April Maguire 7 min read 11th Grade, 12th Grade, College Lists

10 Top Non-Ivy League Schools You Should Consider

What’s Covered:


If you have commendable grades, high test scores, and an impressive roster of extracurriculars, you might have dreams of attending one of the Ivies. Referring to eight elite East Coast schools, the Ivy League consists of Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, Columbia University, Brown University, Dartmouth College, University of Pennsylvania, and Cornell University. While attending an Ivy can undoubtedly help pave the way for a brighter future, these schools aren’t the only ones to consider.


As application numbers skyrocket for Ivy League institutions, top students are increasingly turning to other great colleges and universities around the nation. Often just as selective and academically rigorous, these schools help students achieve success in numerous fields, from law to medicine to business. In fact, 89 percent of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies actually attended non-Ivies. Keep reading to learn about the best non-Ivy colleges to add to your school list.

How to find the right college

It’s important to do your research when creating a school list to ensure you will get accepted into at least one school you will be happy to attend. If you apply to all safety schools, for example, you will run the risk of not being challenged enough and growing bored. If you apply to only reach schools, you might not get accepted to any of the schools on your list.


We recommend students apply to 8-12 schools, with 25% being safety schools, 40% target schools, and 35% reach schools. One easy way to make sure you have a healthy school list is to be able to search for schools based on your personal acceptance rate (not the average acceptance rate, which we explain below is not accurate for everyone).


We’ve made this simple, by allowing you to calculate your personal chances and then filter through hundreds of schools based on them using our School Hub. It’s all free, you just need to be logged in to filter for your chances.


You can also filter for other helpful things, such as location, major, cost, and even application difficulty! We highly recommend you check it out.



10 Top Schools That Aren’t in the Ivy League


It’s no secret that graduating from an Ivy League school comes with a certain cachet. However, the best non-Ivy League colleges in the country tend to score equally high marks in terms of student satisfaction, extracurricular options, study abroad opportunities, and other metrics. Below are ten of the top schools in the country that aren’t in the Ivy League. 


1. Stanford University

Location: Stanford, CA
Acceptance rate: 4%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1420-1570 SAT, 32-35 ACT
Undergraduate enrollment: 7,087


Learn more about Stanford and calculate your acceptance chances.


Holding the No. 6 spot on US News & World Report’s list of national universities, Stanford actually ranks ahead of several of the Ivies. So, it’s no surprise that this institution is unofficially referred to as the Ivy of the West. Along with 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. 


2. MIT

Location: Cambridge, MA
Acceptance rate: 7%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1500-1570 SAT, 34-36 ACT
Undergraduate enrollment: 4,602


Learn more about MIT and calculate your acceptance chances.


MIT ties with Columbia for the No. 3 spot on the list of national universities, ranking just behind Princeton and Harvard. Along with world-class research facilities featuring the latest technologies, MIT students enjoy access to the Independent Activities Program, a month-long January term featuring special courses and projects. While the university’s engineering school is its largest in terms of enrollment, MIT also earns high marks for non-tech programs such as political science and economics. 


3. Caltech

Location: Pasadena, CA
Acceptance rate: 7%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1530-1580 SAT, 35-36 ACT
Undergraduate enrollment: 948


Learn more about Caltech and calculate your acceptance chances.


Students who are passionate about a career in science would be remiss not to consider Caltech. Home to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the country’s leading center for robotic space exploration, the university provides students with plenty of opportunities to take part in research during the school year and the summer. While Caltech is known for its academics, the school also offers plenty of extracurricular programs and student clubs, including archery, karate, and Ultimate Frisbee. 


4. University of Chicago

Location: Chicago, IL
Acceptance rate: 7%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1490-1570 SAT, 33-35 ACT
Undergraduate enrollment: 6,552


Learn more about UChicago and calculate your acceptance chances.


UChicago is perhaps best known among students for having the quirkiest supplemental essays, such as “A hot dog might be a sandwich, and cereal might be a soup, but is a __ a __?” Academics-wise, research is a major feature of life at the University of Chicago, where students are encouraged to embark on opportunities at the Argonne National Laboratory, Marine Biological Laboratory, and the Giant Magellan Telescope. However, the school isn’t just known for its exceptional programs in science and technology. In fact, the University of Chicago 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. 

Discover your chances at hundreds of schools

Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.

5. Northwestern University

Location: Evanston, IL
Acceptance rate: 8%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1430 to 1550/ 33 to 35
Undergraduate enrollment: 8,231


Learn more about Northwestern and calculate your acceptance chances.


Another university in Illinois, Northwestern holds the No. 9 spot on the list of best national universities. While the school offers students a choice of 112 different undergraduate degrees, Northwestern earns particular acclaim for its journalism program, which boasts well-known alumni such as Pulitzer Prize winner Lisa Gartner and author George R.R. Martin. As a bonus, Northwestern students have plenty of opportunities to take courses overseas. In fact, 50 percent of undergrads participate in study abroad.


6. Duke University

Location: Durham, NC
Acceptance rate: 9%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1450-1570 SAT, 33-35 ACT
Undergraduate enrollment: 6,682


Learn more about Duke and calculate your acceptance chances.


With 53 majors and 52 minors, Duke students have plenty of options when it comes to crafting an education. In fact, the school offers something called Program II, whereby students with interdisciplinary interests can design their own degree programs. Additionally, the school provides 18 lucky students a year with the opportunity to participate in the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program. The winners receive a four-year scholarship along with special access to academic and extracurricular opportunities. 


7. Johns Hopkins University

Location: Baltimore, MD
Acceptance rate: 11%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1470-1560 SAT, 33-35 ACT
Undergraduate enrollment: 6,064


Learn more about Johns Hopkins and calculate your acceptance chances.


Johns Hopkins has a reputation as a top medical school. However, the university also offers highly rated programs in the humanities and social sciences, with popular majors including public health and international studies. Moreover, undergraduates praise the school’s financial aid offering. According to U.S. News data, the mean aid package totals $47,492, and the college’s alumni earn an average starting salary of $62,700.


8. Williams College

Location: Williamstown, MA
Acceptance rate: 13%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1410-1550 SAT, 32-35 ACT
Undergraduate enrollment: 2,073


Learn more about Williams and calculate your acceptance chances.


If you haven’t heard of Williams College, then you aren’t alone. Although lesser known as a liberal arts college, Williams is one of the best non-Ivy colleges in the nation, with majors ranging from economics to political science, government, and history. Additionally, Williams offers 60-70 courses in the style of the tutorial system employed by Oxford and Cambridge. Consisting of a professor and two or three students, these tutorials allow undergraduates to learn in an intimate, personalized atmosphere. During their free time, Williams students enjoy plenty of outdoor activities in Western Massachusetts, such as hiking, canoeing, and cross-country skiing.


9. Amherst College

Location: Amherst, MA
Acceptance rate: 13%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1390-1540 SAT, 31-34 ACT
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,855


Learn more about Amherst and calculate your acceptance chances.


Another liberal arts college located in the Bay State, Amherst holds the No. 2 spot on the list of best national liberal arts colleges. Considered one of the Hidden Ivies, along with Northwestern and Stanford, Amherst is one of the few open curriculum schools, meaning that there are no general education requirements. Additionally, Amherst is part of the Five Colleges consortium, so students can take courses and participate in clubs at local schools like Smith and the University of Massachusetts. Amherst is 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. 


10. UC Berkeley

Location: Berkeley, CA
Acceptance rate: 15%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1300-1530 SAT, 28-34 ACT
Undergraduate enrollment: 30,853


Learn more about UC Berkeley and calculate your acceptance chances.


A public university, UC Berkeley has a tuition rate of around $14,000 a year for California residents, a fact that makes it one of the more affordable schools on this list. However, that doesn’t take away from Berkeley’s prestige. In fact, the school lists over 90 faculty members and graduates who are Nobel Prize winners. While UC Berkeley is known for attracting pre-med students, undergrads can choose from more than 150 majors, including less common choices like peace and conflict studies, atmospheric science, and Tibetan studies.

Understand your chances at these schools

Shooting for selective colleges can be daunting, as only a few students can reasonably expect to stand a chance in admissions. You may look at the low acceptance rates and wonder what your chances actually are of getting in.


Schools calculate acceptance rate by dividing the number of accepted students by the total number of students who applied. It only applies to the group as a whole. Within that applicant pool, some students have a 99% chance of acceptance, while others have a less than 1% chance of getting in.


The low acceptance rates apply to each school’s entire applicant pool; therefore, this rate should not be taken as your own personal chance of acceptance. One way to better understand your personal rate of acceptance is to compare against students with your background and to be able to compare all aspects of your profile (including extracurriculars). You can do this easily with our free admissions calculator.


It’s important to understand your personal chances to be able to make the best decisions for your school list moving forward.


It’s not enough to compile a list of the best non-Ivy colleges. You also have to assess your odds of getting accepted. At CollegeVine, we built our state-of-the-art chancing engine using actual results from students around the country. All you have to do is create an account and enter your information, including grades, test scores, and extracurriculars. We’ll then provide you with personalized chancing information free of charge, plus tips to improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine acount today and take the next step toward achieving your dreams.

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April Maguire
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.