Students looking for an Ivy League-quality education at a fraction of the price can find it at the College of William & Mary.
The prestigious college traces its heritage to the British monarchy, which granted its charter to the Virginia college in the 17th century. William & Mary is the only institution of higher learning in the country to have received not only a charter from the crown but also a coat of arms from the College of Heralds.
While it’s still officially known as a college, that’s actually a misnomer, as William & Mary has grown immensely through the centuries. It considers itself a research university, and students can choose from more than 45 undergraduate programs and more than 40 graduate and professional degree programs.
For the class of 2020, the most popular majors were social sciences (24%); biological and biomedical sciences (10%); and business, management, marketing, and related support services (10%).
Niche recently ranked the college No. 10 in its list of Top Public Universities in America in addition to giving William & Mary A+ grades for academics, professors, and value, and an A grade for diversity.
And because William & Mary is a state college, Virginia residents can get this top-quality education at a steal. For the 2021-22 academic year, tuition and room and board cost about $31,000 for in-state residents, while out-of-state residents paid more than $53,000. Even so, Kiplinger ranked William & Mary sixth on its 2019 list of best value public colleges for out-of-state students.
Below, we take a closer look at what it means to be Ivy League, where the College of William & Mary fits in, its various rankings and how to get accepted to the second-oldest college in the country.
Is William & Mary Ivy League?
No, William & Mary is not an Ivy League school.
Unlike the Ivies – Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale universities and the University of Pennsylvania – William & Mary is a public college. It is, however, known as one of the “Public Ivies.”
According to University Review, a Yale admissions officer crafted the list of Public Ivies in the 1980s. He included state-assisted higher education institutions that offered “a superior education at a cost far below that of Ivy League schools,” William & Mary noted.
Others on the list included the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Vermont, and the University of Virginia.
William & Mary is considered one of the “most selective public schools, seeking to bring its extremely rigorous, interdisciplinary academics to curious, accomplished students who want to learn beyond a textbook,” according to the Princeton Review. It enrolled just over 6,200 undergraduates in the fall of 2020, thousands less than several of its Ivy League counterparts.
In 2019-20, Dartmouth enrolled the fewest undergraduates of the Ivies at 4,459, while Cornell had three times as many (15,043).
The college’s location also might have put it at a disadvantage when it came to being part of the Ivy League, a term coined in the 1950s during the creation of the NCAA Division I athletic conference.
All of the Ivies are located close to one another in the mid-Atlantic and New England states, while William & Mary is in the heart of Virginia.
Why Is William & Mary Confused As an Ivy League School?
While William & Mary doesn’t belong to the Ivy League, its history resembles those that do. The college was chartered in 1693, less than 60 years after Harvard University opened and almost a decade before Yale University began. With such a long presence in American education, it’s no wonder some people mistakenly believe William & Mary is an Ivy League university.
Like many Ivy League schools, William & Mary has American presidents among its alumni: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler. Only Harvard and Yale have educated more presidents, according to William & Mary.
With its elegant, colonial-style brick buildings, the campus resembles those of many Ivies. Spread over 1,200 acres in a historically significant region, William & Mary is home to the oldest college building still standing in the country, the Sir Christopher Wren Building, built between, 1695 and 1700.
Students continue to take classes in this building that actually predates the founding of Williamsburg, the historical town where the college is located.
The highly selective academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa was founded at William & Mary in 1776, making it the first intercollegiate fraternity in the nation. Chapters exist at nearly 300 colleges and universities, including the Ivies, and membership is highly sought after.
Additionally, the college’s athletes also compete in NCAA Division I, just like the Ivy League, and play other colleges and universities that also have been part of the nation’s educational landscape for centuries.
The College of William & Mary – Ranking, Acceptance Rate, and More
The College of William & Mary has earned top rankings from leading publications and organizations across the board, from academics to student life to the educators leading the way.
In its 2019 rankings, Forbes ranked William & Mary ninth on its list of America’s Top Colleges (Public Schools), while the college tied for No. 38 in U.S. News & World Report’s recent ranking of National Universities.
Although becoming a student at William & Mary isn’t easy, it is not as selective as other schools of similar prestige. For a recent year, the college received 14,680 total applications and admitted 38%.
In fall 2020, William & Mary had more than 6,200 undergraduate students and more than 2,700 graduate students.
Students seem to enjoy their time at William & Mary, too. The average freshman retention rate, which U.S. News & World Report says reflects student satisfaction, is 94%. The Princeton Review ranked the school fourth on its list of “Happiest Students” for 2021, and Niche gave it an A- grade for student life, a B+ for athletics, and a B- for party scene.
To help students pay for their education, William & Mary offers three merit scholarships to “students with proven scholastic ability” as well as several other scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students. Students also can pursue federal work-study employment and other student jobs.
How to Get Into William & Mary College
Students aiming to get admitted to William & Mary need to come prepared with solid grades and more. Applicants have an average high school GPA of 4.28, according to the Princeton Review.
The college accepts the Common Application, and university officials read each application at least twice. Prospective students need to include their high school transcripts, a letter of recommendation from their school counselor, and a midyear-school report form. Virginia residents also have to complete additional paperwork to qualify for in-state tuition.
“Your transcript and standardized test scores tell your academic story, (and) your extracurricular activities, recommendations, essay(s), and background tell your personal story,” William & Mary explained.
Prospective students also can submit optional materials, such as a letter of recommendation from a teacher or a portfolio of work for those pursuing a degree in the creative or performing arts. On-campus interviews are available but not required for admission.
William & Mary does not require SAT or ACT scores, but applicants can submit them if they like. In the class of 2025, 39% of applicants did not include their scores. Among those who did provide their results, the middle 50% for the SAT was 1360 to 1520 out of 1600. The middle 50% score for the ACT for that class was 31 to 34 out of 36.
Recap: William & Mary Is Not an Ivy League School. However, It Is a Top-Ranked Liberal Arts College
While William & Mary is not an Ivy League school, its academics, history, traditions, and more make it one of the best-ranked liberal arts colleges in the nation.
Students start building that liberal arts background, taking courses in various disciplines that encourage exploration of different theories, beliefs, and concepts.
If more intimate class sizes sound appealing, William & Mary might be a good choice. It has a 12:1 student-faculty ratio, and half of its classes have fewer than 20 students.
William & Mary also earned the top ranking in the Princeton Review’s list of the 20 Best Public Schools for Making an Impact and was included in the publication’s list of 50 Colleges That Create Futures, as its alumni have clearly proven to be true.
In addition to the four presidents who’ve studied there, William & Mary alumni have gone on to find success in a range of fields. Other notable alumni include actress Glenn Close, fashion designer Perry Ellis, and Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.