Can You Find Ivy League Quality at Non-Ivy-League Schools?

best non ivy league schools

Can You Find Ivy League Quality at Non-Ivy-League Schools?

Published January 19, 2021 | Last Updated April 28th, 2024 at 10:51 am

best non ivy league schools

Along with my “my son, the doctor,” or “my daughter, the lawyer,” many American parents dream of boasting, “our kid, the Ivy Leaguer.”

Harvard’s one dream. Reality offers others. An Ivy League education, while academically rigorous and prestigious, isn’t for everyone. 

First, highly competitive admissions mean numerous rejections, even among valedictorians. The reigning Ivy, Harvard, sports a 4 percent acceptance rate, a fact that is bound to burst some (highly qualified) bubbles.

Cost of attendance also complicates entry: think $54,404 per year on average for Ivy League school tuition. Some applicants may want to think again. 

But choosing a non-Ivy doesn’t have to be sour grapes. Historically, the Ivy League refers to a collegiate athletic conference; there’s nothing inherently top-tier about these eight east coast schools.

And while an Ivy League education opens doors, so do other programs at some of the best non-Ivy league schools.

For the Washington Post, Jerome Karabel reports, “researchers of California at Riverside found that barely 10 percent [of 3,990 senior executives drawn from 15 sectors] attended Ivy League colleges.”

Setting their sights beyond an Ivy League acceptance frees up rising college students to explore practical and personal educational needs, rather than simply accepting the default standard of what is considered best.

What Are the Best Non-Ivy League Schools?

Best non-Ivies may be relative to student interests. College Learners reports that for medical majors, Duke University and the University of Washington offer the highest medical school acceptance rates after graduation.

According to CollegeVine, Johns Hopkins University stars as a premier medical school, but also offers top undergraduate programs with competitive financial aid packages. 

ACollegeKid cites Georgetown as the school for politicians and New York University as a top choice for performing artists.

DesignRush states that companies find their software engineers and developers at the Stevens Institute of Technology and Drexel University, among other non-Ivies.

Crimson Education finds that the University of Chicago offers the quirkiest supplemental essay prompts and has “more Nobel Prize winners in economics than any other university,” while Williams College affords students Oxbridge style, intimate tutorials.

Niche interests aside, selective non-Ivies outrank schools in the Ivy League, particularly when evaluators consider the quality of life for students and quality of education vs. cost. Of top colleges in Money’s The Best Colleges in America, Ranked by Value list, 6 of the top 10 schools are not Ivies.

Best Non-Ivy League Schools: Admissions Rates, and Cost of Attendance

  • University of Michigan, MI: 18%, $35,450 (in-state), $76,294 (out of state)
  • Duke University, NC: 6%, $88,938
  • University of VA, VA: 19%, $39,494 (in-state), $78.214 (out of state)
  • Vanderbilt University, TN: 7%, $89,590
  • University of California, San Diego, CA: 25%, $42,639 (in-state), $76,839 (out of state)
  • University of California, Davis, CA: 37%, $44,701 (in-state), $78,901 (out of state)

What Schools Are Hidden Ivies and New Ivies?

In 2000, education experts Howard and Mathew Greene proposed the idea of hidden Ivies, 63 exceptional and selective schools, including small colleges and large research universities.

These schools rival the Ivies; they just aren’t in the same sports league. 

Newsweek identified the concept of new Ivies in 2006 to add to the hidden Ivy list of schools (both public and private) with competitive academics and faculty if not the endowment size or cachet of the Ivies. 

Best Hidden and New Ivies: Admissions Rates, and In-state Cost of Tuition

  • Carnegie Mellon University, PA: 11%, $84,412
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: 17%, $27,036
  • Emory University, GA: 11%, $84,500
  • Boston College, MA: 17%, $92,000
  • Vanderbilt University, TN: 7%, $89,500

Hidden Ivies and New Ivies are umbrella terms. Breaking down the non-Ivies further helps narrow the college search.

What Are Public Ivies?

Educational expert Richard Moll coined the term public Ivies in 1985 to describe highly respected public universities that aren’t in the Ivy League. Moll initially identified eight schools in this category.

The list of public Ivies was expanded in 2001 to include 30 institutions.

While the Ivy League schools all cluster in New England, Public Ivies span the United States, which may appeal to students who don’t like the cold or want to attend college in a different region.

Other advantages of public Ivies may include rigorous academics and impressive faculty at public-school prices. Admissions rates are sometimes less exclusive than at Ivy League schools, making them somewhat more accessible than Harvard and Yale.

Public Ivies tend to have more racially and socio-economically diverse student bodies than Ivy League Schools, says Jerome Karabel for the Washington Post.

Before applying to a Public Ivy, first consider if the average class size meets your needs.

Best Colleges notes that while the Ivy League schools have on average about 8,500 students, public Ivies tend to be larger; for example, University of Michigan, and the University of California, Los Angeles, have over 31,000 undergraduates, and the University of Texas at Austin has over 40,000 undergrads.

Best Colleges also states that public Ivies may have smaller endowment sizes and smaller financial aid packages than Ivy League Schools. Check individual schools to ensure that lower tuition rates make up for the potentially reduced aid packages.

Best Public Ivies: Admissions Rates, and In-state Cost of Tuition

  • Ohio State University: 53%, $31,230
  • University of California, Berkeley: 11%, $48,574
  • University of Michigan, Ann Arbor: 18%, $35,450
  • Binghamton University, NY: 42%, $31,172
  • University of Texas at Austin: 31%, $30,752

What Are Little Ivies?

Little Ivies is an unofficial term for a group of small, private liberal arts schools with high academic standards in the Northeastern US. Little Ivies include all of the schools in the New England Small Athletic Conference (NESCAC) and seven schools outside of New England. 

At a little Ivy school, a student can be a big fish in a small pond. Best Colleges reports that all except Tufts have a population of fewer than 5,000 students. Since smaller communities are tighter knit, many have disbanded fraternities—a trend some students might like.

Best Little Ivies: Admissions Rates, and In-state Cost of Tuition

  • Bates College, ME: 14%, $85,370
  • Bowdoin College, ME: 9%, $85,100
  • Colby College, ME: 8%, $89,240
  • Bucknell University, PA: 33%, $84,736
  • Colgate University, NY: 12%, $87,916

How to Find More Examples of the Best Non-Ivy League Schools

For more examples of best non-Ivies to meet your child’s needs, along with detailed information about class sizes, financial aid packages, and more, be sure to check out R2C Insights. This tool will help you find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend. 

👉 Looking for expert help on the road to college? See our Preferred Partner List!

Other Articles You Might Like:

Are Ivy League Schools Worth It? A Father Shares His Advice

An Ivy League Journey: From Yale to Medical School

What to Know About the NESCAC Schools and Little Ivies





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