What is a "Tippy-Top"?

I’m new to CC, and I keep seeing this adjective to describe colleges. What does it mean? Top 20? Top 5? Top 50?

So funny, I am somewhat new and made the assumption that it was a top 20, top 5 or top 50 national university or liberal arts college from the US NEWS best colleges list. I could be wrong, so look forward to hearing answers. Glad you asked!

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Tippy top is whatever you consider it to be.

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In general, the term refers to a very selective college, especially any college with an acceptance rate under 15% or so. Some people probably think a tippy top refers to the Ivy League, others might think it’s just Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, plus Stanford and MIT (HYPSM), some people probably think tippy top is reserved for the top 20 (according to which ranking is a big can of worms), others think it refers to a few very selective colleges, such as the Ivy League, Johns Hopkins, Cal Tech, and others already mentioned. There is no exact number and no firm list of colleges that constitutes tippy top.

As far as including LAC’s as tippy tops, if one was doing that, they would probably clarify that they were also talking about tippy top LAC’s. I think most people here on CC wouldn’t necessarily assume that a discussion of tippy tops included top LACs. Just to make it all more complicated than it needs to be, lol. No doubt someone will disagree with me.

Enjoy the ride. Try not to get too dizzy:
How does the importance of prestigious national colleges vary by region? - Parents Forum - College Confidential


Everyone probably has a different defintion of a “tippy-top”. When I use the term, most often I use it in a more restrictive sense: no college that offers ED qualifies. So my list are MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Yale (ex-STEM) in the East, and Caltech, Stanford in the West. Occationally, I use the term less restrictively to refer to colleges a step or two above a typical “elite” (more often I use the term “super-elite” to describe such colleges).

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It’s a nebulous term - the top segment of the “top” schools. I would guess somewhere between the top 5 and top 20 schools that the user may have in mind.

Other times, it can just be hyperbole. “I’m only applying to the tippy-tops”.

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As you can see most of these answers are subjective and based on the posters personal views and motivations.

For me, tippy tops are schools with single digit admission rates (or close to single digits). Off the top of my head, I would say the Ivies, MIT, Cal Tech, Stanford, Duke, Vandy, Rice, Northwestern, JHU, Chicago, Rice, maybe throw in Amherst and Williams for good measure. Of course, as other posters have noted, it’s subjective.

Thanks. That’s 20 schools – that’s sort of what I assumed folks meant by it, but I wasn’t sure.