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

July 12, 2024
7 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 7/12/24

Have you ever heard of the Little Ivies? Where the Ivy League schools are highly regarded, 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 Ranking Undergrad
Williams 8% $64,860 Yes #1 2,152
Amherst 9% $69,820 Yes #2 1,907
Swarthmore 7% $65,058 No #4 969
Bowdoin 7% $67,198 Yes #9 1,850
Middlebury 13% $67,100 Yes #11 2,800
Vassar 19% $66,870 No #16 (Tie) 2,516
Hamilton 14% $65,090 Yes #16 (Tie) 2,055
Haverford 14% $69,884 No #21 (Tie) 1,472
Wesleyan 17% $69,652 Yes #11 (tie) 3,000
Colgate 12% $69,886 No #21 (tie) 3,206
Colby 8% $69,600 Yes #25 1,275
Bates 13% $66,590 Yes #24 1,790
Bucknell 33% $67,446 No #30 (Tie) 3,846
Lafayette 34% $61,482 No #30 (Tie) 2729
Trinity 36% $67,650 Yes #39 (Tie) 2,500
Union 44% $66,456 No #45 2,107
Connecticut 55% $85,800 Yes #46 18,567
Tufts 10% $69,146 Yes N/A 4,800

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 than to the other Little Ivies, the option remains the top-ranked school for students who 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.

Find your perfect college match with our College Selection Quiz! Wondering which college suits you best? Our quick, free quiz uses admissions data to match you with schools that fit your preferences—from location and programs to GPA and field of study. Simplify your search and discover your ideal school today!

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 entering classes at Public Ivies. Little Ivies, however, have far smaller student bodies. Some Little Ivy schools enroll less than 2,000 students! 

When deciding between a Little Ivy or a Public Ivy, be sure to consider if you would rather attend a big or small school, as this factor is a significant difference between the two. 

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)
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.

Tips on How to Get into Little Ivies

To boost your chances of getting into a Little Ivy college, start by really getting to know each school. 

Swarthmore College, for example, values community involvement, while Williams College is big on both academics and outdoor adventures. Keep your grades solid and take challenging courses to show you're serious about learning. Prep well for tests like the SAT or ACT—they're looking for scores that prove you're ready for their challenging academics.

Outside of class, get into activities you love and stick with them. Whether it's leading a club or volunteering, show your dedication and impact. When you write your essays, make them personal. Share why you think you'd fit in well at each school. For instance, talk about how your experiences could really add to the environment at a place like Amherst College.

Get strong letters of recommendation from teachers who know you well. If interviews are an option, be ready to chat about why you're pumped about their program. Show your interest by visiting campuses if you can swing it, attending events, or connecting with alumni. 

And if you have a top pick among the Little Ivies, consider applying early to show your excitement. These steps can really strengthen your application and up your chances of getting in.

Get into your dream Little Ivy League college with Quad Education’s top college admissions consultants. We have a 98% success rate and are here to help you craft exceptional essays, ace interviews, and perfect your application. 

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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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