50-bestOur Top 50 Best College award is the most-selective honor in our 2017 Best Colleges rankings.

We analyzed data on each school from thousands across the country and selected the 50 best of the four-year colleges throughout the nation. This list includes schools of all sizes, with varying majors and both public and private institutions.

In our rankings, we looked at factors such as graduation rates, student loan default rates, selectivity, and campus diversity to evaluate the quality of each college and award those schools that were the 50 best based on a combination of all criteria.

Here are the top 50 colleges in the United States:

50. Bowdoin College

Flickr user Roland Allen

Flickr user Roland Allen

Location: Brunswick, ME

Student Enrollment: 1,805

College Type: Private, nonprofit, 4 year

This Liberal Arts college is well known for their Political Science and Government programs, and they are the most common majors on their campus. It has a 9:1 student-faculty ratio and a 98% first-year retention rate. Notable alumni include: Reed Hastings–Founder and CEO of Netflix, former US President Franklin Pierce, and novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Learn more about Bowdoin College

49. Hamilton College

Flickr user Chuck Miller

Flickr user Chuck Miller

Location: Clinton, NY

Student Enrollment: 1,904

College Type: Private, nonprofit, 4 year

Founded in 1793 as a boys’ school, Hamilton College is now a coeducational institution with nearly even representation of male and female students–with 54% of all students being women. The average ACT score for incoming freshman is between 30 and 33, and the average SAT score between 1,320 and 1,467.

Learn more about Hamilton College

48. Wellesley College

Flickr user Soe Lin

Flickr user Soe Lin

Location: Wellesley, MA

Student Enrollment: 2,323

College Type: Private, nonprofit, 4 year

Wellesley College is a women’s school located close to Boston. The college receives nearly 5,000 applications each year and has an acceptance rate of 30%. The top 5 most common majors on campus include: Economics, Psychology, Political Science and Government, Neuroscience, and Biology.

Learn more about Wellesley College

47. Davidson College

Flickr user Melinda Stuart

Flickr user Melinda Stuart

Location: Davidson, NC

Student Enrollment: 1,770

College Type: Private, nonprofit, 4 year

This Liberal Arts college has a strong Presbyterian Church affiliation, and was founded by General William Lee Davidson, a commander in the Revolutionary War. Known as the Wildcats, the college’s athletic classification is NCAA Division I-AA. Their school colors are red and black.

Learn more about Davidson College

46. Colorado College

Flickr user Ted Swedenburg

Flickr user Ted Swedenburg

Location: Colorado Springs, CO

Student Enrollment: 2,067

College Type: Private, nonprofit, 4 year or above

With approximately 8,000 applications per year, and about 1,400 of those being accepted, Colorado College has a 17% acceptance rate and a reputation of being selective. In terms of ACT and SAT scoring, the average Colorado College freshman has a 27 – 32 or a 1,220 – 1,425 respectively. Some of the popular sports on campus include: basketball, ice hockey, lacrosse, and  swimming.

Learn more about Colorado College

45. Carleton College

Flickr user CameliaTWU

Flickr user CameliaTWU

Location: Northfield, MN

Student Enrollment: 2,057

College Type: Private, nonprofit, 4 year

Known as the Knights, Carleton College has a fascinating history. It is named after donor William Carleton, who gave $50,000 to the school in 1871 after its president, James Strong, survived a carriage and train collision while fundraising for the college. The college has an impressive 97% first-year retention rate and a 91% 4-year graduation rate.

Learn more about Carleton College

44. Vassar College

Flickr user prichman38

Flickr user prichman38

Location: Poughkeepsie, NY

Student Enrollment: 2,422

College Type: Private, nonprofit, 4 year or above

Incoming freshmen tend to have an ACT score between 30 and 33. For SAT, the averages are 1,335 and 1,475. The most common major on campus is Economics, followed by Psychology, Biology, and English. Notable alumni include: poet Elizabeth Bishop, computer pioneer Grace Hopper, and actress Meryl Streep.

Learn more about Vassar College

43. United States Coast Guard Academy

Flickr user Peter Stinson

Flickr user Peter Stinson

Location: New London, CT

Student Enrollment: 896

College Type: Public, 4 year

Here students are referred to as “cadets” and the school motto is “Scientiæ Cedit Mare” or “The sea yields to knowledge.” There are 8 majors offered at the school: Business Administration and Management, Political Science and Government, Oceanography, Civil Engineering, Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Operations Research.

Learn more about the United States Coast Guard Academy

42. Middlebury College

Flickr user daiji

Flickr user daiji

Location: Middlebury, VT

Student Enrollment: 2,533

College Type: Private, nonprofit, 4 year or above

A Liberal Arts college with a 17% acceptance rate, Middlebury College has been the school of several notable alumni, including Alexander Twilight, the first African-American student to graduate from an American college or university. It boasts an impressive 97% first-year retention rate and an 8:1 student-faculty ratio.

Learn more about Middlebury College

41. Washington and Lee University

Flickr user Mark Goebel

Flickr user Mark Goebel

Location: Lexington, VA

Student Enrollment: 2,264

College Type: Private, nonprofit, 4 year or above

This university is named after George Washington—who gifted the school a large stock endowment—and General Robert E. Lee—who served as the college’s president until his death. It’s top three most popular majors are: Business Administration and Management, Accounting and Business / Management, and Economics.

Learn more about Washington and Lee University

40. Haverford College

Flickr user Robert W

Flickr user Robert W

Location: Haverford, PA

Student Enrollment: 1,194

College Type: Private, nonprofit, 4 year

Haverford College has an acceptance rate of 25%, and the incoming freshmen have impressive ACT and SAT scores—between 30 and 34, and 1,343 and 1,522 respectively. Founded originally as a Quaker school, the philosophies of the group still influence the students to this day. The college has produced a number of Fulbright and Rhodes scholars.

Learn more about Haverford College

39. United States Military Academy

Flickr user Cliff

Flickr user Cliff

Location: West Point, NY

Student Enrollment: 4,414

College Type: Public, 4 year

With its motto of “Duty. Honor. Country.” this Academy—founded by former US President Thomas Jefferson—produces cadets with bachelor’s degrees in a number of academic fields. The most popular majors on campus include Mechanical Engineering, Economics, and Business Administration.

Learn more about the United States Military Academy

38. Tufts University

Flickr user Joe Wolf

Flickr user Joe Wolf

Location: Medford, MA

Student Enrollment: 10,907

College Type: Private, nonprofit, 4 year or above

This Doctoral / Research institution has a near equal distribution of undergraduate and graduate students. Of the ten schools within the university, 2 are undergraduate programs the remaining 8 are graduate schools. The ACT and SAT score averages of the incoming freshmen are quite high—30 – 34 for ACT, and 1,356 – 1,492 for the SAT.

Learn more about Tufts University

37. College of William and Mary

Flickr user benuski

Flickr user benuski

Location: Williamsburg, VA

Student Enrollment: 8,437

College Type: Public, 4 year or above

The second oldest institution of higher learning in America, the College of William and Mary was founded by King William III and Queen Mary II. Each year, nearly 15,000 applications are sent in, though only 5,000 or so are accepted, giving the college an acceptance rate of 34%. Business Administration and Management is the most popular major on campus.

Learn more about the College of William and Mary

36. Georgetown University

Flickr user Josh

Flickr user Josh

Location: Washington, DC

Student Enrollment: 17,858

College Type: Private, nonprofit, 4 year or above

This historic research university was founded in 1789. It’s law school rests on Capitol Hill and the school is closely entwined with the DC area. Georgetown is strong in academics, with its incoming freshmen scoring between 30 and 34 on the ACT, and between 1,328 and 1,504 for the SAT. For athletics, the school is considered a NCAA Division I-AA.

Learn more about Georgetown University

35. University of California—Los Angeles

Flickr user Ignacio Andrade

Flickr user Ignacio Andrade

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Student Enrollment: 41,845

College Type: Public, 4 year or above

An impressive 93,000 some applications are submitted to UCLA. The university has a 17% acceptance rate, so only about 16,000 are accepted per year. It has a 96% first-year retention rate. There are countless notable alumni, including: composer John Williams, CEO of YouTube Susan Wojcicki, and director Francis Ford Coppola, among many others.

Learn more about the University of California–Los Angeles

34. Claremont McKenna College

Flickr user Craig Stanhill

Flickr user Craig Stanhill

Location: Claremont, CA

Student Enrollment: 1,324

College Type: Private, nonprofit, 4 year or above

With its school motto of “Crescit cum commercio civitas” which means “Civilization prospers with commerce.” Therefore it’s no surprise that Economics is the most common major on campus—followed by Political Science and Psychology. It’s a highly selective school, with an 11% acceptance rate.

Learn more about Claremont McKenna College

33. United States Air Force Academy

Flickr user Jacqueline Poggi

Flickr user Jacqueline Poggi

Location: Colorado Springs, CO

Student Enrollment: 3,925

College Type: Public, 4 year

The gyrfalcon is the mascot of this Academy, and their school colors are blue and silver. It is as academic as it is historic—drawing in about a million tourists every year. It has a student-faculty ratio of 8:1 and a 94% first-year retention rate. The most popular major on campus is Business Administration.

Learn more about the United States Air Force Academy

32. Johns Hopkins University

Location: Baltimore, MD

Student Enrollment: 21,372

College Type: Private, nonprofit, 4 year or above

This Doctoral / Research university is known the world over for its academics. Incoming freshman average between 31 and 34 on their ACT exams, and 1,384 and 1,522 for the SAT. It is a highly selective school, with an acceptance rate of 14% for the 25,500 some applications that are sent in every year. Notable alumni include: President Woodrow Wilson, director Wes Craven, and author Gertrude Stein.

Learn more about Johns Hopkins University

31. University of Michigan—Ann Arbor

Location: Ann Arbor, MI

Student Enrollment: 43,625

College Type: Public, 4 year or above

The top 5 most popular majors on campus include: Business Administration, Economics, Experimental Psychology, Computer and Information Sciences, and Physiological Psychology. In terms of athletics it is a NCAA Division I-A school, and sports on campus include: track, football, lacrosse, and rowing among others.

Learn more about the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor

30. Harvey Mudd College

Flickr user CampusGrotto

Flickr user CampusGrotto

Location: Claremont, CA

Student Enrollment: 804

College Type: Private, nonprofit, 4 year

This Liberal Arts college puts a great focus on science, mathematics, and engineering. Academics are very important to the school, and incoming freshmen have impressive exam scores—between 32 and 35 on average for the ACT, and between 1,408 and 1,560 for the SAT.  Their school colors are gold and black.

Learn more about Harvey Mudd College

29. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Flickr user Zach Mullen

Flickr user Zach Mullen

Location: Chapel Hill, NC

Student Enrollment: 29,135

College Type: Public, 4 year or above

UNC is known for the Old Well located in the middle of campus—in fact, the Well is the symbol for the school. About 30,000 applications are sent into UNC every year, with over 9,600 of them being accepted—giving the university a 31% acceptance rate. Biology is the most common major on campus.

Learn more about the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

28. Rice University

Flickr user Ed Schipul

Flickr user Ed Schipul

Location: Houston, TX

Student Enrollment: 6,621

College Type: Private, nonprofit, 4 year or above

Sporting the colors blue and grey, the students at Rice are nicknamed the Owls, and their mascot is Sammy the Owl. Science and mathematics are highly regarded at this school, the most common majors being: Biochemistry, Psychology, Chemical Engineering, Kinesiology, and Mechanical Engineering.

Learn more about Rice University

27. Cornell University

Flickr user Robert Thompson

Flickr user Robert Thompson

Location: Ithaca, NY

Student Enrollment: 21,679

College Type: Private, nonprofit, 4 year or above

Nearly 42,000 applications are sent in to this school, and with an acceptance rate of 15% only about 6,300 of those applicants are chosen. Cornell boasts a 97% first-year retention rate and a student-faculty ratio of 9:1. They have a total of about 1,086 athletes on campus and are considered a NCAA Division I-AA school.

Learn more about Cornell University

26. University of California–Berkeley

Flickr user Mike Procario

Flickr user Mike Procario

Location: Berkeley, CA

Student Enrollment: 37,565

College Type: Public, 4 year or above

UC Berkeley is the oldest of the 10 research universities associated with the University of California system. Their school motto “Fiat lux” means “Let there be light.” With their signature colors of Berkeley Blue and California Gold, UC Berkeley students are nicknamed the Golden Bears. The most common major on campus is Economics, followed by Cell and Molecular Biology and Electrical Engineering.

Learn more about University of California–Berkeley

25. Vanderbilt University

Flickr user Kevin Oliver

Flickr user Kevin Oliver

Location: Nashville, TN

Student Enrollment: 12,686

College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Nicknamed “Vandy”, this school is also a nationally recognized arboretum, with an abundance of trees and shrubs throughout the campus. The two most popular majors are economics and social sciences. The average ACT composite score for incoming first-year students is between 32 and 35, and the average SAT combined score is between 1,424 and 1, 572.

Learn more about Vanderbilt University

24. Dartmouth College

Flickr user Mike Fisher

Flickr user Mike Fisher

Location: Hanover, NH

Student Enrollment: 6,298

College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Founded in 1769, Dartmouth is the smallest of all Ivy League schools. Theodore Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, was a 1925 graduate of the college and worked for the school’s humor magazine during his years there.

Learn more about Dartmouth College

23. The Juilliard School

Flickr user Brian Lauer

Flickr user Brian Lauer

Location: New York City, NY

Student Enrollment: 926

College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Juilliard is a performing arts conservatory, with programs in music, drama, and dance. The school has a 5:1 student to faculty ratio, and a 98% first-year retention rate. Notable alumni include Yo-Yo Ma, Sara Ramirez, and Robin Williams.

Learn more about The Juilliard School

22. Washington University in St. Louis

Flickr user jayo128

Flickr user jayo128

Location: St. Louis, MO

Student Enrollment: 14,348

College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Psychology and Biology are the most popular majors at this university, where incoming ACT composite scores are between 32 and 34, and SAT combined scores are between 14,12 and 1,526. The university offers classes on campus and through distance learning, for both undergraduate and graduate students.

Learn more about Washington University in St. Louis

21. Northwestern University

Flickr user Allan Tokuda

Flickr user Allan Tokuda

Location: Evanston, IL

Student Enrollment: 21,554

College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Settled near the city of Chicago, Northwestern University offers more than 120 majors for undergraduate students to choose from. The school is a NCAA Division-I university, with close to 500 student-athletes.

Learn more about Northwestern University

20. University of Virginia

Flickr user Alex Proimos

Flickr user Alex Proimos

Location: Charlottesville, VA

Student Enrollment: 23,732

College Type: Public, 4-year or above

Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and James Madison (among others), helped select the city of Charlottesville to be home to the university. Here you’ll find liberal arts studies and business to be the most popular majors.

Learn more about the University of Virginia-Main Campus

19. Duke University

Flickr user Nan-Cheng Tsai

Flickr user Nan-Cheng Tsai

Location: Durham, NC

Student Enrollment: 15,856

College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Duke has produced an impressive number of Rhodes, Fulbright, Marshall, Truman, Goldwater, and Udall Scholars. The most popular degrees are public policy analysis and economics, and the university has a first-year retention rate of 97%.

Learn more about Duke University

18. Williams College

Flickr user Ethan Kan

Flickr user Ethan Kan

Location: Williamstown, MA

Student Enrollment: 2,126

College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

The average ACT composite for incoming first-year students ranges between 30 and 34, and the average SAT combined score ranges between 1,349 and 1,535. Williams College also boasts a delightful purple cow as their mascot, nicknamed Ephelia.

Learn more about Williams College

17. University of Notre Dame

Flickr user Dan Dzurisin

Flickr user Dan Dzurisin

Location: Notre Dame, IN

Student Enrollment: 12,179

College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

At the University of Notre Dame, students can live in one of 29 single-sex residence halls on campus. The most popular majors are finance and accounting, followed closely by accounting. Condoleezza Rice received her master’s degree in political science from the university in 1975.

Learn more about the University of Notre Dame

16. Brown University

Flickr user thurdl01

Flickr user thurdl01

Location: Providence, RI

Student Enrollment: 9,181

College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Home to Bruno the Bear, Brown University has graduated a wealth of notable alumni. This research university was the first to accept students regardless of their religious affiliation, and has a 9:1 student to faculty ratio.

Learn more about Brown University

15. Swarthmore College 

Flickr user Simon

Flickr user Simon

Location: Swarthmore, PA

Student Enrollment: 1,542

College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

This college is well-known for having an impressive first-year retention rate of 98%. Notable alumni Alice Paul, popular for her work with the women’s rights movement, graduated from Swarthmore College in 1905 with a bachelor’s degree in biology.

Learn more about Swarthmore College

14. Jewish Theological Seminary of America

Flickr user Wally Gobetz

Flickr user Wally Gobetz

Location: New York City, NY

Student Enrollment: 405

College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

This school has a 5:1 student to faculty ratio, and a 100% first-year retention rate. The school was the first institution of Conservative Judaism in the United States.

Learn more about the Jewish Theological Seminary of America

13. Amherst College

Flickr user LookCatalog

Flickr user lookcatalog

Location: Amherst, MA

Student Enrollment: 1,792

College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Amherst College has students from around the country and the globe, including noteworthy alum Uhuru Kenyatta, the current President of Kenya. The most popular majors are Economics and English Language and Literature, followed closely by history.

Learn more about Amherst College

12. Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

Flickr user Sean Munson

Flickr user Sean Munson

Location: Needham, MA

Student Enrollment: 350

College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

The average ACT composite for this school is between 32 and 36, and the average SAT combined score is between 1,431 and 1,581. The student body is about 52% male students and 48% female.

Learn more about Franklin W Olin College of Engineering

11. Columbia University in the City of New York 

Flickr user Mike Steele

Flickr user Mike Steele

Location: New York City, NY

Student Enrollment: 27,589

College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Columbia was founded before the Declaration of Independence was signed, and was the first school to in America to grant an M.D. degree. Columbia has a 6:1 student to faculty rate. Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are all graduates of Columbia Law.

Learn more about Columbia University in the City of New York

10. United States Naval Academy

Flickr user Steven

Flickr user Steven

Location: Annapolis, MD

Student Enrollment: 4,511

College Type: Public, 4-year or above

The campus of the Naval Academy is a National Historic Landmark, and the motto is “From Knowledge, Sea Power”. The academy has a 98% first-year retention rate, and the most popular majors are economics and systems engineering. All students are required to live on campus, and the academy is a member of the NCAA.

Learn more about the United States Naval Academy

9. University of Pennsylvania

Flickr user Stephen M. Scott

Flickr user Stephen M. Scott

Location: Philadelphia, PA

Student Enrollment: 24,806

College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Nicknamed “Penn”, the university was founded by Benjamin Franklin, and has an acceptance rate of 10%, admitting a little more than 3,700 students each year. Distinguished alumni include Warren Buffett, John Legend, Noam Chomsky, and John Heisman.

Learn more about the University of Pennsylvania

8. Pomona College

Flickr user Dave & Margie Hill

Flickr user Dave & Margie Hill

Location: Claremont, CA

Student Enrollment: 1,650

College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Pomona is well-known for its career preparation programs, with on-campus internships and research opportunities for students. The college has a 93% four year graduation rate, and a 7:1 student to faculty rate.

Learn more about Pomona College

7. California Institute of Technology

Flickr user Lana L.

Flickr user Lana L.

Location: Pasadena, CA

Student Enrollment: 2,209

College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

The average ACT composite score for incoming students ranges from 34 to 36, and the average SAT combined score ranges from 1,504 to 1,584. “The truth shall make you free” as the CalTech motto states, and while the school is well-known for academics and alumni, it is also known for the pranks that happen on campus.

Learn more about the California Institute of Technology

6. University of Chicago

Flickr user Luiz Gadelha Jr.

Flickr user Luiz Gadelha Jr.

Location: Chicago, IL

Student Enrollment: 15,097

College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

The University of Chicago boasts a 100% first-year retention rate, and a 6:1 student to faculty ratio. Founded by John D. Rockefeller in 1890, UChicago has since given birth to 89 Nobel Prize winners, 5 of whom currently still teach at the institution.

Learn more about University of Chicago

5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Flickr user Matthew Robinson

Flickr user Matthew Robinson

Location: Cambridge, MA

Student Enrollment: 11,319

College Type: Private, not-for-profit, 4 year or above

Also known as MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is well known for its science, technology and engineering programs as well economics and management. Alumni are responsible for creating 4.6 million jobs among 30,000 companies. The overall revenue of these companies comes to approximately $1.9 trillion which equates MIT alumni with the 10th largest economy in the world.  

Learn more about the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

4. Stanford University

Flickr user Robbie Shade

Flickr user Robbie Shade

Location: Stanford, CA

Student Enrollment: 16,963

College Type: Private, not-for-profit, 4 year or above

Stanford University has a 4:1 student to faculty ratio and an average ACT score of 33. Of the nearly 17,000 enrolled students, 97% live on central campus which is primarily located in Silicon Valley. Its location fosters an innovative, entrepreneurial mindset and culturally diverse student population.

Learn more about Stanford University

3. Yale University

Flickr user m01229

Flickr user m01229

Location: New Haven, CT

Student Enrollment: 12,336

College Type: Private, not-for-profit, 4 year or above

Founded in 1701, Yale is the third oldest higher education institution in the country. It is also home to the third largest University library collection in the country with 15 million volumes. Furthermore, Yale is the alma mater of 5 U.S presidents, 19 supreme court justices and 13 living billionaires.

Learn more about Yale University

2. Harvard University

Flickr user Yu-Jen Shih

Flickr user Yu-Jen Shih

Location: Cambridge, MA

Student Enrollment: 28,791

College Type: Private, not-for-profit, 4 year or above

Harvard University is the oldest and one one of the most reputable institutions of higher education in the United States. With $37.6 billion in financial endowment, it is also the largest academic institution in the country.

Learn More about Harvard University

1. Princeton University

Flickr user Jon Niola

Flickr user Jon Niola

Location: Princeton, NJ

Student Enrollment: 8,088

College Type: Private, not-for-profit, 4 year or above

Princeton was established prior to the American Revolution as one of the nine colonial colleges. Today, it offers highly esteemed programs in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering. Notable Princeton alumni include Michelle Obama, John Adams, Woodrow Wilson, Scott Fitzgerald, Steve Forbes, Meg Whitman, and Brooke Shields.

Learn More about Princeton University

About our methodology

Colleges are ranked based on a combination of factors, including graduation rates, campus diversity, endowment per student, and other data as reported via the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for the most recently-available enrollment year. Some colleges may have been excluded from rankings based on certain criteria, including specialization and classification. Learn about our full methodology.