Should You Go to a Public Ivy 5 Factors to Consider


Most people have heard of the illustrious eight private schools that make up the

Ivy League


But what about high-quality public universities, or “Public Ivy League” schools?

Are there any public schools out there that can match the caliber of top private schools?

Find out what the Public Ivies are and why you should consider applying to them.

Feature image credit:



What Is a Public Ivy School?

Richard Moll’s 1985 book

The Public Ivys: A Guide to America’s Best Public Undergraduate Colleges and Universities


15 public universities Moll considered equivalent to Ivy League schools

based on the following four criteria:

  • Admissions

  • Undergraduate program


    and the importance of liberal arts
  • The amount of


    available to spend on students, facilities, world-class faculty, and research
  • Image and


As a result, the term “Public Ivy” has become a shorthand for especially prestigious public universities and colleges in the US.

What Are the Public Ivies?

Moll’s original list of Public Ivy League schools consisted of

the following 15 schools

(listed below in alphabetical order):

Moll also identified

nine “worthy runners-up,”

or public colleges and universities that were very high quality but fell just short of Public Ivy status. These were as follows:


The College of William and Mary is one of the 15 original Public Ivy schools.




Public Ivy Rankings

There are more lists of Public Ivy League schools out there besides just the original list created by Moll in 1985, including several lists from Howard and Matthew Greene’s

The Public Ivies


We’ve gone through all these lists and

gathered the most up-to-date information about the selectivity, academic quality, resources, and prestige of all public universities in America today.

Based on our research, we’ve created a table of what we consider to be the

top 26 Public Ivy League schools in the country.

The schools have been divided into different tiers (Tier I =


, Tier II =


Tier III =


) based on selectivity and reputation for academic excellence.



In-State Tuition

Out-of-State Tuition


Acceptance Rate

UCLA CA $13,239 $42,993 31,577 14%

UC Berkeley CA $14,254 $44,008 30,799 17%

UNC Chapel Hill NC $9,018 $36,000 18,528 23%

University of Virginia VA $14,188 $48,036 17,011 24%

University of Michigan MI $15,948 $52,266 31,266 23%

UC Santa Barbara CA $12,570 $42,324 23,349 30%

Georgia Tech GA $10,258 $31,370 16,562 21%

UC Irvine CA $11,442 $41,196 29,638 30%

University of Florida FL $6,380 $28,658 35,405 37%

William and Mary VA $17,434 $40,089 6,236 42%

UC Davis CA $14,490 $44,244 30,982 39%

UC San Diego CA $14,480 $44,234 30,794 38%

UT Austin TX $10,610 $37,580 40,804 32%

University of Georgia GA $12,080 $31,120 29,848 48%

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign IL $16,866 $34,316 33,492 59%

UW–Madison WI $10,766 $38,654 31,650 57%

Ohio State OH $11,518 $33,502 46,818 52%

University of Washington WA $11,745 $39,114 32,046 56%

Penn State PA $18,454 $35,984 40,639 49%

Purdue IN $9,992 $28,794 34,920 60%

Rutgers–New Brunswick NJ $12,230 $29,012 36,158 60%

University of Maryland MD $8,824 $34,936 30,875 44%

University of Connecticut CT $14,406 $37,074 18,847 49%

Clemson SC $15,558 $38,550 20,195 51%

Florida State FL $6,516 $21,683 33,270 36%

University of Minnesota Twin Cities MN $13,318 $31,616 34,633 52%

The Public Ivy League: Awards Circle

Though all the schools on our list of Public Ivy League schools provide great options to students for inexpensive and high-quality education, we wanted to

highlight the stand-outs when it came to cost, size, and selectivity.


#1: Most Selective

  • UCLA (12% admissions rate)
  • UC Berkeley (17% admissions rate)

These two highly competitive schools in the University of California system are not only extremely selective, but also

academically rigorous and prestigious


#2: Least Selective

  • Purdue (60% admissions rate)
  • Rutgers–New Brunswick (60% admissions rate)

Purdue and Rutgers are great choices if you’re looking to attend a top Public Ivy but don’t have the GPA and test scores to get into the most competitive schools.

#3: Cheapest for In-State Students

  • University of Florida ($6,380/year)
  • Florida State University ($6,516/year)

If you live in Florida and are looking to stay in-state for school, it’s hard to do much better than the University of Florida or Florida State. Both schools’

four-year tuition costs

are barely half of what you’d pay for one year at an

Ivy League or comparable private school



Also, sun. Sun is nice (says the woman who chose to go to school in New England).


Boston Public Library


#4: Cheapest for Out-of-State Students

  • Florida State University ($21,683/year)

If you want to attend a Public Ivy school but your state schools don’t make the cut, then Florida State is a great option for you. You’ll get the public school cost with the Public Ivy standards of academic rigor, resources, and name recognition.

#5: Smallest Undergraduate Population

  • College of William and Mary (6,236 undergraduates)

If you’re looking for a medium or even a smaller Public Ivy school experience, then William and Mary is the best bet for you, particularly if you apply to the honors program. While larger than most of the top liberal arts colleges, William and Mary is still

comparable in size to smaller Ivy League schools such as Columbia and Brown.

#6: Largest Undergraduate Population

  • Ohio State University (46,818 undergraduates)

If you want the big school, lose-yourself-in-a-crowd feel while still getting a good education, then OSU in Columbus is a great pick for you.


Should You Apply to Public Ivy League Schools?

So why attend a Public Ivy League school over an equally or more prestigious private school? In this section, I’ll go over the

five most crucial factors of cost, selectivity, size, academics, and athletics.


Because they’re public universities, Public Ivy schools are significantly more


for in-state students than either Ivy League or other top-tier private schools.

In fact, the average cost for the 26 schools listed above came in at

about $14,000/year for in-state students

—that’s definitely lower tuition than for any academically comparable private schools, which are closer to $45,000/year.

For out-of-state students, however, tuition at the Public Ivies can get pricey,

especially for the best schools.

The price range for the top seven Public Ivies goes all the way from the still-low cost of $31,370/year at Georgia Tech to the much higher cost of $52,266/year at the University of Michigan, which is basically the same price as a top private college.

So while public Ivy schools can still be cheaper than equivalent private schools if you live out-of-state, they are

definitely more cost-effective if you live in the same state.


There is a

wide range of selectivity

among schools in the public Ivy League, from the most competitive schools like UCLA and UC Berkeley to the relatively less selective schools like the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Rutgers University.

While schools in the Public Ivy League are still fairly difficult to get into (particularly when it comes to specific honors programs within the schools),

there is no doubt that

top-tier private schools and Ivy League universities are significantly more selective.

Compare the admissions rates for top eight most selective of the Public Ivies vs eight of the

most highly ranked Ivy League and other top-tier private schools



Acceptance Rate

Public or Private?
Harvard 5% Private
Stanford 4% Private
Columbia 5% Private
Princeton 6% Private
MIT 7% Private
Yale 6% Private
Caltech 6% Private
UChicago 6% Private
UCLA 12% Public
UC Berkeley 17% Public
Georgia Tech 19% Public
UNC Chapel Hill 21% Public
University of Michigan 23% Public
University of Virginia 26% Public
UC Santa Barbara 32% Public
UC San Diego 30% Public

The only two Public Ivies that even approach the top private schools in selectivity are UCLA and UC Berkeley.


Part of the reason Ivy League schools and

equivalent private schools

(Stanford, MIT, or top liberal arts colleges) have lower admissions rates than Public Ivy schools has to do with

school size.

The median undergraduate population for an Ivy League institution is around 6,400 students, while for a Public Ivy it’s closer to

25,000 students.

Class size is one of the reasons applying to an

honors program or college

within a Public Ivy League school is so important. In an honors program, you’ll likely be in smaller classes and get more individualized attention.


Having rigorous academic programs is a defining characteristic of a Public Ivy League school, and most of the schools on our list have honors programs for high-achieving students who wish to challenge themselves.

However, there is a

huge variance in quality

both between different schools and among different programs or colleges within the



For instance, UC Davis has one of the best programs in the country for agriculture, but some of their other departments are of relatively low quality (compared to what you’d find at a highly ranked private school). In contrast, UC Berkeley is a great school across most academic fields.

Because of this, it’s important to do a little

more research into Public Ivy schools

than you would for a top-10 private university or college, particularly if you’re looking at a second- or third-tier Public Ivy. You don’t want to go to a school hoping to get a top pre-med education only to find out they have a weak bio department.


Not only do Public Ivies have some of the top college sports teams in the nation, but

they give out

athletic scholarships


While this is true for some top private schools as well (Northwestern being the most prominent example),

it’s not the case for any Ivy League college

and many other top private schools such as MIT and UChicago. If you’re a serious athlete and want to be part of a world-class team, then a Public Ivy League school might be a great choice for you.

Similarly, if sports being a big part of campus life and having good sports teams is important to you as a fan, the Public Ivy League schools are a good fit. Nine of the 26 Public Ivies listed above are

Big Ten Schools

, with strong sports cultures and team spirit.


UConn basketball players have some serious skills.


Mike Mozart


Public Ivy League Schools: The Bottom Line

If you want to apply to an

academically rigorous, fairly selective, and well-known public school,

you should absolutely consider applying to a Public Ivy. It makes great financial sense to apply to a Public Ivy

in your state

, and while Public Ivies can get

more expensive for out-of-state students

, they’re still usually cheaper than a private college or university.

Applying to an

honors program

within a Public Ivy, particularly if it’s not in the top level of schools, is a must if you want a high-quality education. Honors programs have the bonus of being smaller and full of more academically driven students than the rest of the student body while at the same time being able to draw on the resources of a larger institution.


do the research

to find out which schools are outstanding in the areas you’re interested in studying. You might even discover that the best program in the country for the subject you’re interested in is at a Public Ivy school in




Boston Public Library


What’s Next?

Still wondering about the pros and cons of public universities?

Use our discussion of

public vs private colleges

to figure out which type of school is right for you.

Learn what it takes


get into an Ivy League school with this guide by a Harvard alum


Want to see if you have what it takes to get into the top private universities in the country?

Find out how you stack up against the competition with our article about

good SAT scores for the Ivy League Plus schools


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?

We’ve written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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