Should You Apply to Public Ivy League Schools?
Do you know how to improve your profile for college applications?
See how your profile ranks among thousands of other students using CollegeVine. Calculate your chances at your dream schools and learn what areas you need to improve right now — it only takes 3 minutes and it's 100% free.
As you enter the college admissions process and start deciding which colleges you want to apply to, you’ll hear the term “ivy league” being thrown around a lot. “Ivy League” refers to eight private colleges on the East Coast of the United States that are known to be the top in the nation. The official Ivy League Universities are UPenn, Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Columbia, Brown, Cornell, and Princeton.
However, there are some universities that are just as prestigious, selective, and intellectually fulfilling as the Ivy League colleges. However, due to their status as public universities (among other things), they are not considered part of the Ivy League. These colleges are known as “Public Ivies”.
If you have your heart set on attending one of the Ivy League Institutions, should the Public Ivy League Schools even be on your radar? Do they offer the same prestige, benefits, and career opportunities as an Ivy League university? For the answer to all of these questions and more, read on.
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 Ivys: A Guide to America’s Best Public Undergraduate Colleges and Universities, lists 15 colleges and universities that warrant this distinction:
- UC Berkeley
- UC Davis
- UC Irvine
- UC Riverside
- UC San Diego
- UC Santa Barbara
- UC Santa Cruz
- Miami University of Ohio
- The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor
- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- The University of Texas at Austin
- University of Vermont
- University of Virginia
- College of William and Mary
These universities are known for their superb academic programs, an abundance of resources, and high rankings. Some of the academic departments at the Public Ivies rival those of even the Ivy League universities.
What Factors Should You Consider When Evaluating the Public Ivies?
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 a larger undergraduate student population and a higher student:teacher ratio. For example, the student:faculty ratio at Harvard is 7:1, whereas the student:faculty ratio at UC Berkeley is 18:1.
The size of the undergraduate student population can have different implications for a student’s undergraduate education. On the 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, students receive less individualized attention from professors, so students either figure out most of the material for their classes on their own or utilize Graduate Student Instructors.
Also, you may find that there are more enrollment issues at a bigger university as classes are more likely to fill up quickly. However, bigger student populations tend to be more diverse, so you’re more likely to have a wide variety of interactions with fellow students and have a wider 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 be in thousands of dollars.
For out-of-state students, on the other hand, 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 the Public Ivies is no more than a few thousand dollars off from tuition at an Ivy League University.
Thus, if you’re considering an in-state Public Ivy versus an in-state Ivy League University, the Public Ivy is likely to be significantly cheaper. If you’re considering out-of-state, it may not be as clear.
The notion that an Ivy League education is of a higher caliber than that of a Public Ivy is unsubstantiated. While that argument may be true for certain degree programs and majors, there are plenty of undergraduate programs at public universities that surpass those of the Ivy Leagues. For example, UC Berkeley ranks as one of the top research universities in the country, on par and perhaps surpassing some of the Ivy League colleges.
Thus, when evaluating the academics at the Ivy League versus a Public Ivy, you need to compare universities individually and take into account the degree program you might want to pursue. If you want to study Business, UPenn’s Wharton School is considered the best in the Country. However, if you want to study Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, UC Berkeley might be the way to go.
Ivy League or not, every students wants their university to have plenty of resources available for them to succeed, including, but not limited to, a career center, an alumni network, study abroad opportunities, fitness centers, mental health resources, etc.
You may be surprised to hear that most established Public Ivies have a similar amount of student resources as the Private Ivy League universities. However, there are a few key differences. The resources at Public Ivies are spread amongst more students, so there is less individualized attention given to each student. Also, the various student resource centers at the Ivy League colleges are likely more established and developed than the ones at the Public Ivies, especially the alumni networks, simply due to the fact that the Ivy League colleges have been around longer.
Most students can’t remember the last time anyone gloated about the athletic culture at a private Ivy League institution. Sports and athletics tends to be more of a focus in the Public Ivies than the Ivy League universities.
The increased focus on athletics at Public Ivies tends to lead to a more 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 the Ivy League universities, but it tends to not be as big of a focus. Thus, if you’re looking to emphasize athletics in your college choice, the Public Ivies are definitely the way to go.
There is a certain prestige associated with having an Ivy League name on your resume. Having a Public Ivy school certainly has some wow factor, but it’s not on the same level as an Ivy League.
That being said, as long as you work hard and do well in college, attending a Public Ivy will get you interviews and potentially a starting job the same way an Ivy League college would. Both the Public Ivies and the Ivy League have a host of connections to various industries and companies, so you will be able to leverage campus resources to secure your first entry-level job no matter where you go to school.
However, it is 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.
Acceptance Rates/Likelihood of Getting Accepted
While the acceptance rates at Public Ivies are still low by contemporary community standards, they are 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.
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 may be walking in at a disadvantage.
The Bottom Line
When asked, “Should you Apply to the Public Ivy League Schools?”, the answer is “it depends”. It’s up to each individual student to consider the factors listed above and make his own decision based on what he wants in a college experience and which specific universities he is considering.
Want to know more about the elite colleges? Check out these previous blog posts:
Need help with your college applications? Check out CollegeVine’s College Application Guidance Program, where you’ll get to work with your very own applications consultant and receive the guidance you need to succeed in the admissions process.
Want more college admissions tips?
We'll send you information to help you throughout the college admissions process.