Intro to Ivy League Alternatives

Last updated May 15, 2023 

Prestigious and rigorous, with historic campuses and illustrious alumni, the eight colleges known as the Ivy League inspire countless students to dream big and work hard. Whether it’s Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, or Columbia, the Ivies, as they’re sometimes known, also infamously have low acceptance rates and high tuition costs. Since both have only increased in recent years, it’s not surprising that alternatives to the Ivy League have become more appealing. Not only are these alternatives worth knowing more about, but they’re also worth pursuing if you’re a student interested in attending colleges with great reputations, impressive academics, lower costs, and higher acceptance rates.

Public Ivies

The most familiar and oldest set of colleges categorized as comparable alternatives to the Ivy League are known as Public Ivies. The concept as well as the initial list were developed in 1985 by a former admissions officer and co-creator of the Common Application, Richard Moll. While the list of Public Ivies has evolved in the decades that followed, the criteria has not. In simplest terms, a Public Ivy is a public college or university that has a selective admissions process, first-rate faculty, and rigorous academics. Some examples of Public Ivies include the University of Michigan and the College of William and Mary. 

Not all Public Ivies are created equal, however, so when deciding on which colleges to apply to you will want to evaluate the quality of their academics, the selectivity of their admissions, and the cost of their tuition. What most Public Ivies will have in common is that they typically have higher acceptance rates than the Ivy League and have larger student populations, and because they receive public funding, they can be more affordable too. There is a catch, though. Because Public Ivies are state schools dependent, in part, on state funds, in-state applicants tend to have more advantages both in the higher rate they are accepted and the lower price they are charged. Relying on public funding and having a larger student body also means Public Ivies have to stretch their resources further, making it so they sometimes struggle to offer as generous financial aid as the Ivy League.

Other Ivies

There have been other attempts to categorize Ivy League alternatives that go beyond Public Ivies, and such efforts have identified colleges that are unique in terms of their demographics or their location.

  • Little Ivies: Private liberal arts colleges that have the rigor and affordability of Public Ivies but with smaller student bodies. 
    • Hidden Ivies: Similar to Little Ivies, Hidden Ivies earn their label because they are colleges often overlooked because of their small size, but that offer a good education and reputation to their students. 
  • Black Ivies: Elite historic black colleges, such as Howard University and Morehouse College. 
  • Sister Ivies: Sister schools to some Ivy League colleges focused on educating women. For example, Barnard College is the sister institution to Columbia. 
  • Ivies Plus and New Ivies: Unlike most Ivies, these colleges are spread out across the United States instead of being concentrated in the northeast. New Ivies are a subset because they are newer institutions.

Honors Colleges

There’s another Ivy alternative worth considering: the Honors College. Honors colleges are sub-colleges that are comparatively more selective and respected than the main college or primary university system in which they exist (e.g. Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University). Students interested in attending an honors college will have to satisfy more rigorous admissions requirements (e.g. GPA, test scores), earn a set number of honors credits by taking honors courses, and, for some honors colleges, be willing to complete a final project or thesis.

In addition to their selectivity and status, honors colleges provide several academic, financial, and social perks. Students who attend an honors college are not only frequently granted priority registration for courses, those courses are also generally more rigorous and intimate with more challenging material and smaller class sizes, allowing students to have more in-class discussions and a closer, more collaborative, relationship with their professors. Since honors colleges are often part of state universities and eager to attract quality applicants, the cost of receiving this high quality education is comparatively cheaper, especially if you are an in-state resident and receive a merit scholarship. Residential life for honors college students has its advantages too, as students can live in separate, often more deluxe, dorms. 

In a sense, you get the best of both worlds. You are made to feel special as one of a university’s elite students, receiving the kind of education typically found at small top-tier liberal arts colleges. Yet, you are still able to enjoy the big state school experience, including interacting with a more diverse student body.

How A+ Can Help

No one has to give up their aspirations for an Ivy League level education despite rising costs and competition. If you want some more affordable and accessible options without sacrificing quality, there are a growing number of colleges to choose from. To give yourself the best shot at acceptance at any top tier school, however, you may need some extra help. A+ Test Prep and Tutoring provides academic and test prep tutoring as well as college essay support so your grades, scores, and essays can impress admissions officers and ultimately earn you a place at the college of your dreams. A+ can also help you find a private college coach to help you with the college search and application process.

At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you want to find out more about our services, our Client Service Directors Joelle Faucette can be reached at 215-886-9188 or email us at


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