15 Fun & Weird Facts About U.S. Colleges

June 04, 2014

1) The phrase “Ivy League” was originally used it to describe several colleges football teams . . . in a disparaging way. New York Herald Tribune sportswriter Stanley Woodward first used the word “ivy” in a 1933, article referring to “a proportion of our eastern ivy colleges” meeting lesser powers in football games. The eight schools Woodward included in his nonexistent league were Columbia, Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth, Brown, Princeton, Army and Penn (Cornell wasn’t included). The first use of the exact phrase “Ivy League” in print occurred in a 1935 story by Associated Press sports editor Alan Gould, and by that fall, Herald Tribune sportswriter Jesse Abramson had gone so far as to publish standings for the fictitious 10-team “Ivy Conference,” with Cornell and Navy thrown in.

2) The College of Rhode Island was renamed Brown University after Nicholas Brown donated $5,000 to the school in 1804. To put things in perspective, tuition was only $5(!).

3) Yale’s famed secret society, the Skull & Bones Society owns the remains of Apache chief Geronimo. In 2009, his descendants sued the club for his remains and LOST. The students allegedly stole from his grave at a prisoner-of-war cemetery at Fort Sill, Okla., around 1918, and brought to its headquarters in New Haven, Conn.


4) The University of Pennsylvania was founded in 1740. You did not misread that. Yes, it existed 47 years before PA even became a state.

5) Evergreen State, UC Santa Cruz, Dartmouth, and the Rhode Island School of Design all have . . . unorthodox mascots: Speedy the Geoduck (essentially a crazy big clam), Sammy the Banana SlugKeggy the Keg (a life-sized keg of beer), and Scrotie the formidable penis and scrotum combo, respectively and respectfully.


6) The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor has an officially sanctioned Squirrel Club. Its sole purpose? To feed peanuts to squirrels. And it’s not as esoteric as you might think. It has 400 members and counting. 

7) To continue the animal welfare trend, in 1978, students at Binghamton University built ramps for salamanders because the curbs were too high for them to climb. In an effort to save the salamanders from being run over by cars, the ramps were installed. And there they will remain for salamanders big or small.

A prototypical salamander ramp
A prototypical salamander ramp

8) Rice University has a puppy room dedicated to pet therapy for students during finals. UPenn Law School has set up a similar program with Penny the therapy dog. Except she’s just one dog. Oh, and she’s stuffed.

9) In 1996 Kermit the Frog gave a commencement address at Southhampton College. For his inspirational insight, he received an honorary Doctorate in Amphibious Letters.



10) Ohio University may be considered the most haunted school in the United States (and possibly the world?). Students who live in Wilson Hall, a reportedly haunted dorm, claim they have communicated with spirits and heard the rattling of door knobs. The dorm has even been featured on the show Scariest Places on Earth.

11) Oberlin College’s Art Museum rents out original paintings from the greats, such as Renoir, Picasso and Pollock, to its students for $5 a semester. Beats my “The Scream” poster freshman year that I believe effectively conveyed the depth of my existential soul within a 24x36” space.

Edvard Munch's 'The Scream'
Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ going “OMG only $5?!!”

12) Carleton College plays an annual softball game that tacks on an inning for each year the school has been in existence. The school was founded in 1866, so this year: 148 innings.

13) Carleton College is also known for its pre-finals, stress-relieving ritual: the “Primal Scream,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Perhaps to further distinguish itself from other colleges that have a similar scream tradition (like Columbia and Stanford), Carleton has developed a new ritual: the “Silent Dance Party,” during which students download the same hour-long playlist, meet at the library at 11pm, and dance silently to, literally, their own tune.

14) In 2012, the University of Chicago received a package addressed to Indiana Jones containing the journal of his fictional mentor Abner Ravenwood, who was a professor of UChicago. Alas, the admissions office was disappointed. ‘Twas not a clever college application, but merely memorabilia from the movie delivered to the wrong address. 

15) Villanova University has a Vatican internship program for which students manage the Pope’s social media accounts. Oh yeah, His Holiness tweets.

Amen to that @Pontifex #followback
Amen to that @Pontifex #followback

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MIT ‘20

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