Hidden Ivy League Schools: What You Need To Know

group of students talking about hidden ivy league schools
September 8, 2022
What Are ‘Hidden Ivies’?List of Hidden Ivy CollegesBenefits of Hidden IviesHow to Get Into a Hidden Ivy SchoolHidden Ivy FAQs


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/18/22

What are the Hidden Ivies? How can you get in? Keep on reading to find out the answers to these questions and more!

When it’s time to build your college list, you might be a little overwhelmed by choice at first. The U.S. boasts some excellent schools to provide you with the education you need to succeed in whatever career path you choose. While you may have heard of Ivy League schools and their prestige, there are other schools called “Hidden Ivies” you should also consider. 

We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about Hidden Ivy League schools, including what they are, a complete list of all schools, their benefits, and how to tailor your application to boost your acceptance chances. 

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What Are ‘Hidden Ivies?’ 

Experts Howard and Matthew Greene introduced the term "Hidden Ivies" in their 2000 book with the same name. The eight Ivy League schools are famous for their name recognition, prestige, and notable alumni. Hidden Ivies share similarities with the Ivy League, including their selectivity and liberal arts education offerings. 

The Ivy League had nothing to do with academic excellence at its conception. Initially, it was an athletic conference established in 1954 by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1. Today, these schools connote a highly selective school committed to rigorous academics. Hidden Ivies simply mean schools that share some of the Ivy League’s defining traits. 

List of the Hidden Ivies

There are many colleges considered “Hidden Ivies.” Some of these colleges are relatively small but offer a comprehensive liberal arts education on par with the nation’s best schools.

Hidden Ivies 

Amherst College

Barnard College

Bates College

Boston College

Bowdoin College

Brandeis University

Bryn Mawr College

Bucknell University

Carleton College

Case Western Reserve University

Claremont McKenna College

Colby College

Colgate University 

College of the Holy Cross

Colorado College

Davidson College

Denison University

Dickinson College

Duke University 

Emory University

Fordham University

Franklin and Marshall College

Georgetown University

Grinnell College

Hamilton College 

Haverford College

Johns Hopkins University

Kenyon College

Lafayette College

Lehigh University

Macalester College

Middlebury College

Mount Holyoke College

Northwestern University

Oberlin College

Pomona College

Reed College

Rice University 

Skidmore College

Smith College

Southern Methodist University

Stanford University

Swarthmore College

Trinity College

Tufts University 

Tulane University

Union College

University of Chicago

University of Notre Dame

University of Richmond

University of Rochester 

University of Southern California 

University of the South

Vanderbilt University

Vassar College

Villanova University

Wake Forest University

Washington and Lee University

Washington University in St. Louis

Wellesley College

Wesleyan University 

Williams College

Benefits of Hidden Ivies 

Although Hidden Ivies don’t hold the “official” Ivy League title, that doesn’t mean they don’t share impressive traits. The third edition of The Hidden Ivies describes numerous benefits of Ivy League and Hidden Ivy schools.

An Exceptional Education 

Any school with an “Ivy” designation is committed to its students’ academic excellence and exploration, focusing on liberal arts-based education. Howard and Matthew Greene wrote that a liberal arts education today is crucial and aims to help graduates: 

Many schools aim to educate students to prepare them for leadership and change communities, countries, and the world for the better. If you choose to attend a Hidden Ivy, know that you’ll enjoy a varied curriculum to give you a well-rounded education. 

The bottom line is that education from any Hidden Ivy League school will provide you with the tools you need to succeed after graduation, whether you want to go to graduate school or enter the workforce. 

Qualified Faculty

A qualified and high-caliber faculty is one of the defining factors of any Ivy school. Excellent faculty is a staple of a great education: often, these professors hold numerous degrees in the area of their expertise, have engaged in research, and have published books or journals relating to their work. 

Any school designated an Ivy has a faculty that can provide multiple opportunities for undergraduates, like research projects, assistantships, internships, and more. Ivy League Professors often come from diverse backgrounds to offer new and exciting perspectives. 

A low faculty-student ratio is another hallmark of an excellent academic environment. Many of the Hidden Ivies are pretty small and selective, meaning you can expect to have a more intimate learning experience than packing into an auditorium with 500 of your new closest friends. 

Some of the Hidden Ivies with the lowest recent student-to-faculty ratios are Pomona College, the University of Richmond, Skidmore College, and Vassar College. 

Many Resources Available

Top-quality schools such as the Hidden Ivies have many resources available for students. A great way to evaluate a school’s ability to provide the resources necessary for a high-quality education is to assess the size of its endowment relative to the size of the student body. 

Does the college have a relatively high amount of investments and funds compared to the number of students enrolled? If so, the school can offer the lifestyle and academic and social experiences you crave from a prestigious institution. Howard and Matthew Greene said, “The commitment of the Ivies and the Hidden Ivies to undergraduate education is in part indicated by the wealth of the school in relation to the number of undergraduate on campus.” 

The Greenes describe Hidden Ivy resources, such as high-quality libraries, emphasis and access to up-to-date technology, modern scientific research facilities, on-campus housing quality and availability, athletic and arts facilities, extracurricular programs, and many more offerings. 

Choosing a Hidden Ivy school means you’ll have these resources at your fingertips—research opportunities, clubs to suit any of your interests, accessible places to do your coursework, and all the other resources you’ll need to succeed. 

Strong Educational and Leadership Team

Hidden Ivies have great leadership teams at their forefront who are highly educated, have advanced academic training, and have a lot of past experiences such as serving on boards, publishing books, and more. 

Their guidance also reinforces the mission and goals of each college. How well a college’s mission is upheld speaks to a school’s history, values, and ideas. Top colleges like those considered Hidden Ivies have a clear direction of where they’re going and how they plan to achieve their missions. 

Excellent Outcomes and Return on Investment 

Quantifiable outcomes such as retention and graduation rates are often relatively good at Hidden Ivy schools. 

Graduation rates are typically measured by five or six years to account for major changes, retaking classes, taking time off, or other personal reasons. However, recent data shows many Hidden Ivy schools had high four-year graduation rates. Other schools also made the list, but these are the top 15 Hidden Ivies. 

A Diverse Student Body 

Diversity is key to enhancing the college experience and mixing students from various backgrounds, interests, and abilities. The Greenes said, “One of the most important findings in our interviews with thousands of undergrads in elite colleges was the powerful influence of their peers on the individual’s learning experience.”

Although important, diversity means much more than race and ethnicity. Other factors like socioeconomic status, geographical location, sexual orientation, and different political and religious affiliations make for a more varied college experience.

How to Get Into a Hidden Ivy School

Although these schools are not formally part of the Ivy League, their programs can be relatively competitive. Each school’s selectivity means you need to take the time and care with your college application to ensure it’s in perfect shape before you submit it. Below are some top tips to help your application be the best it can be and give you a better shot of acceptance at any school. 

Focus on Your GPA and Test Scores

Most schools use a holistic review process, but a higher GPA and stellar test scores can fortify any application. Shooting for a 4.0 GPA can be tricky, but you should always strive for your best in every class you take. 

If you’re in your senior year and don’t have much more time to pull up your GPA, try your best in your final classes, but turn your attention toward your SAT or ACT scores. Your test scores reflect your academic aptitude and college readiness. College admissions committees use these scores to measure applicants in a fairer, more standardized way. 

Achieving high test scores means developing a consistent study schedule that works for you, identifying your strengths and weaknesses and covering them accordingly, and ensuring you have the foundational knowledge you need to attain higher scores. 

Collect Strong Recommendation Letters

Recommendation letters matter. They serve as a third-party perspective on your character, intellect, personality, and growth. You have many opportunities in your application to put your best foot forward; think of your recommendation letters as proof to back up your claims. 

One fundamental way to ensure you receive good recommendation letters is to ask your teachers for them as soon as you can. When college admissions deadlines roll around in your senior year, remember that many of your peers will be seeking their own letters too. Requesting letters of recommendation early gives your teachers adequate time to write one for you and ensures you won’t miss deadlines. 

You should also consider who you ask for these letters. Most colleges want to see recommendation letters from teachers who taught you core subject areas in your junior or senior high school years. Choose recommenders who know you well and with whom you’ve forged a deeper relationship. It helps if you did well in the class they taught, but the teacher who awarded you the highest grade you have isn’t always necessarily your best bet.

Think critically about what you want to be portrayed in your letters, and ask someone who you think will speak upon your character best. 

Highlight Your Extracurricular Activities and Community Service 

Your extracurricular activities and community service paint a picture for the admissions committee. It shows your interests, how you spend your free time, and how you’ve contributed to your community. 

Drew Riley, associate dean of admission for Hidden Ivy school Colgate University, sometimes said admissions officers want to see “that applicants are motivated not just by improving themselves – but their communities too – through activities.” He continues, “Admissions officers read hundreds – if not thousands – of applications a year and can tell if students aren’t being authentic and are just participating in activities because they think it will build their resume for college.”

Whatever extracurricular activities or community service projects you want to undertake, make sure you’re doing them because you want to, not just because you think they’ll “look good” on your college applications. 

Write Impactful Essays

As cliche as it sounds, your essays are the heart and soul of your application. These essays not only show off your writing skills, but also stories that offer a glimpse of your life, background, personality, and experiences.

You’ll need to write at least one personal essay using the Common or Coalition Application. Many schools also require supplemental essays that ask more focused questions on why you want to attend the school and how you plan to contribute to its culture. 

For an essay prompt, ensure you spend time brainstorming ideas and craft colorful narratives that captivate your reader and motivate them to continue. Remember, your college application essays don’t have to be about some grand experience or you making some groundbreaking discovery; excellent essays expand on your application, offer new information, and let your personality shine.

Hidden Ivy FAQs

1. Should I apply to Hidden Ivy schools?

The decision to apply to any school is ultimately yours to make. That being said, you shouldn’t apply to schools based on their prestige or selectivity; think about what each school offers in terms of programs, clubs, and culture, and choose which colleges would be your best fit. 

If one or some of those colleges happen to be Hidden Ivy schools, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t apply. 

2. Are Ivy League schools better than the Hidden Ivies? 

Ivy League schools typically have more name recognition and a wider-recognized reputation than Hidden Ivies, but that doesn’t necessarily make them better schools. All schools have different offerings; what’s best for some may not be right for others. 

When selecting schools you want to apply to, don’t apply to colleges solely based on their reputations. If you want to, and it makes sense for you, you can freely apply to Ivy League and Hidden Ivy schools. 

3. Are any Hidden Ivies top-ranked schools? 

Yes, some of the Hidden Ivies are named in U.S. News World and Report’s list of Best National Universities. Some Hidden Ivy schools that make the top 25 are: 

4. Which Hidden Ivy school is best for me? 

Finding your best-fit schools requires some introspection. Even if you’re not sure what major you want to pursue yet, you should evaluate what you want out of the college experience and ask yourself these questions: 

After answering these questions, you can start doing school research and see what schools align best with your interests and needs. Because numerous schools fall under the Hidden Ivy umbrella, there will likely be a few that fit your criteria. 

5. What else can I do to perfect my college application? 

Creating college applications can be time-consuming and a little nerve-racking. If you’ve gathered all the pieces, you need to, congratulations! You’re almost ready to submit your applications and kick back to wait for admissions decisions. 

However, you should take another pass at your applications before submitting them. To ensure your application is perfect, consider seeking an admissions consultant’s help. Their expertise can help you identify any application holes or places that you should polish a little bit more. An application review from an admissions consultant is so valuable because they help tailor your application to what admissions committees seek. 

6. Do all Hidden Ivy schools have similar acceptance rates?

No, acceptance rates vary significantly among Hidden Ivy schools. For example, recent class profile data shows Stanford’s acceptance rate is 5%. On the other hand, Lehigh University’s recent acceptance rate was closer to 50%. 

However, it’s important not to get too hung up on acceptance rates, even if some of them seem a little discouraging. A polished college application always means you have a better chance of acceptance at any school you choose. 

Final Thoughts

Although Ivy League schools have an excellent reputation, don’t count out the Hidden Ivies while you’re building your college list. These schools boast some of the Ivy League’s wonderful traits, making them prestigious and excellent schools to consider. 

Your application should be polished and ready to be well-received for a better chance of acceptance at Hidden Ivy schools. Ensure you have directed your attention to your GPA and test scores, secured stellar recommendation letters from your teachers, highlighted your extracurricular activities to show who you are, and communicated your authentic voice in your essays. 

Remember, the best school for you is the one that meshes best with your interests and educational goals. If you present a genuine representation of yourself and your goals, you’ll have a better chance of acceptance at any Hidden Ivy school you choose.

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