Do I need to study in an Ivy League to be successful?

Many people, when thinking about doing an exchange (mainly in the USA), think that they need to study in an Ivy League to have a successful career. But, is this true? We brought here some facts and data that will show you that, to have a successful career you do not necessarily need to attend an elite school.

Do I have to study in an Ivy League to be successful?

To start discussing this topic, here is the complete list of all the universities that make up the Ivy League:

  • Harvard(Massachusetts)
  • Yale(Connecticut)
  • Princeton(New Jersey)
  • Columbia(New York)
  • Brown University (Rhode Island)
  • Dartmouth College (New Hampshire)
  • University of Pennsylvania(Pennsylvania)
  • Cornell University(New York)

Ivy League universities are located in the northeastern part of the United States and are known for being highly selective and highly prestigious. In terms of sports, the Ivy League is part of Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). However, it is the only conference in this division that does not award scholarships for athletes.

Dartmouth College

But anyway, studying in an Ivy League is synonymous with success?

To answer this question, we consulted the profiles of the entrepreneurs listed on the Crunchbase website , a platform that brings together the most successful and innovative companies on the planet, and the people behind them. Today, the Crunchbase database is used as a thermometer for success across the business world, and the universities that form the founders and CEOs listed on Crunchbase can use them as examples to attract new students.

  • Among the top 10 universities that make up the largest number of Crunchbase entrepreneurs, there are NO Ivy League institutions.
  • Among entrepreneurs with a rating of 1 to 500 on the Crunchbase, 51.2% graduated from institutions of little prestige (ie universities that are out of the top 400).
  • Among Crunchbase entrepreneurs with a rating of 1 to 100, 22% attended an Ivy League university; however, 11% of them obtained their first degree from a university that is not included in the list of the 1,000 best universities in the world.
  • About 70% of entrepreneurs attended only one university, which means that they only obtained a bachelor’s degree.

Going to a university (especially abroad) offers you the opportunity to learn well how the sector in which you want to work works. Therefore, choosing the university well is important, because the connections you make while studying there will help you a lot in your future career. According to Crunchbase data, Stanford is the most popular location among entrepreneurs with the highest ratings (see the table below).

Name Position at QS World University Rankings 2020
1. Stanford 2
2. MIT 1
3. University of California (Berkeley) 28
4. Carnegie Mellon University 48
5. Duke University 25

As you can see, none of the universities in the top 5 of the Crunchbase are from the Ivy League (although they are also well known and prestigious). This is already an indication that studying in an Ivy League is no guarantee of career success. In such cases, what can guarantee a student’s success is networking. Stanford, for example, the best placed on the list, brings together people who are interested in helping each other in business development. Proof of this are the achievements of companies located in Silicon Valley (such as Google, Apple, Microsoft and Tesla), on the outskirts of the university.


In addition, of the most influential entrepreneurs on Crunchbase (those with a rating from 1 to 500), 51.2% graduated from low-prestige colleges (ie universities that are out of the top 400). Below, you will find some examples of famous (and successful) people who did not obtain their first degree at “level 1” colleges, those who are in the top 50:

Name University QS ranking position
Marc Benioff University of Southern California 129
Barack Obama Occidental College HUH
Mark Cuban Indiana University (Bloomington) 312
Marc Andreessen University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 75
Diane Greene University of Vermont (Burlington) 571 – 580
Gary Vaynerchuk Mount Ida College HUH
Jack Ma Hangzhou Normal University HUH
Bryan Johnson Brigham Young University (BYU) 751 – 800
Kristopher B. Jones Villanova University HUH

N / E = did not enter the ranking

Not only does Crunchbase data show that studying in an Ivy League is not synonymous with success. In the book “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be”, journalist and writer Frank Bruni states that, among US-born CEOs who are heads of Fortune 500 companies, only 30 attended a league university.

Does that mean I shouldn’t be studying in an Ivy League?

No way! What these data show is that it is not necessary to study in an Ivy League to be successful. This, however, does not diminish the quality and prestige of these universities. In other words, your success (in terms of career after graduation) depends only on yourself, whether in an Ivy League institution or not.

When choosing the university where you are going to do your exchange, you can analyze other indicators (besides the presence or not of the institution in the Ivy League), such as employability. In addition, to define the quality of a course, you must analyze the rankings specific to the area, as well as those that specifically assess the level of education to which you will apply (undergraduate, master’s or doctorate, for example).