What to Know About the NESCAC Schools and Little Ivies

NESCAC Schools

What to Know About the NESCAC Schools and Little Ivies

NESCAC Schools

As though we didn’t already have enough acronyms to remember while forging ahead on the road to college admissions!

But, if your student is at all interested in schools in New England, this acronym is one you will want to add to your list.

What Is the NESCAC?

The NESCAC, or New England Small College Athletic Conference, is an athletic conference comprised of highly selective liberal art institutions from the Northeastern region of the United States. They compete in Division III athletics and have some of the largest financial endowments of any colleges in the world totaling nearly $13 billion dollars combined.

In total there are 11 different schools that compete in the NESCAC:

  • Amherst College
  • Bates College
  • Bowdoin College
  • Colby College
  • Connecticut College
  • Hamilton College
  • Middlebury College
  • Trinity College
  • Tufts University
  • Wesleyan University
  • Williams College

Though all of the schools, with the exception of  Connecticut College, were established before the 20th century, the NESCAC itself wasn’t founded until 1971 when Bates, Colby, Union College, Hamilton, Middlebury, Trinity, Tufts joined a smaller conference that had previously been created by the long-lasting rivalries between Amherst, Bowdoin, Wesleyan, and Williams. In 1977 Union College left the conference and wouldn’t be replaced by Connecticut College until 1982.

What Are the Little Ivies Schools?

The Little Ivies, unlike the NESCAC, is not an official term taken by any schools, but instead, it’s an unofficial group of small liberal art schools located in the Northeastern United States. 

All 11 of the schools in the NESCAC are also included in the Little Ivies along with 7 more:

  • Bucknell University
  • Colgate University
  • Haverford College
  • Lafayette College
  • Swarthmore College
  • Union College
  • Vassar College

What Makes Them Little Ivies?

The name Little Ivies draws from each of the school’s high academic excellence as well as their small student body population.

Only one school, Tufts, has an undergraduate population of over 5,000 students. Their small student body allows them to focus on academics and has also led to many of the schools, such as Williams, Bates, Colby, and Bowdoin to disband their fraternity and sorority systems. 

Unlike the actual Ivy schools, which are connected through their participation in the Ivy League, the Little Ivies come from all different sports leagues and share no official affiliation with each other.

Just as there is the “Big Three” Ivy League schools in Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, the Little Ivies have the “Little Three”, which are Amherst College, Wesleyan University and Williams College and they have the “Maine Big Three”, used by Colby College, Bates College, and Bowdoin College.

What Differs Between NESCAC and the Ivy League?

The most prominent difference is that the NESCAC competes in Division III athletics while the Ivy League competes in Division I.

The NESCAC’s connection to Division III is purposeful as all the schools believe that academics take precedent over students solely attending for athletic purposes.

Adhering to the rules of NCAA Division III prevents any of the NESCAC schools from giving out athletic scholarships and must solely grant their financial aid on the basis of need.

Additionally, Division III only permits students to play sports during that sport’s specific season. For students who excel both academically and athletically, NESCAC schools may be particularly appealing as they allow students to participate in multiple sports, but still, earn an outstanding education.

Like all the Little Ivies, the NESCAC’s smaller population and more can lead to consistently closer relationships among the faculty.

According to Road2College’s own College Insights Tool, five NESCAC schools rank in the top 30 for 4-year graduation rates. A smaller school and tighter-knit community is a perfect way to make sure every student is doing their job and not falling behind.

Why Do the Little Ivies and NESCAC Matter?

NESCAC schools and the Little Ivies provide students a better chance of receiving a degree from a highly regarded academic compared to trying to get accepted to an Ivy League school. They all have acceptance rates nearly double those of the top Ivies, but still present students with rigorous academics and opportunities to succeed after college.






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