Getting into Public “Ivy League” Colleges

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The transition from elementary or middle school to high school can be difficult, and it’s not uncommon for new high school students to struggle academically their first year. Colleges recognize that performance during the first year of high school isn’t the best indicator of a student’s ability, dedication, or intelligence. If you’ve performed poorly during your first year of high school, don’t despair, there’s still hope. If you really want to attend a top public college or university (Public “Ivy League” Colleges), just make sure your academic performance improves during your sophomore, junior, and senior years.

If you struggle academically your freshman year in high school, and you fail to show a marked improvement in your performance in subsequent years, you may find yourself attending a two-year community college for several years following high school in order to prove to an admissions board that you can handle the demands of a four-year college or university.

However, getting good grades alone isn’t enough to get you into a Public Ivy League school. Students must also consider the following:

  • Admissions officers know which high schools are tough and which are not. Top Public Ivy League colleges and universities will take into consideration the difficulty level of your high school’s curriculum when making their admissions decision. Consequently, if you’re grades aren’t excellent but you’re attending a high school that offers a very challenging curriculum, you’ll still have a good shot at being admitted.
  • Earning an “A” in Study Hall won’t impress admissions officers. College admissions officers are particularly interested in determining whether or not an applicant has the skills, dedication, and knowledge they’ll need to handle the rigors and fast pace of college. Students who enroll in difficult courses in high school (e.g., Chemistry, Calculus, Advanced Placement Classes, etc.) demonstrate to colleges that they have what it takes to succeed in college. Even if you have a 3.9 GPA you might not get into a top college if you take all the easiest classes your high school has to offer. A “B+” in AP Chemistry is going to be much more impressive than an “A” remedial math or home economics.
  • Smart slackers get thin envelopes. As we mentioned previously, if you don’t do well in high school, but have the smarts, all is not lost. By attending a junior or community college after high school you can still prove to Public Ivy League college admissions board that you have what it takes. However, if you opt for this route, be prepared to work very hard. Junior and community colleges are typically more demanding than high schools. It’s far easier to do well in high school and then move directly into the four-year college of your choice.
  • Winners prove they can succeed in college. Excuses just don’t hold weight in the real world, and colleges aren’t about to admit students they feel are unprepared for the academic rigors that college presents. Colleges are looking for students that have demonstrated over several years that they are prepared for college. Students can prove themselves to college admissions officer by taking high school seriously, getting good grades, taking challenging courses, and proving that they have what it takes to be a winner.

The First Public Ivy League Colleges

So what exactly is a “Public Ivy League” college, also known as a “Public Ivy”? The term “Public Ivy” was first coined in the book Public Ivies: A Guide to America’s best public undergraduate colleges and universities written by Richard Moll and published in 1985. The term refers specifically to colleges and universities that provide an Ivy League collegiate and academic experience at a public school price.

During his career in education, Richard Moll work as an admissions officer at Yale University, and as the director of admissions at University of California, Santa Cruz, Bowdoin college, and Vassar College. Moll also traveled the United States exploring and researching various higher education institutions. During his travels and through his research he identified eight public higher education institutions which he felt had the look and feel of an Ivy League University. In his analysis of each institution, Moll considered academic excellence, age of the institution, appearance, school traditions as well as several other shared characteristics among Ivy League schools.

The original eight Public Ivies as identified by Moll in 1985 include:

Moll also suggested in his book several other colleges and universities that were “worthy runners-up” to be Public Ivies. These included University of Colorado at Boulder, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, New College of the University of South Florida (today known as New College of Florida), University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania State University at University Park, SUNY Binghamton (also known as Binghamton University), University of Wisconsin-Madison, and University of Washington.

Public Ivies according to Greene’s Guides

Following Richard Moll’s 1985 book Public Ivies: A Guide to America’s best public undergraduate colleges and universities, Howard and Matthew Greene of Greene’s Guides in their 2001 book The Public Ivies: America’s Flagship Public Universities expanded upon Moll’s list of Public Ivies to include 30 colleges and universities. While Moll’s list of Public Ivies focused on a large variety of factors, the Greene’s list focused on public schools whose academic programs were of a comparable quality to those offered by traditional Ivy League institutions. The table below includes all Public Ivy League colleges, as identified by the Greene’s Guides, organized by region and listed in alphabetical order.





Great Lakes & Midwest

Institutional Comparisons

Quite a few schools that are recognized as “Public Ivies” consistently appear among the top US schools in a variety of rankings produced by U.S. News & World Report, one of the premier authorities on college rankings and comparisons. Currently, about fifty percent of the top 12 ranked national universities for undergraduate studies are of the original eight Public Ivies as listed by Moll.

One major difference between traditional Ivy League schools and the majority of “Public Ivies” is their involvement in intercollegiate athletics. Ivy Leagues prohibit athletic scholarships, where “Public Ivies” readily award athletic scholarships to their student athletes and participate in major athletic conferences (e.g., Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, etc.)