The Public Ivies, Little Ivies, and Other Ivy League Equivalents

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
Published on October 22, 2021

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The Public Ivies, Little Ivies, and Other Ivy League Equivalents

Public Ivies | Little Ivies | Hidden Ivies | Ivy Plus Schools | New Ivies | Black Ivies | Southern Ivies | Seven Sisters


Today, the term "Ivy League" connotes prestige, tradition, and power. Composed of academic powerhouses like Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Columbia, the Ivies seem to dominate U.S. higher education. But what about other schools with excellent reputations that don't have the Ivy League label?

It's likely no surprise that Ivy League-level colleges and universities would borrow a little "ivy" to use in their own names. These similarly prestigious groups of institutions include public schools, small liberal arts colleges, and other lesser-known, top-tier schools.

What Are the Public Ivies?

The Public Ivies offer an Ivy League education at a public university price, according to Richard Moll, who coined the term in his 1985 book "The Public Ivys."

Moll's list of the Public Ivies consisted of 15 schools, including William & Mary, UC Berkeley, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Michigan, UCLA, and the University of Virginia. Moll also named nine runners-up, which, to him, offered near-Ivy-level education but weren't quite as strong.

The 2001 book "Greenes' Guides to Educational Planning" expanded the Public Ivy schools list to 30 public universities, divided by region (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, South, Midwest, and West). Schools on this list include Indiana University Bloomington, the University of Georgia, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Washington.

These institutions are all said to match the actual Ivy League in terms of academic quality. That said, the Public Ivies differ from the Ivy League in key ways.

For one, most Public Ivies are a lot larger than the Ivy League schools. While the undergraduate enrollment at the eight Ivies averages around 8,500 students, many Public Ivies boast far bigger undergraduate classes. Michigan and UCLA, for example, each enroll over 31,000 undergrads, whereas the University of Texas at Austin enrolls over 40,000 undergrads.

The Public Ivies also report smaller endowments than the Ivies — and these endowments must stretch further because of their larger student bodies. Although Michigan ranks above Columbia in its endowment size, the public university simply can't match a real Ivy in terms of financial aid for students.

The Public Ivies do, however, offer one huge advantage over the Ivies: lower tuition rates. While every Ivy League school charges more than $50,000 in annual tuition and fees, many of the Public Ivies cost around just $10,000 per year for in-state students.

false Public Ivy League Schools (Greene, 2001)
Binghamton University Indiana University Bloomington Miami University
Michigan State University Ohio State University Pennsylvania State University
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey University of Arizona 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 Connecticut University of Delaware University of Florida
University of Georgia University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign University of Iowa
University of Maryland, College Park University of Michigan University of Minnesota Twin Cities
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill University of Texas at Austin University of Virginia
University of Washington University of Wisconsin-Madison William & Mary

What Are the Little Ivies?

The Public Ivies aren't the only schools compared with the Ivy League. The "Little Ivies," which consist of private liberal arts colleges, offer both academic rigor and selective admissions similar to that of the Ivies and Public Ivies.

The Little Ivies include all the schools of the New England Small College Athletic Conference and several schools outside New England. Elite liberal arts institutions, like Amherst College, Vassar College, and Tufts University, typically appear on Little Ivies lists.

While many of the Public Ivies enroll tens of thousands of students, the Little Ivies usually have much smaller student bodies. Amherst, Bowdoin College, and Swarthmore College all enroll fewer than 1,850 students.

Additionally, the Little Ivies often focus exclusively on undergraduate education. While the Ivy League and Public Ivies offer numerous graduate programs, many of the Little Ivies only offer undergraduate degrees.

false List of Little Ivies
Amherst College Bates College Bowdoin College
Colby College Connecticut College Hamilton College
Haverford College Lafayette College Middlebury College
Swarthmore College Trinity College Tufts University
Vassar College Wesleyan University Williams College

What Are the Hidden Ivies?

In a 2000 book, education experts Howard and Matthew Greene — the same duo who expanded Moll's list of Public Ivies — proposed the idea of the "Hidden Ivies." These 63 highly selective colleges offer a premier liberal arts education.

The Hidden Ivies include many small colleges, such as Davidson College, Pomona College, Carleton College, and Oberlin College, as well as some large research universities, like Georgetown University, Vanderbilt University, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Southern California.

false List of Hidden Ivies
Amherst College Barnard College Bates College Boston College
Bowdoin College Brandeis University Bryn Mawr College Bucknell University
Carleton College Case Western Reserve University Claremont McKenna College Colby College
Colgate University College of the Holy Cross Colorado College Davidson College
Denison University Dickinson College Duke University Emory University
Fordham University Franklin and Marshall College Georgetown University Grinnell College
Hamilton College Haverford College Johns Hopkins University Kenyon College
Lafayette College Lehigh University Macalester College Middlebury College
Mount Holyoke College Northwestern University Oberlin College Pomona College
Reed College Rice University Skidmore College Smith College
Southern Methodist University Stanford University Swarthmore College Trinity College
Tufts University Tulane University Union College University of Chicago
University of Notre Dame University of Richmond University of Rochester University of Southern California
University of the South Vanderbilt University Vassar College Villanova University
Wake Forest University Washington and Lee University Washington University in St. Louis Wellesley College
Wesleyan University Williams College

What Does "Ivy Plus" Mean?

The Ivies aren't the only renowned private schools that consistently rank in the top 20. Many use the phrase "Ivy Plus" to refer to both the Ivies and a handful of similarly prestigious schools, such as Stanford, MIT, the University of Chicago, and Duke. Some lists, however, also count Northwestern, Johns Hopkins, and Caltech among the Ivy Plus schools.

Like the Ivies, these institutions are costly and highly selective, usually admitting fewer than 10% of applicants. They also offer prestigious alumni networks, large endowments, and lively traditions.

false List of Ivy Plus Schools (Unofficial)
Brown University Columbia University Cornell University
Dartmouth College Duke University Harvard University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Princeton University Stanford University
University of Chicago University of Pennsylvania Yale University

What Are the New Ivies?

In 2006, Newsweek coined the phrase "New Ivies." These schools rank high in academics and faculty, even if they don't reach the endowment size or elite status of the Ivies. Newsweek's list includes both public and private schools, such as Carnegie Mellon, UNC-Chapel Hill, Emory, and Notre Dame.

Unlike the Ivies, which all lay within just a few hundred miles of one another, the New Ivies stretch across the country, from the Claremont Colleges in California to Manhattan's NYU.

false List of New Ivies
Boston College Bowdoin College Carnegie Mellon University
Colby College Colgate University Davidson College
Emory University Harvey Mudd College Kenyon College
Macalester College New York University Olin College of Engineering
Pomona College Reed College Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rice University Skidmore College Tufts University
University of California, Los Angeles University of Michigan University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of Notre Dame University of Rochester University of Virginia
Vanderbilt University Washington University in St. Louis

What Are the Black Ivies?

Eliciting comparisons to the Ivy League, the most elite historically Black colleges and universities are often called the "Black Ivies." These schools — including Howard University, Fisk University, Morehouse College, Tuskegee University, and Hampton University — were first singled out in Barnard psychology professor Jacqueline Fleming's 1984 book "Blacks in Colleges."

false List of Black Ivies (Unofficial)
Dillard University Fisk University Hampton University
Howard University Morehouse College Spelman College
Tuskegee University

What Are the Southern Ivies?

When eight elite Northeastern universities joined the Ivy League athletic conference in 1954, Southern universities attempted to establish a rival league: the Magnolia Conference. Made up of schools like Vanderbilt, Emory, Rice, Duke, and Tulane, the Magnolia Conference was meant to compete with the Ivy League in more than just sports.

Though the athletic conference never took off, these prestigious Southern schools are still sometimes dubbed the "Southern Ivies."

false List of Southern Ivies (Unofficial)
Davidson College Duke University Emory University
Rice University Southern Methodist University Tulane University
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill University of Texas at Austin University of Virginia
Vanderbilt University Wake Forest University William & Mary

What Are the Seven Sisters?

Nearly all Ivy League schools historically excluded women. Columbia didn't start admitting female students until 1983, and only Cornell admitted women from its founding in 1865. As a result, the seven (originally) men-only Ivies offered sister institutions for women. These schools, which were founded in the 19th century, were meant to educate the sisters of men at the Ivies.

The "Seven Sisters," as the institutions are known, include Vassar, Barnard (Columbia's sister institute), and Radcliffe College, which merged with Harvard in 1977. Today, Vassar admits both men and women, but the remaining Sisters operate as private women's colleges.

false List of Seven Sisters
Barnard College Bryn Mawr College Mount Holyoke College
Radcliffe College Smith College Vassar College
Wellesley College

The Ivy League vs. the Almost-Ivies

The Ivy League schools don't have a monopoly on higher education. The Public Ivies, the Little Ivies, and many other non-Ivy schools can offer something the Ivy League can't. For example, the Public Ivies provide a big-school feel, while the Little Ivies emphasize even smaller student bodies than Dartmouth, the smallest Ivy League school.

The point is that anyone can get a good education at one of the non-Ivies. While Malia Obama chose to attend Harvard, her sister, Sasha, opted for the University of Michigan. Your education is ultimately what you make of it.


Feature Image: OlegAlbinsky / E+ / Getty Images

Discover the 10 hardest colleges to get into as well as what these schools look for during the admissions process. Today, the Ivy League stands as a paragon of academic achievement, but these eight prestigious colleges actually have a long and complicated history. A recent BestColleges survey found that a majority of Americans value affordability over prestige in their college choice.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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