Updated: December 6, 2023

Little Ivies

Blockprint of Vassar College 1861

While the name has taken on a whole new meaning since it was coined, “Ivy League” was literally just a sports conference in the northeast. The schools in the conference were included at the time because they were within reasonable traveling range of one another so they could compete among themselves frequently. The term was in use in the early 1930's but became official after the athletic conference in 1954.

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As the United States was settled in the northeast initially, naturally the oldest colleges would be in that region. Harvard, the oldest university in the U.S. was founded in 1636, with the rest of the Ivies being built in the 18th century, along with many other notable universities and colleges. Only 28 of the nearly 4,000 degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the United States were founded before 1800.

Often, when we think of elite education, Ivy League universities spring to mind. It does stand to reason that the oldest universities in the country would be among the most reputable. Harvard was graduating students hundreds of years before most postsecondary schools were even founded. However, nestled in the shadows of these esteemed selective schools lies a group of equally impressive colleges, fondly referred to as the 'Little Ivies'. These select smaller colleges boast educational graduate programs on par with their larger Ivy League counterparts, providing a platform for aspiring environmental scientists, philosophers, and community enthusiasts alike.

Let's embark on a journey to discover if these prestigious schools might be your perfect educational match!

Public VS Private

As you start doing your school research, you're likely juggling myriad considerations. Often, this includes a choice between "Public Ivies" and the 8 elite schools known as Ivy League institutions. Here's a comprehensive breakdown of the key differences between these educational powerhouses, including cost, financial aid, reputation, selectivity, and the overall environment to help inform your decision.

1. Cost of Education

"Public Ivy" institutions rely on state funds, unlike Ivy League institutions, which operate on private endowments. As a result, Public Ivies may offer less financial aid, with aid packages varying from year to year.

That said, a number of the top public universities, such as UT Austin, William & Mary, UCLA, UC Berkley, UVA and University of Michigan do have substantial endowments from which they may draw to offer excellent financial aid packages.

In-state students applying to a Public Ivy have an advantage. A significant portion of financial aid is allocated for residents, providing you with an edge. Despite being from out-of-state, it is still worth considering applying to Public Ivies, as there are various opportunities for financial aid, which are detailed in our comprehensive guide to college expenses.

3. Reputation

In the arena of higher education, the concept of reputation can often resemble an intricate tapestry, the nuances of which vary from one observer to another. Ivy League establishments, renowned for their sterling academic curricula, undoubtedly hold sway in this regard. However, encapsulating the full essence of a school's reputation within the confines of such a broad, multifaceted concept presents a formidable challenge.

It's essential not to get too absorbed in a school's "reputation." Remember, Public Ivies made the list because they provide an education on par with Private Ivies. Consider what a specific Public Ivy can offer you and what's important for your college education. Take your time, do your research, speak to current students if possible, and remain clear about your priorities and values.

4. Selectivity

The selectivity of a school is often related to its reputation. Public Ivies show a range of competitiveness, with some University of California schools accepting only 10% of undergraduate applicants and the University of Delaware admitting over 60% of applicants.

Various factors can affect the selectivity of Public Ivy institutions, including in-state applicant quotas and the size of the applicant pool. Larger pools of applicants often result in lower acceptance rates. Public Ivy institutions are growing in popularity and typically have higher acceptance rates than Private Ivy institutions, which often have acceptance rates of less than 10%.

5. Size and Location

If intimate class sizes and a more close-knit campus environment are high on your priority list, bear in mind that Public Ivies usually have larger student populations than Private Ivies.

When talking about a higher education institution, one often thinks about 'reputation', a term that shapeshifts according to the perception of each individual. The prestige surrounding Ivy League institutions, fueled by their extraordinary academic portfolios, stands testament to this.

Location also plays a pivotal role in your decision. All Private Ivies are located on the East Coast, limiting your geographical options. Although there are plenty of Public Ivies that are located throughout the United States, offering a wide range of locations for students, regardless of their residency.

Premier Public Ivy Schools

Determining the "best" often depends on individual perceptions. Thus, we urge you to prioritize "best fit" over mere "best." In this context, let's discuss five academically renowned Public Ivy schools, each from the original Public Ivy list, that consistently uphold high academic standards.

1. High-Performing Public Ivies

Universities such as UCLA and UC Berkeley have meticulous admissions procedures that mirror the stringent selection processes of Ivy League establishments. Their acceptance rates can be compared to those of Ivy League colleges, with UCLA standing at 11% and UC Berkeley at 17%.

When selecting an appropriate college that fits your goals, you must weigh multiple aspects, such as the cost of education, geographical considerations, and the flexibility of course modifications. These factors need to harmonize with your unique aspirations, priorities, and ethos to ensure an enriching and fulfilling academic experience. These factors can help determine the most suitable college for you.

2. The Diversity of 'Ivies'

Isn't it astonishing how numerous our choices are? You'll be thrilled to discover that the world of "Ivies" extends beyond the traditional Ivy League and Public Ivies.

Little Ivies

If a robust liberal arts curriculum at an intimate, East Coast school entices you, consider the 'Little Ivies'. These esteemed institutions uphold high admission standards, harbor a cozy small-student-body atmosphere, and predominantly focus on undergraduate programs. Some noteworthy Little Ivies include:

Hidden Ivy League Schools

'Hidden Ivies' also cater to students seeking a liberal arts education. This category encompasses 63 selective institutions scattered across the US. From large universities to smaller colleges, each provides an enriching environment for a liberal arts education. Some Hidden Ivies gems are:

Black Ivies

If the enriching experience of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) resonates with you, explore the 'Black Ivies'. These exemplary HBCUs offer an education on par with Ivy League schools. These institutions are academically challenging, often selective, and provide a comprehensive college experience. Prominent Black Ivies include:

As you journey towards finding your ideal college, remember to value the experience and opportunities offered more than the name or reputation. Let your educational path align with your dreams, ambitions, and values. After all, your college journey is about carving a future that's uniquely and authentically you.

A Comprehensive Breakdown of the Top Little Ivies

1. Amherst College

Established two centuries ago, Amherst College has long been a hub for highly esteemed faculty members, researchers, and students, nurturing many influential personalities. Moreover, Amherst is part of the prestigious Five Colleges consortium, enabling students to enjoy a rich and collaborative learning experience with peers across multiple campuses.

2. Bates College

Set along the mesmerizing Androscoggin River, Bates College – the first coeducational college in New England – is an outdoor enthusiast's dream. This institution is renowned for its diverse academic offerings and extensive outdoor activities.

3. Bowdoin College

Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, has a strong reputation for its rich educational offerings. Foundation in the late 1700s, Bowdoin College is focused on aiding students in exploring a variety of subjects in the liberal arts and helping them broaden their horizon.

4. Colby College

Colby College, founded in 1813, provides students with innovative academic programs focusing on the most pressing global issues. This prestigious liberal arts institution only enrolls undergraduate students.

5. Connecticut College

Established as a response to Wesleyan University’s exclusion of female students, Connecticut College has morphed into a hub for liberal arts education. The college is nestled in New London, offering an inviting ambiance with scenic port views.

6. Hamilton College

Hamilton College focuses on developing essential skills including communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph attributes his success to the communication skills honed at Hamilton.

7. Haverford College

At Haverford College, students are granted a distinctive educational opportunity through the Tri-College Consortium, allowing them to attend classes at Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr Colleges, enriching their academic journey. This liberal arts institution is celebrated for its stringent Honor Code, fostering a culture of trust, integrity, and academic excellence.

8. Middlebury College

Renowned worldwide for its esteemed Liberal Arts education, Middlebury College in Vermont continues to pioneer in language instruction, environmental studies, international programs, and experiential learning.

9. Swarthmore College

Swarthmore College, one of the pioneering coeducational colleges in America, allows students exclusive access to the Quaker Consortium – an alliance between Philadelphia’s prestigious universities and the University of Pennsylvania.

10. Tufts University

Tufts University is known for its academic achievements, community support, and diverse programs. This established university has incredible success stories, being that many notable alumni, including Nobel Laureates, and members of the National Academy, as well as former heads of state have graduated from this esteemed institution.

11. Vassar College

Vassar College, located 75 miles from NYC, was founded in 1861. Vassar was among the early institutions to offer college degrees to women. Vassar was the first women's college in the nation to expand their mission to coeducation. They began enrolling men in 1969.

12. Wesleyan University

Wesleyan stands out for its interdisciplinary liberal arts education and advanced engineering and dual degree programs, offered in partnership with the California Institute of Technology and Columbia University’s School of Engineering.

13. Williams College

Ranked as the top Liberal Arts college in America for 16 consecutive years, Williams College attributes its success to its Tutorial program, fostering close relationships between students and faculty members.

Deciphering Your Best Little Ivy League Match

The process of selecting a college can be a challenging undertaking. Hence, understanding the kind of education you wish to pursue is paramount. Selecting a Little Ivy should align with your personal goals, values, and education preferences. Given their highly competitive nature and selective admission process, it's important to consider your fit carefully.

Remember to thoroughly research and, if possible, arrange a campus visit to get an authentic feel of the environment. Detailed understanding helps in making an informed decision. Check out the mission statements on their respective websites to gain further insights.

Your Path to the Little Ivies

Admission to these revered institutions can be a daunting process. Prioritizing your academic performance, keeping your GPA high, and excelling in your SAT/ACT scores are crucial. However, these metrics only constitute a portion of your application. Colleges seek standout applicants, so incorporating extracurricular activities and impactful essays can distinguish you from others.

Last Words

There are plenty of alternative college options, such as Public Ivies and Little Ivies, that offer a comparable experience. Visit Scholarships.com for more details on schools near you, tuition-free colleges, or scholarship resources. We're here to guide you toward higher education and career success.

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes the Little Ivies unique?

The Little Ivies are renowned for their small size, rigorous academics, and tight-knit communities. Their reputation for excellence matches that of their larger Ivy League counterparts, and they offer a range of exceptional programs across various disciplines.

Are Little Ivies as competitive as the Ivy League universities?

Yes, Little Ivies are highly competitive and have selective admission processes similar to Ivy League universities. While few are as competitive as Harvard, Yale or Princeton. To put it in perspective, Cornell University has the highest acceptance rate of any Ivy League school at 9%. Colby College and Bowdoin College, both Little Ivys, have an acceptance rate of 8.9% and 8.8% respectively.

How can I enhance my application for a Little Ivy college?

Apart from maintaining high academic standards, colleges appreciate applicants who participate in extracurricular activities and write compelling essays. Doing something unique or demonstrating leadership skills can provide an edge over other candidates.

How can I decide which Little Ivy is right for me?

It's important to consider your academic interests, career goals, and personal preferences while researching all academic powerhouses. Thoroughly explore each school, its programs, and its culture. Visiting campuses, if possible, can also provide a better understanding of what to expect.