The "Public" Ivy League Colleges

November 30, 2020

If you have been looking at attending college in the USA, then you have probably heard of the "Ivy League". This group of eight private universities establish the standard for academic strength and storied histories. Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania - the Ivy League schools - have been the ideal standard for education for over a century. However, there are many colleges and universities in the USA that have the highest academic standards. Some, like those in the Ivy League, are private; but others are brilliantly run public universities across the country. These top public schools are sometimes known by their own name: The Public Ivies.

The Difference between Private and Public

Similar to South Africa, the USA has both private and public universities. Private universities fund themselves, relying on donations and tuition fees to cover costs. The need to generate this money often means that these colleges are very expensive to attend. Public universities, on the other hand, receive funding from state and federal governments. This allows them to conduct specific research but also to offer discounted fees to students. These public (or "state") universities often have different fees for students who come from the state they are in (known as "in-state" students), and those who come from outside the state. Sometimes, they even have a separate fee for international students.

What Are Some Other Differences?


Public universities are often much larger than private ones. Private universities often place a large emphasis on the student-to-faculty ratio, preferring to allow students a greater chance to interact with professors.

Academic Reputation

Public universities have some extremely strong programs throughout the USA. Whether it is medical degrees, entertainment qualifications, or economic education, individual programs at public schools often lead the way in a number of areas. However, the academic reputations of the universities as a whole can be somewhat up and down. Where a private university may focus on making each aspect and faculty of the highest standard possible, a public university may focus on improving one specific area in order to create a flagship program. This means that the public universities often have a wider range of academic reputation than the public ones.


While admissions at private universities in general, and the Ivy League in particular, are traditionally extremely competitive, the admissions at public universities can vary. Depending on the university in question, some universities can be as selective as an Ivy League - accepting less than 10% of applicants - while others can take in up to 30% on average. This variance is another factor in selecting a university - some Public Ivies are easier to get into than others.

So What Are The Public Ivies?

Generally, the following universities are considered the Public Ivies:

  • University of California, Berkeley
  • UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles)
  • University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • UNC (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
  • University of Virginia

These are known as the "Big 5", and have traditionally been the most prestigious, well-respected of the public universities in America. However, there are a number of other schools that are considered to be almost at the same level - the "honourable mentions" of the Public Ivies, if you will. Here are some examples of these universities:

  • University of Colorado, Boulder
  • Texas (University of Texas, Austin)
  • University of Washington
  • Pitt (University of Pittsburgh)
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison

How Do You Choose?

The key thing to remember when choosing colleges to apply to is that there are an abundance of options - many of which you may never have heard of. Keep an open mind, and do research based on a series of factors. Whether you opt to go for private or public, you can find a host of amazing schools - as long as you keep your marks up and do well enough to get in!

Remember, it’s always the perfect time to begin your journey towards studying at the university of your dreams. Sign up here for a free consultation with one of our recruitment experts. You could join over 300 student-athletes already placed in the USA, competing at the highest level and earning a world-class degree!


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