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Locations of New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) schools, often described as "Little Ivies"

Little Ivies (sometimes Potted Ivies) is a colloquialism referring to a group of small, selective[1] American colleges and universities; however, it does not denote any official organization.

Institutions identified as Little Ivies are usually old, small, exclusive, of WASP (Yankee) origin, and academically competitive liberal arts colleges located in the northeastern United States. The colloquialism is meant to imply that Little Ivies share similarities with the universities of the Ivy League.

  • It is sometimes synonymous with the "Little Three," Amherst, Wesleyan, and Williams.[2][3][4] (The term "Little Three" is well-defined as a former athletic league[5][6] and has often been used to identify these schools as a socially and academically elite trio;[7][8][2] the term has also been used to compare the three institutions with the so-called "Big Three" of the Ivy League: Harvard, Yale and Princeton.) Encarta defines "Little Ivies" to refer to these three schools, which it characterizes as "small" and "exclusive" and as having "high academic standards and long traditions."[9]
  • It can refer to the schools of the modern-day New England Small College Athletic Conference[10][11] (NESCAC), which includes the "Little Three" together with Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Connecticut, Middlebury, Tufts, Hamilton, and Trinity.
  • Greene and Greene's guide, Hidden Ivies: Thirty Colleges of Excellence uses it to refer to "Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Middlebury, Swarthmore, Tufts, and Williams," schools which it says have "scaled the heights of prestige and selectivity and also turn away thousands of our best and brightest young men and women."[12]

Some schools that are often called "Little Ivies" include:

Institution Location Little Three Greene's Guides[12] NESCAC Notes
Amherst College Amherst, Massachusetts Green check.png Green check.png Green check.png
Bates College Lewiston, Maine Green check.png Green check.png
Bowdoin College Brunswick, Maine Green check.png Green check.png
Colby College Waterville, Maine Green check.png Green check.png
Connecticut College New London, Connecticut Green check.png
Hamilton College Clinton, New York Green check.png Green check.png
Haverford College Haverford, Pennsylvania Green check.png [1] [2] [3] [4]
Middlebury College Middlebury, Vermont Green check.png Green check.png
Swarthmore College Swarthmore, Pennsylvania Green check.png [5] [6] [7] [8]
Trinity College Hartford, Connecticut Green check.png
Tufts University Medford, Massachusetts Green check.png Green check.png No longer a small liberal arts college; university with over 9,000 students (about 5,000 undergraduates and 4,000 graduates).
Wesleyan University Middletown, Connecticut Green check.png Green check.png Green check.png
Williams College Williamstown, Massachusetts Green check.png Green check.png Green check.png




Founding of the institutions

Institution Founded Founding religious affiliation
Amherst College 1821 Congregationalist
Bates College 1855 as Maine State Seminary Free Will Baptist
Bowdoin College 1794 Congregationalist
Colby College 1813 as Maine Literary and Theological Institution Northern Baptist
Connecticut College 1911 Methodist
Hamilton College 1812 Presbyterian
Haverford College 1833 Quaker
Middlebury College 1800 Informally Congregationalist
Swarthmore College 1864 Quaker
Trinity College 1823 Episcopalian, although not officially sectarian
Tufts University 1852 Universalist Church
Wesleyan University 1831 Methodist
Williams College 1793 Congregationalist
Note Founding dates and religious affiliations are those stated by the institution itself. Many of them had complex histories in their early years and the stories of their origins are subject to interpretation. See footnotes for details where appropriate. "Religious affiliation" refers to financial sponsorship, formal association with, and promotion by, a religious denomination. All of the "Little Ivies" are private and not currently associated with any religion.

Related colleges

The schools of the Seven Sisters, historically women's colleges, could be considered a counterpart of the Little Ivies. Schools in this group are occasionally described as "little Ivies" themselves; for example, the Business Times of Singapore mentions "Amherst, Williams, Smith, Wesleyan and Swarthmore" as examples.[1]

Examples of use

See also


  1. ^ a b The Business Times of Singapore mentions Little Ivies as "elite liberal arts colleges" that are "small and selective." April 17, 2001.
  2. ^ a b Tyre, Peg & William Lee Adams (2005), "Prep Chic," Newsweek, May 4, 2005 "23 percent of Taft graduates attended one of the Ivies or little Ivies (Wesleyan, Williams and Amherst)."
  3. ^ Union-News (Springfield, MA), December 5, 1988, p. 13 (quotes a Bryn Mawr official: "If the Seven Sisters were now Siblings, she asked, did that mean that Wesleyan, Williams and Amherst colleges, referred to as the 'Little Ivies,' were cousins?")
  4. ^ The New York Times (1970): "Students decline Wesleyan offers," June 15, 1970, p. 28: "Amherst College, a member with Williams and Wesleyan in the Little Ivy League..."
  5. ^ Potts, David B. (1999) Wesleyan University, 1831-1910: Collegiate Enterprise in New England. Wesleyan University Press, ISBN 0-8195-6360-9. p. 183: "Wesleyan joined Amherst and Williams in early 1899 to form a new 'Triangular League.' Football, baseball and track competition in this league became something of a trial run for later contests in a wide range of sports under the rubric 'Little Three.'"
  6. ^ Watterson, John Sayle (2002): College Football. Johns Hopkins University Press, ISBN 0-8018-7114-X. p. ix: "Wesleyan played big-time football in the 1880s and 1890s... but a hundred years later they played a small-college schedule and belong to the Little Three, which also included Amherst and Williams."
  7. ^ Kingston, Paul William and Lionel S. Lewis, "Introduction: Studying Elite Schools in America" (1990). In The High Status Track: Studies of Elite Schools and Stratification. SUNY Press, ISBN 0-7914-0010-7. p. xviii: "More widely recognized is the distinctive cachet of an Ivy League education—and possibly that at the 'Little Three' (Amherst, Wesleyan and Williams) and a small number of other private colleges and universities."
  8. ^ United States Congress, Senate, Committee on Finance (1951): Revenue Act of 1951. p. 1768. Material by Stuart Hedden, president of Wesleyan University Press, inserted into the record: "Popularly known, together with Williams and Amherst, as one of the Little Three colleges of New England, [Wesleyan] has for nearly a century and a quarter served the public welfare by maintaining with traditional integrity the highest academic standards." Published by the U.S. Government Printing Office, 1951.
  9. ^ Definition at MSN Encarta supports definition as the Little Three and calls Little Ivies schools "that have high academic standards and long traditions but are smaller than those in the Ivy League.". Archived 2009-11-01.
  10. ^ As of 2005, the NESCAC (website) includes: Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Connecticut College, Hamilton, Middlebury, Trinity, Tufts, Wesleyan, and Williams.
  11. ^ An explanation of "Little Ivy" at
  12. ^ a b Greene, Howard and Matthew Greene (2000) Greenes' Guides to Educational Planning: The Hidden Ivies: Thirty Colleges of Excellence, HarperCollins, ISBN 0-06-095362-4, excerpt at


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