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Famous Ivy League alumni

By Sofia Konstantzou

Updated March 18, 2021 Updated March 18, 2021

The Ivy League is a small group of eight private, prestigious US universities that enjoy a reputation for excellent education, top-ranked academics and award-winning faculty, along with significant history and selectivity in admissions. This group of universities includes Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth College, Princeton, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard. In both past and recent years, these Ivy League universities and colleges have produced a plethora of famous alumni, from politicians and entrepreneurs to authors, actors and Nobel laureates. Read on to discover some of the most prominent Ivy League graduates…

 1. Brown University

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Founded in 1764, Brown University lays claim to a diverse selection of famous alumni. Brown alumni who have made it in the film industry are plentiful; Harry Potter actress Emma Watson graduated with an English literature degree in 2014, the same as Grey’s Anatomy’s actress Jessica Capshaw back in 1998, whereas The Office actor John Krasinski majored in theatre arts, graduating in 2001. Film director Todd Haynes got a BA in Arts and Semiotics (1985), similar to novelist Jeffrey Eugenides, known for his novel The Virgin Suicides, who graduated with honours as a semiotician. Brown also doesn’t lack in famous alumni from the sciences; NASA head during the first seven Apollo missions Thomas O. Paine received an honorary doctor of science degree in 1942, while Nobel Prize Winner Craig Cameron Mello earned his BSc in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

 2. Harvard University
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Harvard has a long history of producing renowned politicians and prime ministers. Its famous alumni include numerous US presidents, such as John Adams (BA and MA degrees in 1755 and 1758 respectively), Franklin D. Roosevelt (BA in history in 1903 and honorary LLD in 1929) and current US President Barack Obama (JD in 1991). Current Secretary General of the UN, South Korean Ban Ki-moon also earned his Master of Public Administration at Harvard in 1984. Musician Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave) graduated with a BA in social studies in 1986, representing one of relatively few famous alumni from Harvard who have achieved global recognition in the music industry. In the film sector, Academy Award winner Natalie Portman earned a degree in psychology (2003), while film director Darren Aronofsky majored in social anthropology.

3. Yale University
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All-time Hollywood favorite Meryl Streep earned her MFA at Yale School of Drama in 1975, graduating a year after Alien actress Sigourney Weaver, who received the same degree. Another famous graduate of Yale in the acting world is the late Vincent Price (degree in history, 1933). The financial and entrepreneurial worlds are widely represented among Yale’s famous alumni, one example of which is Time Warner’s CEO Jeffrey Lawrence Bewkes, who got a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1974. The same year, Nobel laureate and economist Paul Krugman earned a BA in – what else? – economics, just like 41st President of the United States George W.H. Bush 26 years previously. Following in his father’s steps, George W. Bush also graduated from Harvard, earning a BA in history in 1968.

4. Cornell University
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Cornell University boasts that it is the only institution whose list of famous alumni includes three female winners of unshared Nobel Prizes: authors Pearl S. Buck and Toni Morrison who won the Nobel Prize in Literature, and Barbara McClintock, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Another successful author who graduated from Cornell is E.B. White, who earned his BA in 1921. Former President of Cuba Mario Garcia Menocal graduated from Cornell’s School of Engineering in 1888, while pop culture’s favorite Superman actor Christopher Reeve received a bachelor’s degree in English and music theory in 1974. Last but not least, Cornell graduates who made it big in the business world include Mondelez International’s CEO Irene Rosenfeld and Johnson and Johnson’s chairman Sandi Peterson (BA in Psychology and BA in Government Studies respectively).

5. University of Pennsylvania
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One of Penn’s most prominent graduates is philosopher, linguist and political theorist Noam Chomsky, who earned all his degrees (BA, MA and PhD) at Penn, unsurprisingly majoring in politics and linguistics. In the sphere of politics, the first President of Nigeria Nnamdi Azikiwe earned his master’s in anthropology in 1934. Once again, famous alumni who skyrocketed to fame in financial and business life are well-represented; American businessman and investor Warren Buffet entered Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania in 1947, switching course to earn his MSc in Economics from Columbia Business School in 1951. Successful businessman and TV personality Donald Trump graduated with a BSc in Economics in 1968, while his daughter, Ivanka Trump, got the same degree with honors in 2004.

6. Princeton University
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Famous American actor James Stewart graduated from Princeton with a degree in architecture (1932), without ever needing to practice it, since he went on to achieve Hollywood fame and critical acclaim for his acting. Another Princeton alumnus who later made it in the film industry is Brooke Shields, who studied French literature (class of 1987). Google chairman Eric Schmidt earned a BSc in Electrical Engineering (1976), despite having initially started out studying architecture. A special mention needs must go to American entrepreneur and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who earned not one but two bachelor’s degrees with honors, one in electrical engineering and one in computer science. Finally, writers Eugene O’Neill and F. Scott Fitzgerald studied briefly at Princeton, though both dropped out without graduating.

7. Columbia University
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Authors Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg of the famous Beat Generation both attended Columbia University in the late 1940s and, while there, frequently contributed articles to student newspapers and magazines. American author and professor of biochemistry Isaac Asimov received his MA in Chemistry in 1941, followed by a PhD in Biochemistry in 1948. American economist and statistician Milton Friedman completed his PhD in 1946, going on to receive the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1976. Singer Art Garfunkel, from the American folk rock duo Simon & Garfunkel, graduated from Columbia with a BA in Art History (1965) and later on with an MA in Mathematics (1967). Last but not least, the cinematic sphere is represented by actor Ed Harris who majored in athletics in 1969, as well as filmmaker Sidney Lumet who studied theatre acting.

8. Dartmouth College
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The 41st Vice President of the United States Nelson A. Rockfeller received his degree in economics with honors in 1930. Spin City and American Horror Story actress and producer Connie Britton graduated from Dartmouth in 1989, majoring in Asian studies with a concentration in Chinese. Indian American political commentator Dinesh D’Souza got a BA in English (1983), while Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner majored in politics (1985). We’ll close with two representatives from literature, as Pulitzer Prize winners and poets Robert Frost and Richard Eberhart both attended Dartmouth and earned their degrees there.

This article was originally published in October 2015 . It was last updated in March 2021

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Sofia formerly worked for QS's social media team. She holds a Master of Arts in Brands, Communication and Culture from Goldsmiths, University of London. She is originally from Athens, Greece.