Although there is no official association known as the Public Ivy League, the term holds a lot of meaning to those in the undergraduate admissions industry.

Everyone wants to go to the best college, study the best course, and then end up in the best job. But ‘the best’ us a very subjective term. In case of college admissions, ‘the best’ also comes with underlying conditions for everyone. One of the most common conditions is to pay minimal fee, or graduate debt-free.

No matter what and how many words it is described in, this condition means that a student should be able to afford their college fee without taking out huge loans.

For some others, ‘the best’ is a place they can hone their talents. This is achieved by an environment rich in professors and students that have the same mindsets.

Basically ‘the best’ keeps changing depending on the person you ask. In general, ‘the best’ colleges for undergrad admissions is referred to the Ivy League schools located primarily in the Northeastern part of the united states.

But there are many other colleges that give them strong competition. Since the elitism of the Ivy League was established, many more informal names for groups of elite colleges have been coined. For example, the Golden Triangle, Oxbridge, and Public Ivy League.

Our main concern here is the Public Ivy league. This group of colleges is very close to the Ivy League in comparison on many bases. This brings a student to wonder if getting into one of these Public Ivies is worth it, or is the similarity just a gimmick.


college university public building

Coined by Richard Moll, in his 1985 book Public Ivies: A Guide to America’s Best Public Undergraduate Colleges and Universities, the term Public Ivies was originally used for public universities, which shared similarities to the Ivy League colleges, in the United States of America.

Moll listed 8 public universities, the same number as the Ivy League, that shared similarities like age, appearance, culture, school, tradition, and academic excellence with the Ivy League universities.

This original list went as follows:

College of William & Mary (Williamsburg, Virginia)
Miami University (Oxford, Ohio)
University of California (nine campuses as of 1985)
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of Texas at Austin
University of Vermont (Burlington)
University of Virginia (Charlottesville)

Moll also added 9 runners up in his book. However, in 2001 Howard and Matthew Greene came up with a more comprehensive list of 30 colleges in their book, The Public Ivies: America’s Flagship Public Universities.

Since then, different lists of Public Ivies have been released regularly in different forms of publications.


In keeping with the spirit of Richard Moll’s OG list of Public Ivies, we also consider top 8 public universities to be the Public Ivy League currently.

University of California Los Angeles(UCLA)
University of California Berkeley(Berkeley)
Georgia Institute of Technology
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of Michigan(Ann Arbor)
University of Virginia(Charlottesville)
University of California Santa Barbara
University of California San Diego

Now we come to the question of how do these current Public Ivy Universities compare to the OG Ivy League universities.


It is safe to say that the OG Ivy League will be the first choice for 99% of undergrad applicants if you remove any conditions. Along with the tag of an Ivy League graduate comes a lot of added value to a job seeker’s profile.

That would be a case in a perfect world, this isn’t that world. So, what do Public Ivies have that can make them seem like a deal as good as the Ivy Leagues?

Acceptance rate

Where Ivy Leagues have acceptance rates in single digits, the most selective Public Ivies aren’t much better. University of California Los Angeles, and Berkeley are two of the most selective Public Ivies.

The fact that these are public schools however, doesn’t seem to affect their acceptance rate much. While the most selective OG Ivies, Harvard and Stanford have an acceptance rate of 5% each, UCLA and Berkeley only go up as far as 16%, and 17% respectively.

Which is not much considering public schools have much more seats available to offer students admits.

But that is not all. The SAT score range at these top 8 public universities is also very high.

Public Ivies Reading and Writing Math
University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) 570-710 590-760
University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley) 620-750 650-790
Georgia Institute of Technology 640-730 680-770
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 600-700 610-720
University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) 640-730 670-770
University of Virginia(Charlottesville) 620-720 620-740
University of California Santa Barbara 550-660 570-730
University of California San Diego 560-680 610-770

This means, the competition for these top public schools is almost as tough as the top OG Ivies.

Cost of attendance

The cost of attendance at an Ivy League college averages at roughly $54,000 for a year. Now everyone who knows anything about the undergraduate scene knows that a public school’s fee comes in much below that price.

Since they are government funded, Public Ivies’ cost of attendance averages at roughly $14,00 per year for in-state students. The outof state tuition however can tend to get a bit pricey at an average of roughly $42,000.

Here is a list of all the public ivies mentioned above, and their tuitions.

School name In-state Tuition Out of State Tuition
University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) $13,774 $42,766
University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley) $14,184 $43,176
Georgia Institute of Technology $12,424 $33,020
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill $9,046 $36,225
University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) $15,262 $15,262
University of Virginia(Charlottesville) $17,564 $48,465
University of California Santa Barbara $14,424 $43,416
University of California San Diego $14,199 $43,191

But what about scholarships?

Academics and Athletics

Ivy Leagues are known for being amongst the top college in every program they provide. The quality is consistent over different departments and thus a student is not at risk of enrolling him/herself into a sub-par program.

This is a point of difference for Public Ivies. Although Public Ivies are known for being academically rigorous, there can be some flaws in their programs. For example, UCLA is known to be consistently good all across the board when it comes to different programs it provides. However, some Public Ivies like UC Davis is considered to be lagging in a few majors.

Ivy League colleges also pride themselves on not giving out any athletic scholarships. Meanwhile, Public Ivies have a very open hand in regards to the same.

This brings the most talented student athletes to the Public Ivies. These schools have some of the top sports teams in the United States. Ivy Leagues don’t really hold much ground in competition with the Public Ivies on this point.

Class Size

While Ivy League schools admit an average of 6000 students every year, a Public Ivy admits more than four times that average, a whopping 25,000. This results in large class sizes and much less attention to individual students.

This can sometimes lead to a fall in the average quality of education provided at the Public Ivies but in no circumstances means a lack of opportunities.

However, enrolling in an honors class could bring a student’s experience closer to that of an IVY League due to the small class size.


woman laptop application collegeEven though there are a lot of upsides to going to a Public Ivy university, it entirely depends on what are your alternative options, and what courses are you getting in the Public Ivies. You cannot compare one school with another unless you have an admit in both the places. While you should definitely apply to both the categories ahead of time, the final decision should primarily be driven by the final options that you get in this world. Real opportunity to make a choice comes when you have emails from both the categories congratulating you for your admit. If you do not make it to a Top Ivy League school, then you should start exploring the Public Ivies objectively. Some of the Public Ivies are very strong, and have a great alumni network, great collection or courses, and are very recognized in the US.

Let’s look at some clear signs that could indicate you would thrive at a Public Ivy.

Can you take initiative?

A public university requires one to be a go getter. With the large class sizes and the plethora of courses offered, you will not get the attention that a small classroom at any private university can get you. So, no one will be there to ensure if you’re putting in the right amount of work to graduate with good grades.

It’s all on you.

If you’re someone who can take initiative, chase down professors for office hours, or extra credit, you will thrive in a Public Ivy league college. The opportunities at these universities are in abundance, but you will have to dig deep to find them.

Where do you live?

As you must have seen under the cost of attendance section, in-state tuition for the Public Ivies are the real money savers. If you live in the state of a Public Ivy League university, it should be one of your top choices for college.

It would provide similar exposure, and programs as the Private universities, at a fraction of the cost.

Are you a student athlete?

Public Ivies are the incubators of talented athletes. Due to the presence of scholarships, their teams are filled with some of the best student athletes.

This also means these teams get good exposure due to their reputation. Thus, if you’re a newly graduated student athlete from high-school, getting on one of these teams will give you exposure, experience, and a competitive environment to hone your skill in.

All of that being said, I know you’ll jump at an Ivy League admit if you got one. However, keep in mind that a Public Ivy only lacks the tag of Ivy League. These universities can provide so much respite to students in the form of a low cost of attendance.

Getting into one of these top Public colleges called the Private Ivies might not be considered as prestigious as the Ivy League, but, it sure will open some doors for you due to the large alumni and the quality of graduates being maintained for the past few decades.