While many use the term “Ivy League” as a colloquialism referring to highly regarded private universities with highly selective admissions processes, the Ivy League is actually an athletic conference – an athletic conference that just happens to be composed exclusively of some of the best schools in the world. With that distinction made, many people still lust after the Ivy League pedigree even if some schools are just as well regarded without actually being an Ivy League institution; MIT and Stanford come to mind.
The Ivy League consists of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Cornell, Columbia, Dartmouth, and Penn – all schools located in the northeast. What if you want to attend college in the south to be near your family or due to an aversion to cold climates? Well, there are plenty of world-renowned institutions of higher learning in the American south, and it just so happens that eight of them provide educational experiences and pedigrees that many would say are comparable to that of the “Ivy League.” While a few of the colleges on this list may not be traditionally as highly regarded, they are still considered well-respected substitutes for the eight schools of the Ivy League and a paper from one of these institutions will certainly never hold you back from your ambitious dreams. The term “Harvard of the South” is often associated with all eight of these elite southern colleges, but I prefer to call these colleges “the Magnolia League.”
The College of William & Mary
Founded in 1693, the College of William & Mary is the second oldest college in the United States, only Harvard is older. Adding to the school’s prestige factor is the fact that William & Mary counts three former United States Presidents among its alumni: Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler. The Virginia institution regularly ranks among the top five public universities in the country academically and the U.S. colonial history program is considered one of the tops in the nation.
Duke is one of the most selective colleges in the country, with an undergraduate admission rate that is consistently lower than some of the Ivy League schools. The North Carolina school is regarded for its top-notch undergraduate education including its biomedical engineering program, in addition to phenomenal law, medical, and business schools. According to Forbes, Duke ranks 11th among universities for producing billionaires and is the top-ranked southern school for producing billionaires.
Located in Atlanta, Georgia, Emory University is one of the most selective universities in the country and hosts some of the academic world’s most respected faculty. The undergraduate program consistently hovers around the top 10 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, and the school’s biomedical engineering, public health, business, law, and nursing programs are widely regarded as some of the best in the nation.
Rice is one of the most selective schools in the nation and as an undergrad institution consistently ranks with the Ivy League schools in terms of academic quality and rigor. The university is particularly well-regarded for its natural science and engineering programs, but all of its science programs frequently receive acclaim from the experts. While the uninitiated may associate Houston with nothing more than suburban sprawl, the Texas metropolis is actually home to the second largest theater district in the nation and a world-class museum district; the strong cultural development of downtown Houston and the city’s international flair only increase the Ivy League feel of this small, selective college.
Tulane is one of the many schools across the south that have been dubbed “the Harvard of the South” at some point, and while the school’s admission requirements are not as rigorous as the Ivy League schools, many of its programs are among the oldest in the nation with some being THE oldest in the south. Tulane was a pioneer in bringing focused programs in law, medicine, social work, public health, business and political economy to the deep south. Tulane’s Latin American studies, political economy, maritime law, environmental law, medical, biomedical engineering, energy trading, and finance programs are regarded as some of the nation’s finest.
University of Virginia
The University of Virginia, along with the College of William & Mary, has been considered a “public Ivy” since the term was coined in 1985, but UVA has been regarded as a prestigious institution of higher learning since its founding in 1819. That is to be expected from a school that counts former United States Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe among its first board members. The University of Virginia is largely considered to be the best or second best public university in the country and is particularly well-regarded for its law, architecture, literature, teaching, and psychology programs.
Vanderbilt is a highly selective university with some of the toughest admission standards in the country, as would be expected from a school that consistently offers one of the top 20 undergraduate programs in the nation. The school offers top programs in a wide array of academic disciplines spanning from the liberal arts to the hard sciences. Some of the most well-regarded programs at Vanderbilt include the school’s law, medical, management, Portuguese, Spanish, comparative literature, natural sciences and mathematics, pharmacology, and life and agricultural sciences.
Wake Forest University
Wake Forest University is a very selective private school, although admission is a bit less competitive than the majority of the “Southern Ivies.” Regardless of the slightly less competitive admission process, the school’s undergraduate division is regarded for its faculty and student engagement. Wake Forest’s law, medical, business management, and accounting programs are particularly well regarded.
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