Ivy League Alternatives: Students Can Reach for the Stars with their Feet on the Ground

Senior Assistant Editor, Wintergreen Orchard House

Nov   2011



In the course of your career as a college counselor, you have no doubt encountered ambitious students with their sights set exclusively on attending Ivy League universities. As you know, these desirable eight schools are notoriously exclusive, to the extent that even highly qualified applicants are routinely denied admission.

In fall of 2010, Harvard accepted just 7% of its more than 30,000 freshman applicants.* Indeed, many a heart-broken high school valedictorian has been the recipient of the tell-tale small, flat letter bearing both an Ivy insignia and some seriously bad news. While you can’t protect them from such disappointments, you can soften the blow by equipping your students with a gratifying back-up plan.

Whether your Ivy-minded student is a Yale legacy in the top 5% or a straight-B idealist suffering from a touch of delusion, you’re not in the business of crushing dreams. Go ahead and help them with their applications, and encourage them to do whatever they can to boost their chances of admission. But in the same breath, you can also gently suggest that they consider these excellent Ivy League alternatives:

Go big at the Public Ivies

The term “Public Ivies” refers to public institutions that boast many of the same benefits as Ivy Leagues and other elite private schools. Check out the list on InsideCollege.com. They also generally offer drastically lower tuition, particularly for state residents. The academic experience, faculty, and resources are in many ways comparable to the real Ivies. Large state schools such as the University of California, Berkeley,  the University of Michigan, and the University of Texas at Austin have been called Public Ivies.

Let your students know that by choosing one of these big-name state schools, they will in no way be settling for a lesser education or overall college experience. Sizeable funding and large, dynamic student bodies translate into a myriad of resources, from vast libraries to pages-long lists of student organizations. Help your students by discussing their possible major and career goals, then see if any of the top-tier public universities in or near your state fit their bill. Just be sure to remind them that while these schools may be less exclusive than their Ivy League counterparts, they’re still highly selective, and admission is not guaranteed. Stellar GPAs, standardized test scores, essays, and recommendations are a must.

Scale down at the Little Ivies

The proverbial “Little Ivies” are smaller private institutions that share the Ivy League’s selectivity and deep roots in the Northeast, but admission for a high-achieving student may be slightly more likely at one of these schools. Students looking for a more personal college experience steeped in tradition (perhaps on a bucolic New England campus) may find what they’re looking for at a Little Ivy. Some of these schools—such as Bates College in Maine and Middlebury College in Vermont—have enrollments of less than 3,000 and student-faculty ratios of less than 10:1.*

As with the Public Ivies, admission is still highly competitive at the Little Ivies. You can help students applying to these schools by researching admission requirements and resources available in their proposed fields of study (one downside of an intimate college setting can be limited course or major offerings). Start by perusing the Northeast edition of the College Admissions Data Sourcebooks. Bear in mind that these elite private schools may not have the Ivy League seal, but they can certainly come with an Ivy League price tag. Tuition and room and board can easily top $50,000 per year, so students deprived of trust funds should begin searching for scholarships now.

Devise a plan of attack

Discuss with your students the schools they’re interested in attending and work to determine how realistic their choices are. Then help them to come up with a three-tier list of schools to which they’ll apply:

  1. The first-choice dream schools.
  2. The selective schools where they have a good chance of acceptance.
  3. The shoo-in safety schools.

Check out the schools profiled here on CollegeXpress.com to get the facts and figures you need to help them make informed decisions. And The College Finder and InsideCollege.com are fun and informative places to find dozens of lists of schools that you and your students might not have considered.

*According to data collected by Wintergreen Orchard House.

Note: Did you know you could win a $10,000 scholarship for college or grad school just by registering on CollegeXpress? This is one of the quickest, easiest scholarships you’ll ever apply for. Register Now »

About Stephanie Farah

Stephanie Farah

Stephanie is a Writer and Senior Editor at Wintergreen Orchard House, where she manages the collection of data from schools in the Northeast and Midwest regions. Stephanie holds a B.A. in English from the University of Texas at Austin and a master's in journalism from the University of North Texas. At various times she has been: an uncertain undergrad, a financial aid recipient, a transfer applicant, and a grad student with an assistantship and a full ride. Stephanie is an avid writer, traveler, cook, and dog owner. She looks forward to sharing her experiences with college-bound students and the counselors guiding them along the way!  

You can circle Stephanie on Google+, follow her on Twitter, or subscribe to her CollegeXpress blog.