What Are the Little Ivies and NESCAC?

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Most people have heard of the Ivy League schools, but not everyone knows that there are other athletic conferences composed of academically prestigious colleges and universities. Notably, in New England, 11 outstanding liberal arts schools make up an athletic conference called the New England Small College Athletic Conference‚ÄĒthe NESCAC. NESCAC students have the unique opportunity to simultaneously participate in a vibrant academic community and a vibrant athletic program.

 

The 11 NESCAC schools are also part of an unofficial group known as the ‚ÄúLittle Ivies.‚ÄĚ The Little Ivies are challenging liberal arts schools dispersed throughout the Northeast. Read along to learn more about the NESCAC schools and the Little Ivies, including what binds them together and what makes each school unique and appealing.

 

What is the NESCAC?

 

The NESCAC‚ÄĒthe New England Small College Athletic Conference‚ÄĒis an NCAA Division III athletic conference. While the schools that comprise the NESCAC share a common history, selective admissions, and a reputation for academic excellence, the formal criterion for inclusion in the NESCAC is actually sports-related not academics-related. This structure, where academically excellent schools come together to form an athletic league, is similar to that of the Ivy League‚ÄĒan NCAA division I athletic conference.

 

Because the schools of the NESCAC and the Ivy League are grouped by athletic conference, the most obvious distinction between them is that student-athletes in the Ivy League participate in a Division I league which necessitates more intense training and competing year-round. Student-athletes attending NESCAC schools, on the other hand, only compete during their sport’s season. For the student who excels in both academics and athletics, a NESCAC school could be a great fit because student-athletes can participate in multiple sports while also challenging themselves academically. 

 

Here is a brief rundown of the 11 NESCAC schools:

 

Name

Location

Acceptance Rate

Amherst College

Amherst, MA

11%

Bates College

Lewiston, ME

12%

Bowdoin College

Brunswick, ME

9%

Colby College

Waterville, ME

10%

Connecticut College

New London, CT

37%

Hamilton College

Clinton, NY

16%

Middlebury College

Middlebury, VT

15%

Trinity College

Hartford, CT

33%

Tufts University

Medford, MA

15%

Wesleyan University

Middletown, CT

16%

Williams College

Williamstown, MA

13%

 

1. Amherst College

 

Location: Amherst, MA

Acceptance rate: 11%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1410-1530 SAT, 31-34 ACT

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,800  

 

Amherst College is located in the Connecticut River valley and is Massachusetts’ third oldest higher education institution. From the college town of Amherst, students can easily access Boston and New York via train. The college is part of the Five College Consortium with Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and UMass Amherst, which gives students access to courses and resources offered at four other outstanding universities. Additionally, Amherst students can exercise independence in their education through the school’s open curriculum.

 

Learn more about Amherst and see your chances of acceptance.

 

2. Bates College

 

Location: Lewiston, ME

Acceptance rate: 12%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1210-1420 SAT, 27-33 ACT

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,800 

 

Bates is a prestigious university in Maine, known for the close bonds forged between students and the friendliness of the student body. Students at Bates are intellectual and take their academic conversations outside of the classroom. The school has a high freshman retention rate, indicating that students are satisfied with their academic and social experiences.

 

Learn more about Bates and see your chances of acceptance. 

 

3. Bowdoin College

 

Location: Brunswick, ME

Acceptance rate: 9%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1340-1520 SAT, 31-34 ACT

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,800

 

Bowdoin‚ÄĒhome of the Polar Bears‚ÄĒis a private liberal arts college in Maine, consistently ranked as one of the top 10 liberal arts colleges in the nation. At Bowdoin, there is a strong sense of community between students, staff, and professors. The school was chartered in 1794 with the foundational value of pursuing ‚ÄúThe Common Good.‚ÄĚ This focus has not wavered and students are encouraged by their professors and peers to use their talents in ways that benefit their community.

 

Learn more about Bowdoin and see your chances of acceptance.  

 

4. Colby College

 

Location: Waterville, ME

Acceptance rate: 10%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1390-1530 SAT, 32-34 ACT

Undergraduate enrollment: 2,000  

 

Colby College boasts strong academics and a small bonded community in the picturesque state of Maine. Colby was the first college to implement the unique 4-1-4 academic calendar, where students take four classes in the fall and four classes in the spring, as well as an additional one class (taken pass/fail) during January. Additionally, Colby is known for the ‚ÄúColby Commitment,‚ÄĚ which earns it a place on our list of schools that meet 100% of students‚Äô demonstrated financial need without loans.¬†

 

Learn more about Colby and see your chances of acceptance.  

 

5. Connecticut College

 

Location: New London, CT

Acceptance rate: 37%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1310-1420 SAT, 30-33 ACT

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,800

 

Connecticut College is a liberal arts institution that focuses on interdisciplinary education. The school offers small classes and uses a self-scheduled exam system, trusting students to abide by the school’s Honor Code. Professors are generally thought of as approachable and, due to the small student population, are familiar with their students. Dorms are central to the social life at Connecticut College and allow students to explore meaningful relationships with their peers.

 

Learn more about Connecticut College and see your chances of acceptance.  

 

6. Hamilton College

 

Location: Clinton, NY

Acceptance rate: 16%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1410-1500 SAT, 32-34 ACT

Undergraduate enrollment: 2,000

 

Hamilton is an academically rigorous school with an open curriculum. The students, staff, and faculty at Hamilton are generally thought of as kind and accommodating. Additionally, the faculty and the university’s curriculum emphasize the value of critical conversations, meaningful discussions, and excellent writing skills. Hamilton College is characterized by its numerous traditions, which include the Class & Charter Day when afternoon classes are canceled on the last day of the semester so students can celebrate their successes throughout the year. 

 

Learn more about Hamilton and see your chances of acceptance.  

 

7. Middlebury College

 

Location: Middlebury, VT

Acceptance rate: 15%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1340-1520 SAT, 31-34 ACT

Undergraduate enrollment: 2,500  

 

Middlebury was founded in 1800 as the first operating college in Vermont. The school’s beautiful campus is a popular tourist destination and is considered one of the nation’s most picturesque college campuses, particularly during autumn. Middlebury is an innovative school with a global/international focus, known for its emphasis on language instruction, travel programs, and experiential learning. Students at Middlebury are thought of as cooperative and friendly, constantly striving to better themselves and help others.

 

Learn more about Middlebury and see your chances of acceptance.  

 

8. Trinity College

 

Location: Hartford, CT

Acceptance rate: 33%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1260-1420 SAT, 28-32 ACT

Undergraduate enrollment: 2,100  

 

Trinity is distinct from many other small liberal arts colleges due to its urban location. Just outside of campus, in Hartford, students have access to restaurants, shops, and vibrant nightlife. One unique aspect of Trinity is the interwoven academic and social lives of students. Incoming freshmen are required to take a first-year seminar on a topic of their choice, and then they are grouped into residence halls based on their different seminars. This arrangement allows students to get to know their peers and form relationships with students who share the same interests.

 

Learn more about Trinity and see your chances of acceptance.  

 

9. Tufts University

 

Location: Medford, MA

Acceptance rate: 15%

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

Undergraduate enrollment: 5,600

 

Tufts is a research university with an outstanding liberal arts program. It is distinguished from many other liberal arts schools through its pre-med program which is known for being academically rigorous and for its renowned professors. Overall, the university is known for providing the personalized attention of a liberal arts college with the resources of a research institution. Many students describe Tufts as not too big, but not too small and not too urban, but not too suburban.

 

Learn more about Tufts and see your chances of acceptance.  

 

10. Wesleyan University

 

Location: Middletown, CT

Acceptance rate: 16%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1340-1510 SAT, 31-34 ACT

Undergraduate enrollment: 3,000

 

Wesleyan is known for its academic excellence, as well as its open-minded and creative student body. The school’s administration works hard to foster independence in its students as seen through the school’s commitment to an open curriculum. Through the open curriculum, students can take courses in a diverse range of subjects and explore their varied interests. Wesleyan rewards students for academic curiosity, which makes growth and exploration a central focus of campus life.

 

Learn more about Wesleyan and see your chances of acceptance.  

 

11. Williams College

 

Location: Williamstown, MA

Acceptance rate: 13%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1430-1540 SAT, 33-35 ACT

Undergraduate enrollment: 2,000

 

Williams College‚ÄĒoriginally founded as a men‚Äôs college, but coeducational since the 1960s‚ÄĒis a private liberal arts school that boasts small class sizes and individualized attention from professors. The school operates on the 4-1-4 schedule that was pioneered by Colby College. Williams is also distinguished through the opportunity students have to participate in tutorials‚ÄĒtwo-person classes that help students deepen their understanding of a particular niche subject. Williams meets 100% of a student‚Äôs demonstrated need for all four undergraduate years.

 

Learn more about Williams and see your chances of acceptance.  

 

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What are the Little Ivies?

 

When cultural perceptions and academic prestige are taken into account, seven schools join the eleven NESCAC schools to form the ‚ÄúLittle Ivies.‚ÄĚ These additional highly competitive liberal arts schools are also located in the Northeast, but they are outside of New England (and thus, outside of the New England Small Colleges Athletic Conference).

 

Despite sharing many characteristics with the Ivy League‚ÄĒmost notably being historic, academically competitive, and highly-regarded‚ÄĒthere are many ways that the Little Ivies distinguish themselves from the Ivies. The Little Ivies are typically small (the one exception being Tufts University, whose total enrollment has grown to around 11,000 students), rural, and focused on liberal arts.¬†

 

These smaller populations and campuses generally facilitate productive and consistent relationships between professors and students that prevent students from falling through the cracks. In fact, five of the Little Ivies are in the top 15 schools with the Highest Four-Year Graduation Rates with Bowdoin and Amherst boasting percentages of 90% and above. If you are looking for a close-knit community of academically motivated peers, these other Little Ivies might be worth checking out!

 

Here is your rundown of the additional seven schools that complete the Little Ivies:

 

Name

Location

Acceptance Rate

Bucknell University

Lewisburg, PA

34%

Colgate University

Hamilton, NY

23%

Haverford College

Haverford, PA

16%

Lafayette College

Easton, PA

31%

Swarthmore College

Swarthmore, PA

9%

Union College

Schenectady, NY

43%

Vassar College

Poughkeepsie, NY

24%

 

1. Bucknell University

 

Location: Lewisburg, PA

Acceptance rate: 34%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1280-1410 SAT, 28-32 ACT

Undergraduate enrollment: 3,500

 

Bucknell is an innovative liberal arts college in central Pennsylvania. The university simultaneously excels in technical fields and the humanities. Incoming students have the chance to live in themed residential colleges that are tied to one of their first-semester classes. This allows students to live and learn alongside students who share their interests. One unique aspect of Bucknell is the popularity of Greek life. The Greek system strongly influences the culture on campus, with 41% of students participating.

 

Learn more about Bucknell and see your chances of acceptance.  

 

2. Colgate University

 

Location: Hamilton, NY

Acceptance rate: 23%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1340-1480 SAT, 31-34 ACT

Undergraduate enrollment: 2,900  

 

Colgate students are committed to their interdisciplinary studies. Students are not required to declare a major until the end of their sophomore year and find many opportunities for exploration through the school’s ample course offerings. Additionally, students can foster intimate relationships with their professors and peers. These relationships often help students to navigate their major choices and career goals.

 

Learn more about Colgate and see your chances of acceptance.  

 

3. Haverford College

 

Location: Haverford, PA

Acceptance rate: 16%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1400-1520 SAT, 32-34 ACT

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,300  

 

Haverford is a small liberal arts school that participates in the Tri-College and Quaker Consortium. Through the consortium, Haverford students can take classes at Swarthmore College, Bryn Mawr College, and the University of Pennsylvania. Haverford and Bryn Mawr have a particularly strong relationship as they share many resources (like a newspaper and a radio station). At Haverford, students benefit from a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio and 60% of faculty live on campus. The school places a strong emphasis on the Honor Code and is known for its dedication to meeting 100% of accepted students’ demonstrated financial need.

 

Learn more about Haverford and see your chances of acceptance.  

 

4. Lafayette College

 

Location: Easton, PA

Acceptance rate: 31%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1270-1420 SAT, 28-33 ACT

Undergraduate enrollment: 2,600  

 

Lafayette College offers an outstanding liberal arts education to students and boasts particularly prestigious engineering and science programs. Due to the school’s prime location, students have access to major metropolitan areas like New York City and Philadelphia. Additionally, Lafayette students are connected to an extensive alumni network that often leads students to job and research opportunities. The school has a very high medical school acceptance rate and a high freshman retention rate, indicating student satisfaction.

 

Learn more about Lafayette College and see your chances of acceptance.  

 

5. Swarthmore College

 

Location: Swarthmore, PA

Acceptance rate: 9%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1390-1530 SAT, 29-34 ACT

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,500

 

Swarthmore was originally founded by the Quakers but lost its religious affiliation over a century ago. The college is known for its quirky and engaged student population. Students at Swarthmore have the unique opportunity to design their own majors and course plans if they so choose. Like Haverford, Swarthmore is part of the Tri-College and Quaker Consortium which affords its students additional academic opportunities.

 

Learn more about Swarthmore and see your chances of acceptance.  

 

6. Union College

 

Location: Schenectady, NY

Acceptance rate: 43%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1210-1400 SAT, 28-33 ACT

Undergraduate enrollment: 2,100  

 

Union College was initially an all-male school but opened its doors to women in 1970. The school offers a comprehensive liberal arts education through 21 academic departments. Union College is also ABET-accredited to offer degrees in engineering fields, which distinguishes it from other humanities-focused colleges. Additionally, studying abroad is very common amongst Union undergraduates, with around 60% of students studying abroad during their four years.

 

Learn more about Union College and see your chances of acceptance.  

 

7. Vassar College

 

Location: Poughkeepsie, NY

Acceptance rate: 24%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1380-1490 SAT, 32-34 ACT

Undergraduate enrollment: 2,400  

 

Vassar was founded as one of the Seven Sister colleges‚ÄĒa group of historically all-women colleges in the Northeast. In 1969, however, the college started accepting male applicants and men now make up 45% of the school‚Äôs small student body. Vassar boasts an open curriculum, meaning that students have very few requirements outside of their major and are given lots of freedom in their education.

 

Learn more about Vassar and see your chances of acceptance.  

 

What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?

 

Many students are drawn to the Little Ivies because they are seen as an easier path to being accepted into a top school. Generally, the test scores of students at the Little Ivies are lower than those required by the Ivy League schools. The average SAT score of incoming freshmen at the Ivy League schools is around 40 points higher than that of freshmen entering the top nine Liberal Arts Colleges.

 

When considering selectivity, it is important to remember to create a balanced college list. Students should generally apply to 8-10 schools, with about 25% being safety schools, 40% target schools, and 35% reach schools. These categories‚ÄĒsafety, target, and reach‚ÄĒare determined by your chances of acceptance at the schools you are applying to.

 

Because your personal chances of acceptance at the Little Ivies may differ from the average acceptance rate, we’ve made it easy to figure out which schools fall into which categories with our free Admissions Chances Calculator. By taking into account your grades, test scores, and extracurriculars, we’ll estimate your odds of acceptance at different schools and give you tips on improving your profile.

 

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Brooke Elkjer
Blog Writer

Short Bio
Brooke is going into her senior year at the University of Southern California and is originally from Dallas, Texas. She is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in English and a Bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience. Brooke is the associate literary producer for the intersectional feminist production company on campus, ART/EMIS. She also is a Resident Assistant (RA) and a student worker for the Thematic Option Honors GE Program. In her free time, Brooke enjoys reading, writing, and watching Gilmore Girls.

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