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HYPSM: Meaning and Significance to Students

Many students have long-standing dreams of getting into a particularly prestigious institution, whether for a popular athletics program, a family history of attendance, or for a renowned program of study that nearly guarantees post-graduation success.

Some think the benefit of getting into an HYPSM school exceeds the benefit of any other elite schools and outweighs the financial expenditure required to attend such institutes of higher learning.

HYPSM refers to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and MIT. The first three are institutions of higher learning that have been traditionally referred to as the “big three,” – the oldest and most prestigious universities. The last two more recent additions reflect the schools’ rising status to prominence

While the schools included in the HYPSM acronym are listed as the most sought-after elite institutions, other popular brands include Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University, Brown University, and Dartmouth College. 

Colleges are more selective now than ever – the most selective top tier schools having a 5-8% acceptance rate.

They’re also more expensive than ever, often requiring students and parents to go into insurmountable amounts of debt over the course of a 4-year education.

All of these schools have been deemed the “best” schools in the U.S., though much of the status of an “ivy league” education. This also applies to those included in the acronym HYPSM.

Investigating the History of HYP Schools

Before HYPSM came HYP – the first three schools in the acronym. The reputation of each dated well back toward the latter half of the 19th century, and certainly continue to be well known today.

The name recognition alone carries with it a level of added prestige and unrivaled opportunity. 

Much of that reputation is centered on the teaching faculty, unparalleled university research, competitive academic programming, and notable internship and career opportunities.

However, there is a sense that these institutions are part of a historic legacy of “upper-class only,” with an elite status reserved only for those who attend – primarily those who come from more privileged backgrounds. 

The Origination of the “Big Three”


The phrase “big three” originated in the 1880s not as a recognition of a particular academic program, but rather when these three colleges – Harvard, Yale, and Princeton – dominated college football.

The three universities joined in an intense rivalry among one another with a competition that began in 1878 (source). 

The nomenclature predated any reference to an ivy league level institution by at least a half-century.

But, the three-way acronym is still well known, despite the fact that none of the three are particularly focused on athletic programs today.

Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were considered to be the western counterparts of both Oxford and Cambridge and were primarily institutes of education for the sons of upper-class families and the wealthy. 

By 1920, each had its own focus on acceptance policies that targeted an elite upper-class student body that excluded women and those of low socioeconomic status, and even in 1930 included lineage factors in acceptance decisions. 

While this is a bit of a dismal, unattractive history of acceptance policies, the three universities have taken measures to represent a diverse student body.

They are currently rated among the top institutes of education and the best universities in America, along-side MIT, and Stanford, both more recent additions to the “big three.”  

Together, these five schools reflect the HYPSM acronym of what some consider to be representative of a unique, prestigious educational opportunity. 

Changing the Admissions Process and the Promotion of Economic Diversity

Given the unsightly history of acceptance policies that focused on inclusion of a wealthy, mostly male student body, these universities have had a bit of an uphill climb in disassociating themselves with notably discriminatory acceptance policies. 

Even up until the year 2000, HYPSM schools were of the lowest in number when considering economic diversity, and the pressure to be more inclusive continues to be strong, especially as society as a whole has recognized the problem of inequality.

Harvard, Yale, and Princeton each have been at the center of controversy over the meaning of “merit” based acceptance policies over previous practices that by and large gave the university control over who was accepted.

This perpetuated the existence of an elite class afforded opportunities that were far out of reach for the poor (source).

While students of ivy league institutions seem to still primarily come from both upper-middle and upper-class families, these institutions have increasingly and strategically placed a focus on socioeconomic and class diversity.

They now provide financial aid packages to families from lower-class households (source). 

Due to the availability of Pell Grants (federally funded scholarship money that is given on the basis of need), more students have access to HYP and HYPSM schools.

The basis of acceptance is thankfully more heavily placed on a definition of merit that includes academics, extracurricular activities, and other personal characteristics while excluding family lineage or recognition of elite social status.

The Importance of Diversity in Higher Education

It is not only class that separates students into those who are likely to both apply and be selected to attend ivy league universities and those who are not.

There must also be addressed diversity of race in addition to socioeconomic status, given that the two are determinately related.

The benefits of racial diversity on college campuses can be seen through multiple lenses.

Whether or not such diversity exists among the most sought-after ivy league institutions, particularly HYPSM schools, is in question, despite efforts to level the playing field among income differences.

Just as economic diversity creates a greater learning environment, racial diversity benefits all students by promoting opportunities for engagement both within the classroom and outside of it to different perspectives and views of the world.

This is especially true for students who have had limited exposure to such diversity throughout their high school careers. 

Diversity, in all its forms, is what allows for a framework that promotes equality for all.

Unfortunately, despite having made changes to financial aid packages that assist students of lower economic class, for the most highly selective institutions with the lowest acceptance rates, specifically HYPSM schools, there is still a challenge to recruit, accept, and retain students of lower-income households (source).

The discussion and issue of diversity on college campuses across America will continue to be a heated issue.

But, many institutions are making notable changes in order to promote diversity on their campuses, as well as within academic programs and across extracurricular events. 

A Closer Look at HYPSM Schools

Despite all five HYPSM schools being part of the premier institutes of higher learning in the US and well known across the globe, each university has its own discernable value-added proposition and unique attributes, preference, for the most part, depending on student goals and career objectives.


Harvard, the first in the HYPSM acronym, may be the most well-known and referenced ivy league institution, as well as the oldest, having been founded in 1636.

Harvard’s mission is clear: “to educate citizens and citizen-leaders for our society” (source). 

Their hope is to expose students to new ways of thinking about and understanding the world, with an emphasis on creating the next generation of scholars as well as leaders. 

And, historically, they have done so – having set the tone for an incredibly well-known, high-quality education.

Acceptance to Harvard is of the lowest as compared to other ivy league schools, but acceptance, and consequently graduation, means access to an incredibly prestigious group of alumni, including Barack Obama and Bill Gates.

Today, Harvard offers a vast arena of study abroad programs and curriculum that focuses on real-world application and study and has created avenues to reach and recruit students of various economic, social, and racial backgrounds.   


Yale, found a bit later than Harvard in 1701, promotes a global strategy in its teaching and learning, stating a commitment to “improving the world today and for future generations” (source).

Students at the university are part of a program of studies that hopes to reach the world on a global level, creating opportunities for worldwide research and global networks both during a student’s time at Yale as well as after graduation. 

Students at Yale are also globally diverse, with the university accepting around 22% of its students from abroad.

Additionally, the university strives to offer acceptance to students of varying economic backgrounds, providing more generous financial assistance to applicants in order to provide accessibility to students regardless of income. 

Similar to Harvard in prestige, the value of a Yale education is consistently supported by its student body with high job placement rates post-graduation – though with added opportunity comes an extremely strenuous workload, of course. 


Princeton, the third in HYPSM acronym and last of the “big three,” is a university that hopes to make a difference in the service of humanity.

Founded 45 years after Yale in 1775, it is the fourth-oldest college in the United States and has graduated Nobel Laureate and author Toni Morrison as well as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor (source).

Princeton also focuses heavily on research in fields including engineering and science, the humanities, as well as the natural and social sciences and competitive programs of study that are centered on learning, creativity, innovation, and collaboration.

Also hoping to create a wider net of opportunity for all prospective students, Princeton offers financial aid programs and scholarships that allow some undergraduate level students whose families make less than $65,000 a year to graduate debt-free (source).


The fourth addition to the five ivy league institutions on the list is Stanford, having opened in 1891 (the youngest of the HYPSM schools).

The university places an emphasis on its ever-evolving values, changing right alongside the world and culture over the last 125 years (source).

The university accepts somewhere around 1,700 students per year, offering acceptance to applicants based on academic excellence, intellect, and personal story.  

Additionally, like Princeton, Stanford offers full tuition, room, and board for students whose family incomes are less than $65,000 and also meets tuition needs for students whose combined annual family income is less than $150,000 per year.  

Unlike the other HYPSM schools, Stanford sits at the center of Silicon Valley in California and has graduated successful students of technology, including the co-founders of Instagram. 

In addition, Stanford is no stranger to other avenues to success, including the entertainment industry, having graduated actresses Jennifer Connelly and Sigourney Weaver, as well as broadcasters Ted Koppel and Rachel Maddow (source).

Among the top ivy league universities, some state that Stanford is number one the list of colleges that are worth the significant cost.

Acceptance to Stanford is primarily dependent on the match between the student and the goals of the university, namely to have an impact on the world at large as well as within the Stanford community (source).


A final addition to the HYPSM acronym, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was founded in 1861 to “accelerate the nation’s industrial revolution” and promotes a community of learners who are “elite but not elitist” as well as “artistic, obsessed with numbers, and welcoming to talented people regardless of where they come from” (source).  

MIT, too, focuses on its service to the world at large, having a global perspective on its teaching and learning of technology and industry.

Unlike the “big three” schools, MIT has left a larger footprint in areas of science and technology and the discovery of innovative ideas.

Another aspect of MIT’s programming is its focus on both research and education as part of the community of faculty who create a unique learning environment at MIT. 

Past and current members of the faculty of MIT have received accolades and awards including both the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes.

The cost of attending MIT is a bit lower than that of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, but not by much.

Still, the university continually expresses a commitment to the ongoing work of progressing its diversity both within its faculty as well as among the student body (source).

The Value of HYPSM Schools: Are They Worth it?


Whether a traditional Ivy League school in the northeastern US or one of the HYPSM institutions – all certainly carry with them a name that is worthy of recognition.

These prestigious colleges and universities are some of the oldest in America and are ranked as the best places to receive an education not only in the United States but worldwide.

The question remains, however: is attending one of these institutions of learning more valuable than any other institute of higher education?  Likely, the answer depends upon to whom you are asking the question.

How do we Measure Value?

When we consider the meaning of value, we are simply measuring what we hope to get out of something as compared to the asking price. For attendance at an HYPSM school, that price is high.

The value-add, according to many parents and students alike, is commensurate with the cost of attendance for those who hope to be accepted. 

In this case, the added value lies in both opportunity and future success.

The truth is, though, that students can achieve an excellent education and paralleled future success at both any ivy league school as well as a general liberal arts college. Each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. 

So, much of the answer to whether or not an HYPSM school is worth it, or more valuable than other colleges and universities, simply lies in the goals of the student and the reasons for which the student hopes to attend one of these institutions.

Still, there are certain characteristics and advantages inherent in attendance at an HYPSM school that can add some tangible benefits, including access to prominent alumni, added career and internship opportunities, and specific academic programs with renowned faculty.    

Below are some of the more specific advantages of attending an HYPSM or ivy-league institution:

Alumni and Networking

When you can say that a former president or influential business person also graduated from your university, doors are likely to open in your path. There is no denying that. 

There’s also a sense that access to these individuals is apparent, many of them revisiting universities for discussions and/or further research.

Alumni from many of these schools also offer internship opportunities as well as employment resources at global organizations and well-known, worldwide companies.

Career Opportunities and Internships

When looking at averages, those who graduate from Ivy League institutions and HYPSM schools do tend to make more money post-graduation when compared to their counterparts graduating from other less selective schools.  

Simply the name of the school on a resume can allow for an opportunity that otherwise may not have been available.

Nonetheless, the job is not a guarantee and while the door may be opened, it doesn’t necessarily equate to a higher level of qualification. 

Education and Academic Programming

Attending an HYPSM school does not guarantee a superior education – much of a student’s education is determined by the amount he or she puts into it.  

However, these schools do retain faculty members who contribute significant amounts of research in their respective fields of study, providing students an opportunity to learn from some of the brightest and most talented teachers (source).

Final Thoughts

The cost of college is continually rising, and many students are not just paying for a four-year degree, but rather working toward advanced degrees at both the masters and doctoral levels. 

These students have expressed an insurmountable weight of debt post-graduation, and that has been – and will continue to be – a problem nationwide.

With continued financial assistance programs, scholarships, and a push to offer acceptance to all students, regardless of economic status, the opportunity to attend an HYPSM school has been widened to reach many more students of diverse backgrounds. 

The value of attendance may be incredibly high for one student who has dreams to attend Harvard.

A similar student may have no desire to attend an ivy league university, but rather has dreams to make his or her mark in the community surrounding local liberal arts or community college. 

There is indeed a need for both.  The value of attendance at either is perhaps equal in that each student hopes to better the world in which we live in his or her own way.