For students with a passion for research and academics, pursuing a PhD in an Ivy League program is often the ultimate goal. Known for their rigorous academic standards and reputation as leading institutions, Ivy League PhD programs are considered to be among the best in the world, attracting students from all corners of the globe.

But as enticing as this opportunity may seem, there are also many potential drawbacks that should be taken into consideration before making a commitment. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at some of the pros and cons of Ivy League PhD programs to help you make an informed decision.

Princeton offers Ivy League PhD programs

What is the tea with the Ivy League?

The Ivy League comprises eight prestigious and highly ranked universities in the United States. These schools are renowned for their world-class research and have produced many notable alumni, including former US presidents and Nobel Prize winners.The universities that belong to the Ivy League are Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, University of Pennsylvania, and Cornell.

Despite being known for academic excellence, the Ivy League is actually an athletic conference rather than an academic alliance. It was created in 1954 with the main goal of establishing standards for intercollegiate football.

The Ivy League’s current academic reputation is partly due to the fact that all but one of its member universities were already well-established before the American Revolution.

One of the reasons why the league values intellectual merit is because it was a fundamental principle upon which it was founded. The founders aimed to ensure that athletics did not overshadow academics, and therefore, all eight universities agreed not to provide athletic scholarships. This has resulted in the admission of only the most academically qualified students, and this rule still holds true today.

Over the past 70 years, the Ivy League has shifted its reputation from being known for its achievements in sports to being recognized for its exceptional research and prestigious graduates. Almost all former US presidents from the past four decades and eight out of nine current Supreme Court justices have pursued their education at an Ivy League institution.

Library at Yale

Why purse a PhD at an Ivy League university?

If you pursue a PhD at an Ivy League university, you can earn your doctorate from a highly respected and long-standing institution. Six out of the eight Ivy League schools are ranked among the top 20 universities globally in the 2023 Times Higher Education World Rankings, and they also score well in research-specific rankings.

Myths surrounding Ivy League PhD programs

The myths surrounding newly minted PhDs from the Ivy League is that they are automatically guaranteed a high-paying job in academia or industry. This could not be further from the truth! While having a degree from such an institution can give certain individuals a leg up, there is no guarantee of success. Many PhD holders still have to compete for jobs and may find themselves taking positions outside of their specialty as they work their way up the ladder.

Additionally, even those who do land ideal positions often have to put in significant effort and time in order to succeed within their chosen field. It’s important for prospective PhD students to realize that hard work is key, and having an Ivy League education only provides a foundation upon which further successes can be built.

Important factors to consider before research Ivy League PhD programs

Prior to applying for any Ivy League PhD program, it is important to make sure that the program aligns with your academic and professional goals. It is also essential to research each school’s individual profiles and preferences in order to ensure a successful application process. Different Ivy League schools have different criteria for acceptance and can require additional information such as aptitude tests, letters of recommendation, transcripts, and essays.

Taking the time to conduct thorough research beforehand will help you determine whether or not you have an appropriate background that meets the standards of admission at these esteemed universities. Understanding what each school looks for in potential candidates can be the key factor in making a successful application.

Additionally, understanding what makes a particular school unique and how it stands out from other institutions may be the deciding factor in your candidacy. As such, it is important to take the time and do your due diligence before submitting any applications. With the right preparation and research, you can increase your chances of gaining admission into an Ivy League PhD program.

Window with ivy around it


Quality of Faculty

Ivy League institutions have been known to hire brilliant stars in their respective fields, making them attractive PhD advisors. These high-profile figures bring experience and contacts that can be incredibly valuable for a student’s career and research endeavors. Moreover, they often have access to resources that may not be available at other universities, such as unique networks or funding opportunities, which can make all the difference in getting good results from research projects. Ultimately, having an Ivy League professor as an advisor provides many advantages that can help propel a student’s career to the next level.

Prestige and Recognition

One of the biggest draws of Ivy League PhD programs is their reputation. Ivy League universities are consistently ranked among the top institutions in the world for research and academics, and having a degree from one of these programs can be a major asset in securing future career opportunities.

Networking and Career Opportunities

Ivy League universities often have extensive alumni networks, which can be an advantage when seeking job opportunities in academia or industry. In addition, these universities attract top researchers and scholars, providing opportunities for collaboration and mentorship.

Resources and Facilities

Ivy League universities typically have substantial resources at their disposal, including state-of-the-art research facilities, libraries, and funding for research. This can be especially beneficial for PhD students who require access to specialized equipment and materials.

Rigorous Academic Standards

Ivy League universities are known for their high academic standards, which can be a positive for students who are looking for a challenge and want to be pushed to their academic limits. PhD programs in the Ivy League are designed to provide students with both theoretical and practical knowledge that prepare them for their future careers.

Generous funding opportunities

Although the fees for PhD program at Ivy League universities may appear high at first glance, it’s unlikely that students will have to pay the full cost of their PhD. This is because Ivy League schools offer substantial funding packages for PhD students which may cover the entirety of tuition fees, and even provide a stipend to support their living costs. Additionally, some funding packages may come with additional benefits such as health insurance.

IIt is common for PhD students in Ivy League universities and other places in the US to have their entire PhD costs covered. Cornell University, for instance, funds almost 97% of its PhD students through a combination of stipends, assistantships, and fellowships.

Princeton  University is among the ivy league schools


Faculty availability

Since they have a history of hiring some of the biggest names in their respective fields who can be excellent PhD advisers, Ivy League programs often house faculy who are also likely have very busy and demanding careers outside the classroom. As a result, their availability as PhD advisers may be limited due to commitments all over the world. It is important to consider this when selecting an adviser since they may not always be available for guidance on your project or thesis.

High Cost of Living

Some Ivy League universities are located in some of the most expensive cities in the world. The high cost of living can make it challenging for students to maintain a good quality of life while pursuing their studies. Additionally, the tuition fees for these programs are significantly higher than those of other universities.

Intense academic pressure

While competition can be a motivator for some, the level of competition in Ivy League PhD programs can be overwhelming for others. Resources and mentorship may be more limited than expected, and the pressure to perform at a high level can be exhausting. The high competition levels can put a lot of pressure on students to perform well, leading to increased stress and anxiety.

Limited Flexibility

Ivy League PhD programs often require a significant time commitment, leaving little room for other pursuits or personal interests. This can be especially challenging for students with families, or those who need to work part-time or full-time while completing their degree.

Limited career opportunities

While a PhD degree from the Ivy League can open many doors, it may also limit a student’s career opportunities. The degree may be perceived as too niche or exclusive, making it difficult for them to secure jobs outside academia.

Prospective PhD student taking a break from considering Ivy League programs.


Ivy League PhD programs offer many potential benefits, including prestige, networking opportunities, and a rigorous academic environment. However, these programs are not for everyone, and students should carefully consider the potential downsides, including the high costs, intense competition, and limited flexibility.

Ultimately, the decision to pursue an Ivy League PhD should be based on your goals, abilities, and personal circumstances. It is important to research different programs and speak with people who have gone through the process before making a commitment. By doing your due diligence, you can make an informed decision and set yourself up for success in your academic and professional endeavors. If you need help either reseaching or applying to PhD programs (Ivy League or not), please make sure to check out our PhD application services and take a quick look at the long list of universities where some of our clients are currently completing their PhD!

With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Philippe spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Philippe has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: