As the cost of post-secondary education in the United States continues to climb, student life after high school is now more than ever a series of important, potentially life-changing decisions which may harshly impact those unprepared to make them. There are thousands of colleges and universities from which to choose in North America alone, and, though a wide selection of choices increases the chances of there being a perfect institution of higher learning for everyone, it also makes finding that place much more difficult.
We’ve all heard of and potentially have even known a graduate from an ivy league institution, and this handful of prestigious schools may seem particularly alluring to the few with an actual chance to get in. However, these places aren’t the be-all-end-all when it comes to first-rate education, and many have started to celebrate smaller, less widely-known schools. In fact, the idea of a major median between ivy league institutions and the next best thing is a bit of a fallacy.
From ritzy New England universities to classic Californian party schools, a premium education doesn’t necessarily have to come from a short list of ivy-gilded places of higher learning. In actuality, getting into one of those schools actually comes down to luck more often than any representative of theirs would like to admit, and it’s likely that a new set of schools will soon grow to eclipse this old breed. With that in mind, we count 25 universities in the U.S. that are just as good as those in the ivy league.
25 University of Southern California, California
Founded in 1880 in Los Angeles, California, USC is actually the oldest private university in the state.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, notable alumni include the likes of famous actors such as Forest Whitaker, Will Ferrell, and John Wayne.
An urban environment with an undergraduate population of just under 19,000 students, it’s the perfect place for those looking for a bit of hustle and bustle. The campus also offers a thriving G reek life environment, and the USC Trojans compete in the nationally acclaimed Pac 12 conference.
24 Claremont McKenna College, California
Thirty-five miles east of downtown Los Angeles lies the surprisingly small campus of Claremont McKenna College. With a student population typically capping out at no more than 1,250 and a small 69 acres of space, Claremont McKenna is certainly for the student who would be interested in visiting LA, but would also like to keep it at an arm’s length. It’s a close-knit community, and 97% of students remain on campus for the entirety of their curricular careers.
With an acceptance rate of just 11%, it’s a prestigious school which retains none of the trappings of the Ivy League institutions.
So just because it's a newer school, doesn't mean it's not as difficult to get in.
23 Rochester University, New York
A snow-covered town in upper New York, Rochester seems to become more prestigious with each academic year that passes. It has made waves in the past by adopting a totally unique approach to education, and students at Rochester are no longer required to pursue any sort of general education.
Instead, the school’s programs are entirely focused on the field in which they focused, and students won’t have to labor through any tedious general-education courses.
Eighty percent of Rochester's undergraduate students end up attending grad school, which is telling of the institution's academic tenure.
22 University of California, Berkeley, California
The University of California, Berkeley doesn’t need to rely on its impressive list of alumni to uphold its reputation, but associations with the likes of Eric Schmidt and Steve Wozniak couldn’t possibly hurt. Berkeley has, unfortunately, come under fire recently for a series of controversial, politically-motivated stunts which, in the minds of some, damaged the school's reputation.
However, boasting an affordable $13,000 in-state yearly tuition, Berkeley would be tough to pass on for most aspiring young Californians.
Plus, with an acceptance rate of just 17%, it’s certainly at least possible to get in.
21 University of Michigan, Michigan
Seated in Ann Arbor Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, the University of Michigan is a fairly well known public institution of higher learning. It boasts a total of 18 satellite campuses, and a nationally recognized institution in the world of sports. Offering more than 250 fields of study, Michigan likely touts a program for even the most niche practices.
Plus, with a massive student population of nearly 45,000, Michigan is almost certainly for those looking to contribute to their campuses social pipeline.
A campus this size is totally out of the realm of any Ivy League school.
20 Rice University, Texas
Situated near the heart of Houston, Texas and not far from the shorelines bordering the Gulf of Mexico,
Rice University is one of — if not the most — prestigious institutions of higher learning in the state of Texas. Though largely overshadowed by football giant Texas A&M, Rice University very much caters to the ivy-caliber student uninterested in relocating to New England.
Consistently praised for its athletic prowess and excellent campus life, Texas natives looking for a quality post-secondary education don’t have to worry about travelling out of state.
19 Vanderbilt University, Tennessee
Located in Nashville, Tennessee, Vanderbilt University is often credited for its vibrant campus and greek life. With nearly 7,000 undergraduates enrolled and 333 acres of available space, Vanderbilt is a fantastic mid-sized school for those disinterested in both the insanity of larger schools and the pompous exclusivity of smaller ones.
The school’s medical center is ranked as one of the best in the nation, and, with an acceptance rate hovering around 12%, it’s fair to assume that Vanderbilt only accepts students worthy of its prestige.
This school doesn't need ivy to be considered prestigious.
18 Reed College, Oregon
Onlookers may find some of the mantras upheld by Oregon’s Reed College to be a bit pretentious, but the school does purport to accepting only those truly interested in the pursuit of knowledge.
Reed College has been ranked in the top 3 schools nationwide to produce the most students who would later go on to earn a Ph.D., and the school boasts a total of 31 previous Rhodes Scholars.
Prestigious as it may be, the school actually accepts about 35% of its applicants, which makes it a fairly approachable institution. Undergrads are required to produce a college thesis, all of which are bound and stored in the college’s library.
17 New York University, New York
New York University is located in New York City’s Greenwich Village and is — as you may have guessed — one of the most urban institutions in the nation. Fairly atypical in that it is primarily known for performing and literary arts, NYU is home to the Tisch School of Performing Arts, which is one of the most prestigious schools in the field. Though New York University only offers 25 different majors, incoming students tend to have a very firm idea of the studies and careers they intend to pursue. With an acceptance rate of just over 32%, this school should be on the radar of all aspiring thespians.
16 Georgetown University, Washington D.C.
With impressive alumni from all walks of life like Patrick Ewing, Bradley Cooper, and Bill Clinton, it’s fair to say that Georgetown University deserves a fair amount of recognition, even from those only interested in Ivy League schools. Founded in 1789, Georgetown is among the oldest schools established in North America, and a consistent student body establishes Georgetown as a respectable mid-sized school. Plus, with an acceptance rate hovering around 17%, Georgetown is definitely a fair landing spot for those just outside of the top-collegiate tier.
15 University of Notre Dame, Indiana
Very few are unfamiliar with Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish sports teams, but the school’s student body is actually much smaller than those of its rivals. Consistently maintaining a base of no more than 9,000 students, Notre Dame has actually been praised for its lively campus life despite the school’s total abolition of Greek life.
The school is extremely well-known for their business and law programs, and the college’s Mendoza College of Business is one of most highly-ranked schools of its sort in the country.
Plus, Notre Dame boasts a host of famous alumni, most notable of which would likely be former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
14 Washington and Lee University, Virginia
Washington and Lee’s history is quite literally borne by its name: In 1796, George Washington helped to keep the school afloat financially with a generous $20,000 grant, and, following the Civil War, Confederate general Robert E. Lee served as president of the school.
Students enrolled at Washington and Lee can expect a relatively small community of passionate professors and students, and the institution ranks highly among the best liberal arts schools in the nation.
Based in Lexington, Virginia — about three hours south of Washington D.C. — Washington and Lee offers a relatively rural environment juxtaposed with the vibrance of the historic city in which it was founded.
13 Emory University, Georgia
Founded in 1836, Atlanta, Georgia’s Emory University harbors a moderately-sized student body stretched across a sprawling 630 acres. Emory is actually divided into two separate schools, and their Oxford satellite campus is typically the home of freshman and sophomores. Upperclassmen are usually moved on to the main campus, and this division may be beneficial to those who might prefer smaller-sized schools. Their Goizueta Business School is recognized as being one of the nation’s premier business schools, and an astounding 90% of enrolled students make it to graduation.
12 Davidson College, North Carolina
North Carolina’s Davidson College, though traditionally very small, experienced a surge of interest in recent years. Of nearly 4,000 yearly applicants, the school typically accepts around 30%, which makes for a relatively exclusive student body.
Davidson is considered to be one of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation, and the school’s massive 665-acre suburban campus allows for a unique and highly individual collegiate experience.
Certainly a far cry from the cluttered quads and cramped classrooms of larger schools, Davidson College is very clearly geared toward inward, artistically-minded scholars.
11 Amherst College, Massachusetts
Often considered to be one of the most prestigious non-Ivy League schools in the country, Amherst has been ranked as second among the best liberal arts colleges in the nation.
With an air very similar to the haughty New England Ivy League institutions, Amherst College is a small, exclusive school perfect for those poised just outside of the top academic tier.
Interestingly enough, Amherst is sometimes referred to as “the singing college,” as the school seems to pride itself on the various student a cappella groups to which it plays host.
10 College of William and Mary, Virginia
Established all the way back in 1693, the College of William and Mary is the second oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.
In fact, the school is so old that it was actually founded by the British monarch King William III and Queen Mary II.
Offering 30 undergraduate programs and 10 graduate programs, William and Mary boasts a mid-sized student population of just over 6,000. Prominent thanks to the Marshall-Wythe School of Law, this southern institution seems to only barely escape the ranks of the Ivy League, and those hoping for a top-tier education without contending with the ridiculously low acceptance rates of other prestigious schools may want to apply.
9 Colgate University, New York
Colgate University is yet another relatively small school which offers the same sort of prestige and campus experience associated with Ivy League institutions. With a student body size of roughly 3,000, Colgate most definitely appeals to those less interested in pursuing an education in an environment cluttered with thousands of other students. This New York based university is made unique in its emphasis on overseas study, and 66% of the student population will spend at least one semester studying abroad during their four-year tenure. With an acceptance rate just under 28%, it may be a great fit for the would-be Ivy League bound.
8 Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania
Another high-ranking, well-respected liberal arts school, Swarthmore is one of the oldest and most historically significant institutions in the state of Pennsylvania. Founded, as some may expect, by a Quaker group known as the Religious Society of Friends, Swarthmore is a mere eleven miles from the heart of Philadelphia.
With an incredibly small student body which typically does not exceed 1,500 and an acceptance rate of just 12%, Swarthmore students are among an exclusive, prestigious group of individuals.
With more than 40% of students studying abroad at some point during their academic careers, it is, along with New York’s Colgate University, another school which highly emphasizes travel.
7 Colby College, Maine
Typically admitting no more than 500 students per year, Waterville, Maine’s Colby College is comparable in size to some large high schools.
This may be an attractive environment to some, and Colby’s commitment to students was first made evident when, in 1871, it became the first all-male school in the country to admit women.
Students will doubtlessly be receiving one-on-one attention from professors, and the school’s heavy emphasis on study abroad programs means that about 70% of students will travel overseas at some point during their time at Colby.
6 Johns Hopkins University, Maryland
Baltimore, Maryland’s John Hopkins University certainly ranks highly among sub-Ivy-League post-secondary institutions, and their 14% acceptance rate helps to bolster that idea. An urban environment with a student body over 6,000 strong and a very populous Greek life scene, it would be fair to assume that campus life is relatively vibrant.
JHU is perhaps most well-respected for the prestigious Bloomberg School of Public Health along with their School of Education.
Johns Hopkins is strongly associated with the medical institution of the same name, and those looking to enter that field would be wise to apply.
5 California Institute of Technology, California
The institution for which Sheldon Cooper and his friends from The Big Bang Theory are said to work, Caltech is an incredibly selective college which typically allows for a student body of around 1,000 individuals at any given time. Founded in 1891, it is among the oldest and most prestigious of the western United States. Student life at this exclusive university situated 11 miles from Los Angeles is a bit atypical: students are often grouped into 8 houses which campus life revolves around. With an obvious focus on the fields of science and technology, the California Institute of Technology really does push the boundaries of the Ivy League.
4 Duke University, North Carolina
Ranked ninth overall on a list of the top post-secondary schools in the United States, Duke University is well known and on the relative fringes of Ivy League classification.
With a student body of about 6,500 and a relatively slim acceptance rate of around 11%, it would be fair to say that Duke is relatively selective.
Highly competitive in the world of collegiate sports and esteemed for its business and engineering schools, Duke is the ideal place for prospective STEM majors unswayed by the daunting curriculum of places like M.I.T. or Harvard.
3 Carnegie Mellon, Pennsylvania
Aside from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Carnegie Mellon may well be the most prestigious post-secondary school in the state. Situated in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, CMU caters to the needs of around 8,500 students currently enrolled, 3,000 of which are graduate students.
The Carnegie Institute of Technology is host to one of the nation’s most sought-after engineering programs, and certain students may actually prefer an education at CMU to a bonafide Ivy League experience.
With an acceptance rate of around 24%, Carnegie Mellon is actually a bit more inclusive than some may expect.
2 University of Chicago, Illinois
The University of Chicago is, aside from a very select number of specialized schools like M.I.T., one of the most acclaimed non-Ivy League institutions of higher learning in the country. An urban setting akin to that on NYU’s, Chicago is quite literally seated in the middle of the city for which it has been named.
With a mid-sized student body and a staggeringly low 8% acceptance rate, the University of Chicago is one of the most notoriously exclusive schools to which a student may apply.
Famous for their business, law, and medical schools, only those who can’t quite make it at the Ivy League level should consider applying.
1 Boston College, Massachusetts
Boston College is one of the most elite schools available outside of the Ivy League ring. In fact, it's likely that applicants will be vying for acceptance among peers not unfamiliar with the Ivy League approval process, and it truly is for those interested in receiving the best possible post-secondary education. It is, however, a relatively large school: hosting around 9,000 students and a myriad of different academic disciplines, it isn’t totally impossible to get accepted. In fact, BC actually accepts around 30% of its applicants, though prospective shoulders will need to be comfortable brushing shoulders with near-geniuses.