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What Are Public Ivy League Schools?

By Zach Skillings

Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

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and Cece Gilmore

Cece Gilmore is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cece earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Arizona State University. While at ASU, she was the education editor as well as a published staff reporter at Downtown Devil. Cece was also the co-host of her own radio show on Blaze Radio ASU.

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Reviewed by Bill Jack

Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: January 25th, 2024
What Are Public Ivy League Schools?

Most people have heard of Ivy League schools. These highly prestigious private universities are known for their top-notch academic programs, as well as their hefty tuition rates. Many students dream of attending one of these schools, but the low acceptance rates make it tough to obtain an Ivy League education. 

But what if we told you that it’s possible to achieve an education that’s on par with Ivy League schools without stressing about low acceptance rates or breaking the bank? You can do so by choosing to attend one of the many “Public Ivies.” This select group of public universities are known for their distinguished academic programs and low in-state tuition costs. 

Related: Top Ivy League scholarships

What is a Public Ivy?

The Public Ivies are a group of prestigious public schools that have a stellar reputation for academic excellence. These colleges and universities are known for providing an Ivy League-level education at a fraction of the cost (when attending in-state). The concept of “Public Ivy” schools was introduced by Richard Moll, who coined the term in his 1985 book, The Public Ivies: A Guide to America’s Best Public Undergraduate Colleges and Universities. Moll deemed eight schools worthy of Public Ivy status, based on the following basic criteria:

  • High academic rigor
  • Resources to spend on exceptional faculty and facilities
  • Enrolling the best and brightest students 

Many schools have since been added to the list of Public Ivies, which we’ll explore in a later section.

What are the original Public Ivy schools? 

The list of Public Ivies has gone through many revisions over time, but let’s start with Richard Moll’s original 1985 list. Here’s a breakdown, in order of lowest acceptance rate to highest: 

  School State Acceptance Rate Undergraduate Enrollment   In-state Tuition  Out-of-state Tuition 
1 UNC Chapel Hill  NC 25% 19,261 $7,020 $37,360
2 University of Michigan MI 26% 31,189 $16,736 $55,334
3 University of Virginia VA 23% 17,076 $18,260 $52,218
4 University of Texas at Austin TX 32% 39,624 $11,248 $39,834
5 College of William and Mary VA 42% 6,217 $17,434 $40,089
6 University of Vermont VT 71% 10,585 $16,280 $41,280
7 Miami University OH 92% 16,418 $17,463 $38,493

Note that Richard Moll included the entire University of California school system in his list of eight Public Ivies. There were eight UC campuses in 1985, meaning that the total number of original Public Ivies is actually 15. Here’s a breakdown of the UC schools:

  School State Acceptance Rate Undergraduate Enrollment   In-state Tuition  Out-of-state Tuition 
1 UC Los Angeles CA 14% 31,636 $13,804 $31,026
2 UC Berkeley CA 17% 30,796 $14,796 $45,822
3 UC Irvine CA 30% 29,627 $11,928 $42,954
4 UC Santa Barbara CA 37% 23,166 $13,104  $44,130
5 UC San Diego  CA 37% 31,827 $17,361 $48,387
6 UC Davis CA 46% 31,142 $13,104 $44,130
7 UC Santa Cruz CA 65% 17,207 $14,640 $45,666
8 UC Riverside CA 66% 22,609 $13,104 $44,130

What other schools are considered Public Ivies? 

The collection of Public Ivies expanded when Howard and Matthew Greene published their 2001 book, The Public Ivies: America’s Flagship Public Universities. The Greene Public Ivies List includes over 30 universities, broken down by various U.S. regions. Take a look below: 

Northeastern Region             
  School State Acceptance Rate  Undergraduate Enrollment  In-state Tuition Out-of-state Tuition 
1 Binghamton University NY 43% 14,300 $7,070 $24,910
2 Pennsylvania State University at University Park PA 78% 73,189 $19,286 $38,651
3 University of Connecticut  CT 56% 18,658 $16,332 $39,000
4 Rutgers University – New Brunswick  NJ 67% 35,428 $12,900 $30,600
1 University of Virginia VA 23% 17,076 $18,260 $52,218
2 College of William and Mary VA 42% 6,217 $17,434 $40,089
3 University of Maryland MD 51% 30,214 $9,695 $37,931
4 University of Delaware DE 66% 18,618 $13,370 $35,890
1 UNC Chapel Hill  NC 25% 19,261 $7,020 $37,360
2 University of Texas at Austin TX 32% 39,624 $11,248 $39,834
3 University of Florida FL 31% 34,237 $6,380 $28,658

University of Georgia GA 48% 29,705 $12,080 $31,120
1 UC Los Angeles CA 14% 31,636 $13,804 $31,026
2 UC Berkeley CA 17% 30,796 $14,796 $45,822
3 UC Irvine CA 30% 29,627 $11,928 $42,954
4 UC Santa Barbara CA 37% 23,166 $13,104  $44,130
5 UC San Diego  CA 37% 31,827 $17,361 $48,387
6 UC Davis CA 46% 31,142 $13,104 $44,130
7 University of Washington  WA 56% 31,145 $12,242 $40,740
8 University of Colorado Boulder CO 84% 29,779 $13,106 $40,356
9 The University of Arizona AZ 85% 34,659 $13,254 $39,556
1 University of Michigan MI 26% 31,189 $16,736 $55,334
2 Ohio State University OH 68% 45,862 $12,485 $36,722
3 University of Wisconsin-Madison WI 57% 31,651 $10,798 $39,428
4 University of Minnesota MN 70% 30,907 $16,108 $35,348
5 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign IL 63% 33,001 $17,572 $35,210
6 Michigan State University MI 76% 38,413 $15,436  $42,022
7 Indiana University Bloomington IN 80% 32,621 $11,446 $39,118
8 Miami University OH 92% 16,418 $17,463 $38,493
9 University of Iowa IA 84% 21,909 $10,353 $32,316

What are the best Public Ivy Schools today?

As you can see, the list of Public Ivies has evolved over time, and it varies depending on who you ask. These days, there’s no official modern-day list. However, the following five schools are widely considered the cream of the crop when it comes to Public Ivies:  

  1. University of California, Berkeley
  2. University of California, Los Angeles
  3. University of Michigan
  4. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  5. University of Virginia 

All five of these schools were included in the original 1985 list, and they continue to be recognized as standout Public Ivies based on their prestige and academic reputation. 

Related: Scholarships360’s free scholarship search tool

What’s the difference between Public Ivies and Ivy League schools?

Let’s compare the experience of attending a Public Ivy to the experience of attending an Ivy League school.


One of the most attractive qualities about Public Ivies is that they are usually more affordable than Ivy League schools, especially for in-state students. Most Public Ivies charge between $10,000 and $20,000 per year for in-state tuition. Alternatively, tuition rates at Ivy League schools are usually upwards of $50,000. However, you should expect to pay a higher tuition rate if you’re planning to attend a Public Ivy as an out-of-state student. 

Financial Aid 

Although Public Ivies have lower tuition rates than Ivy League schools, they tend to offer less financial aid. Because Ivy League schools have substantial endowments and don’t have to rely on ever-changing state funding, they have the ability to offer bigger financial aid packages. Need-based financial aid at Public Ivies is typically reserved for in-state students. 

For instance, UC Berkeley does not grant need-based financial aid to out-of-state students. With that being said, there are still many scholarship and financial aid opportunities available for students looking to attend Public Ivies. 


Another big difference between Public Ivies and Ivy League schools is the student population. As you can tell by the lists above, Public Ivies tend to have undergraduate enrollment numbers in the tens of thousands. Alternatively, Ivy League schools have much smaller student bodies and lower student-faculty ratios. 


Acceptance rates among Public Ivy schools vary quite a bit. For example, UCLA admits 12.3% of its applicants while the University of Arizona admits 84.6% of applicants. For the most part, though, Public Ivies have admission rates in the 20-35% range. Alternatively, the average acceptance rate at Ivy League schools is about 5%. This means that even the most selective Public Ivy has a higher acceptance rate than that of all Ivy League schools. 

Learn more: What’s the difference between a public and private university?

Is a Public Ivy right for me?

If you’re seeking a relatively affordable education with a quality that’s on par with Ivy League schools, then Public Ivies are definitely an attractive option. Although selectivity and prestige vary from school to school, you’re sure to find a rewarding academic experience at any Public Ivy. That being said, Public Ivies are not the only option out there. Most are still quite selective, so if you do not gain admission to a Public Ivy, don’t let your hopes be dashed. There are many great public and private universities out there.

Also see: Scholarships360’s Top Colleges Rankings

Pros and cons of Public Ivies


  • Top-tier educational experience for public school tuition
  • Prestigious degree that will be helpful in pursuing a career or graduate degree
  • Networking opportunities with students and professors who will be industry leaders
  • Higher admittance rate than the Ivy League
  • Drastically lower cost for in-state students


  • Some Public Ivies don’t carry the same reputation that Private Ivies do
  • Less financial aid than private ivies (Unless you are in-state)
  • Most private Ivies are on the larger side, which can be a great fit for some students, but overwhelming for others

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Public Ivies offer top-notch educations at low in-state tuition rates
  • Students should research their options; while Public Ivies charge lower tuition, they usually offer less need-based financial aid (especially to out-of-state students)
  • UC Berkeley, UC Los Angeles, UMich, UNC Chapel Hill, and the University of Virginia are the most prestigious Public Ivies
  • The acceptance rates at Public Ivies vary, with an average acceptance of 20-35%
Key Takeaways

Keep reading: How to choose a college and What are the Hidden Ivies? 

Frequently asked questions about public ivy league colleges and universities 

How do Public Ivy schools compare to Ivy League schools?

Many public ivies offer a quality education that is comparable to those offered at Ivy League schools like Harvard and Princeton. However, they can come with a different price tag. If you attend an in-state public ivy, you will receive dramatically reduced tuition. However, public ivies may offer less in the way of merit aid than the Ivy League schools.

Additionally, a degree from a public ivy will carry with it a lot of prestige, but it may not be as recognizable or prestigious as a degree from an Ivy League school. That being said, most of the public ivies are well-known and prestigious, so earning a degree from any of them will be a huge asset to you in your career and future education.

How selective are Public Ivy schools?

While they are not typically as selective as their Ivy League counterparts, public ivies can be extremely selective, will acceptance rates ranging as low as 14%. However, other public ivies have higher rates, such as University of Vermont, which accepts 71% of applicants.

What is the alumni network like for Public Ivy schools?

One of the big attractions to Ivy League schools is the alumni network. Because the alumni of these schools have gone on to succeed in the world, they carry prominent positions and can offer other alumni impressive roles.

Many public ivies also have strong alumni networks. If you go to a school that offers a renowned program in your field of study, you could end up with an alumni network that is comparable to an Ivy League school. However, this will vary widely among the public ivies, depending on the school you attend and the field of study you pursue.

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