Top 25 Best Private Colleges: 2018 Rankings

Top 25 best private colleges badgeMany of the most prestigious universities in the country are private universities. Private schools, unlike public schools that are funded by state and local governments, are usually funded by tuition, fees, or other private sources.

Many students feel that private schools will prove to be too costly for what they and their families can afford. However, private schools are often made affordable through the provision of significant financial aid packages.

Here are College Raptor’s top picks for the 25 Best Private Colleges.

25. Harvey Mudd College

Flickr user CampusGrotto

  • Location: Claremont, CA
  • Student Enrollment: 800
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4 year or above

Founded in 1955, Harvey Mudd’s mission is to educate engineers, scientists, and mathematicians within a liberal arts construct.  HSU boasts one of the highest levels of science and engineering PhD production in the U.S.  The integration of research opportunities are central to their educational mission as can been seen through their world-renowned Clinic Program.  As a member of the contiguous Claremont Colleges, it shares campus facilities with five other undergraduate institutions and two graduate schools.  

24. Georgetown University

Flickr user NCinDC

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Student Enrollment: 18,459
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

This historic university is comprised of nine undergraduate and graduate schools. It offers over 48 college majors, the most popular of which are: International Relations and Affairs, Political Science, Finance, Economics, and Psychology. Their school’s motto—Ultraque Unum—means Both into One.

23. Rice University

Flickr user Jill Ellwanger

  • Location: Houston, TX
  • Student Enrollment: 6,719
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Of the 18,000 applications Rice receives each year, the selective university only accepts 2,900 on average. With this competitive acceptance rate and its 6:1 student-faculty ratio, Rice takes academics very seriously. Outside of the classroom, Rice participates in 14 NCAA Division I sports and offers a wide variety of club and intramural sports.

22. Cornell University

Flickr user J. Maughn

  • Location: Ithaca, NY
  • Student Enrollment: 21,904
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Cornell University, founded in 1865, is unique among its Ivy League counterparts in that it is a land grant institution.  With programs spread across New York City, and even in Qatar, this research university is consistently ranked among the top in the world.  Research is a central element to the University and it spent $671 million in 2009 on science and engineering research and development.

21. Dartmouth College

Flickr user Dennis Yang

  • Location: Hanover, NH
  • Student Enrollment: 6,350
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or more

Founded as a Congregationalist school to educate Native Americans in Christian theology and the English way of life, Dartmouth now provides 57 majors in 40 academic departments. The most popular of these are Economics, Political Science, and History. Students also follow the D Plan, a unique quarter plan that provides greater opportunities for internships and research.

20. Vanderbilt University

Flickr user Tom Hart

  • Location: Nashville, TN
  • Student Enrollment: 12,567
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit

Named in honor of rail and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, the academically rigorous school accepts students with average ACT scores between 32–36 and average SAT scores between 1,430–1,580. Although the university is in the middle of urban Nashville, the campus is a designated national arboretum and has over 300 species of plants.

19. Amherst College

Flickr user Henry C

  • Location: Amherst, MA
  • Student Enrollment: 1,849
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4 years

Located in a town of 35,000, Amherst College offers a scenic campus where students interact with a 500 acre wildlife sanctuary.  This highly selective liberal arts college has a long history dating back to 1821 and is a member of the Five Colleges Consortium.  Regularly regarded as one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country, students receive a dynamic education on its residential campus.

18. Washington University in St. Louis

Flickr user grabadonut

  • Location: St. Louis, MO
  • Student Enrollment: 14,688
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Of the nearly 15,000 students on campus, the ratio between graduates and undergraduates is relatively even. Top majors at the institution include Psychology, Biology, Finance and Mechanical Engineering. The private research university has also been affiliated with 25 Nobel laureates, nine of which completed the majority of their research at Wash U.

17. Brown University

Flickr user thurdl01

  • Location: Providence, RI
  • Student Enrollment: 9,458
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4 year or above

This well-known university was the first school in the Ivy League. It is the 7th oldest college in the country, and the first to admit students regardless of their religious affiliation. Economics, Biology, Computer Science, Neuroscience, and Applied Mathematics are the most common majors on this campus.

16. Swarthmore College

Flickr user Simon

  • Location: Swarthmore, PA
  • Student Enrollment: 1,581
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Founded by Quakers in 1864, Swarthmore was one of the first coeducational schools in the US. It has an 89% four year graduation rate and a student-to-faculty ratio of 8:1. Their school colors are garnet and grey, and their mascot is named Phineas the Phoenix. Most of Swarthmore’s students come from California, Pennsylvania, and New York.

15. Duke University

Flickr user Chris Lawrence

  • Location: Durham, NC
  • Student Enrollment: 15,984
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Of Duke’s nearly 16,000 students, the majority of them are in the graduate school. Well over 31,000 applications are sent in to this university every year, though only about 11% or so are accepted. Duke has a 7:1 student to faculty ratio, and a 97% first year retention rate. Lacrosse, football, and soccer are popular sports on campus.

14. Williams College

Flickr user Peter Rintels

  • Location: Williamstown, MA
  • Student Enrollment: 2,171
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

As one of the oldest colleges in the U.S., founded in 1793, Williams College offers forty-four undergraduate and two graduate majors.  It is consistently ranked as one of the top colleges in the country and meets 100% of admitted students’ financial need.  Their Purple Cow mascot supports their athletic teams which are called the Ephs.

13. Northwestern University

Flickr user jojolae

  • Location: Evanston, IL
  • Student Enrollment: 21,655
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Although NU is based in Evanston along the shores of Lake Michigan, the school has two other campuses in Chicago and Doha, Qatar as well as additional facilities in Washington D.C. and San Francisco. The Northwestern Wildcats also compete in 19 varsity sports at the NCAA Division I level as part of the Big Ten Conference.

12. Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

Flickr user Sean Munson

  • Location: Needham, MA
  • Student Enrollment: 370
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

This college offers three majors: Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Electrical / Electronics Engineering. Their phoenix mascot is unofficially named Frank, and represents the school’s willingness to change itself and adapt. Olin only has two competitive sports on campus: soccer and ultimate frisbee.

11. University of Notre Dame

Flickr user Dan Dzurisin

  • Location: Notre Dame, IN
  • Student Enrollment: 12,292
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Founded in 1842 by a priest of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, the University of Notre Dame is a widely recognized catholic research university.  The most popular majors on campus are finance, accounting, and marketing.  With 80% of their students living on campus, most students flock to the athletic stadiums to cheer on their Fighting Irish sporting the famous gold and dark blue uniforms.  

10. Pomona College

Flickr user Dave & Margie Hill

  • Location: Claremont, CA
  • Student Enrollment: 1,663
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

With a small class size and a 7:1 student-to-faculty ratio, Pomona College puts an emphasis on community. The top 5 most popular majors on this campus are: Economics, Mathematics, Biology/Biological Sciences, Neuroscience, and Computer Science. Academics are priority, with the average ACT scores ranging between 30-34, and SAT 1,350-1,520.

9. Columbia University in the City of New York

Flickr user Andreas Komodromos

  • Location: New York City, NY
  • Student Enrollment: 28,086
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

There are a host of famous and influential alumni that have graduated from this university, including: 3 U.S. Presidents, 9 Supreme Court Justices, and 123 Pulitzer Prize winners. Incoming freshman score an average of 31–35 on the ACT and 1,380–1,570 on the SAT. Nearly 37,000 applications are sent to this school annually.

8. University of Pennsylvania

Flickr user Rob Pettengill

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Student Enrollment: 24,876
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

UPenn’s coat of arms was specifically designed to mirror Benjamin Franklin’s. It features a dolphin and two books. The motto “Leges sine moribus vanae” means “Laws without morals are useless.” Located in the City of Brotherly Love, this university receives well over 37,000 applications each year, and accepts about 3,800 of them.

7. University of Chicago

Flickr user Don Burkett

  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Student Enrollment: 15,391
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

UChicago has graduated quite a number of recognizable names, including: Roger Ebert, Carl Sagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Indiana Jones (albeit fictionally). Their maroon coat of arms features a phoenix rising towards the words “Crescat Scientia; vita excolatur”—Let knowledge grow from more and more; and so be human life enriched.

6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Flickr user Stacey Kizer

  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Student Enrollment: 11,311
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

This institute was technically founded in 1861, but did not open to students until 1865 due to the start of the Civil War. Nowadays, however, MIT is a worldwide leader in physical sciences, engineering, economics, biology, and much more. They have cardinal red and silver grey as their official school colors.

5. Stanford University

Flickr user Michael Estigoy

  • Location: Stanford, CA
  • Student Enrollment: 16,980
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Stanford’s german motto—Die Luft der Freiheit weht—stands for “The wind of freedom blows.” For this prestigious school, the average ACT score is between 31 and a perfect 36, for the SAT between 1,390 and 1,580. Given its proximity to Silicon Valley, it comes as no surprise that the most popular major on campus is Computer Science.

4. California Institute of Technology

Flickr user Eric Chan

  • Location: Pasadena, CA
  • Student Enrollment: 2,255
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

In addition to their reputation as academic brainiacs, the students at this institute are notorious pranksters. They once even changed the Hollywood sign to read “CalTech.” Orange and white are the school colors, and their mascot is a beaver—an homage to nature’s best engineer. 34 Nobel prize winners have graduated from CalTech.

3. Yale University

Flickr user Francisco Anzola

  • Location: New Haven, CT
  • Student Enrollment: 12,385
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Yale University receives over 30,000 each year, and is well-known for being highly selective. In 1861, Yale awarded the country’s first ever Ph.D. Students sport the unique color “Yale Blue” at Bulldogs games. Among its notable alumni are 5 U.S. Presidents, 19 Supreme Court Justices, 20 living billionaires, and 57 Nobel laureates.

2. Harvard University

Flickr user Paul Geffen

  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Student Enrollment: 29,652
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Easily one of the most recognizable universities, Harvard is actually the oldest institute of higher learning in the country. It’s latin motto of “Veritas” means truth—a fitting motto for a university well-known for its law, political science, and social science programs. Harvard also boasts an impressive graduation rate, at 87% for four years, and 97% for six.

1. Princeton University

Flickr user Kah-Wai Lin

  • Location: Princeton, NJ
  • Student Enrollment: 8,143
  • College Type: Private, not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Founded in 1746, this prestigious university didn’t earn the name Princeton until 1896—originally called the College of New Jersey. Of the nearly 30,000 applications that were sent in last year, only 1,948 were selected, giving Princeton an acceptance rate of 7.1%. Due to its excellent financial aid program, 83% of recent students graduated without any debt.

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.

Interested in any of these schools? Check out College Raptor’s free match tool to see if they’re a good fit for you!

9/22/17 Note: Due to an error in the US Government’s IPEDS database, some data for Williams College was reported incorrectly. Our rankings have been updated accordingly.

College Raptor Staff

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