Nescac Schools and Little Ivies: What They Are and Why You Might Consider Them

NESCAC Schools
NESCAC schools are a subset of colleges that are also in the Little Ivies. They are based on an athletic conference which competes in Division III.

Nescac Schools and Little Ivies: What They Are and Why You Might Consider Them

Published August 11, 2023

NESCAC schools are a subset of colleges that are also in the Little Ivies. They are based on an athletic conference which competes in Division III.
NESCAC Schools

You’ll encounter many acronyms and terms as you forge ahead on the road to college. If you’re interested in Northeastern schools, you will want to know these two terms: NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference) and Little Ivies (a group of smaller, Northeastern private liberal arts colleges.) 

What Is the NESCAC?

The NESCAC, or New England Small College Athletic Conference, is an athletic conference composed of highly selective liberal art institutions from the Northeast. They compete in Division III athletics and have large financial endowments totaling nearly $13 billion.

These 11 schools compete in the NESCAC:

>> RELATED: Check out admission rates, merit, financial aid, and more for NESCAC schools. 

All except Connecticut College were established before the 20th century. However, the NESCAC itself didn’t form until 1971. That’s when Bates, Colby, Union College, Hamilton, Middlebury, Trinity, and Tufts joined a smaller conference composed of Amherst, Bowdoin, Wesleyan, and Williams. In 1977, Union College left the conference, and in 1982, Connecticut College joined. 

What Are the Little Ivies Schools?

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

All 11 NESCAC schools are considered Little Ivies, along with seven more:

What Makes Them Little Ivies?

The term “Little Ivies” draws from each school’s academic excellence and small student bodies. 

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

Unlike Ivy schools, which participate in Ivy League sports, the Little Ivies come from all different sports leagues and share no official affiliation.

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

>> RELATED: Ivy League Schools vs. Public Ivies: Who They Are, How to Compare, and How to Choose

NESCAC vs. Ivy League Athletics

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

The NESCAC’s connection to Division III is purposeful, as the schools believe academics should take precedence over students attending only for athletic purposes.

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

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

Like all Little Ivies, NESCAC schools’ smaller populations can lead to consistently closer relationships among the faculty. A smaller school and tighter-knit community is a perfect way to ensure every student is doing their job and staying caught up.

Why Consider NESCAC Schools or Little Ivies?

NESCAC schools and the Little Ivies attract many students and families due to their better chance of acceptance, strong academics, and smaller settings. 

  • Better chance of acceptance: NESCAC schools and the Little Ivies provide students a better opportunity of receiving a degree from a highly regarded institution than trying to get accepted to an Ivy League. They all have acceptance rates nearly double those of the top Ivies.
  • Academic excellence: Both groups of schools are known for their rigorous academic programs. With small class sizes, personalized attention, and renowned faculty, students receive a top-notch education.
  • Extracurricular opportunities: Whether it’s athletics, arts, debate, or community service, students are encouraged to explore and hone their passions, creating a balanced and fulfilling college experience.
  • Alum networks: Graduates of these institutions join an illustrious group of alumni. With strong networks in various industries, students often find mentors and opportunities through their alma mater.

Use Road2College’s College Insights to Find Your Right Fit

Use Road2College’s College Insights Tool to find stats on various NESCAC schools and Little Ivies and help build your student’s college list. You can try it for free to help you find the right college at the right price.

Other Articles You Might Like:

Any Ivy-League Journey: From Yale to Medical School

How to Motivate Juniors to Start the College Process

Colleges with High Acceptance Rates




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