The Most Prestigious Colleges That Aren’t in the Ivy League

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Group of Ivy league students standing near a building.

The Most Prestigious Colleges That Aren’t in the Ivy League

When it comes to the top colleges and universities in the United States, a lot of people are under the impression that the only schools worth applying to are the eight that make up the historic and prestigious Ivy League. While there is no doubt that the eight Ivy League schools are some of the most selective and impressive in not only the United States but also the world, there is also no question that there are many other fantastic undergraduate and graduate schools that are not in the Ivy League. If you are looking to learn about the best non-Ivy League schools, then you have certainly come to the right place!

For students who are just getting started on identifying schools that they want to apply to, it is important to make sure that the list is quite varied and diverse. Though there is no magic number, the average number of schools that students end up applying to typically comes out to somewhere between five and eight schools.

Making sure that you have some dream schools, safety schools, and schools that give you various options in terms of size, location and more are important. And even if your ultimate goal is to attend an Ivy League school, it is really important to know about some of the other best schools in the country that are not in the Ivy League.

Smiling student holding their things in a box.

At AdmissionSight, we make it our top priority to help the high school students that we work with identify and get into the schools that are the best fits for them. Because many of our students are highly determined individuals, a lot of the schools that we end up applying to are Ivy League schools or top 10 schools that are not in the Ivy League. But those are not the only kinds of schools that we help our students apply and get into, and those top 10 universities are far from the only places in which undergraduate students can get incredible educations that set them up perfectly for the journey to come.

So, if you are quickly approaching your own application cycle and want to start getting educated in some of the best non-Ivy League schools or want to know what makes an Ivy League education special, then simply keep reading along so that we can break all of that information down for you!

Let’s get started.

What makes an Ivy League education special?

When it comes to what makes an Ivy League education so special, the simple truth is that what goes on in the classroom is not really what sets the Ivy League apart. The truth is that there are hundreds of universities and colleges across the United States that offer incredible education. Beyond that, one of the biggest differences between undergraduate school and high school, in general, is that students tend to get out as much as they put in.

What that means is that an incredibly hard-working and determined student at a big state school that has a relatively high acceptance rate can definitely end up getting a better education than an Ivy League student who slacks off, skips classes and generally does not take his or her education very seriously.

So what is the major difference then between going to an Ivy League school versus one that isn’t in the Ivies? One important answer is that these elite schools have tradition, legacy, and history under their belt, which come with lots of added benefits. Because of its legacy, the alumni of the school are very generous with financial donations, causing the school to afford the top innovations, technology, and faculty.

Students talking about the best non-Ivy League schools.

Because the Ivies have massive endowments from their incredibly proud and passionate alumni base allows the schools to invest in cutting-edge resources that students benefit from. These alumni bases are also known to help their own, and students who graduate from these schools tend to have really impressive employment prospects.

But still, just because these facts are true and important to keep in mind does not mean that the only undergraduate education worth getting is one from an Ivy League school. In fact, there are some schools that are considered right on the part with the Ivies. You might even be wondering if there are any schools better than the Ivies!

So, to help you get a better understanding of the university landscape in the United States, we wanted to spend the rest of this piece breaking down schools that can – and are – mentioned in the same breath as the ivies as well as other schools that may not be considered as prestigious as the Ivies, but are still incredibly highly regarded as the best non-Ivy league school across the country and throughout the world.

Best non-Ivy League schools

While there are countless fantastic schools in the United States, there is no doubt that there is a list of prestigious schools that offer many benefits that the Ivies do when it comes to resources that are available to students both during and after their education at the school.

Students talking in a room for extracurriculars.

So, if you are curious about what the schools are and what they have to offer, simply continue reading on.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Acceptance Rate (2021-22 application cycle): 4.0 percent
  • Average GPA of accepted students: 4.17
  • Undergraduate enrollment: Approx. 4,630

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology – or MIT as it is often called – is without a doubt one of the most selective and prestigious universities in the world, and thanks to that as well as its close proximity to Harvard University, many people often think that it is actually part of the Ivy League but its part of the best non-Ivy league school. However, MIT is not one of the Ivies and is in some ways in a league all its own.

As the name indicates, many of the most popular programs and focuses at MIT have to do with STEM subjects, however there is no doubt that the school’s political science, business and economics programs are also incredibly popular and prestigious.

Stanford University 

  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Acceptance Rate (2021-22 application cycle): 4.5 percent
  • Average GPA of accepted students: 3.96
  • Undergraduate enrollment: Approx. 7,850

Stanford is far away from the history that the Northeast has to offer, but what it lacks in history (first opened in 1885) it makes up for in so many things. Without question, thanks to its location in the beautiful Bay Area as well as its close proximity to the epicenter of technology and business known as Silicon Valley, Stanford has become a highly desirable school for young men and women who are determined to create the next great company, website or app.

On top of exceptional academic programs, the school offers small class sizes — almost 70 percent of classes have fewer than 20 students — and the opportunity to work closely with faculty. Students are encouraged to participate in professors’ research efforts and seek out mentorship opportunities while earning their degrees.


  • Location: Pasadena, CA
  • Acceptance Rate (2021-22 application cycle): 3.25 percent
  • Average GPA of accepted students: 4.0
  • Undergraduate enrollment: Approx. 985

The California Institute of Technology – more commonly known as Caltech – is definitely going to be the smallest school on this list, as it boasts less than 250 students per graduating class. The truth is that Caltech is unlike other major colleges and universities in the United States, as it focuses heavily on STEM and is not really a destination for students who are interested in humanities or the arts.

Instead, Caltech is home to the Jet Propulsion Lab and is considered the United States’ leading institution when it comes to robotic space exploration. Though it focuses heavily on STEM subjects and is rather small, Caltech does offer a lot of great opportunities for its students outside of the classroom to get involved with the school community and beyond.

University of Chicago

  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Acceptance Rate (2021-22 application cycle): 5.0 percent
  • Average GPA of accepted students: 4.48
  • Undergraduate enrollment: Approx. 6,500

The University of Chicago is absolutely one of the schools that annually ends up in the top 10 alongside the Ivy Leagues and the other schools listed above. In fact, UChicago is often ranked higher than several of the Ivies. So what makes it such a special school? The academics are top-notch, of course, and students are also encouraged to take part in many of the opportunities offered at the school. Overall, the school offers over 50 different majors, including a nationally recognized program in economics. And with 400 student clubs, you won’t have to worry about finding your niche at this fine institution.

Northwestern University 

  • Location: Evanston, IL
  • Acceptance Rate (2021-22 application cycle): 7.0 percent
  • Average GPA of accepted students: 4.1
  • Undergraduate enrollment: Approx. 8,230

Right down the street from the University of Chicago is yet another one of the most prestigious schools in the United States, Northwestern. What makes Northwestern so interesting is that while it is an incredible academic school, it also offers an undergraduate experience that is quite similar to that of a larger state school which makes it one of the best non-Ivy league schools. A big part of that is thanks to the fact that Northwestern competes in Division I for many different sports including football, basketball and more.

Don’t worry though, Northwestern is always going to be far more oriented towards academics than it is sports, and it offers an incredible variance of choice in terms of paths and has 112 different undergraduate degrees. While its STEM programs are often ranked very highly,

Northwestern is perhaps most famous for its journalism program that has helped foster the careers of some of the most impactful writers in recent memory. Outside of the classroom, Northwestern offers incredible clubs and groups and encourages students to leave their comfort zone through their incredible study abroad program. 50 percent of students study abroad at Northwestern.

Duke University

  • Location: Durham, NC
  • Acceptance Rate (2021-22 application cycle): 6.0 percent
  • Average GPA of accepted students: 4.13
  • Undergraduate enrollment: Approx. 6,680

While we’re on the subject of schools that take athletics seriously along with academics, Duke University simply has to be mentioned. This private university in North Carolina is perhaps most famous for its incredible men’s basketball program. Duke offers 53 majors and 52 minors to undergraduate students and even offers their Program II, which allows students to design their own degree programs. Duke has an incredibly passionate and engaged alumni community, and students often gain internship and employment opportunities thanks to connections that are forged among fellow alumni.

Williams College

  • Location: Williamston, MA
  • Acceptance rate: 8.5 percent
  • Average GPA of accepted students: 4.07
  • Undergraduate enrollment: Approx. 2,070

While the vast majority of the schools on this list can be defined as research universities, Williams College is firmly a liberal arts college, and is absolutely one of the best liberal arts schools in the country. Though liberal arts schools are traditionally thought of as schools that focus primarily on the arts and humanities, Williams is also committed to offering top programs in subjects such as government, economics and more.

University of California, Berkeley

  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Acceptance rate: 11.5 percent
  • Average GPA of accepted students: 3.89
  • Undergraduate enrollment: Approx. 30,850

It is no coincidence that UC Berkeley, the only state school that has thus far been listed, is by far the biggest school on this list so far as well. UC Berkeley is one of the best state schools in the country and is one of the few public universities to be able to compete with the private universities on this list and in the Ivy League.

Berkeley is home to some incredible faculty members and there are 90 faculty members or graduates of the school that have won Nobel Prizes. The school is perhaps best known as a hotspot for students who want to go on to study and work in medicine or the sciences, but there are 150 total majors for students to choose from.

University of Michigan

  • Location: Ann Arbor, MI
  • Acceptance rate: 19.0 percent
  • Average GPA of accepted students: 3.89
  • Undergraduate enrollment: Approx. 32,280

Another fantastic public university, the University of Michigan is seen by many students as a fantastic combination of academic prestige and athletic relevance. In many ways, Michigan is to football what Duke is to basketball, as it has one of the most historic programs in the country (and the biggest football stadium in the country, to boot).

When it comes to academics, Michigan is no slouch either, and it has some of the best economics, engineering, chemistry and political science programs in the country. Moreover, the alumni community is one of the strongest in the world, and the running joke at the schools Is that no matter where you are in the world, you’ll see someone wearing a Michigan shirt proudly.

Amherst College

  • Location: Amherst, MA
  • Acceptance rate: 7.0 percent
  • Average GPA of accepted students: 4.07
  • Undergraduate enrollment: Approx. 24,231

For the final school on this list, we wanted to make sure that Amherst College was mentioned. Amherst is considered to be the second best liberal arts school in the country and is thought to be one of the “hidden Ivies” along with Northwestern and Stanford. Amherst is an incredibly unique school because it offers an open curriculum which means that there are no general education requirements that students have to meet.

Amherst is also known for its generous need-blind, no-loan financial aid, and the school promises to meet 100% of each student’s demonstrated need. More than half of the students who attend this college receive aid, with the average need-based grant totaling $54,715.

Identify the right schools for you

The simple truth for all students that are getting ready to apply to schools is that just because the Ivy League is considered to be the most prestigious and selective group of schools in the United States, it does not mean that they are the only schools worth applying to or attending, there’s also the best non-Ivy league school. There are many schools that offer fantastic experiences for students in many different and unique ways. Hopefully, this quick breakdown of some of the best non-Ivy League schools has helped you identify some of the other options that are available to you.

Two students smiling while walking talking about the best non-Ivy league schools.

If you are interested in learning more about the Ivy League or other top schools that are not within the Ivy League, then we are so happy that you have found AdmissionSight. As one of the top admissions consultant firms in the world, we have helped countless students achieve their undergraduate dreams. If you want to learn more about the tools and strategies that we provide to our students, contact us today to schedule a free consultation so you can learn who we are and what we are about!




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