Ask ten people you know where to find the best coffee in town, and it’s doubtful they’ll all agree. It makes sense–your neighbor might be a cappuccino diehard who prefers that hole-in-the-wall local joint while your best friend exclusively drinks frozen concoctions from Starbucks. However, if the SBUX drive-thru line is around the building, you’d be wise to go out on a limb and check out the Other Place down the street–you might just discover that they offer killer breakfast sandwiches on homemade bagels. Similarly, while the eight colleges that comprise the Ivy League are often viewed as the pinnacle of selectivity and academic rigor, there are dozens of comparable options waiting to be discovered. If you’d like to avoid crushing sub-ten Ivy League acceptance rates, frigid Northeast winters, and/or sky-high tuition without compromising academic rigor, one of the Public Ivies could be a fantastic choice for you.

What are the Public Ivies?

As tuition fees rise and acceptance rates plummet at private institutions, high schoolers are finding it more and more necessary to diversify their college lists. Accordingly, there has been a push by college counselors and professionals to expose students and families to new, previously unexplored possibilities. This effort has resulted in new types of rankings systems, from Colleges That Change Lives to the “Little Ivies.” To sum it up, today’s college applicant wants options.

The original Public Ivy list was borne from a similar sentiment. In 1985, Richard Moll, a former admissions officer at Yale, Bowdoin, Vassar, and UC Santa Cruz who helped develop the Common Application, released his book: The Public Ivys: A Guide to America’s Best Colleges and Universities. In doing so, he hoped to highlight excellent public institutions that offered Ivy-equivalent educations at affordable prices. To qualify for Moll’s list, colleges needed to offer rigorous academic programs, possess the resources necessary to hire top-notch faculty, feature a selective admissions process, and provide a certain type of campus environment. Accordingly, his list of 15 colleges included the entire UC system, the College of William and Mary, Miami University of Ohio, the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, UNC-Chapel Hill, UT Austin, the University of Vermont, and the University of Virginia.

Has the list of Public Ivy League schools changed since 1985?

In 2001, Howard and Matthew Greene, a team of educational consultants, released The Public Ivies: America’s Flagship Public Institutions. In their book, they reevaluated and expanded upon Moll’s original list, identifying a total of thirty colleges and universities that they felt qualified as Public Ivy contenders.

While the Ivy League itself is static–Columbia, Yale, Brown, UPenn, Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, and Cornell will forever be the only eight–the Public Ivies are not. However, the current lists represent the best efforts of those at the forefront of college admissions to help students and families identify excellent, affordable institutions at which to begin their post-secondary journeys.

How should I assess whether a Public Ivy is a good fit for me?

You’ll want to consider selectivity, cost, and academic program strength. Public Ivies like Miami University–Oxford and the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities recently accepted 89% and 73% of applicants, respectively. However, UC Berkeley accepts 15% of applicants while Georgia Tech only accepts 18%.

In regard to cost, Public Ivy League schools are typically much more affordable. While private Ivy League institutions have endless multibillion-dollar endowments with which to subsidize tuition costs for the neediest students, middle-class and wealthy families can expect to pay the full cost of attendance. However, not only do Public Ivies offer competitive tuition rates for in-state and out-of-state students, but they also often provide merit and athletic scholarships to talented applicants. For middle-class families who may not qualify for much financial aid but can’t afford the yearly $75,000+ price tag at a private institution, such scholarships can be especially significant.

Finally, it is important to consider academic program strength at the Public Ivies. Ivy League schools are generally considered to be strong across all academic offerings. However, since Public Ivies typically enroll many more thousands of students, they may have just a few standout programs. For example, SUNY Binghamton’s accounting, chemistry, psychology, and nursing programs are most well-respected, while Pitt is known for its business and engineering schools. Prospective English majors should check out UC Berkeley, and animal science students would do well to investigate UC Davis.

That said, Public Ivies may also offer incredibly selective and highly regarded honors programs–such as Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College or the Clemson University Honors College–that provide a comparable experience to elite liberal arts schools. In addition, smaller Public Ivies can offer a more intimate academic and campus environment, such as The College of William and Mary (6,236 students) or the New College of Florida (646 students).

List of Public Ivies

According to our most recent research on affordability, return on investment, and academic offerings, we’ve compiled the best public institutions from both Moll’s and Greene’s lists–in addition to a few new selections–to create a robust array of options across the United States.

Binghamton University (SUNY)

With a 92% retention rate, SUNY Binghamton is best known for its program in accounting, which is regarded highly by NYC-based companies. Its offerings in chemistry, psychology, and nursing are similarly strong.

  • Acceptance Rate: 44% (in-state: 40%; out-of-state: 74%)
  • Average GPA: 3.99
  • In-state tuition: $7,070
  • Out-of-state tuition: $24,910

Clemson University

Highly regarded academic programs include business and engineering. In addition, the Clemson University Honors College is incredibly selective (admitted students are ranked in the top 4% of their class).

  • Acceptance Rate: 49% (in-state: 55%; out-of-state: 48%)
  • Average GPA: 4.38
  • In-state tuition: $15,558
  • Out-of-state tuition: $38,550

College of William and Mary

One of the smaller Public Ivies, the College of William and Mary has notable programs in government, international relations, and business. In 2020, 94% of graduates confirmed that their first jobs aligned with their career goals.

  • Acceptance Rate: 37% (out-of-state: 31%; in-state: 44%)
  • Average GPA: 4.3
  • In-state tuition: $17,434
  • Out of state tuition: $40,089

Florida State University

Comprised of sixteen colleges, Florida State offers over 100 baccalaureate programs. Top-ranked offerings include the College of Motion Picture Arts and the College of Business.

  • Acceptance Rate: 37% (in-state: 51%; out-of-state: 21%)
  • Average GPA: 4.17
  • In-state tuition: $5,616
  • Out-of-state tuition: $18,746

Georgia Tech

In addition to highly ranked engineering and computer science programs, Georgia Tech also has excellent offerings in business and architecture. A standout internship and co-op program helps propel graduates to top companies and high starting salaries.

  • Acceptance Rate: 18% (in-state: 35%; out-of-state: 13%)
  • Average GPA: 4.10
  • In-state tuition: $10,258
  • Out-of-state tuition: $31,370

Indiana University Bloomington

IU draws many out-of-state students–46% of the student body, to be precise. Its top programs are within the Kelley School of Business, closely followed by computer science.

  • Acceptance Rate: 85%
  • Average GPA: 3.74
  • In-state tuition: $11,446
  • Out-of-state tuition: $39,118

Miami University–Oxford

Among Ohio public institutions, Miami takes top spot for return on investment and four-year graduation rate. Its most reputable programs are within the Farmer School of Business and College of Engineering and Computing, but it also offers excellent options in architecture, sports management, and kinesiology.

  • Acceptance Rate: 89%
  • Average GPA: 3.85
  • In-state tuition: $17,463
  • Out-of-state tuition: $38,493

Michigan State University

With over 200 programs to choose from, Michigan offers a slate of highly regarded programs, including ones in business/marketing, social sciences, communication/journalism, and the health professions. In 2021, 76% of the class completed at least one internship.

  • Acceptance Rate: 83%
  • Average GPA: 3.72
  • In-state tuition: $15,436
  • Out-of-state tuition: $42,022

New College of Florida

New College boasts an average class size of just 12 students, and all students must complete three independent studies as well as a capstone experience. Their top programs include biology, chemistry, computer science, and environmental studies.

  • Acceptance Rate: 74%
  • Average GPA: 3.91
  • In-state tuition: $6,916
  • Out-of-state tuition: $29,944

The Ohio State University–Columbus

Highly rated undergraduate programs include business and engineering. Within the Fisher School of Business, 95% of students participate in an internship or work experience. 20% of undergraduates study abroad, the highest figure of any Big Ten university.

  • Acceptance Rate: 57% (in-state: 58%; out-of-state: 53%)
  • Average GPA: N/A, but 90% placed in the top quarter of their graduating class.
  • In-state tuition: $12,485
  • Out-of-state tuition: $36,722

Pennsylvania State University–University Park

With almost 300 academic programs, Penn State offers an incredible array of academic choices and is viewed positively by prestigious national fellowship organizations. The College of Engineering and College of Business both do well in the national rankings.

  • Acceptance Rate: 58%
  • Average GPA: N/A, but 75% placed in the top quarter of their graduating class.
  • In-state tuition: $19,286
  • Out-of-state tuition: $38,651

Purdue University–West Lafayette

The College of Engineering is often featured on “top ten” engineering school lists. Krannert School of Management is highly regarded in addition to programs in computer science and agriculture.

  • Acceptance Rate: 69% (in-state: 81%; out-of-state: 70%)
  • Average GPA: N/A, but 77% placed in the top quarter of their graduating class.
  • In-state tuition: $9,992
  • Out-of-state tuition: $28,794

Rutgers University (New Brunswick)

One of the oldest universities in the country, Rutgers is well-known for its top-notch programs in business, computer science, public health, and criminal justice. 39% of classes enroll 19 or fewer students.

  • Acceptance Rate: 68% (in-state: 67%; out-of-state: 69%)
  • Average GPA: N/A, but 66% placed in the top quarter of their graduating class.
  • In-state tuition: $12,900
  • Out-of-state tuition: $30,600

University of Arizona

Programs with fantastic national reputations include business, engineering, and the geosciences. Across all disciplines, the university promotes hands-on learning and faculty mentors through a number of undergraduate research programs.

  • Acceptance Rate: 87%
  • Average GPA: 3.48
  • In-state tuition: $13,200
  • Out-of-state tuition: $39,600

UC System

The UC System is comprised of eight excellent institutions: Berkeley (internationally esteemed for programs in computer science, engineering, chemistry, and English, among others), Davis (known for engineering, computer science, and animal science), Irvine (regarded for offerings in engineering, computer science, and public health), Los Angeles (highly ranked in computer science, engineering, film, fine and performing arts…the list goes on), Riverside (known for anthropology, business, and computer science), San Diego (regarded for excellence in engineering, computer science, biology, economics, and political science), Santa Barbara (highly ranked for communication, computer science, engineering, and physics, to name a few), and Santa Cruz (known for computer and information sciences).

  • Acceptance Rate: Berkeley (15%), Davis (49%), Irvine (29%–in-state: 20%; out-of-state: 74%), Los Angeles (11%– in-state: 10%; out-of-state: 14%), Riverside (66%–in-state: 64%; out-of-state: 80%), San Diego (34%– in-state: 28%; out-of-state: 60%), Santa Barbara (29%– in-state: 28%; out-of-state: 36%), Santa Cruz (59%– in-state: 55%; out-of-state: 81%)
  • Average GPA: ranges from 3.84-4.25, depending on campus
  • In-state tuition: ranges from $13,804-$15,348, depending on campus
  • Out-of-state tuition: ranges from $43,739-$46,374, depending on campus

University of Colorado Boulder

CU Boulder’s College of Engineering and Leeds School of Business possess strong national reputations (80% of Leeds students pursue internships during their undergraduate years). 50% of classes have fewer than 20 students.

  • Acceptance Rate: 80%
  • Average GPA: 3.68
  • In-state tuition: $30,452
  • Out-of-state tuition: $57,702

University of Connecticut

Factoring in prestige and national reputation, UConn’s strongest offerings are in business, pharmacy, and nursing. Many courses enroll fewer than 20 students–53%, to be exact.

  • Acceptance Rate: 56% (in-state: 51%; out-of-state: 58%)
  • Average GPA: N/A, but 81% placed in the top quarter of their graduating class.
  • In-state tuition: $15,672
  • Out-of-state tuition: $38,340

University of Delaware

Highly ranked departments include business and engineering; nursing is also quite popular. 30% of students spend a semester abroad through the nation’s oldest study abroad program.

  • Acceptance Rate: 70% (in-state: 73%; out-of-state: 71%)
  • Average GPA: 3.92
  • In-state tuition: $6,685
  • Out-of-state tuition: $17,945

University of Florida

Here, you’ll find the University of Florida Honors Program–one of the largest in the country, with class sizes capped at 25 students. Standout departments include business and engineering.

  • Acceptance Rate: 30% (in-state: 59%; out-of-state: 19%)
  • Average GPA: N/A, but 98% placed in the top quarter of their graduating class.
  • In-state tuition: $6,380
  • Out-of-state tuition: $28,658

University of Georgia

The first state-sponsored university in the country, UGA offers highly ranked programs in animal science, business, communications, and public and international affairs. Undergraduate research is highly encouraged across all disciplines.

  • Acceptance Rate: 40%
  • Average GPA: 4.10
  • In-state tuition: $9,790
  • Out-of-state tuition: $28,830

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

The flagship campus of the Illinois system, UIUC offers 150 academic programs. The Grainger College of Engineering and Gies College of Business (particularly the accounting department) are both direct pipelines to top firms and companies.

  • Acceptance Rate: 60%
  • Average GPA: N/A, but 85% placed in the top quarter of their graduating class.
  • In-state tuition: $17,138-$22,324
  • Out-of-state tuition: $35,110-$42,796

University of Iowa 

Ranked as one of the top 35 public institutions in the United States, the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business has an excellent national reputation. In addition, English and creative writing students have access to resources in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, the country’s most highly regarded MFA program.

  • Acceptance Rate: 86%
  • Average GPA: 3.81
  • In-state tuition: $10,353
  • Out-of-state tuition: $32,316

University of Maryland–College Park

The university’s most highly respected departments include the Robert H. Smith School of Business, the A. James Clark School of Engineering, and the Merrill College of Journalism. Programs in computer science and criminology are also well-regarded, and UMD offers one of the nation’s best honors colleges.

  • Acceptance Rate: 52%
  • Average GPA: 4.34
  • In-state tuition: $5,616.50
  • Out-of-state tuition: $19,734.50

University of Michigan–Ann Arbor

With a 96% freshman retention rate, Michigan is one of the best public research universities in the country. Highly ranked schools within the university include the Ross School of Business and the College of Engineering.

  • Acceptance Rate: 20% (in-state: 39%; out-of-state: 18%)
  • Average GPA: 3.88
  • In-state tuition: $16,736
  • Out-of-state tuition: $55,334

University of Minnesota–Twin Cities 

An impressive number of programs command national attention, including accounting, business, every branch of engineering, chemistry, economics, psychology, and political science. 63% of classes enroll less than 29 students.

  • Acceptance Rate: 73%
  • Average GPA: N/A, but 78% placed in the top quarter of their graduating class.
  • In-state tuition: $16,108
  • Out-of-state tuition: $35,348

UNC Chapel Hill 

Although just about every program at Chapel Hill is well-regarded by top companies and graduate schools alike, the Kenan-Flager School of Business is internationally renowned. In addition, the school has strong programs in chemistry, journalism, psychology, and political science.

  • Acceptance Rate: 20% (in-state: 43%; out-of-state: 8%)
  • Average GPA: 4.42
  • In-state tuition: $7,020
  • Out-of-state tuition: $37,360

University of Pittsburgh–Pittsburgh Campus

Pitt’s engineering and business schools, in addition to their premed offerings, are highly rated. 43% of classes have less than twenty students, and their Honors College requires SAT scores in the 99th percentile and above.

  • Acceptance Rate: 67%
  • Average GPA: 4.1
  • In-state tuition: $19,760-$24,878
  • Out-of-state tuition: $36,000-$45,158

UT Austin 

UT has several standout programs: the Cockrell School of Engineering, the McCombs School of Business (particularly accounting and marketing), and computer science. In addition, the highly regarded Plan II Honors Program admits just 175 freshmen every year.

  • Acceptance Rate: 29% (in-state: 38%; out-of-state: 13%)
  • Average GPA: N/A, but 96% placed in the top quarter of their graduating class.
  • In-state tuition: $5,429-$6,788
  • Out-of-state tuition: $19,325-$23,249

University of Virginia 

UVA features seven esteemed colleges/schools; the highest-ranked offerings include those within the McIntire School of Commerce and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Other prestigious departments include computer science, economics, and political philosophy, policy, and law.

  • Acceptance Rate: 21% (in-state: 29%; out-of-state: 17%)
  • Average GPA: 4.35
  • In-state tuition: $14,188-$22,566
  • Out-of-state tuition: $48,036-$56,730

University of Washington–Seattle

UW Seattle’s most notable offerings are in the College of Engineering. That said, it features dozens of top-ranked programs in everything from business to social work to environmental science. 68% of 2020 grads completed at least one internship.

  • Acceptance Rate: 53% (in-state: 56%; out-of-state: 52%)
  • Average GPA: 3.82
  • In-state tuition: $12,242
  • Out-of-state tuition: $40,740

University of Wisconsin-Madison 

With highly ranked programs in engineering and business, UW-Madison has fantastic graduate outcomes. 22 students earned National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships in 2022.

  • Acceptance Rate: 60%
  • Average GPA: 3.9
  • In-state tuition: $10,722
  • Out-of-state tuition: $39,354

Final Thoughts on Public Ivies

As the competition for spots at top colleges mounts, and as return on investment becomes increasingly scrutinized, students and parents will do well to seriously consider the Public Ivy League schools. In the years to come, additional higher education institutions will undoubtedly be added to this ever-growing list of excellent and affordable options.