Although Carnegie Mellon isn't an Ivy League University, it's an elite school with an outstanding reputation. Much of its modern-day campus life is influenced by the private research university's history. Students in the marching band perform in kilts and knee-high socks, and the school's mascot is the Scottish Terrier, both of which are nods to founder Andrew Carnegie's Scottish roots.

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When you apply to Carnegie Mellon, you apply to a specific college or program, such as its College of Fine Arts or the Tepper School of Business — and your chances of acceptance vary based on the school’s selectivity. The school is known for its small class sizes; 70% of its undergraduate courses have 20 students or less.

Although the school can be expensive, it performs well in various measures of return on investment. The median salary is over $111,000, far higher than the national average.

Carnegie Mellon is rich in tradition. Each spring, student teams at Carnegie Mellon have designed and built "buggies," which look like a cross between a soapbox car and a luge racer, for a race called the Buggy Sweepstakes (or “Buggy” for short). Another well-known custom draws students outside in the middle of the night to paint a campus fence that serves as an announcement board for student groups. Tradition dictates the hours the fence can be painted — between midnight and sunrise — and that students must then stand guard to keep other groups from claiming the fence for their own message.