US Higher Education: the impact of a tumultuous year on Ivy League brands

27th August 2020


Some of the world's most enduring brands are in higher education: the Ivy League, Oxbridge, and tech schools like MIT and CalTech have consistently attracted the world's most ambitious minds, for centuries now, and have seen growing demand from students around the globe over the past decades. 

But the 2019/2020 academic year has proven to be one of the most challenging in recent memory for higher education institutions and their brands, now facing public scrutiny over decision to shut down campuses, remote learning, college bankruptcies in the US, and a backlash against tuition fees. 

We decided to take a look at how the perception of three of the most popular Ivy League Schools brands –Harvard, Princeton and Columbia– might have shifted over the course of the crisis. Our research team did this by developing the Social Brand Personality Index, which maps social conversations to brand personality traits and archetypes. 

Pulsar's Social Brand Personality Matrix measures Brand Personality dimensions (based on Jennifer Aaker's 1997 Brand Personality Dimensions) and maps each brand to Carl Jung's Universal Archetypes (1947). These measurements, especially when done over a period of time and comparing several brands in a same category, can help brands answer a variety of questions about campaign impact, damage control, brand personality alignment, and competitor benchmarking. 

Here's the analysis in detail – university by university. 


Harvard's used to being the top of the class. But compared to 2019, one of the pillars of the university's brand –competence– has taken a hit after the school decided not to lower tuition fees despite moving its classes to online in the Fall.  



The smaller of the three universities we analyzed, Princeton also saw the least change in how it is perceived. While the school saw its values for ruggedness and excitement decrease slightly in relation to preparation for COVID-related measures, its overall values remained stable – consistent with its Jungian archetype of "ruler."  

(you can scroll down to the bottom of the page to download our full analysis across personality traits for all three schools).


Columbia's a bit different from the rest of the Ivies. With an inner city campus, the school's identity is closely tied with that of New York City, and many students choose it because of that urban element.

That can help explain how perceived excitement around the school has dropped when it announced all of its Fall classes would be online. At the same time, the school managed to increase its perceived sincerity, thanks to its work on COVID measures and the diversity of its student body. 

What’s clear from these excerpts of our US University Brand Personality Index is that the Covid crisis has had immediate, direct impact on top Ivy league's brand. Where universities go from here to strengthen their brand, reengage students, alumni and their communities, will be one of the biggest challenges of the next years. 



You can download our full 16-slide presentation, including worksheets by filling out the form below. To find out more how the Social Brand Personality Index might helpyour brand, you can book a demo with one of our specialists here.