Little Ivies: What You Need To Know + Full List of Colleges

Williams College
March 15, 2024
7 min read


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 3/15/24

Have you ever heard of the Little Ivies? Where the Ivy League schools have a huge amount of notoriety, their smaller liberal arts cousins offer an equal education experience! 

As opposed to the eight Ivy League schools established before the founding of America, the Little Ivies are another designated group created to describe much smaller institutions located in the Northeastern United States. 

The Little Ivies also belong to the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), “a group of eleven highly selective liberal arts colleges and universities that share a similar philosophy for intercollegiate athletics.”

Since they are not as popular as their larger counterparts, it’s likely that the majority of students do not know what the Little Ivies are. Most of these Little Ivies League Schools fall into a list of criteria that far extend their size. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the Little Ivy League Schools. 

What Are The Little Ivies?

The list of little criteria to be a Little Ivy is much more extensive than the Ivy League’s. The Ivy League is less criteria-focused and more a list of member schools, whereas the Little Ivy League falls into specific categories. 

The reason they are called the Little Ivies comes from their proximity to the larger Ivy League schools. All of them are found in the New England region. 

The Little Ivies are nearly equal to the Ivy League in their selectivity and top-notch academic programs. Preparing to attend the Ivy League will be roughly the same process as applying to a Little Ivy!

Little Ivy Acceptance Rate Tuition NESCAC Member U.S. News Liberal Arts Undergrad
Williams 9.8% $64,540 Yes #1 2,152
Amherst 9.0% $66,650 Yes #2 1898
Swarthmore 7% $61,992 No #4 1,625
Bowdoin 8% $64,304 Yes #9 1,915
Middlebury 13% $55,790 Yes #11 2,773
Vassar 19% $66,870 No #16 2,459
Little Ivy Acceptance Rate Tuition NESCAC Member U.S. News Liberal Arts Undergrad
Hamilton 11.8% $65,090 Yes #16 2,075
Haverford 14% $67,522 No #21 (tie) 1,421
Wesleyan 16.5% $66,716 Yes #11 (tie) 3,069
Colgate 12% $66,622 No #21 (tie) 3,130
Colby 8% $83,720 Yes #25 2,299
Bates 13% $63,478 Yes #24 1,790
Little Ivy Acceptance Rate Tuition NESCAC Member U.S. News Liberal Arts Undergrad
Bucknell 33% $64,418 No #30 3,846
Lafayette 34% $61,482 No #30 (tie) 2,729
Trinity 36% $64,430 Yes #39 (tie) 2,167
Union 44% $82,845 No #45 2,107
Connecticut 38.29% $82,697 Yes #46 1948
Tufts 10.1% $66,358 Yes N/A 6,815

Williams College

Situated in Williamstown, Massachusetts, Williams College offers a high-quality education and is considered among the best liberal arts schools in the nation. While it may be harder to earn acceptance to Williams College compared to the other Little Ivies, the option remains as the top-ranked school for students that make the cut.

WIlliams College looks for talented students with unique goals and aspirations to meet application standards. To that end, they’ve made it their mission to stretch their net wide for excellent students.

Amherst College

Taking the spot right behind its fellow NESCAC member, Amherst College builds an excellent environment for education in economics, political science, the arts, and psychology. If you’re looking for the freedom of a liberal arts education, Amherst is a great choice. The community here seeks to meet the dreams of students to help them live lives of great consequence.

Swarthmore College

Rounding out the top three liberal arts schools in the United States, Swarthmore gives students the opportunity to make the most of their high school careers. If you're looking to extend your education with a college degree, Swathmore makes a great choice. The college strives to give students the knowledge to help make the world a better place.

Bowdoin College

Bowdoin College focuses on inclusivity in its application by accepting them in many unique formats to better determine what students fit their colleges. When you have all the required pieces, ensure everything meets their standards. 

Uniquely, Bowdoin has been standardized test-optional for over 50 years! They want students “to decide for themselves whether or not their SAT or ACT results accurately reflect their academic ability and potential.”

Middlebury College

If you see yourself as someone who wants a career, either leading the way forward or helping others follow in your footsteps, Middlebury College may make the perfect fit for you! Arts and Sciences build the bulk of the majors at Middlebury as students trek through their unique educational path. Middlebury wants students to use creativity as a way to better the world.

Little vs. Public Ivy League Schools

If you’re looking for competitive and prestigious non-Ivy League schools, then a Little Ivy  is a great option--but so is a Public Ivy! 

Public Ivies, similarly to the Little Ivies, are highly competitive schools with world-class academic programs. However, they offer an Ivy League-level education at the price of a public university. 

There are two main differences between Public Ivies and Little Ivies: class size and degree programs. 

Public Ivies tend to enroll far more students than the Ivy League or Little Ivy schools. There are normally tens of thousands of students in entering classes at Public Ivies. Little Ivies, however, have far smaller student bodies. Some Little Ivy schools enroll less than 2,000 students! 

Little Ivies also tend to offer exclusively undergraduate programs, unlike Public Ivies and the Ivy League, which offer plenty of graduate programs and degrees. 

Here are all the Public Ivy schools, as ranked by U.S. News

School US News Ranking
UC Berkeley #15 (tie)
UCLA #15 (tie)
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor #21
UNC Chapel Hill #22
University of Virginia #24
University of Florida #28 (tie)
UC Davis #28 (tie)
UC San Diego #28 (tie)
University of Texas at Austin #32
UC Irvine #33
UC Santa Barbara #35 (tie)
University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign #35 (tie)
University of Wisconsin-Madison #35 (tie)
Rutgers University #40 (tie)
University of Washington #40 (tie)

School US News Ranking
Ohio State University #43
University of Maryland - College Park #46
University of Georgia #47
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities #53 (tie)
William & Mary #53 (tie)
University of Connecticut #58
Michigan State University #60 (tie)
Pennsylvania State University #60 (tie)
Binghamton University #73 (tie)
Indiana University - Bloomington #73 (tie)
University of Delaware #76
University of Iowa #93
University of Colorado - Boulder #105
University of Arizona #115
Miami University #133

Getting Into a Little Ivy: What are the Chances?

The best way to determine if you would make it into one of the Little Ivies is by looking at their acceptance rates. As long as you've met all the application requirements, your odds depend on your application's competitiveness. 

But what does an acceptance rate mean? An acceptance rate is the percentage of everyone accepted out of the total number of applicants. In the case of the Little Ivies, not as many people apply as compared to the Ivy League, and the acceptance rates tend to be higher! Your odds for the top rank are low, but the chance is still high, especially compared to other schools.

Since Little Ivies are smaller schools and not as well known, they tend to receive fewer applications and accept fewer students. Your chances only increase with a robust, competitive application that meets all their needs. Students who get in may not always attend and go somewhere else. An individual student's chance may be higher than the acceptance rate.

FAQs: Little Ivies

The Little Ivies may not be as widely recognized as the Ivy League schools, but they are excellent college options, especially if you're interested in liberal arts. Here are answers to common questions you might have.

1. Which Little Ivy Is Easiest to Get Into?

The Little Ivy that is easiest to get into, based on acceptance rates, is Lafayette College, which has a relatively high acceptance rate. However, it's important to note that acceptance rates can change over time.

2. Are Little Ivies Good?

Yes, four of the Little Ivy League schools are among the top ten liberal arts schools in the United States. They provide a well-rounded liberal arts education with a broader approach to subjects, as opposed to highly specialized degree programs. If you're seeking a liberal arts education, any of these schools are excellent choices.

3. What Is the Little Ivy League?

The Little Ivies League consists of a list of liberal arts schools in the New England area with their storied histories, similar to the Ivy League. These schools make great choices if you're interested in a liberal arts education.

4. How Many Little Ivies Are There?

The Little Ivy League schools consist of eighteen individual private liberal arts schools that pepper the New England region of the United States. Notably, none of them exist in New Hampshire. Any of them make for a great college choice if you're interested in applying!

5. What Is the NESCAC?

The NESCAC, or the New England Small College Athletic Conference, exists as a sports league dedicated to the Little Ivies so that they can compete together in various sports. The members compete in college football, soccer, baseball, etc. The league creates academic rivalry if you're looking to get into any of these schools on a sports scholarship through liberal arts.

6. What Are the Big Three of the Little Ivy League?

The big three of the Little Ivy League consist of three rival liberal arts schools, all in the state of Maine. Notable, the highest-ranked of the three is Bowdoin, with Colby, and then Bates trailing behind. While these schools may be the big three, only Bowdoin ranks in the top ten.

Final Thoughts

Little Ivies stand out as the best way to forge a liberal arts education. They are the Ivy League version of liberal arts. If the ability to choose your curriculum interests you, consider any of the Little Ivies. All of them make great picks for your higher education.

Some of the more unique advantages of the Little Ivies come from the small student population and class sizes. They ensure that you can have one-on-one time with a professor during off-hours if you need extra help. Larger schools have so many students per teacher that you may be unable to rely on them outside of class. 

The Little Ivies offer a unique form of education and have established a quality that rivals some of the top colleges in the country. If you're applying, good luck! Some of the top Little Ivies have started to drop their acceptance rates, so be prepared with a great application!

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