s ratio of four men to one woman ended with “sex-blind admissions.” I
n 1999, Radcliffe officially merged with Harvard, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study was born (Walsh).” This is the history of Harvard as we know it today.
Colgate University has a much quieter reputation than Harvard on the global level but is highly regarded in the world of liberal arts universities.
If you ever wear their merchandise, be prepared to get asked “Like the toothpaste?” many, many times. I’ve even been asked if I want to be a dentist!
(Note: Colgate, somewhat disappointingly, does not have a dentistry program, although it was once the subject of a very popular April Fool’s joke).
Colgate’s lore is fascinating in that there is a bit of a spin to it. Like many early American schools, Colgate was founded to advance the education of clergymen. Colgate was founded in 1819- and is located in upstate New York- and celebrates ‘Colgate Day’ on Friday the thirteenth.
Hold on, what? Since when is Friday the thirteenth a lucky day? Some say the unluckiness of the number 13 dates back to Judas, the thirteenth disciple, who betrayed Jesus Christ.
So why would Colgate, a University that was started to advance the education of passionate church-goers, celebrate the number thirteen?
According to legend, Colgate was founded by 13 men with 13 dollars, 13 prayers, and 13 articles. It doesn’t just end there.
Colgate’s address is 13 Oak Drive, and its zip code is 13346. Not only does the zip code begin with 13, but the final 3 numbers- 3, 4, and 6- add up to…
You guessed it! 13 (Jenkins).
A fun story to tell on-campus tours, it adds to the charming personality of the little school.
Taking a quick plane ride to the west coast, we can find Stanford University. Stanford isn’t considered an Ivy League school, but it’s one of the most selective colleges in America.
According to the Stanford admissions website, for the class of 2023, they received 47,498 applications and admitted 2,026 students, leaving them with an astonishing acceptance rate of 4.3%.
So why is Stanford so popular, and why isn’t it considered an Ivy League college?
First, we have to define the Ivy League.
In today’s society, many people equate the ‘Ivy League’ with a few ideas.
These ideas include prestigious, competitive, academically inclined, selective, and for many: a goal to reach. It’s true that Ivy League schools are all of these things, but the truth is, this isn’t what Ivy League was intended to refer to at all.
The term ‘Ivy League’ was coined in 1954 to refer to an NCAA Division I intercollegiate group (Ivy League History and Timeline).
So, while the name may be synonymous with prestige today, Stanford, unfortunately, is not included.
That in no way stops Stanford from being prestigious, though. It was founded by Leland and Jane Stanford and was co-ed, which was considered untraditional at the time, in honor of Leland Stanford Jr. who died of typhoid fever at age 15.
Mr. and Mrs. Stanford decided they wanted to use their money to benefit other children in his name. Stanford’s first president said in 1891,
“It is for us as teachers and students in the university’s first year to lay the foundations of a school which may last as long as human civilization… It is hallowed by no traditions; it is hampered by none. Its finger posts all point forward.”