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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


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What Are The Hidden Ivies? Are They Right For You?

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What’s Covered:


Attending an Ivy League university is the dream for many high school students. The prestigious group of eight highly selective institutions graduates some of the top leaders in their fields, from US presidents to world-class engineers to Nobel Laureates.


But the Ivies, which began as an athletic conference, are not the only excellent universities. There are many other extremely selective, highly sought-after institutions of equal caliber. Some are not as well known, while others have become on par with the Ivies in terms of status.


What Are the Hidden Ivies?


The so-called Hidden Ivies received their name from the eponymous book by Howard and Matthew Greene. Originally published in 2000, The Hidden Ivies is now in its third edition, which was released in 2016, and currently describes 63 notable schools, including small liberal arts colleges and top research universities across the US (the Ivies are all concentrated in the Northeast).


Public universities like the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Virginia are absent from the book. The Greenes describe these so-called Public Ivies in ​​The Public Ivies: America’s Flagship Public Universities.


How Were the Hidden Ivies Selected?


The authors’ intention in writing their book was to draw awareness to and encourage academically talented students to apply to schools with prestigious, selective programs. Consistent with criteria used to evaluate the members of the Ivy League, they considered factors like:


  • Faculty: e.g. accessibility, academic preparation, work opportunities with undergraduates, the ratio of students to faculty, percentage of full-time faculty, diversity, and teacher training


  • Resources: e.g. endowment size, library quality, technological sophistication, research facilities, residential life, athletic facilities, extracurricular programs, arts, and financial aid


  • Educational and leadership team: e.g. backgrounds of members, mission, and institutional honor code


  • Outcomes and ROI


  • Student body: e.g. school selectivity, support available, personality and culture, and prestige


Which Colleges are on the List?


The Hidden Ivies identifies 63 schools in total. Here are seven examples of those included:


Davidson College

Location: Davidson, NC

Acceptance Rate: 19%

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,800


Davidson College is a small liberal arts college boasting 31 majors, plus a “create your own” major option, and more than 40 minors. Central to the college’s culture is its Honor Code, which governs the community. Another program core to student life and academics is study abroad. By graduation, 78 percent of students participate in an overseas experience.


Learn more about Davidson and what it takes to get accepted.


Johns Hopkins University

Location: Baltimore, MD

Acceptance Rate: 11%

Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,000


Widely acknowledged as the first research university in the US, Johns Hopkins is best known for its medical school. But in addition to graduating a number of future physicians, the undergraduate colleges within the larger university have excellent programs in international studies, creative writing, and many other disciplines.


Learn more about Hopkins and what it takes to get accepted.

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Macalester College

Location: Saint Paul, MN

Acceptance Rate: 41%

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,100


A Midwestern college with a diverse student body, Macalester is one of few liberal arts schools that caters exclusively to undergraduates. The close-knit community draws students from 98 countries and all 50 states, who come to study disciplines like computer science, economics, and political science.


Learn more about Macalester and what it takes to be accepted.


Oberlin College

Location: Oberlin, OH

Acceptance Rate: 36%

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,700


The oldest co-educational college in the US, Oberlin is a liberal arts school known equally for its academic college and Conservatory of Music; the oldest of its kind still in existence in the US. The college has a history of diversity, as the first in the country to admit Black students and women, and remains true to its liberal idealism and culture of innovation.


Learn more about Oberlin and what it takes to get accepted.


Vassar College

Location: Poughkeepsie, NY

Acceptance Rate: 25%

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,400


Formerly an all-women’s college and member of the Seven Sisters, Vassar became coeducational in 1969; the second all-women’s college to do so in the US. Today, it is famous for its flexible, innovative curriculum, student groups ranging from a circus troupe to club sports, and the natural beauty of the campus in upstate New York.


Learn more about Vassar and what it takes to get accepted.


Pomona College

Location: Claremont, CA

Acceptance Rate: 8%

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,500


Pomona is among the most selective institutions in the country, with the lowest acceptance rate of any liberal arts college in the US. One advantage of attending the school is that students have access to the more than 2,000 courses offered across the seven Claremont Colleges, along with the more than 600 offered at Pomona itself.


Learn more about Pomona and what it takes to get accepted.


Washington University in St. Louis

Location: St. Louis, MO

Acceptance Rate: 15%

Undergraduate Enrollment: 7,700


WashU, as Washington University in St. Louis is known, is home to four schools that accept undergraduates, along with its graduate schools: 


  • College of Arts & Sciences
  • Olin Business School
  • Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts
  • McKelvey School of Engineering


Together, these schools house more than 90 programs, though it’s best-known for being a top pre-med school. The university also has a thriving extracurricular life, with more than 450 student-run organizations.


Learn more about WashU and what it takes to be accepted.


Strengths and Weaknesses of the Methodology


Emphasis on teaching


Traditionally, teaching at the college level wasn’t as highly emphasized as research at many schools. But instruction is one of the central facets of the academic experience, one that can greatly affect outcomes. By including factors like teacher training and number of full-time faculty (who tend to be more accessible to students), the authors are underscoring the importance of teaching.


De-emphasis on prestige


The authors discuss the dangers of what they call “the halo effect” or focusing on name recognition alone. However, they do note that a college’s reputation carries weight in terms of the connections they make and the careers they pursue. And, truth be told, while many of the colleges on the list already have strong reputations and are well-regarded, others are not considered to be of the same caliber as those in the Ivy League. 


This can be regarded as a strength — the goal is to educate students and parents on schools that might not be on their radar but could be an ideal fit — but it’s perhaps a bit misleading to include some of the schools on a list of those comparable to the Ivies, given that prestige, like it or not, does play a role in future opportunities.


Focus on small and medium-size institutions


While Iarger universities tend to be well known, that’s not always the case with small and medium-size schools — although this is not true across the board. However, while the authors’ intent is to focus on these smaller schools, some of the universities on the list are actually quite large. The University of Southern California is one example: the undergraduate population is more than 20,000 students.


Prioritization of the student experience


The authors interviewed more than 4,000 students as research for their book. This informs their analysis of the overall student experience, which is also critical for students to assess when determining whether an institution is a good fit.


Of course, no tools or criteria for evaluating colleges and universities are objective. Individuals must account for their own biases and criteria, as well as those of the author, when reviewing this and other lists.


Are the Hidden Ivies Right for You?


Each Hidden Ivy has its own personality and strengths. If you’re looking to attend a highly prestigious college or university with an excellent reputation, you’re bound to find something for you on the list. Plus, this will open up opportunities for you beyond the eight Ivies.


Prestige isn’t the only factor to consider, though. You should look for a school that offers your program of choice, along with the extracurricular activities that align with your interests and other qualities like size, location, and financial aid available. Our free school search tool will help you identify the best fits.

Like the Ivies, these schools are highly selective. With CollegeVine’s chancing engine, you’ll learn your real odds of admission to these and other colleges and get personalized tips for improving your profile.


Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.