Pencil with paper around it reading Plan A and Plan B pointing in two directions

How to Help Students Explore Ivy League Alternatives

Students setting their sights high on Ivy League colleges is great, but you can help them develop a backup plan by exploring other options with them.

During 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. While you can’t protect them from such disappointments, you can soften the blow by equipping your students with a gratifying back-up plan.

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 with good chance of admittance
  3. The shoo-in safety schools

Related: How to Pick Your Match, Safety, and Reach Colleges

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. 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. 

Make sure 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 isn’t guaranteed. Stellar GPAs, 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. 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 small student bodies and student-faculty ratios.

As with the Public Ivies, admission is still highly competitive at these schools. 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). 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 be a lot steeper than public institutions, so students deprived of funds should begin searching for scholarships now

Related: 4 Myths About the Ivy League and Selective Colleges

Help students with their applications and encourage them to do whatever they can to boost their chances of admission to these schools. But also remind them there are many other colleges with amazing programs that will welcome them with open arms and offer an abundance of resources. Their experience is far more important than the name on their diploma at the end of four years.

Encourage your students to start learning about other notable institutions now using our College Search tool.

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About Stephanie Farah

Stephanie Farah

Stephanie Farah is a former writer and senior editor for Carnegie and CollegeXpress. She holds a BA 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. 

 

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