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What is a "Public Ivy"?

Written by Alinor Smith, University of Virginia, College Contact Counselor

The Ivy League schools—Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, UPenn, and Princeton—are revered around the world as pillars of academic excellence. They promise superb private schooling on top of strong alumni connections, a prestigious degree, and long-standing school-wide traditions. Schools similarly reputable yet not a part of the exclusive list have been distinguished independently, but use the intrigue and reputation of the word “Ivy” to describe their own schools.

Ok… But those Ivies are all private (and their price point is private too!). What is a Public Ivy?

The public Ivies are a collection of universities that are recognized as having a similar collegiate experience to the reputable Ivies, but the key difference is that they are public, state-sponsored schools. The original list of 15 schools was compiled by Yale admissions officer Richard Moll in his book The Public Ivies: The Great State Colleges and Universities. The criteria to make it on the list are “selective admissions, a quality education program focused on the liberal arts, and enough money to buy a superb faculty and build an attractive campus” (Savage). The list was as follows, in alphabetical order:

  1. UC Berkeley

  2. UC Davis

  3. UC Irvine

  4. UCLA

  5. UC Riverside

  6. UCSB

  7. UCSC

  8. UCSD

  9. Miami University in Ohio

  10. University of Michigan

  11. University of North Carolina

  12. University of Texas

  13. University of Vermont

  14. University of Virginia

  15. William and Mary

As the times have changed and more and more schools have become competitors to the Ivy Leagues in terms of education quality, endowment size, selectivity, and more, this list begs to be increased. In 2001, this list was updated by Howard and Matthew Greene, including the following 30 colleges and universities in The Public Ivies: America's Flagship Public Universities. However, this is still not a comprehensive list of all the schools that meet these characteristics.

  1. Penn State University

  2. Rutgers University

  3. State University of New York at Bingham

  4. University of Connecticut

  5. William and Mary

  6. University of Delaware

  7. University of Maryland

  8. University of Virginia

  9. University of Arizona

  10. University of California, Berkeley

  11. University of California, Davis

  12. University of California, Irvine

  13. University of California, Los Angeles

  14. University of California, San Diego

  15. University of California, Santa Barbara

  16. University of Colorado, Boulder

  17. University of Washington

  18. Indiana University Bloomington

  19. Miami University (Ohio)

  20. Michigan State University

  21. Ohio State University

  22. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

  23. University of Iowa

  24. University of Michigan

  25. University of Minnesota

  26. University of Wisconsin-Madison

  27. University of Florida

  28. University of Georgia

  29. University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

  30. University of Texas-Austin

What’s it like to go to a Public Ivy?

I attend the University of Virginia, a public Ivy. I chose UVA not only for all of the remarkable qualities that make it a public Ivy but also because it offered the majors I was passionate about, the size and culture of the school I was looking for, not to mention I instantly fell in love with its gorgeous and historical campus. Going to an in-state public school was also the best financial decision I could make, especially in comparison to the staggering price—up to $75,000 per year—of an Ivy League or out-of-state public Ivy education.

My experience at UVA has been fantastic. It has given me connections to remarkably talented and inspiring peers and professors whom I may have otherwise never met, enjoyable moments, and world-class experiences, all while affording me the opportunity to truly make this campus feel like home, which is exactly what I was looking for in my college experience. I have also come to love the fun of home football games and the fact that professors will let us watch March Madness during class if UVA is playing or just dismiss us entirely!

Does That Mean I Have to Attend an Ivy or Public Ivy to Have a Good College Experience?

Absolutely not! In general, college is what you make it. Attending one of these schools does not guarantee an exceptional experience, especially if you prioritize a different aspect of college life besides academic rigor. Similarly, not attending one of these schools does not diminish your identity as an academically accomplished student, nor does it stunt your career prospects. Neither of these authors that created (or updated) the concept of public ivies attended every single school, met every single person or had every single experience there is to be had on those grounds or on grounds that did not make the list. They also do not claim that the experience among public Ivies or Ivy Leagues is universal and inscrutable, nor do I.

It is important to find the school that is right for you. It may be a public Ivy, or it may not be. Should you choose to be a client, our commitment lies in helping you secure a spot at your favored institution—one that resonates with your unique vision of excellence rather than conforming to an arbitrary standard.

Savage, David. “The Public Ivys: A Guide to America’s Best Public Undergraduate Colleges and Universities.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, October 6, 1985,

About Me

Hi! My name is Alinor Smith, and I am a third-year student at the University of Virginia, majoring in public policy and English. I went to high school in Alexandria but grew up in Florida, watching Florida State football during its prime, so I am a big fan of the East Coast and sports! I have loved helping students find their perfect schools ever since I was in high school. Isn't it so exciting to see where people end up going to college? I think so.) by editing essays, arranging lists, and talking through the application process with my peers and their parents. I attend my favorite school, and I hope that I can help you find your favorite school too! Here’s a link to some of the services I provide:

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