What Are the Hidden Ivies and Why You Should Consider Applying?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A female student having thoughts while looking at the horizon is holding a pen.

What Are the Hidden Ivies and Why You Should Consider Applying

Let’s face it. The harsh reality is that most students who apply to the Ivy League won’t get accepted. Although students who  improve their chances of getting into the Ivies will certainly fare better, there’s always going to be some talented students who ultimately get turned away. But that doesn’t mean that a world-class education isn’t possible. In fact, there’s a group of prestigious schools known as the Hidden Ivies that offer excellent academic opportunities but aren’t among the eight Ivies. What are the Hidden Ivies? Keep reading to find out!

Here, we’ll explain what the Hidden Ivies are along with some other almost-Ivies and why you should consider applying to these schools as well.

What are the Hidden Ivies?

The Hidden Ivies are colleges and universities considered to rival the eight Ivy League schools without being part of that prestigious group. These schools offer similar academic opportunities to students but might get overlooked because of their lack of popularity when compared to the famous Ivies. That’s why these schools are considered “hidden” when compared to their more well-known Ivy League counterparts.

The Hidden Ivies share some important similarities to the real Ivies beyond excellent academic opportunities. These schools generally have smaller student bodies and are either liberal arts colleges or universities.

These similarities lead many to compare these schools to the well-established Ivy League schools to which so many high schoolers aspire to attend. If you’ve never heard of the “Hidden Ivies,” you’re not alone.

The term actually originates from a 2000 book by the same name. Howard and Matthew Greene co-authored the book in which 63 colleges were identified for their similarities to the Ivy League. Some of the overarching characteristics included a low acceptance rate, academic rigor, liberal arts education, and smaller size.

The book is still being sold and is actually in its 3rd edition. It was written to help students who don’t get into the Ivies to find suitable schools that still meet their academic goals.

What colleges make up the Hidden Ivies?

Here are all schools considered “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

Are the Hidden Ivies hard to get into?

What are the hidden Ivies? Compared to actual Ivy League schools, the Hidden Ivies aren’t quite as hard to get into. However, it’s not as simple as that. Keep in mind that one of the similarities between the Hidden Ivies and the Ivy League is high selectivity. Although the acceptance rates of the Hidden Ivies might be higher than those of Ivy League universities, the schools are still extremely competitive.

For example, Amherst College, a well-known school considered one of the Hidden Ivies has an acceptance rate of 11%. That means just 11 out of every 100 applicants are accepted.

It’s higher than Harvard or Yale but it’s still quite competitive. This is important for applicants to keep in mind when considering applying to any of the Hidden Ivies. Just because they’re “hidden” doesn’t mean admittance is a guarantee.

What are the Little Ivies?

The Hidden Ivies aren’t the only colleges and universities that have been compared to the Ivy League. There’s another group called the Little Ivies. As the name suggests, these schools are generally small, usually only accepting a few thousand undergraduates each year.

Some other defining characteristics of the Little Ivies are similar to those used to describe the Hidden Ivies: academic rigor, selective admissions, liberal arts education, and more.

For the most part, the Little Ivies are comprised of the colleges within the New England Small College Athletic Conference. Yikes! No wonder the Little Ivies moniker caught on so quickly. There are some additional universities considered part of this list with many coming from outside New England.

Another important distinction of the Little Ivies is their focus on undergraduate education. While the Ivy League and the Hidden Ivies place a large emphasis on graduate programs, many of the universities on the Little Ivies list only provide undergraduate degrees.

Many people consider this an advantage as it ensures all funds and energy go towards making these undergraduate programs as excellent as possible.

Here are all the schools considered to be part of the 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 Public Ivies?

Did you think those were the only “almost Ivies” out there? Well, The Public Ivies are yet another group of prestigious schools recognized for their academic opportunities. The term “Public Ivies” was coined by Richard Moll in his book entitled “The Public Ivys.” The book was initially released in 1985. But don’t worry! The list has since been updated. In a 2001 book called “Greenes’ Guides to Educational Planning”, the term Public Ivies was reintroduced. In this book, 30 public universities were listed, including schools from every region in the US.

Each of these institutions of higher learning is said to offer academic opportunities that rival those of Ivy League universities. However, the Public Ivies are different than the Ivies in a few crucial ways.


First and foremost, the Public Ivies are public colleges, as you might have been able to guess from the name. This means that all colleges on this list have significantly lower tuition rates than the Ivies. This is an important point for students who want an Ivy League education without the sky-high tuition fees.

Student Bodies

Another major way Public Ivies differ from the Ivy League is size. While most Ivies have student bodies of 5,000 to 10,000, most of the Public Ivies enroll far more students. For example, the University of Michigan enrolls over 30,000 students. The University of Texas at Austin each have over 40,000 undergraduate students!


While the other two differences between the Public Ivies and the real Ivy League can be viewed as positives, the difference in endowment sizes is a downside.

Due to their larger student bodies, the Public Ivies can’t spend as much per student as the Ivies. This leads to less financial assistance than a student would get at an Ivy League university.

Here are all the colleges considered part of the Public Ivies:

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 New Ivies?

We’ve already looked at the Hidden Ivies, the Public Ivies, and the Little Ivies. If you thought those were the only groups compared to the original Ivy League, you’d be wrong! The New Ivies, as the name suggests, is a group of newer universities that share some characteristics with the eight Ivies.

Some of the most important similarities include academic rigor and world-class faculty. The most important distinction between the New Ivies and the Ivy League, as you might be able to guess, is the age of the universities and colleges included. The Ivies are known for their long history and traditions. In fact, many were founded before the Civil War. Now that’s old!

The New Ivies represent some of the more recently established colleges and universities that offer elite academic opportunities. The term was coined by Newsweek in a 2006 article.

Unlike the real Ivy League schools, which are all within a few hundred miles of each other, the New Ivies are spread throughout the country from New York to California. Here are the schools considered part of the 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

Should you apply to the Hidden Ivies?

Now that we’ve covered everything you need to know about the Hidden Ivies, it’s time to talk about whether or not you should apply to these schools or any of the other “almost-Ivies.” Despite their slightly humorous names, these lists still represent some of the best colleges and universities in the US.

Any high schooler would receive an excellent education from any one of these schools. But that still doesn’t answer the question. Besides, if you’re looking at the Hidden Ivies, the original Ivy League is most likely high on your list of potential colleges. Let’s take a look at some reasons you might apply to the almost-Ivies:

You didn’t get into the Ivies.

One of the most common reasons a student might consider applying to the Hidden Ivies or any other “almost Ivy League school” is because of their desire to attend an Ivy League school.

Wait, that doesn’t sound like it makes any sense, right? Yes, it sounds counter-intuitive at first, but we’ll explain. All high schoolers are encouraged to make a list of colleges to which they will apply. The top of the list is reserved for your dream school.

Everything below that in descending order represents the schools you want to attend if the option above doesn’t work out. When you have your heart set on the Ivies, placing the almost-Ivies as backups is an excellent option.

You’re ensuring that the aspects that encouraged you to apply to the Ivies in the first place are still present in your backup colleges. Of course, you will ideally make it into your number one choice. But, considering the high selectivity of these schools, it’s smart to have backups.

You want to avoid high tuition costs.

The Ivy Leagues are well-known for their world-class faculty, rigorous academics, and high endowments. However, these schools do have some notable drawbacks; one of which is cost.

A major obstacle to the Ivies for many applicants is the high tuition rates of these universities. If your goal is to reach the Ivies but you simply don’t want to pay the price, the Hidden Ivies and all other almost-Ivy groups are an excellent place to look for alternatives.

a person pulling out money from their wallet

These schools have all of the advantages of the Ivies without the downside of high tuition fees. Of course, you’ll be giving up a little prestige that comes with attending the Ivy League and even a little bit of quality.

You want to go to school close to home.

All-Ivy League schools are located in the northeastern portion of the United States. For students who want to stick close to home while in college, this geographical reality might make attending the Ivies a bit challenging.

Of course, if you live in the northeast and want to stay near family and friends, you’ve got your pick of the Ivies, assuming you get accepted, of course. However, if you live anywhere else in the country and don’t want to venture too far from your home state, you’re out of luck when it comes to attending the Ivies.

But that’s where the Hidden Ivies and other almost Ivy schools can help. These universities and colleges are known for their academic opportunities and excellent faculty, just like the Ivy League.

Unlike the Ivies though, these schools are scattered throughout the country in nearly every state. You’re bound to find one that matches your academic and professional goals without having to venture too far from home.

This way, you can have the kind of college experience you want without making any sacrifices in terms of quality or location. It’s a win-win!

Secure a spot in the Ivies or the almost-Ivies

Whether you’ve got your sights set on the Ivy League or you found an alternative among the almost-Ivies that lines up with your academic and professional goals, you’ll need some professional support to increase your chances of getting accepted.

The college admissions process is often confusing and even a bit nerve-wracking, especially when you’re applying to a prestigious and highly selective university. That’s where AdmissionSight can help! For over a decade, we’ve been helping students just like you master the college application process and nail their applications. In fact, 75% of the students we work with get accepted into an Ivy League school or Top 10 university.

Our services are specifically designed to strengthen your application to catch the attention of admissions officers and drastically improve your chances of getting accepted into your dream school. Whether you need a hand planning your high school courses, want some guidance on choosing summer programs, or anything in between, we can help!

Feel free to contact us to schedule a free consultation. We look forward to hearing from you!



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