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The Public Ivies: Who and Why

MAY 07, 2021

If you’ve ever researched top US universities, you’ve probably heard all about the Ivy League — a group of 8 elite colleges known worldwide for their academic prestige. But have you heard of the Public Ivies? What are they, who are they, and why are they named after perhaps the best-known group of colleges in the world?

The term “Public Ivy” was coined by higher education expert and author Richard Moll in 1985. A graduate from Yale who later worked in the admissions offices at Yale, UC Santa Cruz, Bowdoin College and Vassar College, Moll published two books on elite college admissions: one titled Playing the Selective College Admissions Game, and another titled The Public Ivys: A Guide to America’s Best Public Undergraduate Colleges and Universities.

Having worked as an admissions officer and director of admissions in multiple capacities, Moll traveled around the US creating a list of public universities he deemed equivalent to Ivy League universities in terms of selectivity, education quality, academic rigor and resources, and prestige. In short, many of the Public Ivies are recognized as top US universities that provide Ivy-level education at public school prices.

Included in Moll’s original list of Public Ivies are the following universities:

  • College of William & Mary
  • Miami University
  • University of Michigan: Ann Arbor
  • University of North Carolina: Chapel Hill
  • University of Texas: Austin
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Virginia
  • The University of California system (encompassing 9 schools)

However, in addition to this selection, Moll also determined a list of “runners-up” which included:

  • University of Colorado: Boulder
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • The University of Illinois: Urbana-Champaign
  • New College of Florida
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • Binghamton University
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • University of Washington
  • University of Wisconsin: Madison

While standards for higher education and what classifies “top” universities as such have evolved in the more than three decades that have passed since The Public Ivys was published, many of these universities are still well-known for their top-notch academics and resources.

For students interested in US universities that are more affordable and accessible than those in the Ivy League, the Public Ivies are worth exploring. Here are some fast facts about the schools featured on Moll’s original list to get you started.

Giving - William & Mary

College of William & Mary

Located in Williamsburg, Virginia, the College of William & Mary was founded in 1693. It’s the second-oldest higher education institution in the US after Harvard!

  • Acceptance Rate: 37.7%
  • US News National Ranking: 39
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,256
  • Tuition & Fees: $23,362 (in-state) | $46,283 (out-of-state)

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University of Michigan: Ann Arbor

Located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the University of Michigan: Ann Arbor was founded in 1817 in “one of the best college towns in the US”!

  • Acceptance Rate: 22.9%
  • US News National Ranking: 24
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 31,266
  • Tuition & Fees: $15,948 (in-state) | $52,266 (out-of-state)

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University of North Carolina: Chapel Hill

Located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the University of North Carolina: Chapel Hill was founded in 1789. By law, at least 82% of each freshman class must be residents of North Carolina — meaning students coming from out-of-state face some stiff competition!

  • Acceptance Rate: 22.6%
  • US News National Ranking: 28
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 19,355
  • Tuition & Fees: $9,021 (in-state) | $36,200 (out-of-state)

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University of Texas: Austin

Located in Austin, Texas, the University of Texas: Austin was founded in 1883 and is one of the largest schools in the US!

  • Acceptance Rate: 31.8%
  • US News National Ranking: 42
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 40,163
  • Tuition & Fees: $11,106 (in-state) | $39,322 (out-of-state)

What Does It Take to Get Into the University of Vermont?

University of Vermont

Located in Burlington, Vermont, the University of Vermont was founded in 1791. It was the fifth university founded in New England — after Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and Brown!

  • Acceptance Rate: 67.3%
  • US News National Ranking: 118
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 11,443
  • Tuition & Fees: $19,062 (in-state) | $43,950 (out-of-state)

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University of Virginia

Located in Charlottesville, Virginia, the University of Virginia was founded in 1819 by American founding father Thomas Jefferson!

  • Acceptance Rate: 23.9%
  • US News National Ranking: 26
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 17,011
  • Tuition & Fees: $18,878 (in-state) | $52,957 (out-of-state)

Miami University named among The Princeton Review's best colleges - Miami  University

Miami University

Located in Oxford, Ohio, Miami University was founded in 1809 in a rural town where three-quarters of the population is students from the University!

  • Acceptance Rate: 80.4%
  • US News National Ranking: 103
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 17,246
  • Tuition & Fees: $15,330 (in-state) | $34,727 (out-of-state)

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The University of California system

This one is unique as it encompasses 9 universities, all located in the state of California. Check out the table below for fast facts on each one.

UniversityAcceptance RateUS World News National RankingUndergraduate EnrollmentOut-of-State Tuition & Fees
UC Berkeley16.3%2231,780$43,980
UCLA12.3%2031,543$42,980
UC Davis38.9%3930,982$44,407
UC Irvine26.5%35 (tie)30,382$43,686
UC San Diego31.5%35 (tie)30,794$44,205
UC Santa Barbara30%3023,349$44,145
UC Santa Cruz51.3%97 (tie)17,517$43,808
UC Merced72%97 (tie)8,151$43,292
UC Riverside56.5%8822,055$43,613

In essence, the Public Ivies are so named because many of them offer a high degree of academic rigor and resources to the lucky students who attend.

Curious about other leading US universities outside of the Ivy League and Public Ivies? Check out our blog highlighting 10 Top US Universities That Aren’t in the Ivy League — you’ll even see a couple of the same schools featured here!

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