The top non-Ivy League schools are some of the best universities and institutions in the US, even though they aren’t a part of the exclusive Ivy club. Even so, there are many, many excellent non-Ivy League schools, both public and private, across the country. Although not all of these are the easiest colleges to get into as far as college acceptance rates go, it is possible to get accepted with the right prep and the right tools. In this blog, we’ll discover some of the top schools that are not Ivies, how competitive these schools are and how you can get into them.

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Top Non-Ivy League Schools in the US How Competitive are the Top Non-Ivy League Schools? How to Get Into the Top Non-Ivy League Schools Applying to Ivy League vs. Non-Ivy League Schools FAQs

Top Non-Ivy League Schools in the US

Below we’ve listed some of the best private and best public universities in the US. Although these institutions are not part of the prestigious Ivy League, they are nonetheless some of the best and highest-ranked universities in the US, both public and private. This is not an exhaustive list of the top non-Ivy League schools, but here are the top 30 schools which consistently rank in the same level of academic excellence and achievement:

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

  • Acceptance rate: 4.1%

2. Stanford University

  • Acceptance rate: 4%

3. University of Chicago

  • Acceptance rate: 6.5%

4. Johns Hopkins University

  • Acceptance rate: 5%

5. California Institute of Technology

  • Acceptance rate: 3.9%

6. Duke University

  • Acceptance rate: 5.9%

7. Northwestern University

  • Acceptance rate: 7%

8. Vanderbilt University

  • Acceptance rate: 7.1%

9. Rice University

  • Acceptance rate: 9.5%

10. Washington University in St. Louis

  • Acceptance rate: 6%

11. University of California Berkeley

  • Acceptance rate: 7%

12. University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)

  • Acceptance rate: 6%

13. University of Southern California (USC)

  • Acceptance rate: 12.5%

14. University of California San Diego (UCSD)

  • Acceptance rate: 34.2%

15. Tufts University

  • Acceptance rate: 7%

16. Georgetown University

  • Acceptance rate: 8%

17. Carnegie Mellon University

  • Acceptance rate: 8%

18. University of Texas at Austin

  • Acceptance rate: 31%

19. University of Michigan

  • Acceptance rate: 12%

20. Emory University

  • Acceptance rate: 7%

21. New York University

  • Acceptance rate: 10%

22. Penn State University

  • Acceptance rate: 55%

23. Boston University

  • Acceptance rate: 7%

24. Purdue University

  • Acceptance rate: 50%

25. Georgia Institute of Technology

  • Acceptance rate: 11%

26. University of Wisconsin-Madison

  • Acceptance rate: 60.4%

27. University of California Davis

  • Acceptance rate: 48.8%

28. University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

  • Acceptance rate: 13%

29. Texas A&M University

  • Acceptance rate: 64.3%

30. Ohio State University

  • Acceptance rate: 57.2%

How Competitive are the Top Non-Ivy League Schools?

The top non-Ivy League schools can be just as competitive and tough to get into. Based on admissions data alone, there isn’t much difference in how competitive non-Ivy schools are versus Ivies. Let’s compare the acceptance rates for Ivy League schools to the first 8 non-Ivy schools on the list above:

As we can see, the average acceptance rates for top colleges, regardless of whether they are Ivy League or not, tend to be under 10%, so quite selective. All of the best colleges will have their own selection criteria, requirements and standards for applicants. Getting into college in the US is competitive, no matter what school you apply to. In fact, the average acceptance rate for all colleges in the US is around 68%

Average Acceptance Rate for Colleges in the US

Looking at other admissions criteria, such as the minimum GPA requirement or SAT and ACT score requirements, there isn’t a huge difference between Ivy and non-Ivy League schools, either. Of course, the higher your GPA and test scores the better, but this is true for all colleges. Even so, the ideal GPA or standardized test score will depend on the individual school’s requirements and the scores of previously accepted students. Remember that many of the top schools have adopted a test-optional policy as well, so you can choose whether or not to submit your test scores based on if they will enhance your application.

So, if you’d rather avoid applying to the Ivy League, that’s completely fine. Just be aware that you will still have your work cut out for you to get accepted to any of the other top colleges in the US.

Here are our top college interview prep strategies!

How to Get Into the Top Non-Ivy League Schools

To increase your chances of getting into any of the top non-Ivy League schools, you’ll need to do some prep work and get ready for college applications. After that, it’s all about maximizing your competitiveness during the application season.

1. Research college preferences and profiles

Every college will have a slightly different approach to admissions, although they all want to admit the best candidates. Who the best candidates are can change depending on the institution.

A good rule is to check a school’s mission statement or statement of values. This will give you some insight into what they are looking for in their applicants.

Next, whether a college is private or public can tell you something about their overall profile. In general, public universities tend to prefer in-state applicants and have higher in-state acceptance rates. Private institutions are generally more favorable to out-of-state applicants. Public colleges tend to have a wider variety of academic programs and are more affordable. On the other hand, private institutions usually have better financial aid options and may have unique program options.

Finally, check to see which schools use the Common App and which ones accept the Coalition App. This will determine which application type you use and may affect what materials you need to gather. Note that if you’re applying to any of the schools in the UC rankings, there is a separate application system for these colleges.

2. Check individual program requirements

Before you add a college to your list, make sure you have a reasonable chance of being accepted based on your academic profile. Some schools will list minimum GPA and standardized test score requirements, while others will not.

While it is possible to get into college with a low GPA, you have a better chance if your GPA is at or above the average accepted GPA of previous students. If you fall short, focus on improving your GPA as much as possible before you graduate.

Similarly, check out the average SAT and ACT scores of previously accepted students so you know what a good SAT score or ACT score is for that college. No matter what, it’s crucial to learn how to study for the ACT and how to study for the SAT, depending on which test you take, so you can ace the exam and earn the best score possible. This will increase your chances of getting into more colleges with a competitive score.

3. Craft your application

Aside from your academic record, the bulk of your college applications will center around your non-academic experiences and accomplishments. The core of your application will include:

All of these are just as important to getting into the top non-Ivy League schools as your GPA and standardized test scores. These are the application items that truly personalize your app and help it stand out from the competition.

It’s key to take the time to brainstorm, draft and revise your essays, including proofreading them and asking someone else to review them for you and provide feedback. If your essays are not polished, it will weaken your application.

For your extracurriculars, start exploring your options as early as possible in your high school years. Particularly invest your time in activities that are appealing to you and your interests, not just something that checks a box but doesn’t grab your attention or passions. Apply to a summer program for high school students that aligns with your interests or find internships for high school students that give you experience in your desired field.

4. Prepare for supplemental essays

After your primary college application, many of these top schools will ask you to write supplemental college essays. Unlike your college application essay, these tend to be more focused and specific to each individual school. If you’ve thoroughly researched your target schools and know what they are looking for in their candidates, this step will be much easier. Take the time to review the prompts and topics and brainstorm a little. Think of experiences you can write about that you haven’t covered in your college essay or extracurriculars. This is your opportunity to help your application stand out.

Since supplemental college essay prompts can be unique to each school, here are some examples from some of the top non-Ivy League schools:

5. Ace your interviews

College interviews at the top non-Ivy League schools can actually be quite similar to Ivy League interview questions. It’s worth reviewing what type of questions Ivies and other top schools ask applicants, as well as the more garden-variety college admissions interview questions.

Top colleges often use the admissions interview as a way to make final admissions decisions and evaluate top candidates, so it’s extremely important to ace them. Review the questions you can expect to be asked and start preparing for your interviews well ahead of time.

Of course, some colleges will use the interview as a way for you to find out more about a school and ask questions. While these might not factor into your applicant evaluation, they are still important. Come to these interviews with a list of questions to ask your interviewer.

Applying to Ivy League vs. Non-Ivy League Schools

When considering both the top non-Ivy League schools and the prestigious Ivies, how do you decide which ones to apply to? Should you apply to exclusively one group? Apply to both?

The truth is, you should craft a university list that includes the schools that are right for you, not the ones that are the most prestigious or highest-ranking. Your list may end up including both non-Ivy League and Ivy League schools, but there is no harm in dropping the Ivies from consideration. There are many excellent schools to choose from, and just because a school is part of the Ivy League, doesn’t automatically make it the best or even the best for YOU.

For instance, MIT is the best engineering school in the US, so it is usually a dream program for any applicants wanting to become an engineer. New York University and Yale University are home to some of the best film programs in the US, yet only Yale is an Ivy League school. None of the Ivy Leagues make it onto the list of best music programs in the US, yet many of the top non-Ivy League schools we listed above do.

When you’re drawing up your list of colleges to apply to, consider the following questions:

Which schools am I most interested in?

Choose your colleges based on what academic programs they offer, where they’re located, what the campus culture is like, and what their teaching philosophy is. Does the college have student clubs you’re interested in? Does the school have interesting and unique opportunities for learning within your academic program? What is the curriculum like?

Whatever college you’re accepted to will be your home for the next 4 years, so it’s important to pick ones that have your stamp of approval!

Where do I have the best chance of admission?

When evaluating admissions statistics and comparing them to your student profile, which colleges do you stand a realistic chance of getting in? It’s of course common to include “reach” schools, but the majority of your list should include colleges where you are a competitive applicant, increasing your chances of getting in. If you want to stack the odds in your favor, you can also consult some professional college application help.

Which schools will best help me reach my career goals?

Does a college have good career support and development resources? Access to a strong alumni or professional network in your field? Many students are drawn to Ivy League schools for the connections they can provide you, but many non-Ivy League schools also have robust career development resources to help launch your future after graduation, too.

What schools are affordable on my budget?

College tuition is always an important factor to consider. Non-Ivy League schools aren’t necessarily the cheapest colleges to attend, but they do tend to be more affordable and accessible to the average student. Check out the tuition for potential colleges, but more importantly their financial aid programs. Ivy League schools often have good financial aid for students, but many of the top non-Ivy schools have strong financial aid programs as well to help offset the cost of school.


1. What are the best non-Ivy League schools?

Some of the best non-Ivy League schools include well-known institutions such as MIT, Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Chicago. Although there are many excellent universities and colleges in the US, excluding the Ivies.

2. Are the top non-Ivy League schools just as good?

Yes. The Ivy League is an exclusive “club” of 8 schools in the US, known for their prestige and excellence. However, this doesn’t mean that all the other non-Ivy schools are bad or not up to the same standard. The US has some of the best and highest-ranking universities in the world, both public and private.

3. Are the top non-Ivy League schools just as competitive?

Non-Ivy League schools can be just as competitive to get into as Ivy League colleges. Many of the top schools in the US have admissions criteria and selection factors that are just as selective as the Ivy League schools, and acceptance rates can be just as low, too.

4. What is the easiest Ivy League school to get into?

The easiest Ivy League school to get into is Cornell University. This is only in comparison to other Ivies, though, so it doesn’t mean Cornell is the easiest college to get into overall.

5. Is MIT an Ivy League school?

No, MIT is not an Ivy League school, although it is one of the best-known and highest-ranked schools overall in the US, including Ivy League colleges. MIT is usually ranked as the top non-Ivy League school.

6. What GPA do I need for the top non-Ivy League schools?

Not every school will set a minimum GPA for admission (none of the Ivies do!), but it’s worth checking out what the average accepted GPA is of students at your target schools. You should aim to maintain a GPA at or ideally above the average, for the best chance of admission.

7. What SAT or ACT score do I need for the top non-Ivy League schools?

The SAT or ACT score you need to get into your dream school will depend on what the average accepted scores are at that institution. Check for the latest scores accepted at your school and consider your ideal score to be at or above this average. Keep in mind there are some colleges that do not require the SAT or ACT and have adopted a test-optional policy. In this case consider if you should take the SAT or ACT or not.

8. Is it worth applying to non-Ivy League schools?

Yes, it is definitely worth applying to schools outside the Ivy League. The schools you apply to should be based on which ones are the best fit for you and your education goals, not on their level of prestige or reputation.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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