When is there a "the" at the beginning of a university's name?

For Example,

  • Cornell University or the Cornell University,
  • Brown University or the Brown University,
  • Johns Hopkins University or the Johns Hopkins University, (I saw the latter is used often, and not sure about the former)
  • Carnegie Mellon University or the Carnegie Mellon University,
  • University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign or the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign,
  • Stanford University or the Stanford University.


  • 2
    (JHU alum here) -- Johns Hopkins is actually The Johns Hopkins University (capitalized "The"), although I don't know why. Hopkins has worse problems with the spelling of the name itself. I worked in the admissions office and we saw applications to "John Hopkins," "John's Hopkins," "John's Hopkin's," "John Hopkin," "St. Johns Hopkins," "Johnson Hopkins," "John Hapkins," and "Johns Hopkin." Oct 2, 2013 at 7:53
  • @ChrisGregg So here's the inevitable question: Does applying to "Johnson Hopkins" automatically get you a rejection from Johns Hopkins?
    – us2012
    Oct 2, 2013 at 10:43
  • @us2012 Good question! If it was simply on the application envelope (when we still used paper), we just laughed and pinned the envelope to the bulletin board. If it filtered into the essay, "I've always loved Johnson Hopkins..." then it would probably be a strong negative (but "I've always wanted to go to Cornell" pretty much got a quick reject...well, unless it was a lacrosse player). Oct 2, 2013 at 10:48
  • (CMU alum here) -- I have never heard it with the definite article. They have a style guide at cmu.edu/marcom/brand-guidelines/images/writers_style_guide.pdf, also without the definite article. The biggest change (1990s?) was when they dropped the hyphen. It was "Carnegie-Mellon University" when I graduated.
    – rajah9
    Oct 7, 2013 at 13:45

3 Answers 3


I'd say,

My brother went to Stanford University. Not the...

My brother is a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.

So in most cases, when the school starts with University, you will need the, otherwise you wont. Remember I said in most cases. There's always exception to this rule.

  • 1
    wouldn't it be more adequate to say "you will need the the" ;) Oct 2, 2013 at 11:45

In some cases, the "THE" is for distinction, and it's a stylistic choice on the part of the university. Here is what "The" Ohio State University has to say on why they decided to change their name from Ohio State University (OSU) to The Ohio State University:

Why are we called "THE" Ohio State University"?

In 1986, a new University logo was introduced in the hopes of moving away from the "OSU" symbol, which had been used since 1977. The change from simply "OSU" was said to "reflect the national stature of the institution." University officials wanted the institution to be known as "The Ohio State University," again, since OSU could also mean Oregon State and Oklahoma State University.

However, the "The" was actually part of the state legislation when the university was renamed in 1878. The following excerpt is from the Board of Trustee minutes:

"...the educational institution heretofore known as the 'Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College,' shall be known and designated hereafter as 'The Ohio State University.'" Those who wanted the name change thought the original name was too narrow in scope, and that it was inadequate for the institution that was the only beneficiary of the land grant act. President Edward Orton was insistent that a new name would separate the institution from other colleges in Ohio.

Legend also has it that "The" was used to show the other colleges which institution was supposed to be the leader in the state - both in size and in financial support from the legislature.

NB: A handful of NFL players who attended OSU--Eddie George and Chris Carter are the ones I remember--began emphasizing the "The" in front of Ohio State University when they were featured before a game. I think it caught on in the NFL and other players started mimicking it. So, you'd hear "The" Louisiana State University when LSU has otherwise never used the definite article.

  • Thanks! WHy " the Johns Hopkins University"?
    – Tim
    Oct 2, 2013 at 5:46
  • I think it's an issue of formality. The Johns Hopkins University wikipedia page lists "Johns Hopkins" as an informal title.
    – tylerharms
    Oct 7, 2013 at 12:23

There is only a "the" if the university/college has that as part of its official name. A few years ago NFL players started adding a "The" in front of their respective university's name during introductions and the fad has spread to other sports and general use.

  • I think it goes deeper than that, because I have generally heard "the Rhode Island School of Design" (aka Rizdee), which sends few if any students to the NFL. And, in contrast, merely Rhode Island University. Oct 2, 2013 at 17:25
  • In the case of the NFL, I believe it was Chris Carter and Eddie George, maybe a few others, all OSU alums, who started adding the "The" before OSU when they were announced at the start of the game. Some pomp and circumstance that just caught on, I'd say.
    – tylerharms
    Oct 7, 2013 at 12:25
  • @tylerharms - I believe you are right. I didn't want to call out any person or university without knowing for sure. I watch practically every game of the season and it is so common that you are surprised when there is no "the". What is funny is we both have good answers to the question and the one voted up is the one that basically doesn't answer the question... so the site rolls. I will give yours a vote up. Oct 7, 2013 at 14:45

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