Do California Ivy League Schools Exist? We Explain Here

The label “Ivy League” officially refers to a collective of 8 private institutions, all concentrated in the Northeast United States (New England and New York). 

Officially and technically, the “Ivies” are part of an athletic conference that was established in 1954. Just about anyone can rattle off their names: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Upenn, and Columbia. Yes, it all began with sports.

The label is associated with worldwide academic prestige, high-profile faculty and alumni, huge endowments, and selectivity. 

These schools certainly have their contenders. Many institutions have illustrious histories and stellar academic reputations. 

Many of them, such as MIT, Stanford, or the University of Virginia, are often confused as Ivy League schools because of their notable faculty, highly accomplished alumni, and selective admissions processes.

While all 8 Ivies consistently rank among the top 20 on ranking outlets like US News & World Report and Niche rankings, they are sometimes outranked by non-Ivy colleges and universities. For example, Dartmouth is outranked by Duke, Northwestern, and Johns Hopkins.

The main takeaway here is that one does not need to attend an Ivy to receive a premier undergraduate education; there are many other high-caliber schools to choose from. As it turns out, California alone is home to some of the best schools in the world.

Do California Ivy League Schools Exist?

There are no Ivy League schools in California.

However, that doesn’t mean that California is suffering from a dearth of excellent higher education institutions.

It is by accident of history that all of the official Ivy Leagues are located in the Northeastern region of the U.S. However, there is no shortage of premier national and global institutions in other parts of the country.

California is teeming with high-caliber colleges and universities, all of which shine in terms of academics, research, resources, faculty teaching, and post-graduate job outcomes. 

In many instances, programs at these schools outrank their Ivy counterparts on numerous esteemed publications, such as the US News & World Report and Niche

The unranked list below includes two well-known “Public Ivies,” and one school often confused as an Ivy League, on account of its national and global reputation as a leading institution. 

Graduates from these schools are poised to make a difference in the world. The education and training that they receive, at the hands of world-class scholars and researchers, is top-notch. 

Plus, these schools are located in a state known worldwide as a hub of technology, venture capital, arts, entertainment, and education. 

California boasts one of the largest economies in the country and in the world. Anyone attending one of the prestigious schools below has access to myriad opportunities for professional, economic, and cultural experiences.

Excellent Schools in California Comparable to the Ivies

The following is a list of schools that are high-quality colleges with programs comparable to the Ivies. 

Stanford University (Stanford, CA)

Stanford University
King of Hearts, Stanford University from Hoover Tower, CC BY-SA 3.0

Google, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and Hewlett-Packard are brands that have become ubiquitous in our social and work lives. One thing that they share is that they owe their existence to Stanford University in one way or another.

Stanford has become synonymous with start-up and venture capital culture, high-caliber academics, and high-profile research. US News & World Report ranks Stanford as the 6th best among “National Universities,” tied with the University of Chicago, and one of the “Most Innovative Schools.” It is understandable, then, that Stanford is often confused as an Ivy League school.

Stanford rocks the world of higher education with its illustrious STEM programs, many of which rank within the top 10 nationally. Attesting to the quality of the school’s programs is the fact that Stanford faculty count numerous Nobel laureates, MacArthur fellows, National Medal of Science recipients, A.M. Turing Award winners, and other recipients of prestigious awards among its ranks. 

Last but not least, Stanford has been dubbed one of the “Billionaire Universities” for producing an unusually large number of billionaires.

Admission is exceptionally selective. During the 2020-21 admissions cycle, the university received over 45k applications, and only 5% of applicants were admitted. The class of 2024 is diverse, comprising a significant percentage of women, international students, and first-generation college students.

UCLA (Los Angeles, CA)

Downtowngal, UCLA campus from the south, CC BY-SA 3.0

UCLA has it all when it comes to academics, diversity, social scene, athletics, and value, earning straight A+ marks from Niche in these categories alone. 

The school’s programs in History, Philosophy, Design, English, Computer Science, and Mathematics are among the top 20 in the country. 

The equally esteemed US News & World Report ranks UCLA as the 20th best among national universities and #1 among “Top Public Schools.” It is no wonder that it is one of the best “Public Ivies.”

Notable alumni include Tim Robbins, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and NY State Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. 

UCLA has produced its own share of Nobel laureates, a total of 25, including faculty members, alumni, and others affiliated with the university. Finally, UCLA is an economic powerhouse, a significant contributor to California’s economy, and one of the largest employers in the region.

The admission rate among freshmen applicants is 14%, making UCLA one of the hardest schools to get into. 

Over 100K students apply every year, vying for the few spots in the freshman class. 

What makes matriculants stand out? 

The average unweighted GPA for admitted students was 3.92-4.00. Most enrolled students for the class of 2024 were mostly California natives, overwhelmingly representing Southern California, and a significant percentage were first-generation college students. 

In sum, UCLA students are academic all-stars and quite diverse in background, skills, and experience.

UC-Berkeley (Berkeley, CA)

UC Berkeley
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

According to the US News & World Report, UC-Berkeley is one of the top global universities and top national universities, ranking #4 and #22 in these categories, respectively. UC-Berkeley is home to some of the most leading research institutes in the country, most notably the Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL) and Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI).

UC Berkeley alumni have blazed trails in many fields and include Pulitzer Prize winners, co-founders of significant companies, world-famous athletes, and politicians among their ranks. Alumni have earned Nobel Prizes in Medicine, Chemistry, Physics, and Economics.

The acceptance rate for UC Berkeley is 16%, which is typical for schools within the University of California system. The average GPA of admitted students tends to be 3.89, and the average composite SAT score is 1415

While these stats may seem intimidating, there are several ways to create an application that catches the eye of the admissions committee, especially for applicants who feel that they are not as strong in terms of academics. 

A stellar admissions essay, letters of recommendation, and a demonstrated sincere interest in a program of choice go a long way. The admissions committee prides itself on taking a holistic approach in its review of applications.

Pomona College (Claremont, CA)

Pomona College
Nostalgicwisdom, Mason Hall and the Academic Quadrangle, Pomona College, CC BY-SA 3.0

Pomona is a premier liberal arts college located in the suburban eastern edge of LA. Despite its small size, the college is prodigious in its offerings and contributions, offering over 48 majors and minors in the humanities, arts, sciences, and natural sciences. 

Over 90% of Pomona alumni receive job or internship offers or offers to attend a graduate program within a year of graduation.  

According to the US News & World Report, Pomona is one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country, occupying the #4 spot alongside Wellesley.

It is noted for outstanding undergraduate teaching and its output of innovative research; Pomona faculty are committed to delivering high-quality undergraduate education and top-notch research in their fields. It is also one of the top producers of Fulbright scholars in California.

The college has one of the lowest rates of acceptance among liberal arts institutions in the country. Over 10k hopefuls applied to Pomona during the 2020-21 admissions cycle. The admissions rate for the class of 2024 was a mere 8.4%. 

Matriculated students come from every state and from over 60 countries and have a demonstrated commitment to intellectual growth, collaboration, and mentorship.

Pomona’s academic prestige rivals that of many Ivies.

Harvey Mudd College (Claremont, CA)

In many ways, Harvey Mudd College is the science-heavy counterpart to Pomona College. 

Nestled in the suburban enclave of Claremont, Harvey Mudd is a private college that is primarily focused on the sciences and engineering. It is noted for its rigorous academic culture, as indicated by its low acceptance rate of 14%

Matriculated students boast SAT scores within the 1490-1570 range. The college has not disclosed information about the high school GPAs of admitted students. The acceptance rate and SAT scores of accepted students indicate that the applicant pool for Harvey Mudd tends to be academically competitive overall. 

In a recent CNBC article, Harvey Mudd students are among the most studious and hard-working in the country.

In terms of rankings, Harvey Mudd knocks it out of the ballpark. According to the US News & World Report, it has the 2nd best undergraduate engineering program in the country, is one of the most innovative schools, and has a firm research profile. 

Harvey Mudd graduates boast some of the highest mid-career earnings and one of the highest “Return on Investment” among schools, according to the latest Payscale reports on post-graduate salaries.

Notable Harvey Mudd alumni include U.S. ambassadors, astronauts, and pioneering software developers and engineers.