Ivy League Schools vs Public Ivy League: Which is the Better Choice?

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Ivy League Schools vs Public Ivy League: Which is the Better Choice?

Published August 12, 2023

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When it comes to prestigious colleges, the terms “Ivy League” and “Public Ivies” often come up. But what distinguishes these two categories, and how do you decide which might be right for you?

What Are Ivy League Schools and Public Ivies?

Definition of Ivy League

The Ivy League refers to a group of eight private institutions in the northeastern United States that are known for their academic excellence, selective admissions, and rich history. The Ivy League schools are Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, University of Pennsylvania, and Cornell.

Definition of Public Ivies

Public Ivies are state-funded universities that offer a quality of education comparable to that of the Ivy League institutions but at a public school price point. Examples include the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan, and UC Berkeley.

How Ivy League vs. Public Ivies Differ

While both types of institutions provide top-notch education, Ivy Leagues are private, often have smaller class sizes, and can carry a heftier price tag. Public Ivies, being state-funded, often have larger student bodies and offer a more affordable option, especially for in-state residents.

How Did the Ivy League and Public Ivies Start?

The origins of the Ivy League and Public Ivies are rooted in both tradition and the need for academic excellence in the United States.

The Ivy League’s History

The term “Ivy League” is now synonymous with prestige, academic excellence, and age-old tradition, but its origins are somewhat more humble.

The name “Ivy League” originally referred to the athletic conference in which these schools competed. It was officially formed as an athletic conference in the NCAA Division I in the mid-20th century, specifically in 1954. However, the schools themselves have much deeper roots, with most founded well before the American Revolution. Harvard, the oldest, was founded in 1636.

The word “ivy” in the name has a dual connotation. First, it suggests the athletic league’s origin, as “IV” can be read as the Roman numeral for “four,” indicating the original four colleges: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Dartmouth. However, as the league expanded to include eight institutions, this interpretation became less relevant.

Second, and more popularly, “ivy” evokes images of old campus buildings covered in ivy vines, suggesting the age, tradition, and historical significance of these institutions.

History of the Public Ivies

The concept of “Public Ivies” is much more recent. The term was popularized by Richard Moll in his 1985 book, “Public Ivies: A Guide to America’s Best Public Undergraduate Colleges and Universities.” Moll coined the term to describe public universities that provided an Ivy League collegiate experience at a public school price.

These schools, including the University of Virginia, University of Michigan, and UC Berkeley among others, were recognized for their rigorous academic programs, research contributions, and commitment to providing high-quality education accessible to a broader demographic. 

In essence, while the Ivy League schools evolved as a group of longstanding, private institutions known for their traditions and academic prowess, the Public Ivies emerged as a response to the need for equally compelling educational opportunities accessible to the larger public. Both groups, in their unique ways, have profoundly influenced higher education in America.

Which Colleges Are Considered Public Ivies?

The list of Public Ivy colleges has grown over time and now stands at 30 schools in five regions of the United States. Examples include Penn State, the University of Maryland, the University of Michigan, and the University of Florida. 

Here’s the full list, as described in the 2001 book, The Public Ivies: America’s Flagship Public Universities. 

Northeastern Region

  • Pennsylvania State University (University Park)
  • Rutgers University (New Brunswick)
  • State University of New York at Binghamton
  • University of Connecticut (Storrs)

Mid-Atlantic Region

  • University of Delaware (Newark)
  • University of Maryland (College Park)
  • College of William & Mary (Williamsburg)
  • University of Virginia (Charlottesville)

Southern Region

  • University of Florida (Gainesville)
  • University of Georgia (Athens)
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Texas at Austin

Western Region

  • University of Arizona (Tucson)
  • University of California (Berkeley)
  • University of California (Davis)
  • University of California (Irvine)
  • University of California (Los Angeles)
  • University of California (San Diego)
  • University of California (Santa Barbara)
  • University of Colorado (Boulder)
  • University of Washington (Seattle)

Great Lakes and Midwest Region

  • Indiana University (Bloomington)
  • Miami University (Oxford, Ohio)
  • Michigan State University (East Lansing)
  • The Ohio State University (Columbus)
  • University of Illinois (Urbana–Champaign), University of Iowa (Iowa City)
  • University of Michigan (Ann Arbor)
  • University of Minnesota (Minneapolis–Saint Paul)
  • University of Wisconsin (Madison)

Author Richard Moll, who coined the term “Public Ivies,” initially identified only eight universities that matched the caliber of Ivy League schools. His original Public Ivy list in 1985 was composed of:

  • College of William & Mary
  • Miami University
  • University of California
  • University of Michigan
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Virginia

The expansion to 30 schools in 2001 helped to spotlight the increased quality of higher education outside the Ivy League and the original eight Public Ivies.

Factors to Consider for Choosing Ivy League vs. Public Ivies

To make a good college choice, consider these factors that might steer you one way or the other. 

  • Cost: Ivy Leagues can be pricey, but their financial aid is often robust. Public Ivies, particularly for residents, can be a steal.
  • Location: Want to be in the Northeast? Ivy Leagues. Keen on exploring other parts of the US? Public Ivies.
  • Size: Favor intimate class settings? Ivy Leagues. Prefer a more extensive campus life? Public Ivies.
  • Academics: Both are academic powerhouses, but specialties can vary.
  • Student life: Public Ivies, with their larger cohorts, often boast a broader range of activities.
  • Alumni network: Ivy Leagues often have a vast, influential global alumni web.
  • Career prospects: While both can be a launchpad to illustrious careers, some sectors may have preferences.

The Affordability of Public Ivies vs. Ivy League

Ivy League schools are known for their high tuition fees, which can exceed $50,000 per year. Public Ivy League schools, on the other hand, offer lower tuition fees, which can range from $10,000 to $30,000 per year, depending on the state and the program. 

However, both Ivy League and Public Ivy League schools offer generous financial aid and scholarship programs, which can help make college more affordable for students from all backgrounds.

Another thing to consider: The cost of a Public Ivy college is often particularly low for in-state students, which makes them a strong choice for many families. And proponents say that the  lower cost doesn’t mean lower quality. 

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education reports that Public Ivies are “successfully competing with the Ivy League schools in academic rigor … attracting superstar faculty and in competing for the best and brightest students of all races.”

Ivy League vs. Public Ivy Admission Rates

While admissions rates at Ivy League schools currently range from 3% at Harvard to 7% at Cornell, the admissions rates at Public Ivies are higher. In fact, the original 8 Public Ivies current admissions rates range from 8.57% at UCLA to 89% at  Miami University (Ohio).  

Admission to both the Ivy League schools and the Public Ivy League is highly competitive, but the requirements differ between the two groups. Ivy League schools tend to have stricter admission requirements, including higher standardized test scores, GPAs, and extracurricular activities. Public Ivy League schools also have high admission standards but may place more emphasis on factors such as diversity, leadership potential, and community involvement.

Academic Programs of Ivy League vs. Public Ivies

Both the Ivy League and Public Ivy League schools offer a wide range of academic programs, including liberal arts, sciences, engineering, and business. Ivy League schools tend to have a more traditional approach to education, with a strong focus on the liberal arts and humanities.

Public Ivy League schools, on the other hand, offer a wider variety of majors and may have a more practical approach to education, with a focus on applied sciences and professional programs.

Career Opportunities for Ivy League vs. Public Ivies

Both Ivy League and Public Ivy League schools are known for producing successful graduates who go on to pursue rewarding careers in various fields. Ivy League schools tend to have stronger alumni networks and more prestigious job opportunities, particularly in fields such as finance, law, and academia. Public Ivy League schools, on the other hand, may have a wider variety of job opportunities and a more diverse alumni network, particularly in fields such as technology and engineering.

>> RELATED: What to Know About the NESCAC Schools and Little Ivies

Which Is Better: Ivy League or Public Ivy?

That depends on you. The answer, quite simply, is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Both have their unique strengths, offerings, and legacies.

Choosing between an Ivy League and a Public Ivy isn’t just a matter of prestige or tradition — it’s about finding the environment where one can truly thrive, both academically and personally.

For some, the allure of an Ivy League school, with its rich history, intimate class sizes, and influential alumni network, might be the right choice. For others, a Public Ivy, with its diverse student population, state-of-the-art facilities, and often more affordable tuition, could be the more fitting option.

Ultimately, the best institution is one that aligns with an individual’s goals, values, academic interests, financial situation, and long-term aspirations. 

In making the final decision, students and parents should compare their list of desired criteria against current information published online, such as on R2C Insights, as well as on university websites.

Do your due diligence. Examine the programs, the instructors, the curriculum, and the courses. Get a feel for the personality of the school, such as through a campus tour. Research housing options, libraries, cafeterias, events, student culture, and support.

After all this, compare the overall cost of attendance against your desired criteria, and you’ll have a much better feel for which school – whether Ivy, Public Ivy, or another – is best for you and your situation.

Find the Right College at the Right Price With R2C Insights

Road2College offers a college comparison tool called R2C Insights that you can try for free. With a tool like R2C Insights, and a willingness to do other research, you can get a good picture of what a school offers. 

Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to you. 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.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

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

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

Ivy League Schools Vs. Public Ivy League: Which Is Better?

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