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Looking Beyond the Ivy League

06/03/20196 minute read
Looking Beyond the Ivy League

Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia...there is no doubt America’s eight Ivy League universities deserve their well-earned reputation for being some of the best educational institutions in the world. Constantly ranked in the Top 5 in the US and Top 15 in the world, it’s no wonder that the Ivy League acceptance rates are plummeting to as low as 4.5%.


What most students don’t realise is that there is a world of choice beyond the hallowed US north-east ‘league’ of universities (the bond of eight was formed as the first NCAA athletic conference in 1954). In fact, these days universities such as Stanford, MIT and the University of Chicago are giving the Ivy League a run for their money in the world university ranking stakes.

With Ivy acceptance rates plummeting other universities are offering highly competitive alternatives, and given the Ivies may not be a perfect personal fit for every student wanting to study in the US, these non-Ivy options are definitely worth considering and perhaps even prioritising over the famous eight.

Here are 10 other top ranking options (both according to QS world university rankings and USNews domestic university rankings for 2019), which are attracting the world’s top students in droves:

1. Stanford University

Location: Stanford, California

QS World Ranking: 2, USNews US Ranking: 7

With it’s Silicon Valley address and highly selective admissions process, Stanford has earned its reputation as the sunny west coast alternative to the Ivies. Renowned for its entrepreneurial bent and sporting prowess, Stanford is also a major hub for research with its current budget over $1.6 billion per year. In recent years Stanford has had the lowest acceptance rate in the country - down to roughly 4.5% - making the admissions process even more competitive than Harvard. It’s notable alumni list is long and impressive, including Elon Musk, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Actress and Producer Reese Witherspoon.

2. MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

QS World Ranking: 1, USNews Ranking: 3

Known as Harvard’s highly competitive STEM focused neighbour, MIT has a reputation for attracting the best of the best mathematical and scientific minds in the world. Located on the Charles River, the university - which uses its own application portal seperate from the Common Application - boasts close to 100 Nobel Prize winning graduates and faculty. Alumni include Nobel Prize winner in physics, Richard Feynman, former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan and astronaut, Buzz Aldrin.

3. University of Chicago

Location: Chicago, Illinois

QS World Ranking: 9, USNews Ranking: 3

With a reputation for intellectual inquiry and critical thinking with a dollop of quirkiness thrown in, UChicago is known for its rich history in economic, political and scientific study (its physics department created the first sustained nuclear reaction). In addition to the college, the university has postgraduate offerings that include the highly ranked Booth School of Business, Law School and Pritzker School of Medicine. Located in the fast-paced city of Chicago, it’s alumni roster is a historical and current ‘who’s who’ touting names such as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Washington Post publisher, Katharine Graham and Pulitzer Prize winning author, Philip Roth.

4. California Institute of Technology (CalTech)

Location: Pasadena, California

QS World Ranking: 4, USNews Ranking: 12

California’s answer to MIT lays claim to one of the most prolific and important research bases in the US. While science, engineering and mathematics are the main focuses for most CalTech students, the campus is also known for its strength in music. The University also has an outstanding student faculty ratio of 3:1 only accepting about 250 freshmen per year (the undergraduate population is a very small 977). Alumni include co-founder and chairman emeritus of Intel Corp, Adam D’Angelo, film director, Frank Capra and Nobel Laureate for Physics, Kip Thorne.

5. Duke University

Location: Durham, North Carolina

QS World Ranking: 26, USNews Ranking: 8

Often referred to as the ‘Southern Ivy’, Duke, with its picturesque grounds and genteel reputation, is often seen at the top of university rankings lists. Undergraduate applications are made to either the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences or the Pratt School of Engineering. Renowned for it’s academic ingenuity and sporting prowess, the university boats alumni such as Apple CEO, Tim Cook, American philanthropist, Melinda Gates and US President, Richard Nixon.

6. Johns Hopkins University

Location: Baltimore, Maryland

QS World Ranking: 21, USNews Ranking: 10

Johns Hopkins - America’s first research university (established in 1876) - is named after philanthropist and abolitionist John Hopkins. Known for its highly regarded research output and medical school, the university also boasts the countries most generous single alumnus in technology, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who this year donated $1.8 billion dollars to his alma mater. Other noteworthy Johns Hopkins alumni include US President, Woodrow Wilson and film director and producer, Wes Craven.

7. University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and University of California Berkeley UC Berkeley)

Locations: Los Angeles and Berkeley, California

QS World Rankings: 32 and 27, USNews Rankings: 19 and 22

It is difficult to separate these two world class state universities known for both their academic reputations and successes in athletics. UCLA’s sunny campus welcomes a massive 137,000 student body onto it’s lush playing fields and top notch science labs and classrooms - producing experts in everything from medicine and technology to environmental science and film-making. UCLA’s alumni include Academy Award winning film director, Francis Ford Coppola, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Ralph Bunche and world-renowned environmentalist, Al Gore. UC Berkeley is the slightly more selective of the two, touting a rigorously competitive academics program parallelled by the universities vigour on the sporting field - most often against major athletic rival, Stanford. It’s northern California location and hi-tech reputation recently overtook the university rival Stanford for ‘most Silicon Valley hires and internships’. UC Berkeley claims alumni such as Apple cofounder, Steve Wozniak, Nobel Laureate in Physics, John C. Mather and Supreme Court Chief Justice, Earl Warren.

8. Northwestern University

Location: Evanston, Illinois

QS World Ranking: 34, USNews Ranking: 10

Located a stone’s-throw from similarly ranked University of Chicago, Northwestern has a reputation for taking a slightly more pre-professional focus with it’s well-regarded Medill School of Journalism, law school, medical school and Kellogg School of Management ranking amongst the best in the nation. Bordered by the scenic Lake Michigan and the urban city of Chicago, students enjoy access to a picturesque campus on the footstep of a major metropolis. Alumni include Game of Thrones author, George R.R Martin, Nobel Prize winner in medicine, Robert F. Furchgott, and actor Seth Myers.

9. University of Michigan - Ann-Arbor

Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan

QS World Ranking: 20, USNews Ranking: 27

The University of Michigan is one of America’s most elite public universities. Located only 45 minutes from the major city of Detroit, the university has a reputation for superior academics and athletics. t’s high standards of research and comprehensive graduate programs in STEM and architecture are balanced by its successes on the sporting arena - most notably on the football field when playing against arch rivals Ohio State. Notable alumni include Google cofounder, Larry Page, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Arthur Miller and NFL Superbowl champion, Tom Brady.

10. Carnegie Mellon

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

QS World Ranking: 46, USNews Ranking: 25

Carnegie Mellon is one of the few top universities which not only has the reputation as a world class technical institution, but a similarly strong reputation in the arts. With 62% of it’s students graduating in a STEM field, Carnegie Mellon also prides itself on its top notch computer science program and it’s School of Fine Arts, specializing in drawing, painting, printmaking and photography. Past students include Nobel Laureate, John Forbes Nash (focus of the film ‘A Beautiful Mind’), famous artist, Andy Warhol and Java programming language founder, James Gosling.

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