Which other US colleges are like the Ivy League?

Posted on 8th March 2022

Which other US colleges are like the Ivy League?

Whether considering applying to the US for university or not, we all know the names of the top US colleges! If you are considering an American education, it makes sense to set your sights initially on these top names, as they can seem to guarantee a quality education and a secure future.

However, elite US colleges get an extremely high volume of applications per cycle, partially because so many people around the world know these names and associate them with excellence! For example, Yale’s overall admission rate is 7%, Princeton’s is 6%, and Harvard’s is 5%. Elite US colleges have had low admission rates historically, but the test-optional policies adopted by most US colleges during the pandemic have made them hyper-selective, by removing a major obstacle to application.

Don't let this discourage you, though: there are plenty of US colleges that are less well-known (particularly outside the US), but offer educations on par with the big names, and have higher admission rates due to the fact that they aren't flooded with applications each cycle. If you're dead-set on a ‘name-brand’ US college, perhaps choose just one or two to target. Then, think about exactly what it is you want from those colleges, and look for it elsewhere to round out your college list. Doing this can improve your chances of successful applications, allow you to get a world-class education, and give you a springboard to a successful career.

For example, perhaps you’re attracted to Princeton because it’s the smallest Ivy, and you like the idea of small classes and close collaboration with professors and students. Or, after having to specialise for your A Levels, you might yearn for the freedom to choose whatever classes you’d like at Brown, which has an open curriculum (one in which there are no required courses).

Once you've figured out what it is you want beyond name recognition and prestige, you can start finding other institutions that offer similar experiences. Everyone’s heard of Brown, but did you know that Hamilton, Wesleyan, and Grinnell also offer open curricula?

Perhaps what you're looking for from a top university is largely academic: selectivity, high-calibre professors, a strong liberal arts curriculum, and a smaller size that allows students and professors to work closely together. In that case, you might consider some of the 'hidden Ivies,' thus called because they offer the characteristics listed above that attract so many applicants to their better-known counterparts!  This article profiles 10 such colleges.

Skidmore College , for example, would be a great fit for artistically inclined students. Its location near both the Adirondack Mountains and Boston and NYC offers the bustling life of the city on one hand, and the retreat of nature on the other. If you’re attracted to the progressive outlook of Brown, Oberlin College is similarly socially engaged, and featured on the Princeton Review’s list of Colleges With a Conscience.

If you're someone for whom academics are less important than other features of school (like social aspects, activities, and the relationships you have with teachers and tutors) you might feel that feeling supported and included in the university community is more important than the curriculum itself. So, you might be looking for colleges with a strong pastoral mission, that are dedicated to intellectual inquiry and making sure students explore and achieve their potential. If this sounds relatable, you might consider one of the Colleges That Change Lives. These colleges' mission is to make sure each student finds their niche, 'regardless of race, color, religion (creed), national origin (ancestry), sex, gender, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, political affiliation, marital status, disability, military status, or any other means by which a student could be discriminated.' At the heart of this ethos is the idea that considering a student's individual personal qualities and matching them to the environment in which they will thrive is key to success, not attending a brand-name institution without considering these personal factors. You can check out our friends The University Guys’ podcast on them here.

When choosing a college, we would recommend that the guiding principle for your search be fit: where you’re going to feel most comfortable, be most supported, and learn in the way that is best for you. If you’re still concerned about name recognition, particularly when thinking ahead to your career path and how global employers might view applicants from excellent US colleges without ‘name-brand’ recognition, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • First, there’s nothing wrong with adding a line to your CV with the global ranking of your university or programme. This is sure to clear up any misconceptions an employer might have! To learn more about how employers view US degrees, particularly from colleges without strong name recognition in the UK, don’t miss our webinar coming up on 30 March 2022—full info here.
  • Second, going for fit over name brand for your undergraduate degree can equip you with excellent critical thinking skills, and serve as a springboard into elite graduate programmes. This list of undergraduate institutions attended by students accepted into Harvard Law contains Arizona State University, Marquette University, and St Mary’s College of Maryland!

It can be difficult approaching the plethora of options in the US university system, especially if you have your heart set on elite institutions, but with a bit of reflection and research, you can make the process work for you. Many UK students choose to work with a college counsellor to guide them, help them discover what they want from the university experience, and de-mystify the process. UES offers an excellent college counselling service, for which you can view details here, email us at consultancy@ueseducation.com, or set up a free call with a Director for more information.

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