Updated December 13, 2022

By Iris Stone Read below for our ranking of the 50 best alternative graduate schools in the Eastern United States. First of all, let's clarify what we mean by "alternative." Why wouldn't we just rank the best grad schools? Why did we feel compelled to look for something different? In short, because a list of ...

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By Iris Stone

Read below for our ranking of the 50 best alternative graduate schools in the Eastern United States.

First of all, let's clarify what we mean by "alternative." Why wouldn't we just rank the best grad schools? Why did we feel compelled to look for something different? In short, because a list of the 50 best graduate schools based on traditional factors - like selectivity and test scores - wouldn't be news to anyone. That's because the same colleges and universities always appear at the top of those rankings, in almost the exact same order. We all know about the prestigious Ivy League universities and schools like Northwestern and Emory, which many consider to be "new Ivies." And so we wondered: is it possible to create a ranking of top grad schools that doesn't include any of these typical options?


We developed our own "alternative" methodology, which you can read all about here.

The 50 best alternative grad schools in the region are listed below. Many schools are probably still not that much of a surprise, as they all have plenty to offer advanced degree seekers. For each, we highlight some of the university's strongest subjects, which we hope will help guide you as you consider the school that's right for you.

#1 University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison, WI
#2 University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus Pittsburgh, PA
#3 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign, IL
#4 Michigan State University East Lansing, MI
#5 Rutgers University-New Brunswick New Brunswick, NJ
#6 University of Georgia Athens, GA
#7 Indiana University-Bloomington Bloomington, IN
#8 Syracuse University Syracuse, NY
#9 University of Connecticut Storrs, CT
#10 Temple University Philadelphia, PA

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  1. University of Wisconsin-Madison

    Madison, WI



    The University of Wisconsin barely counts as an "Eastern" school, and the city of Madison is less than two hours from the natural dividing line that is the Mississippi River. And yet, that hasn't stopped UW from climbing its way to the top of our list as the #1 best alternative graduate school. In addition to its highly esteemed programs in Education, Medicine, Chemistry, and Psychology, the university boasts a wide selection of other worthwhile options, from Sociology to Physics. UW has also revealed an ambitious plan it calls "UW2020: WARF Discovery Initiative," which will fund projects that "have the potential to fundamentally transform a field of study." This independent spirit manifests in many other UW projects as well, from the "Institute for Discovery" to ecological restoration at the Arboretum.

  2. University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus

    Pittsburgh, PA



    The 10,000 graduate students who attend the University of Pittsburgh comprise nearly a third of the total student body - a significant ratio for a large public college. What drives so many students to choose U Pitt for their advanced degree? Its health programs are perhaps the biggest draw; the medical school is one of the nation's premier sources for research in geriatrics, women's health, and drug abuse, as well as a top spot for just about every type of graduate nursing degree. But Pitt has also established itself as a major force in interdisciplinary studies and research. From Nanoscience to Bioengineering to Computer Modeling, researchers at Pitt are drawing connections to picture a better future for us all.

  3. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    Champaign, IL



    The list of graduate programs available at UI Urbana-Champaign is staggering. In fact, with the number of top-ranked degrees that the university claims, it's almost hard to justify this one as an "alternative" grad school. Its top 10 offerings include Psychology, Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science, Engineering, and Accounting, plus the #1 best graduate degree in Library and Information Studies in the entire country. It may not be the world's most selective school, but that just means more students can benefit from its extraordinary academics. Plus, its affordable tuition - especially for in-state residents - certainly doesn't hurt!

  4. Michigan State University

    East Lansing, MI



    Michigan State University is the quintessential state college. With a robust athletic program, active Greek life, a vibrant college town, and a fan base that borders on the fanatical, MSU is a haven for undergraduates seeking a traditional college experience. But what about grad students? Behind the university's jock-like exterior is an inquisitive, passionate community of intellectuals studying everything from the effects of sleep deprivation to the water crisis in nearby Flint. Underpinning MSU's research is a strong commitment to the local community, and much of the university's endeavors focus on agriculture, occupational hazards, and general human health.

  5. Rutgers University-New Brunswick

    New Brunswick, NJ



    With all this 21st century focus on science and technology, it seems as though graduate programs in engineering and computing have become the only ones worth mentioning. But recent trends suggest that all is far from lost for humanities majors, and in this way, Rutgers University in New Brunswick is ahead of its time. Some of the nation's best graduate degrees in English and History (including Gender and Literature and Women's History) are offered at this New Jersey college. On the other hand, you'll also find some of the foremost grad programs in Physics and Math here. In fact, Rutgers is the only university in the world to possess both a scanning transmission electron microscope and a helium ion microscope on one campus.

  6. University of Georgia

    Athens, GA



    The University of Georgia isn't usually at the top of anyone's list of the best graduate schools, but maybe it should be! In addition to an enticingly affordable tuition rate and #21 rank on U.S. News' listing of top public schools nationwide, UGA also boasts a Tier 1 Carnegie Basic Research designation and is considered one of the best 150 universities in the world, according to Shanghai world rankings. For grad students interested in making a career out of research, UGA is an ideal choice. With land- and sea-grants and an impressive library that includes 13 buildings and one of the biggest map collections in the country, this school is never short of resources with which to empower its students.

  7. Indiana University-Bloomington

    Bloomington, IN



    Whether you're talking about academics or athletics, the "Hoosiers" are everywhere you look in the Midwest college scene. And with more than 40,000 students and an endowment of nearly $2 billion, it's easy to understand why IU Bloomington has such a ubiquitous presence. At the graduate level, IU gets more than enough publicity for its prestigious Kelley School of Business and lauded IU School of Education, which place at 21st and 25th, respectively, on U.S. News' top graduate school rankings. But the university also has burgeoning grad programs in cognitive science, including research that explores the limits of human-robot systems, and environmental science. In the latter program, students are currently investigating materials that could lead to "next generation" solar cells - courtesy of a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

  8. Syracuse University

    Syracuse, NY



    In the world of top rankings, Syracuse is well known for its top programs in journalism as well as its graduate degree in law, public affairs, information sciences, entrepreneurship, and various social science disciplines. But what if you're not interested in becoming a lawyer or librarian? Maybe you prefer linguistics. If so, Syracuse has a top 40 program in Speech-Language Pathology and a research program through the Center for Natural Language Processing (CNLP) that seeks to improve human speech recognition in computer systems. It's also worth noting this university's serious commitment to veteran affairs. In fact, JPMorgan Chase recently donated $13.8 million to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse, which focuses on "advancing the post-service lives of America's service members."

  9. University of Connecticut

    Storrs, CT



    Most "top" grad school rankings would have you believe that high test scores, deep pockets, and lucrative alumni connections are all that should matter to students. But what about accessibility? The University of Connecticut has five campuses across the state, making sure that its affordable education is available to anyone who is willing to work hard for it. For UConn, "accessibility" also means that students enjoy access to the kinds of unique resources that will truly enrich their experience. Although you won't find this on a U.S. News ranking, UConn is actually a top graduate school for oceanography. All marine and maritime studies are concentrated at Avery Point, a coastal campus that houses the National Undersea Research Center and the Connecticut Sea Grant College Program.

  10. Temple University

    Philadelphia, PA



    Temple University may be one of several colleges in Philadelphia - including a prestigious member of the Ivy League - but this school is anything but a wallflower. It is the 42nd largest postsecondary institution in the country and supports nearly 40,000 students at any given time. Temple even has campuses in Rome and Tokyo! Of course size isn't everything, but for students at Temple it means big opportunities. Grad students in particular benefit from the school's expansive resources, which include tens of millions of dollars in annual funding. High profile graduate programs in Fine Arts, Law, and Business earn the school plenty of accolades, but their master's degrees in Criminology, Clinical Psychology, and Occupational Therapy deserve our attention, too.

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