Southern Ivy League Schools: What You Need to Know

Houston, Texas
April 30, 2024
6 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/26/24

While there may not be an ‘official’ list of Ivy League Schools in the Southern United States, a handful of universities in the South are packing a punch. Keep reading to learn more about the Southern Ivy League!

What are the Southern Ivy League Schools?

The term Southern Ivies describes an informal list of schools that rival the Ivy League schools and Little Ivies regarding notoriety, academic excellence, and rigorous admissions. 

The so-called ‘Magnolia Conference’ was cooked up by the chancellor of Vanderbilt University to foster relationships with other schools through athletic competition. 

However, making the conference official never came to fruition, and in 2022, the list of schools ranking among the best in the country has widened beyond the original league. These days, most of the original league and a few newer schools have become known as ‘Southern Ivies.’

Southern Ivy League Schools: What You Need to Know

A famous name or belonging to an elite list isn’t the only thing that makes a school worthy of consideration. Duke and Vanderbilt rank higher than a few official Ivy League schools (Cornell comes in at #12, Brown at #15) on Forbes. And in addition to high rankings, each has a lot to offer in terms of student lifestyle.

Southern Ivy League Colleges List in 2024

Although there is no official list of the southern Ivy League schools, the schools below are ranked based on these criteria:

  • Academics
  • Prestige
  • Opportunities

Below is the table of the ranking of the unofficial list of the Southern Ivy Leagues. 

Southern Ivy Leagues School Forbes Ranking U.S. News National Ranking Number of Enrolled Students
Duke University 17 7 17,155
Vanderbilt University 19 18 13,710
Rice University 22 17 1,203
University of Florida 27 28 60,795
UNC at Chapel Hill 32 22 31,539
University of Virginia 29 24 52,010
Georgia Tech 33 33 45,172
Emory University 66 24 15,889
University of Texas at Austin 31 32 103,982
William & Mary University 84 53 9,654
Tulane University 220 73 ~4,000
Wake Forest University 86 47 1,379

Here is a glance at 14 of the highest-ranking schools in the South, according to both Forbes and U.S. News.

Duke University

Located in Durham, North Carolina, Duke University is the highest-ranked school in the South, according to several ranking systems. US News ranks Duke at number ten in the National Universities rankings and 16th in Best Value Schools. 

In fact, the site lists the median starting salary for Duke graduates at over $68,000– the highest of all schools in this article. For reference, the median starting salary for graduates from Harvard University (which ranked as the second-best university in the country, is $69,000.)

Aside from being a true Southern Ivy academically, Duke is an athletic powerhouse. A target for men’s Basketball players, the Blue Devils are said to be in the top 5 teams at the college level in the history of the sport.

Acceptance Rate Average GPA Average SAT Scores Average ACT Scores Number of Enrolled Students
5.1% 4.13 1510-1570 34-36 16,840(fall 2023)

Vanderbilt University

If you’re looking to live somewhere that offers a little extra outside the classroom, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, is the place for you. 

The school has a lot to offer to those with diverse interests. Are you a math whiz by day but a guitarist by night? This is the place to go. Nashville is known for its deep roots in the music industry, so if you love live music, you could catch a show or two on a study break. 

Vanderbilt offers just over 70 undergraduate majors and a full range of graduate and professional degrees across ten schools and colleges. If you somehow manage to get stir-crazy, you can take advantage of the school’s study abroad program, offered in just over 40 countries.

Acceptance Rate Average GPA Average SAT Scores Average ACT Scores Number of Enrolled Students
5.1% 3.91 1530-1600 34-36 13,710

Source: Vanderbilt University

Rice University 

Staying with schools in urban settings, Rice University is another great option for city-slickers when it comes to high-ranking schools in the south. Located in Houston, it offers a “dynamic student life in the nation’s fourth largest city,” according to its profile page in the U.S. News school rankings.

The Rice Owls have won 14 varsity NCAA Division I championships and are well known for their strong baseball program. However, if you’re more interested in being in the bleachers than on the bench, there’s a perk: Students receive free tickets to all varsity athletic events. 

Not to mention the interesting history of Rice University, which involves the murder of its millionaire founder by his valet. But murder mysteries and athletics aside, the school is best known for its strong business and engineering programs.

Acceptance Rate Average GPA Average SAT Scores Average ACT Scores Number of Enrolled Students
7.5% 4.12 1500-1650 34-36 1,203

Source: Rice University

University of Florida

If you’re looking for a more insular college-town experience, the University of Florida is worth considering. Located near Gainesville, the campus has a very suburban feel and does not require freshmen to live on campus.

This school has a diverse set of prominent programs that range from journalism to agriculture to business. U.S. News highlights the extremely high ratio of faculty to students– which sits at about 16:1, and over half of the classes offered have fewer than 20 students, so if you’re looking for a more intimate learning environment comparable to a high-school class, this is the school to attend.

It is also the home of the renowned Florida Gators, who famously acted as test subjects for the popular sports drink ‘Gatorade,’ which you may need to drink after partaking in a ‘Gator Night’ which offers free entertainment and midnight snacks to students.

Acceptance Rate Average GPA Average SAT Scores Average ACT Scores Number of Enrolled Students
23% 4.4-4.6 1350-1490 30-34 55,211

Source: University of Florida

Emory College

Another classic college experience, students at Emory in Atlanta tend to spend all four years living on campus. It would follow that there’s a Greek community that’s running strong.

If hitting the gym is important to you, Emory may be your place to call home. All undergraduates are required to take two courses in physical education, even if they’re not participating in Varsity athletics. But it’s not all about being a jock, Emory boasts strong science, business and economics programs.

Acceptance Rate Average GPA Average SAT Scores Average ACT Scores Number of Enrolled Students
14.5% 3.83-4.0 1470-1560 33-35 15,889

Source: Emory College

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill in North Carolina is another college town. Like Duke, UNC at Chapel Hill is a big basketball school. Two NBA stars played for UNC’s Tar Heels: Vince Carter and Michael Jordan.

However, the school has other extracurricular programming that stands out. For example, it's a student-run radio station and newspaper. The school also has an incredibly high ratio of faculty to students at 15:1, and just under half of the classes are made up of less than 20 students.

Acceptance Rate Average GPA Average SAT Scores Average ACT Scores Number of Enrolled Students
17% 4.39 1350-1530 30-34 31,539

Source: UNC 

University of Virginia

If a deep-rooted history screams prestige to you, this school might be it. Started by Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia (UVA) is a part of Charlottesville’s extensive history. Although Ivy League schools do not exist in Virginia, UVA is s highly desired institution for higher education.

The University of Virginia boasts one of the highest graduation rates among public universities at 94 percent, and it’s easy to see why; there’s something for everyone.

The school highlights the wide variety of local entertainment, claiming the city has the highest number of restaurants per capita, and yet there’s also refuge for those who feel more at home in nature. 

Many students head out into the hills for skiing or snowboarding in the winter or onto the Rivanna River in the summer. There’s even a regular environmental cleanup event that allows students to make use of the school’s fleet of watercraft for free. 

Acceptance Rate Average GPA Average SAT Scores Average ACT Scores Number of Enrolled Students
16.38% 4.32 1445 33 52,010

Source: UVA

William & Mary

Speaking of history, William & Mary, named after the King and Queen who founded the school, is the second-oldest school in the U.S. (the first being Harvard.) That’s right, the school dates back to 1693, back when the U.S. was not the U.S. at all, and Virginia was still one of the 13 royal colonies.

As such, it is fitting that the school has been ranked the best by U.S. News & World Report for its graduate program for U.S. Colonial History. Even with such an illustrious history, William & Mary is also known as a ‘Public Ivy’, one of eight schools in the country with that designation.

Acceptance Rate Average GPA Average SAT Scores Average ACT Scores Number of Enrolled Students
33% 4.18-4.5 1430-1530 33-35 9,762

Source: William & Mary

Georgia Institute of Technology

If you’re a world traveler, the Georgia Institute of Technology has expanded quite impressively beyond its namesake state. Other than the campuses in Savannah and Atlanta, Georgia Tech also has campuses in Costa Rica, France, Ireland, Singapore and China.

As an institution that seeks to produce forward-thinking engineers, the school has a history of being ahead of the curve. Georgia Tech was one of the first to admit women in 1952, and it claims to be the first university in the Deep South to admit African-American students without a court order in 1961.

Acceptance Rate Average GPA Average SAT Scores Average ACT Scores Number of Enrolled Students
16% 4.07 1370-1530 31-35 45,172

Source: Georgia Institute of Technology 

University of Texas at Austin

You know the saying, everything is bigger in Texas, and it actually is true when it comes to this school. The University of Texas at Austin is said to be one of the largest in the U.S.

There are 156 programs within 13 schools for undergraduates to choose from and over 1,100 clubs and organizations for students to throw themselves into. The university also claims to attract a whopping $650 million in funding for its research. The school has no shortage of projects ranging from psychological studies on speech processing, to engineering studies involving machine learning that undergraduates can participate in.

Acceptance Rate Average GPA Average SAT Scores Average ACT Scores Number of Enrolled Students
29% 3.83 1230-1480 29-34 103,982

Source: College Board

Tulane University

Tulane University isn’t considered an Ivy League; however, it is highly ranked. The school is located in New Orleans, Louisiana, and offers an extensive array of more than 75 majors and minors, presenting diverse opportunities for your undergraduate journey.

The school's curriculum is designed to be comprehensive and interdisciplinary, offering exposure to a wide range of subjects, including humanities, fine arts, social sciences, and sciences. Additionally, during your first year, you'll engage in TIDES (Tulane Interdisciplinary Experience Seminar), which provides an academic framework for exploring your new environment in New Orleans.

If Tulane University sounds like the school for you, you should consider applying! 

Acceptance Rate Average GPA Average SAT Scores Average ACT Scores Number of Enrolled Students
14.3% 3.7 1448 33 ~4,000

Source: Tulane University

Wake Forest University

Wake Forest University is a private university located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It was founded in 1834 and hosts around 9,000 students. 

Although Wake Forest University isn’t considered an Ivy League, it does offer a rich academic experience with over 50 majors, 60 minors, and programs across seven colleges and schools. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 11 to 1 and nearly all undergraduate classes having fewer than 50 students, personalized attention is a priority. 

Furthermore, 60% of recent graduates have participated in study abroad programs, enhancing global perspectives. The university's diverse community of over 5,400 undergraduate students from 47 states and 48 countries fosters a dynamic learning environment where students can explore their passions and thrive.

Acceptance Rate Average GPA Average SAT Scores Average ACT Scores Number of Enrolled Students
22% N/A 1380-1510 31-34 9,121

Source: Wake Forest University

If you’re thinking about going to school in the south but are having trouble deciding what school to attend, check out this free Compare College Tool. This tool helps you compare schools and, therefore, helps you pick one to attend! 

FAQs: Southern Ivy League Schools

Still mulling over which school is right for you? Or in a rush? Here are some fast facts to keep in mind.

1. Are There Any Ivy League Schools in the South? 

No, not officially. But Duke ranks higher than two official Ivy League schools in two ranking systems, and many other schools rank higher regarding the best school for value.

2. What Is the Most Prestigious School in the South? 

Duke ranks highest, closely followed by Vanderbilt and Rice.

3. Is Duke a Southern Ivy? 

Yes, figuratively speaking, Duke is a Southern Ivy. Duke is the top-ranked school in all the Southern states. 

Final Thoughts

While there are no ‘official’ Southern Ivy League Schools, there are plenty of schools to choose from that are well-respected, have a long history, and whose programs are recognized as having great value for money.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter
Thanks ! You're now subscribed!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Get A Free Consultation

Speak to a college admissions expert about how we can help you get into your dream school
Schedule a Call

You May Also Like

Before you go, here are a few facts about us!
The Quad Factor: Working with us can increase your chances of admission by 11x!

The Best of the Best: Our team comprises of only 99th percentile tutors and admissions counselors from top-ranking universities, meaning you work with only the most experienced, talented experts.

The Free Consultation: Our experts would love to get to know you, your background, goals, and needs. From there, they match you with a best-fit consultant who will create a detailed project plan and application strategy focused on your success.