Complete Guide to the Best Non-Ivy League Schools

Picture of red brick building with clock tower
October 24, 2023


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/21/23

Ready to add some of the best non-Ivy League schools to your list? Read on to learn more about potential additions to your college list! 

When you think about the country’s top colleges, most people may think of Ivy League schools. However, the best schools aren’t limited to the eight elusive Ivies: there are many top non-Ivy League universities to consider. 

This guide will provide some excellent options to diversify your college list and add some of the best non-Ivy League schools to your roster. Read on to learn more about the best non-Ivy schools by ranking, region, and area of study.

Best Non-Ivy Schools By Ranking

Top Non-Ivy Schools

There are many non-Ivy League schools that claim top spots in the U.S. News World and Report’s ranking of best national universities. Here are the top non-Ivy universities to consider. 

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 

MIT ranks as the #1 non-Ivy school in the country. MIT’s mission is to “advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century.” 

Aerial view of the MIT Campus
Source: MIT

The university uses a hands-on approach to learning that gives students the tools they need to creatively problem-solve in real-world situations. 

The school is very selective, admitting only 4% of applicants in a recent admissions cycle. Despite the competition, MIT is a fabulous addition to your school list, particularly if you’re interested in technology or engineering. 

2. Stanford University 

Stanford University has a longstanding reputation as one of the top non-Ivy universities, focused on liberal arts study and technology. The school’s commitment to academic excellence makes Stanford a world-renowned research university. 

Picture of Stanford University campus with a yellow building and trees behind.
Source: Stanford University 

Recent class profile data shows that Stanford’s acceptance rate is lower than many Ivy League schools, accepting 3.7% of students. The school seeks students who take advantage of opportunities available to them, demonstrate academic aptitude, and show curiosity and a willingness to learn. 

If you feel you’d fit in with Stanford’s culture and long to feel the California sunshine on your face, this could be the school for you.

3. University of Chicago 

The University of Chicago is a world-renowned institution with a freeing educational philosophy: instead of learning what to think, the university teaches you how to think. UChicago’s goal is to empower you to challenge conventional thinking in the pursuit of new ideas and solutions and enrich lives through “rigorous scholarship.” 

Aerial view of UChicago Campus
Source: UChicago 

UChicago’s recent acceptance rate is 5.4%. Diversity is essential to the school: the admissions committee seeks to admit students with unique perspectives and backgrounds. Since the school emphasizes critical thinking and free thought, it’s best suited for out-of-the-box thinkers and dreamers. 

4. Johns Hopkins University 

Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, was America’s first research university. The school’s mission is “to educate its students and cultivate their capacity for lifelong learning, to foster independent and original research, and to bring the benefits of discovery to the world.” 

Picture of Gilman Hall at Johns Hopkins Campus
Source: Johns Hopkins University 

When you think of Johns Hopkins University, you may think the school is mainly meant for pre-med students. However, the school offers much more than an excellent pre-med experience: there are more than 50 undergraduate majors to choose from. 

Class profile data shows that Johns Hopkins received 37,156 applications in a recent cycle and enrolled 1,310 students. Assuming that every student offered admissions enrolled, the acceptance rate would be 3.5% – however, many sources estimate JHU’s acceptance rate is approximately 8%. 

While Johns Hopkins University is an excellent choice for pre-med students, any student interested in science and research would thrive there: the school is the country’s top school for total research and development spending. 

5. California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

The California Institute of Technology is a relatively small school with under 1,000 undergraduate students. 

Aerial view of Caltech campus
Source: Caltech 

However, don’t let its size fool you: “Caltech is a world-renowned science and engineering institute that marshals some of the world's brightest minds and most innovative tools to address fundamental scientific questions and pressing societal challenges.” 

Caltech admitted just 432 students in a recent admissions cycle and has a 4% acceptance rate. If you think you’d thrive on a smaller campus focused on science and engineering, Caltech is an excellent addition to your college list. For a complete step-by-step on how to get into Caltech, take a look at our guide.

6. Duke University 

Duke University has ten schools and colleges, of which three have undergraduate programs: Duke Kunshan University, Pratt School of Engineering, and Trinity College of Arts & Sciences. The school is known for its commitment to academic excellence, state-of-the-art research facilities, and tight-knit community. 

Aerial view of Duke campus
Source: Duke University 

Although Duke University has a higher acceptance rate than the first four schools on our list, it’s still a highly selective school with a 6.3% acceptance rate. Duke seeks bold and imaginative students, ready to challenge the status quo and think creatively. 

If you’re looking for a tight-knit community and a place to explore creativity and new opportunities, Duke may be for you! For an inside look at this “southern Ivy,” take a look at our Duke application guide.

7. Northwestern University 

Northwestern University, despite its name, is one of the best Midwest schools. Located in Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern is one of the country’s leading private research and teaching universities. 

Aerial view of Northwestern Campus
Source: Northwestern University 

The school is committed to “excellent teaching, innovative research and the personal and intellectual growth of its students in a diverse academic community.”

Northwestern has six undergraduate colleges and 4,000 undergraduate courses to cater to any of your educational desires. The school focuses heavily on research: undergraduate research is open to every undergraduate in every discipline. 

The school is highly selective, with a 7.2% acceptance rate. If you have a passion for undergraduate research, Northwestern is an excellent school to consider. 

8. Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University is a private research school in Nashville, Tennessee. The school’s mission “lies in the quest to bring out the best in humanity—pushing new ideas into the frontiers of discovery, challenging the limits of what’s possible and working diligently in the service of others.”

Aerial view of Vanderbilt campus surrounded by trees
Source: Vanderbilt University 

Through immersive learning, integrated research, and collaborative discovery, Vanderbilt aims to educate students to be future leaders in the world. The campus is intentionally designed to be pretty intimate, fostering a tight-knit community. 

Vanderbilt is one of the most selective schools on our list, with an acceptance rate of 6.7%. If you long to enjoy college in an intimate setting in the hometown of country music, Vanderbilt could be an excellent match for you.

9. Rice University 

Rice University is a leading research university in Houston, Texas. The school “aspires to pathbreaking research, unsurpassed teaching, and contribution to the betterment of our world.”

Picture of Rice University building
Source: Rice University 

The school offers more than 50 undergraduate majors across six study areas: architecture, engineering, humanities, music, natural sciences, and social sciences. Rice University’s acceptance rate is 9%. 

Because of its focus as a research school, curious students interested in new ways of doing and thinking could find the innovation they crave at Rice.

10. Washington University in St. Louis

Washington University is located in St Louis, Missouri (although its name could be a source of confusion). Washington University’s mission is “to act in service of truth through the formation of leaders, the discovery of knowledge and the treatment of patients for the betterment of our region, our nation and our world.”

Aerial view of WashU in St.Louis campus
Source: WashU in St. Louis

WashU has four undergraduate schools and over 100 fields of study to explore. All students have the flexibility to take classes across disciplines. The school guides first-year students through the process of connecting with an academic advisor to help them explore programs and figure out their major. 

Washington University is another selective school with an 11% acceptance rate. If you’re looking for curriculum flexibility and more guidance in your first year, WashU is a stellar addition to your college list. 

Other Top Non-Ivy Universities

Many other top schools that don’t belong to the Ivy League rank on the list of best national universities. These other schools include: 

These schools consistently rank in the country’s top 25 colleges, proving there are so many other options to consider besides the Ivy League. 

Best Non-Ivies by Region

For the purpose of our list, we've broken the U.S. up into five regions: northeast, southeast & mid-Atlantic, west, midwest, and south. Some of the top schools in each region are already covered in the ranking list, but we’ll offer you a selection of some of the other best non-Ivies each region has to offer. 

Non-Ivies in the Northeast 

This region is where the Ivy League was born. However, the region is home to many other excellent schools. The top non-Ivy school in the region is MIT, followed by these three universities. 

Carnegie Mellon University 

Located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University is a private research institution. The school aims to transform society through education, research, creativity, and entrepreneurship innovation. 

Carnegie Mellon Campus
Source: Carnegie Mellon University 

Part of the school’s mission is to provide students with an educational experience “focused on deep disciplinary knowledge; problem-solving; leaders, communication, and interpersonal skills; and personal health and well-being.” 

Data shows Carnegie Mellon is a selective school with a 14% acceptance rate. The admissions committee places importance on students' creative and academic potential, so ensure you showcase your potential and talent in your application! 

New York University (NYU) 

New York University is located in NYC’s Manhattan neighborhood, surrounded by the bustling city. NYU’s mission is to be a top-quality international center of scholarship, teaching, and research.” 

Picture of the entrance of a NYU building
Source: NYU 

NYU borrows a page from the multicultural city it calls home: it’s all about diversity. In fact, the school is a leader in global education, “with more international students and more students studying abroad than any other U.S. university.” 

According to recent data, NYU’s acceptance rate is 12.2%. If you’re looking to expand your global understanding or study abroad, NYU is an excellent northeast school. 

Non-Ivies in the Southeast & Mid-Atlantic

Among the best non-Ivy League schools on the east coast, Johns Hopkins claims the top spot in the southeast & mid-Atlantic regions, followed by these schools.

Emory University 

Emory University is a leading research school in Atlanta, Georgia. Its mission is to “create, preserve, teach, and apply knowledge in the service of humanity.” This mission guides the school to serve the common good, drive discovery, and prepare students to become leaders capable of impacting positive change in the world. 

Aerial view of Emory campus
Source: Emory University 

Although Emory values diversity, admissions committees seek students with adequate academic preparation, stellar recommendation letters, and your willingness to contribute to the community around you. 

Emory has four undergraduate colleges: the Emory College of Arts & Science, Oxford College, Goizueta Business School, and Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. In a recent admissions cycle, 15.8% of applicants were accepted at Emory. 

If you’re a community-oriented person who prefers smaller class sizes, Emory is a great school to consider. 

Georgetown University 

Georgetown University is located in Washington, D.C. Georgetown is a Catholic and Jesuit university founded on the principle that “serious and sustained discourse among people of different faiths, cultures, and beliefs promotes intellectual, ethical and spiritual understanding.” 

Georgetown University building with trees in front of it
Source: Georgetown University 

Grounded in the school’s Jesuit tradition “of people for others,” Georgetown students can discover innovative solutions to real-world problems in a passionate learning community. The school is decimated to restless inquiry, meaning curious students looking to approach thought from all sides can thrive at Georgetown. 

Approximately 12% of applicants were accepted in a recent admissions cycle. Even if you don’t identify as Catholic or Jewish, Georgetown University accepts students of all religions and creeds. 

Non-Ivies in the West 

Although Stanford and Caltech are some of the best schools in the west, here are our other top picks for western schools. 

UC Berkeley 

UC Berkeley is another school in the University of California system. The school has a passion for “critical inquiry, debate, discovery and innovation, and our deep commitment to contributing to a better world.”

Aerial view of UC Berkeley campus
Source: UC Berkeley 

UC Berkeley is now a test-free school, meaning you don’t have to submit SAT or ACT scores to apply. However, your academic performance in high school and your level of achievement in advanced courses holds more weight in the admissions process. 

Recent class profile data shows us that UC Berkeley’s acceptance rate is approximately 11%. If you’re ready to get an innovative education without needing SAT or ACT scores, Berkeley may be the school for you. 

University of California–Los Angeles

The University of California—Los Angeles is informally known as a “public Ivy” committed to innovation and discovery. Students enjoy UCLA’s dynamic location and the countless opportunities the surrounding city of Los Angeles offers. UCLA’s mission can be summed up in just three words: “education, research, and service.”

Picture of an UCLA building with students in front of it
Source: UCLA 

UCLA offers a wide breadth of academic opportunities. With more than 3,900 courses, 130 majors, and 90 minors to choose from, you’re sure to find courses related to any of your interests. 

UCLA’s recent acceptance rate is 9%, meaning its selectivity is similar to other schools we’ve outlined so far. UCLA is an excellent option if you value options in course selection. 

Non-Ivies in the Midwest 

The University of Chicago is one of the best schools in the midwest. These are the other top picks: 

University of Notre Dame 

The University of Notre Dame in Indiana is a Catholic university with a goal to “provide a forum where, through free inquiry and open discussion, the various lines of Catholic thought may intersect with all the forms of knowledge found in the arts, sciences, professions, and every other area of human scholarship and creativity.”

Aerial view of Notre Dame campus surrounded by trees
Source: University of Notre Dame 

The school is test-optional but selects students based on their academic performance, the completion of 16 prerequisite courses, extracurricular activities, and essays. 

The University of Notre Dame’s acceptance rate is 12.9%. Notre Dame is a school to consider if you’re looking for a university education emphasizing faith and the Catholic religion.

University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor’s mission is to “serve the people of Michigan and the world through preeminence in creating, communicating, preserving and applying knowledge, art, and academic values, and in developing leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future.” 

Entrance of UMichigan - Ann Arbor building with trees in front of it
Source: UMichigan 

Applicants to UMichigan apply to one of the university’s 14 undergraduate schools/colleges. According to QS World Rankings, UMichigan is the world’s best public school. UMichigan is less selective than other schools on this list, with an acceptance rate of 20%. 

If you’re ready to attend one of the world’s best public schools in Michigan, Ann Arbor may be the right fit for you. 

Non-Ivies in the South 

The south region also has some excellent schools to consider as you build your college list. 

University of Florida 

As one of the best non-Ivy schools on the east coast, the University of Florida (UF) in Gainesville is another top southern option. UF’s mission is “is to enable our students to lead and influence the next generation and beyond for economic, cultural and societal benefit.” 

Aerial view of University of Florida campus surrounded by trees
Source: University of Florida 

There is no single factor that UF is looking for in applications, but its holistic review is based on your: 

  • Secondary school performance 
  • SAT or ACT scores 
  • The scope and consistent involvement in extracurricular activities 
  • The “quality of thought” in your essay
  • Personal background and experiences that show you can succeed in a rigorous academic environment

Recent class profile data shows 30% of students were accepted. Some of the most popular majors included Business Administration, Finance, Political Science, Engineering (Mechanical, Aerospace, Biomedical), and more. UF is another top non-Ivy school to add to your list. 

University of Texas at Austin 

UT Austin’s mission is to “achieve excellence in the interrelated areas of undergraduate education, graduate education, research and public service.” The school is home to approximately 52,000 students and 3,000 faculty members. 

Picture of UT Austin's main campus
Source: UT Austin 

With more than 1,300 student organizations, rich history and traditions, and a reputation for “keeping it weird,” UT Austin prides itself on its diversity and inclusivity. UT Austin’s acceptance rate is 29%. 

If you’re ready to explore the “Forty Acres” and participate in Longhorn traditions, UT Austin may be for you! 

Best Non-Ivy League Schools by Area of Study

Now that you know the top non-Ivy universities by rank and region, looking at those best for different study areas and interesting them can help you build a comprehensive college list. Based on QS World University rankings in different subject areas, these are the best schools for each discipline. 

Table outlining the top non-ivy league schools by area of study

Not sure what you want to sufy at college? Take our free quiz below to discover which college majors you're best-suited for!


If you still have questions about the best non-Ivy schools, don’t fret. These FAQs will answer all your lingering questions. 

1. What is the Best Non-Ivy League School on the East Coast? 

The best non-Ivy League school on the east coast by ranking is MIT. 

2. Are Non-Ivies Hard to Get Into?

It depends on the schools you’re applying to. Ivy League acceptance rates are typically single digits: they’re highly selective schools. However, Stanford University and MIT’s acceptance rates are 4% and 3.7%, respectively. 

These statistics are similar to Ivy League schools – MIT and Stanford are a part of HYPSM, an acronym for the nation’s five best schools. However, some of these schools do have higher acceptance rates.

3. Should I Apply Through Early Decision or Early Action to Non-Ivies? 

The decision on when to apply to college is ultimately yours to make. If you have a top-choice school and you're confident you can polish your application by the due date, applying through early decision or action might be right for you.

Applying early shows schools you’re serious about attending if you're accepted, and early decision acceptances are typically higher than regular decision. However, the higher acceptance rates may be because students usually submit robust applications. 

4. What Region Has the Most Top Non-Ivy Schools? 

Most of the best non-Ivies are near the east coast, specifically in the northeast and southeast regions. 

5. Are Non-Ivies Not As Prestigious as Ivy League Schools? 

Prestige isn't the only thing that matters when selecting your top colleges. While Ivy League schools boast impressive name recognition, the non-Ivies (and other “Ivies” such as Ivy plus, Black Ivy League schools, or little Ivies) can be just as excellent and offer comparable resources, research opportunities, the caliber of education, and more. 

6. Are Any of These Schools Considered “Hidden” Ivies? 

Yes, some of these schools are considered hidden Ivies

  • Duke University 
  • Emory University 
  • John Hopkins University 
  • Northwestern University 
  • Rice University 
  • Tufts University 
  • Stanford University 
  • University of Chicago 
  • University of Notre Dame 
  • Vanderbilt University 
  • Washington University in St. Louis 

Hidden Ivies are schools that share similarities with the Ivy League, like resources, selectivity, and a focus on liberal arts education. 

Top Non-Ivy Schools: The Choice Is Yours

When adding top colleges to your list, don’t feel limited to only the Ivy League. The best non-Ivy League schools are excellent options to consider. These non-Ivies offer different opportunities to study abroad, research topics that interest you, and flexible course options. 

Feel free to check out all your options and figure out which regions and schools sound right for you and your goals. With all this in mind, you can pick the best non-Ivy school for you!

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