The New Ivies

These Top 10 Schools are the Next Generation of Excellence

By Unigo Editors

Once upon a time, Ivy League schools rested comfortably on their laurels, knowing their prestige gave them elite status among the world’s finest colleges. 30,000 student votes later, it’s clear that times are changing and the benchmarks for evaluating academic excellence and intellectual setting have shifted as well. With that in mind, we’re proud to present you with Unigo’s 2010 Rankings for The New Ivies, a quintessential list of schools every top-caliber student should take very seriously.


Carnegie Mellon University


The students at Carnegie Mellon, in Pittsburgh, PA, don’t beat around the bush. “Here is CMU's big selling point: the academics. They are great.” The approximately 6,000 undergrads at this Pittsburgh, PA school won’t stop raving about their “brilliant” professors who go out of their way to “know who you are”, and the “truly intellectual environment” this creates. There’s something else it also creates: “a workload that is not to be taken lightly.” “We’re forced into late night work/study sessions every other day,” said one. As a result, the rumor that “Carnegie Mellon is where fun goes to die” might just be accurate. As one sophomore confessed, “In general, the students are awkward.” But at least they get to be awkward together. “Everyone is awkward, everyone is a geek, everyone is driven, everyone is a work-a-holic. It’s great,” a senior said. “Everyone has a few quirks, and you don’t really need to hide them … we’re all just slightly not normal.” “But we’re also the campus tomorrow’s leaders are going to come from,” countered a sophomore. With recent alums as diverse as Andy Warhol, the founder of Juicy Couture, the CEO of Xerox and the actor Zachary Quinto, that’s not hard to believe. As a final student proclaimed: “Carnegie Mellon … it’s a place where you walk in smart, you walk out smarter, and you learn all you can.”


Duke University


Located in Durham, North Carolina, Duke’s huge 8,000-acre campus is often referred to as a Gothic Wonderland, and it provides an idyllic backdrop for students’ college experience. Not that students have much free time to appreciate it: “Duke is hard.” “Very hard.” “Classes are so hard.” Nonetheless, they rise to the occasion. “Duke is a top-notch college, so there’s really no f-----g around when it comes to getting down to the grind,” writes a sophomore engineering major. He adds: “Kids here are really smart.” They’re also proud of their alma mater. “Beyond the fact that our school has a legacy of successful sports programs to be proud of, we are a group of students who have tons of pride just because we love Duke!” While some complain that the undergrad population leans heavily towards privileged white students, others remark that they were surprised by the level of diversity they found on campus. “I for one come from one of the poorest cities in the nation, and by no means do I feel like I do not fit in,” writes a sophomore from Camden, NJ. “Duke has done a better job in the past years of bringing students from all walks of life to campus, which I feel refutes the claim that most of us are stuck up rich kids.” Further, “the students who attend tend to be sociable, intelligent and nice (and not quite as snobby as some Ivy League types.)” Overall, “the vast majority of people at Duke love it, and couldn’t dream of being anywhere else.”


Johns Hopkins University


“When I tell people I go to Hopkins, they ask me what type of doctor I want to be. Just because we have the greatest medical school in America does not mean that’s all we have to offer!” You’ll hear this a lot from Johns Hopkins students - they want you to know there’s more to this Baltimore school than just medicine. “As an International Relations major, I have access to some of the greatest minds in the nation.” “Social sciences and humanities are often overlooked – we’re actually in the top ten for a lot of humanities programs.” And so on, and so on. But, no matter what their major, all of the students at Hopkins are driven. “We all came to Hopkins because it’s going to get us where we want to be. It will get us into med school, to law school, to that big investment banking firm. We know it will get us there.” Until it does, Hopkins students hang out in the city of Baltimore. “The great thing about Hopkins is that it has both a campus and a city atmosphere. Baltimore is not a huge city, but it constantly surprises you and DC is just a short way away.” And, as with any school, Hopkins takes all types. “There are depressed people here, competitive people, people who cry over bad grades and do not have adequate communication skills … and there are also outgoing people, people who are happy in the library all the time, people who are committed to the ten volunteer activities they head.” Overall, students tend to agree. “JHU is an all-around great university, offering great experiences. It’s academically challenging, but ultimately very rewarding.”


New York University


New York University is one of the most talked-about schools in the country, in part because it tends to attract young celebs like the Olsen twins, who recently attended for a couple of semesters. But, lately, the celebrity gossip has faded into the background while the university’s strong academics have taken center stage. Students call the education “world-class”, and it’s true – with the Tisch School of the Arts and the Stern School of Business leading the way, NYU’s profile has grown to the point where many consider it to be on par with that other top college only a subway ride away. That said, NYU has something that other top college does not, a location right in the heart of New York City. This provides a “challenging, adventure-filled and completely unique college experience.” Much like the city’s residents, the school’s undergrads are a mixed bag of personalities and backgrounds, and all have their own reasons for attending NYU. A junior psychology major writes, “I love that everyone is from everywhere. Freshman year, my neighbors were two Lebanese twins from Jersey. Sophomore year, they were two girls from Holland and Switzerland.” “If there were three tables in the dining hall, one would be packed with white frat kids in polos chatting obnoxiously about sorostitutes, one would be filled with vivacious Indian kids (with the token Asian kid and white kid), and the last one would be artistic, musical kids of all ethnicities wearing band t-shirts, rockin’ crazy hair and Converses.” With all of this diversity, there is one constant for undergrads: because of their surroundings, students enjoy a completely unique college experience as members of the NYU community. “You’re in the heart of the city, you get to explore great areas and have a college experience unlike (and, in my opinion, much better than) that of any other school.”


Northwestern University


Braving the winter-quarter weather may not be the hardest part of life at Chicago’s Northwestern University, but it’s certainly one challenge its ambitious, motivated students could do without. However, “complaining about the cold brings us together,” says one sophomore; in lieu of successful sports uniting the student body at this Big Ten university, “there’s the cold, and our sense of academic pride.” This point about academic pride is an important one. Affectionately dubbed “Nerdwestern”, students here are stereotyped as being so focused on their education that they “don’t go out, don’t party, aren’t attractive, and don’t have sex.” But in real life, “it seems as though everyone you meet is a very intelligent, involved, down-to-earth, passionate person,” says a freshman. Students work hard while also “breaking free to have fun in the suburban Evanston community, minutes away from big-city Chicago.” Back on campus, a distinctive feature of Northwestern’s academics is the quarter system—instead of two semesters, the academic year is divided up into four equal quarters, each with its own midterm and final exam schedule. While some “complain about how relentless the quarter system can be in terms of workload”, others call it a highlight. “Because of the quarter system, we can double major within four years, or just take a lot more classes than you can at other schools,” writes a freshman. Adds a sophomore, “The shorter terms make the students work extremely hard, and prepare them for jobs with a great work ethic.” Said another, “Let me put it this way: Stress brings people together. Frigid winters bring people together. Awesome school colors bring people together. If you came to be challenged, you came to the right place.”


Tufts University


Tufts University students say their school combines the best of all collegiate worlds. “Goldilocks would have given Tufts two thumbs up,” says a sophomore. “We’re not too small, not too big; not too academic, not too athletic; we are ambitious, but not enough to forget the social implications of our decisions.” While Tufts students devote plenty of time to hitting up frats or house parties during the weekends, they care first and foremost about their educations. One junior writes, “Most Tufts kids lean a little on the nerdy side (if not the closet-nerdy side), so a Saturday night spent working in the dorms isn’t too bad once in a while. But we also know how to have fun.” Tufts’ campus is located in Medford / Somerville, Massachusetts, approximately twenty minutes outside of Boston, so it’s easy to travel there and back. And, once students do come back, they’re confident that their first-rate education is attached to a brand-name that future employers will appreciate. “Tufts is a rising star when it comes to universities, and our degree will mean a LOT more as the years go by, because Tufts is getting more and more renowned,” writes a freshman. Another student, equally satisfied, puts it more bluntly. “If you go to Tufts, you will most likely come out with a very good opportunity to make lots and lots of cash.” Overall, Tufts students have a lot of school pride. “Tufts kids love Tufts. Jumbo is our mascot, and everyone is in love with him (it’s an elephant.) We’re a school on the rise, and you’ll feel very patriotic about pachyderms if you come.”


University of Virginia


Widely recognized as one of the country’s most prestigious public universities, the University of Virginia draws students from across the country and around the world. Located in the small town of Charlottesville, UVA’s campus is known for its Jeffersonian architecture, and most undergrads embrace the school's aesthetics and history as one of the unique factors that makes it home. “One of the best things about UVA is the campus,” writes a recent alum. “It is beautiful and inspiring, especially outdoors. Brick buildings and sidewalks; lots of greenery, flowers and trees; neoclassical architecture; tradition.” From fight songs to campus-wide events to secret societies, UVA is packed to the brim with customs that are integral aspects of the institution's identity. Then, there are the academics. Students at UVA take their work extremely seriously, and tend to be dedicated to their studies. “Academics come first here at the University.” “Don’t be surprised if you graduated high school with above a 4.0, and get B’s and the occasional C’s here.” In an atmosphere packed with so many bright and talented students, “It’s harder to stand out – but more satisfying when you do,” write a freshman studying computer science. As is the case with many storied institutions based in the South, UVA students have a reputation for being on the preppy side (students joke that UVA’s mantra is “guys in ties, girls in pearls”) But, in truth, “while it might seem for the first few weeks that there’s only one type of person, after about a half a semester, diverse student groups will come out of the woodwork.” And, overall, everyone gets along. “Just the simple act of holding the door open for someone or saying please and thank you is a constant here on campus.” For its history, its academics and its students, this school that Thomas Jefferson built has earned its place as one of the most respected universities in the nation.


Washington University in St. Louis


Washington University in St. Louis students know they’re getting a high-quality education—they just wish their school’s reputation matched its caliber. “I wish more people knew how great of a school WashU really is,” writes a freshman, echoing a frequent complaint. Students sport shirts that say “WashU pride … in St. Louis, dammit,” because most people outside the Midwest area assume WashU is in Seattle or DC. Nonetheless, the students here are “incredibly smart and focused,” and “academics are rigorous: professors grade on a curve, so A’s are elusive.” As a result, students strive both for personal success and for success relative to their peers – especially premeds, stereotyped across campus as cutthroat. The undergrad population “is about 6,000, which to me is a perfect size. It is not too large that it is overwhelming, and not so small that you know everyone's business.” And “the administration is really geared towards undergrads--so you feel like you're getting the attention of a small liberal-arts school with the opportunities of a large university.” The Wash U campus is beautiful, located in an upscale neighborhood in Clayton, “surrounded by mansions that must have unholy price tags. Old oaks line the streets and paths on and off campus, making Fall an outstanding time to be outside.” Students tend to be “white, wealthy and liberal,” most are from out-of-state, and many cite a large Jewish population. And one freshman girl reports, “The upside of Wash U guys are that they are for the most part really sweet and nice. They know how to treat girls with respect!” About a quarter of students are in frats and sororities, but everyone agrees the academics come first. “As the 11th ranked school in the nation, people take their academics very seriously. Come to Wash U if you don’t mind being competitive, while still enjoying a more relaxed feel than the Ivy’s.”


Wellesley College


Though antiquated Wellesley stereotypes conjure images of intense, hairy-armpitted girls who haven’t seen a fella in so long they’ve become lesbians by default, at this extremely small and competitive all-women’s university in Massachusetts, the actual students are incredibly bright, social women of all sexual orientations, happily taking on mountainous workloads with a fierce intensity. No matter what the major, academics at Wellesley are extremely rigorous, and the intimate class sizes and personal relationships between students and professors make it impossible to slack off. Wellesley women say they love the active class participation fostered by their tiny course sizes. “It isn’t unusual to get an email from a professor if you missed class to see if you’re okay,” says a sophomore economics major. “There just isn’t any inconspicuous way to skip a class. Your absence will certainly be noticed.” Professors receive rave reviews, and it isn’t uncommon for students to spend time with them outside of class, or to have dinner with profs and their families. The student body at Wellesley is very diverse, and students say that everyone is welcome. “I have never been in such an accepting environment of different beliefs, lifestyles, sexualities, race and economic status,” writes one. Though another counters, “Wellesley students can be overly concerned with political correctness.” “Anything you say or do will be scrutinized by other students to see if it could possibly have been meant in a discriminatory type of way. Even if you are just stating your preference of ice cream, I assure you that there is a Wellesley student out there waiting to call you prejudiced because you don’t like the same ice cream as her.” Overall, “though students can be crazy sometimes, everyone wanting to prove they have the biggest workload and thus deserve the most praise”, “Wellesley is definitely the place to be if you’re a woman seeking an excellent education.”


Williams College


At Williams college, academics are all about the approximately 2,000 undergrads. The focus is on teaching, not research, and professors form relationships with students that extend well beyond the classroom. “I will never forget the moment that my math teacher knew my name is passing … even BEFORE the first class,” writes a freshman. Tutorials and Winter Study, two unusual academic opportunities, largely define a Williams education. Tutorials pair two students with one professor (read: lots of individualized attention). “Tutorials are a huge part of the Williams experience. During the meeting, the students present their papers and critiques, and then discuss them with the professors.” During Winter Study, the month in-between the fall and spring semesters, students have a choice between taking a wide range of off-beat classes, going abroad for the month, or working on an independent project. Though, on the whole, students are conscientious to the point of overachievement, they report that undergrads aren’t competitive—with each other, at least. “One of the best things about Williams is that there’s this taboo about discussing your grades. It makes for a really great and non-competitive environment,” says a sophomore. Once work is done, students tend to hang out on campus – and, though quaint and full of natural beauty, Williamstown is isolated. But the athletic, outdoorsy and social students don’t seem to mind spending time on campus together. “We come here for the academics, and for one another.” That, in a nutshell, is Williams’ largest selling point.