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Guide to the Public Ivy League Schools in 2023

What’s Covered:


As you enter the college admissions process and start deciding which colleges you want to apply to, you’ll likely hear the term “Ivy League” used a lot—it refers to eight high-ranking private colleges in the Northeast that are known for their exceptional academics, storied histories, and selective admissions. The eight official Ivy League universities are Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, UPenn, and Yale.


There are some universities that are just as prestigious, selective, and intellectually fulfilling as those of the Ivy League. However, due to their status as public universities—among other factors—they are not considered part of the Ivy League. These colleges are known as “Public Ivies.”


Keep reading if you’re building your college list and wondering if you should consider applying to a Public Ivy or if you simply want to learn more about these excellent institutions and how they stack up against the Ivy League.


What Are the Public Ivy League Schools?


Before delving into the factors you should consider when deciding whether to apply to a Public Ivy, it is important to know which universities qualify as Public Ivies. Richard Moll’s 1985 book, The Public Ivy’s: A Guide to America’s Best Public Undergraduate Colleges and Universities, lists 15 colleges and universities that warrant this distinction:



Undergraduate Enrollment

Acceptance Rate

UC Berkeley



UC Davis



UC Irvine






UC Riverside



UC San Diego



UC Santa Barbara



UC Santa Cruz



Miami University of Ohio



University of Michigan – Ann Arbor



University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill



University of Texas – Austin



University of Vermont



University of Virginia



College of William and Mary




The Public Ivies are known for their superb academic programs, an abundance of resources, and high rankings. Some of the academic departments at them even rival those of even Ivy League universities.


Top 5 Public Ivy League Schools


You might think that a lot has changed over the nearly four decades since The Public Ivys: A Guide to America’s Best Public Undergraduate Colleges and Universities was published, but according to CollegeVine’s rankings, the top five Public Ivies are all included in the book. CollegeVine’s rankings are based on a variety of considerations, including school quality, outcomes, and return on investment. They also account for retention rate, selectivity, endowment per student, student-faculty ratio, median earnings, and cost of attendance.


1. University of Michigan – Ann Arbor


Location: Ann Arbor, MI

Acceptance rate: 20%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1350-1530/31-34

Undergrad enrollment: 32,200


The University of Michigan is synonymous with its home city of Ann Arbor, which consistently ranks among the best college towns in the country. However, the university was originally founded in Detroit in 1817—it moved to Ann Arbor in 1837, held its first university-level course in 1941, and its inaugural graduating class consisted of just 11 students. Over the years, the University of Michigan has grown considerably; today it’s home to almost 50,000 students attending its 19 schools and colleges and counts more than 640,000 living alumni.


2. University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill


Location: Chapel Hill, NC

Acceptance rate: 20%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1350-1510/28-33

Undergrad enrollment: 19,800


In addition to UNC – Chapel Hill’s designation as a Public Ivy, the school also has the distinction of being the first public university in the nation and the only one to award degrees in the 18th century—it was founded in 1789. In addition to its excellent academics, UNC is also well known for its athletics, particularly its men’s basketball team, which has won six NCAA titles (the third-most of any college).


3. University of Virginia


Location: Charlottesville, VA

Acceptance rate: 21%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1400-1510/32-35

Undergrad enrollment: 17,200


Founding father Thomas Jefferson established the University of Virginia in 1819 and his vision for the university still reverberates today. For example, UVA students aren’t called freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors; rather, they’re referred to as first-years, second-years, third-years, and fourth-years—this is because Jefferson believed that learning was a life-long process that never stopped. Another testament to Jefferson’s legacy is UVA’s Academical Village, which was designed by Jefferson and today is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


4. UC Berkeley


Location: Berkeley, CA

Acceptance rate: 18%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: N/A

Undergrad enrollment: 31,800


UC Berkeley is the oldest school of the University of California system (and CollegeVine’s highest-ranking)—a collection of ten campuses across the Golden State that are home to more than a quarter-million undergraduates. UC Berkeley was a founding member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, a group of just 63 leading research universities in the U.S. The school’s faculty and alumni have won 52 Nobel Prizes in almost every field—winners are rewarded in a unique way by the university, they’re given free lifetime parking in coveted spots near central campus.




Location: Los Angeles, CA

Acceptance rate: 11%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: N/A

Undergrad enrollment: 32,100


UCLA was founded in 1919 as the Southern Branch of the University of California, making it the youngest of the top five Public Ivies. UCLA has grown considerably since its establishment, and is now the nation’s only world-class research university founded in the 20th century. Thanks to its excellent reputation, high rankings, and Los Angeles location, UCLA is commonly counted among the most-applied-to colleges in the country. In addition to academic excellence, UCLA also has a history of athletic excellence—its men’s basketball has won more NCAA titles than any other team and the university has produced more Olympians than any other college except Stanford.


What Factors Should You Consider When Evaluating the Public Ivies?


Acceptance Rates/Likelihood of Getting Accepted


The acceptance rates at Public Ivies are low by contemporary community standards, but they’re not as low as the Ivy League acceptance rates. As a general rule, you probably have a higher chance of being accepted to a Public Ivy than an Ivy League university.


Here’s a look at the acceptance rates of the original Ivies:



Acceptance Rate 

Brown University 


Columbia University 


Cornell University 


Dartmouth College 


Harvard University 


Princeton University 


University of Pennsylvania | UPenn


Yale University 



However, you should know that acceptance rates aren’t the only factors that can affect your admission (or lack thereof) to a university. For example, many of the Public Ivies are mandated by their state to accept a certain percentage of in-state students, so if you’re applying to a Public Ivy out-of-state, you’re potentially at a disadvantage.


Your profile will also play a significant role in your odds of acceptance at any college—Public Ivy, Ivy, or other. CollegeVine’s free chancing engine can help add clarity to your chances of getting into college, using factors like your academics, extracurriculars, and demographics to estimate your odds of admission at hundreds of schools nationwide.


The Public Ivies are selective and it’s important to create a balanced list of schools, with at least two safety schools, four target schools, and two reach schools. Build your list of prospective colleges using our college search tool, which allows you to sort schools using a variety of filters, ranging from public vs. private, majors, and location.




The biggest difference you’ll find between the Ivy League colleges and the Public Ivies is the size of the student population. Public Ivies tend to have larger undergraduate student populations and higher student-to-teacher ratios. For example, the student-to-faculty ratio at Harvard is 7:1, whereas the student-to-faculty ratio at UC Berkeley is 18:1. You may also find that there are more enrollment issues at a bigger university as classes are more likely to fill up quickly.


The size of the undergraduate student population can have different implications for your undergraduate education. On one hand, at a bigger university, there will be a plethora of fellow students to befriend, ask for study help, and use as a resource. On the other hand, you’ll receive less individualized attention from professors, so you must either figure out most of the material for your classes on your own or utilize graduate student instructors.


Larger student populations tend to offer more diversity, so you’re more likely to have a wide variety of interactions with fellow students and a greater variety of extracurricular options. Basically, there are pros and cons to each student population size. It’s up to you to weigh those pros and cons and see which type of university is a better fit for you.




This is perhaps the biggest argument in favor of the Public Ivies. For in-state students, the cost benefits from attending a Public Ivy versus an Ivy League college, or any private university for that matter, can add up to thousands of dollars. A number of Public Ivies—including the UC schools, UNC, UVM, Michigan, and UT Austin—all offer loan-free financial aid packages to students from families below certain income thresholds.


For out-of-state students, the cost benefits of attending a Public Ivy are a bit more complicated and depend highly on the universities in question. Some public universities offer cheaper tuition than others, but you’ll generally find that out-of-state tuition at Public Ivies is no more than a few thousand dollars off from tuition at an Ivy League University.


While the published cost of attendance at Ivy League schools is higher than that of the Public Ivies, particularly for in-state students, sticker price paints an incomplete picture of the cost of college. For example, the Ivy League is especially generous when awarding financial aid. An article from The Daily Princetonian (Princeton’s student newspaper) reported the average percentage of total cost covered by financial aid packages at the eight Ivy League schools:


  • Princeton: 86%
  • Harvard: 81%
  • Yale: 79%
  • UPenn: 78%
  • Brown: 72%
  • Cornell: 67%
  • Dartmouth: 66%


All of the Ivy League universities will meet 100% of a student’s demonstrated need and offer loan-free financial aid packages (with the exception of Cornell, which offers loan-free financial aid only to students with a total family income of less than $60,000 and total assets below $100,000), ensuring students aren’t required to take out loans to pay for college.


Another reason you shouldn’t let the high sticker price scare you off from applying to an Ivy League institution is that they all offer need-blind admissions. That is, they do not consider your ability to pay for college when making admission decisions.




In general, you’ll find more rigorous and higher-caliber academics at Ivy League schools than at the Public Ivies. However, in some cases, the Public Ivies outpace their Ivy League counterparts. For example, UCLA is one of the best colleges in the country for students interested in studying film—it places second on CollegeVine’s rankings of best colleges for film, trailing only USC. Similarly, UC Davis is commonly considered the nation’s best school for agriculture and forestry.


UC Berkeley competes with the Ivy League in a number of fields and surpasses them in more than a few, including engineering. U.S. News and World Report ranks UC Berkeley as the third-best undergraduate engineering program in the country, trailing just MIT and Stanford. The University of Michigan also makes a showing on the list, at sixth, before the first Ivy League school—Cornell—at number nine.


Harvard tops U.S. News and World Report’s rankings of top universities in the United States for biology and biochemistry, however, two Public Ivies are found in the top ten: UC Berkeley (4th) and UC San Diego (6th). Furthermore, UCLA (12th) appears before the next Ivy, Cornell (13th).




While the Ivy League is home to historic teams and rivalries, most students can’t remember the last time anyone gloated about the athletic culture at a private Ivy League institution. The Public Ivies tend to focus more on sports and athletics than the Ivy League universities.


The increased focus on athletics at Public Ivies tends to lead to a spirited campus culture, with the whole university rallying for things like football games and pep rallies. This is not to say that these things don’t exist at Ivy League universities, it’s just less of a focus. If big-time college athletics is important to you, the Public Ivies are definitely the way to go.


Career Prospects


There is a certain prestige associated with having an Ivy League university on your resume. Graduating from a Public Ivy has some wow factor, but it’s not on the same level as an Ivy League.


Both the Public Ivies and the Ivy League have a host of connections to various industries and companies, career resource centers, and robust alumni networks, allowing you to leverage campus resources to secure your first job no matter where you go to school.


It’s worth noting that most universities have more resources dedicated to one specific type of career versus another. For example, if you want a career in the entertainment industry, you’d have better luck with UCLA than Princeton. However, if you want to go to law school, Harvard is a better option than UT Austin. Thus, when determining career prospects, you have to compare the academic departments at each university individually.


The Bottom Line


The reality is that most students aren’t accepted to an Ivy League university and the Public Ivies offer a good alternative. In addition to the Public Ivies, there are numerous other excellent, prestigious, and selective schools outside of the Ivy League—you can learn more about them in our article 30 Top Non-Ivy League Schools in 2023.


That said, students with strong profiles should still consider applying to Ivy League schools, after all, thousands of applicants are accepted annually. CollegVine’s article, How to Get Into the Ivy League, provides the details you need to know to ensure you submit a competitive application.


Sadhvi Mathur
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Sadhvi is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where she double majored in Economics and Media Studies. Having applied to over 8 universities, each with different application platforms and requirements, she is eager to share her knowledge now that her application process is over. Other than writing, Sadhvi's interests include dancing, playing the piano, and trying not to burn her apartment down when she cooks!