Nestled in the historic town of Clinton, New York, Hamilton College (yes, it’s named after THAT Hamilton; he was an inaugural trustee) offers a rigorous, flexible liberal arts curriculum with 43 possible concentration areas and no distribution requirements.
The third oldest college in New York State, Hamilton’s mascot is a Revolutionary War soldier, a “Continental,” as in the Continental Army.
Today, the undergraduate institution maintains a student body of around 2,000; its size allows for small classes and a strong campus sense of community.
The top-ranking majors on campus include classic liberal arts studies: economics, mathematics, political science, and literature.
A strong tradition of creative writing at Hamilton produces writers like John Nichols, Peter Meinke, Terry Brooks, and Kamila Shamsie.
The Rev. Samuel Kirkland founded Hamilton-Oneida Academy in 1793 as part of his mission working with the Oneida tribe, a vision the school did not manage to realize.
But after Kirkland’s death, Hamilton-Oneida became Hamilton College, providing education for the children of settlers on what was then the frontier.
One of Clinton’s most successful ventures, Bristol-Myers, originated from two Hamilton graduates, William Bristol and John Ripley Myers.
The pair bought the Clinton Pharmaceutical Company in 1887, and went on to become one of the world’s most successful manufacturers of pharmaceutical and household products.
With its history, its prestige, and contributions to society and economy, many people might wonder if Hamilton College would be considered an Ivy League institution. The answer holds some surprises.
Is Hamilton College Ivy League?
Hamilton is not an Ivy League school.
The Ivy League, officially an athletic conference, includes Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Cornell, Brown, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia—not Hamilton College.
Hamilton College is an elite northeastern college with a rich cultural and historical legacy, but it does not play Yale every year in football.
The “Ivy League” designation brings so much weight to bear in any educational context that people have come to use it as a universal term for excellence.
Even more confusing are terms like “Ivy Plus,” which refers to schools like Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago, often associated with the Ivies in professional and alumni associations.
Since the mid-1980s, terms like “Public Ivies,” “Hidden Ivies,” “Little Ivies,” and now “New Ivies” recognize that the term “Ivy League” has become a kind of branding. These lists take into account that there are many more than eight elite, academically-rigorous campuses in the United States capable of educating the next generation of leaders.
Why Is Hamilton College Confused As an Ivy League School?
Most lists of “Hidden Ivies” include Hamilton College, so when people assume an association with the Ivy League, they’re not entirely out of line.
Around 60 schools make up the Hidden Ivies; these colleges focus on rigorous liberal arts education, practice selective admissions, and offer a measure of prestige in its own way on par with the Ancient Eight.
Does signing your name in ink into the register of students on the first day of classes every year sound like an Ivy League tradition? What about receiving a cane adorned with a tricorn hat along with your diploma as a graduating senior?
Or Class & Charter Day, an annual event and competition with speeches related to the history and traditions of the school?
All these rituals belong to Hamilton College, along with an Honor Code over a century in place, and a host of student organizations and clubs dating back to the 19th century.
A strong identification with school culture and history, loyal alumni, and a storybook campus all shape Hamilton in the form of an Ivy League school.
Hamilton’s campus, however, is exclusively undergraduate, without the professional and graduate schools that characterize many of the Ivy League.
Hamilton College – Ranking, Acceptance Rate, and More
Another reason Hamilton College might be confused with an Ivy League School: its acceptance rate dropped to 14.1% for the Class of 2025. In that same incoming class, 80% of accepted students ranked in the top 10% of their high school graduating class.
Those statistics demonstrate that the student body at Hamilton also represents the highest bracket of academic success and student potential in the country, right alongside Ivy League programs.
A student attending courses at Hamilton will be among the same level of intellectual spark and creativity as a student on any Ivy League campus.
Hamilton ranks among the top 20 schools in the nation for undergraduate teaching, for best value, and for writing in the disciplines.
The school ranks overall among the top 15 small colleges or liberal arts campuses on many lists.
It’s a testament to Hamilton’s excellent faculty and innovative open curriculum that so many of its majors, even in a school of only about 2,000 students, rank among the top 30 programs for any school in the United States.
English, public policy, performing arts, history, anthropology, and philosophy all rank among the top 30 departments nationwide; art, international relations, religious studies, and political science follow closely at 31 and 32.
And in a significant ranking for a private liberal arts college, Hamilton ranks at #58 among Forbes’ Best Value Colleges, a system of evaluation that considers the economic benefit of an education, including actual student postgraduate earning, balanced against college debt.
How to Get Into Hamilton College
Hamilton’s need-blind admissions policy offers full financial assistance to all admitted first-year students without considering financial status during the application process itself. Therefore, Hamilton can be a practical choice for strong applicants without the means to attend a private institution like Hamilton.
A couple of strategies can offer students interested in Hamilton the best possible chance of getting in. But first, students must know that Hamilton’s accepted students earn SAT scores between 1370 and 1520 (ACT 32-34), and most maintain high class rank while taking the most challenging coursework their high school offers.
Like many schools, Hamilton currently does not require standardized test scores.
Hamilton specifically refers to this change as temporary, so any student with Hamilton as a first choice may want to find a safe way to take and perform well on the SAT or ACT.
Hamilton emphasizes their writing curriculum and critical thinking skills, so applicants should take time crafting an excellent personal essay.
Hamilton also bases much of its evaluation on high school performance, so securing solid letters of recommendation can lend authority to a strong transcript.
In their personal essays and in the letters of recommendation, students can demonstrate the level of rigor in their high school coursework, highlighting any college-level courses or any instances where students have chosen a greater challenge in their course selections.
Hamilton’s Early Decision program offers a higher percentage chance of acceptance. Since Early Decision is binding, students should only pursue this option if they fully intend to renounce other offers and attend Hamilton if admitted.
Participating in Early Decision allows students to be considered for a secured deferment option, the January admission.
Hamilton accepts a few Early Decision applicants with the understanding that they can start in January, replacing the students who leave during their freshman year for any number of reasons.
The Common Application and Coalition Application provide the basis for Hamilton’s admissions, but Hamilton also participates in the QuestBridge program, providing another way to increase odds of admission.
Recap: Hamilton College Is Not an Ivy League School. However, It Is a Top-Ranked Liberal Arts College
Hamilton is not Ivy League, but it is a musical.
Suppose “Ivy-League” has come to be a descriptor of the kind of school that provides an elite education and opens doors to high level careers, rather than a term referring to eight specific colleges.
In that case, Hamilton is as Ivy League as it gets.
For students looking for small classes brimming with intellectual energy from motivated students and dedicated faculty, Hamilton provides an Ivy League experience.
For fans of Harry Potter who want a college experience with traditions, a campus with historic buildings, and an overall community feel, Hamilton might provide an even more of a traditional experience than a larger Ivy League school can.
And especially for students interested in a challenging preparation for real-world careers while still pursuing their academic and artistic interests, Hamilton’s experiential learning model and open curriculum provide flexibility that the Ivies don’t.
There’s no compromise on academics or prestige attending this top-ranked U.S. college. And as for that musical, there really needs to be an additional scene that takes place in Clinton.