American Universities That Are as Good, or Better, than Ivy League Colleges -

American Universities That Are as Good, or Better, than Ivy League Colleges

The reputation of the Ivy League is such that many are shocked when they discover that it doesn’t include all America’s best universities. Universities such as MIT, University of Chicago or Stanford are such examples. 

Let’s have a look at some of America’s best universities outside of the Ivy League, and what do terms such as Public Ivies, Hidden Ivies or Ivy Plus mean.

The Ivy League is synonymous with high-quality education. But ironically, the Ivy League owes more to basketball scores than GPA scores, and was used to refer to the sporting rivalry that existed between Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, PennsylvaniaPrinceton, and Yale.

Eventually, it was formally adopted as the name for their competitions, but the term was widely used to refer to them collectively. Eventually, it became associated more with their academic excellence than sport. However, it does mean that, when it comes to looking for the best US universities, if you only consider the Ivy League, you are missing out on some exceptional universities.

MIT and Stanford are not Ivy League, but rank better than Harvard

Of the American universities in the QS World University Rankings, for example, the highest placed Ivy League university, Harvard, is third, beaten by non-Ivy universities, MIT and Stanford. And, away from overall rankings, some universities that may have a worse overall performance but score better for individual courses.


Indeed, although the Ivy League often ranks near the top in QS World University Rankings by subject, in some areas, they are well down the list. For example, in art and design, the highest-ranking Ivy League college is Yale, at 13th. And for information management, Cornell represents the Ivy League’s best position at 15th. Depending on your course preference, you could have a big choice of universities with a higher ranked course.

What are the ‘Public Ivies’ and how good are they

Ivy League universities are, undoubtedly, some of the best in the world. However, because membership is a result of sport, location and history other have felt the need to create alternative groupings for other universities with similar educational prowess. These other ‘Ivies’, have different membership criteria, but they invariably include some of America’s best universities.

One of the best-known lists is the public Ivies. First used in the 80s, it listed the publicly owned or funded universities that had a comparable academic reputation. The list has changed over the years, and now includes 30 colleges and universities, but names that have always appeared on the list include schools like the University of Vermont, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Texas at Austin, and the University of California’s campuses.

Searching for “Hidden ivies”? Look no further

Another list is the Hidden Ivies. The creators of this list sought to highlight the colleges they felt offered a rounded education, similar to the Ivy League, at an establishment with high academic standards and competitive entry. 

The list includes many names recognized as among America’s leading universities, like Johns Hopkins or Notre Dame, but also many smaller universities that are often overshadowed, despite their having high academic standards. Examples include Oberlin College, Skidmore College, and Sewanee College, liberal arts colleges with strong reputations but with fewer than 8,000 undergraduates enrolled between them.

Non-ivies which are excellent

The diversity and size of US education means that here are plenty of institutions that do not fit easily on to a list. And each region, if not each state, will have universities that, in terms of academic achievement and reputation, compare well with the Ivy League. Indeed, some, like Stanford, are frequently, but incorrectly, assumed to be an Ivy League school.

If you are looking for a university that has a comparable education to an Ivy League school, but perhaps you might not have considered, there are plenty of universities that beat at least some Ivy League schools.

The University of Chicago has an international reputation and is home to several Nobel Prize winners. In fifth position on the QS rankings, academically, it would not look out of place in the Ivy League and often included in ‘Ivy plus’ lists.

Another option in the mid-west is the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, which is twelfth in the QS rankings for the US and ranks in the US News and World Report top ten for almost all its undergraduate courses.

Students on campus

Or, if you are looking for somewhere that benefits from being in an academic and research hub, then Duke University, in Durham, forms part of the area known as the research triangle (which Duke forms with North Carolina State, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill). Or, if you are interested in the western US, then the University of Washington sits between Brown and Dartmouth in world rankings.

Ultimately, only you can decide what is the best education for you. While rankings and membership of leagues can offer indications, they may not match your preferences for things like course subject and structure, costs, location, and student life.

Browsing through Studyportals can help you shortlist, and find, exactly the right place for you to start your study.

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