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A new category in the college directory: the new ivies

Students are opting for colleges in their own prestigious league

A new category in the college directory: the new ivies

So, you’ve worked your tail off for the past three years in high school and you’re about to enjoy the fruits of your labor: putting together the list of top colleges that you’ll apply to. Every year, top high school students who exceeded their goal SAT scores, who took AP classes and who have been on the high honor roll every semester tend to apply to a lot of the same schools, especially the Ivy League colleges.

At some especially competitive high schools, one hears about top students trying to talk each other out of applying to their school of choice. But there’s no reason for students to do this when there are many colleges providing elite academics, gorgeous campuses and vibrant student life that match, if not rival, those of the Ivy League.


What are “New Ivies?”

Newsweek coined the “new Ivies” in 2006: the magazine posited that previously, smart kids from high schools around the country dispersed among the Ivy League schools, plus Stanford and MIT. But, Newsweek wrote, “in the past few decades, the number of college-bound students has skyrocketed, and so has the number of world-class schools. The demand for an excellent education has created an ever-expanding supply of big and small campuses that provide great academics and first-rate faculties.” 

A college directory won't come up with a specific number of new Ivies; the term is loosely used to define a competitive college with great academics and student life that attracts the same kind of students who apply to Ivies. 

William Johnson, a publicity and communications executive who represents a number of new Ivies, says, “The number of students who can get into Harvard these days as opposed to 20 years ago is so much bigger…since everyone can’t go to Harvard, families are casting wider nets…Once students see what these other schools have to offer, the entire Ivy myth is shattered. There are so many schools that have broad-based academic excellence, as well as niche areas where they are actually superior to what Ivies offer, that consumers are becoming smarter about it.”

Christina Foglia, a freshman at Nova Southeastern University (College Match-Nova), graduated in June 2010 from Valley Stream North High School, a competitive public high school on Long Island. She says, “There were lots of really, really intelligent kids at my school and a lot of them probably could have gone to Yale and Cornell, but instead there was a lot more variety of schools that people went to.” 

Foglia cites schools like NYU, Boston College, Villanova, Binghamton University and Temple as alternative picks. 

“Part of it is definitely just financial, that someone who could have gone to Harvard but goes to Boston College can probably get more grants at Boston College…But I also think part of it is that if kids decide to go somewhere like Cornell, but not Cornell, they feel like they’ll be around students who are just as driven and smart but may also be a little calmer and I think that might be something that makes ‘new Ivies’ popular.”


How new ivies are different

In addition to potentially offering a slightly more relaxed student body, the new Ivies may also be slightly more affordable, mostly because of their inclusion of public schools. While the traditional Ivy League is made entirely of private colleges and universities, the college directory of new Ivies include many public colleges. 

SUNY Buffalo earns “New Ivy” status with its Honors College, a highly selective college within the University of Buffalo that makes the academic resources of a huge research university available to an elite group of 1,000 students (as opposed to the general undergraduate enrollment of 19,000). 

Genevieve Lerner, a junior in SUNY Buffalo’s Honors College ( especially enjoyed the colloquium aspect of the Honors College’s freshman curriculum: “All 400 of us [frosh] honors students took the same class, and…Then they broke us up in even smaller groups to do service work. So in addition to having these weekly colloquium meetings and having all the kids in our year working on the same class, my group built a house [for a needy family] for our service project. We ended up bonding by going totally out of our comfort zone together, and I’m not sure I would have experienced something like that as a freshman anywhere else.”


How they’re the same

Beautiful campuses are a calling card for most prestigious colleges and the new Ivies are no exception. When Robert Frost was poet-in-residence at Miami University of Ohio (, he described it as “the most beautiful college there ever was.” Says Tina McCormack Beaty, a 2005 Miami University graduate and senior director of C. Fox Communications, “You come out of the cornfields and find this campus that looks like a movie set.” 

At Rice University in Houston, Texas, sometimes referred to as “the southern Ivy,” the grassy campus set in Houston’s southwest quadrant has a famously beautiful library and hammocks that hang from trees on the quad. 

New Ivies can be small like Darmouth or big like Harvard. Whitman College, a very competitive private college in Walla Walla, Wash., has an enrollment of 1,450 students, but the University of Illinois boasts an undergraduate enrollment of 31,500. 

One thing that almost all new Ivies share is first-rate academics and a variety of interesting classes offered. When Sammi Esterman was a student at the University of Illinois, although she focused on communications classes, she once took a vegetable gardening class. 

“A main point potential U of I students need to realize is that a big school does not mean students will get lost in the shuffle...That’s not true.” Esterman found community in her major classes...and her vegetable garden.


How to get in

When applying to a new Ivy, it’s helpful to have a solid GPA, SAT scores and a robust activities resume. But the beauty of the new Ivies is that the college directory has enough competitive colleges for virtually everyone who wants to attend a college with impressive academics, a beautiful campus, and other driven students! 

Liz Funk is the New York-based author of Supergirls Speak Out, a non-fiction look at the lives of overachieving girls in high school and college. 


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