These colleges and universities are examples of academia at its finest. While many of these research-heavy institutions have outstanding undergraduate programs, a great emphasis is put on their graduate and doctoral programs.

At research universities, students can earn their PhDs and go out into the world to change it. So we’ve come up with a list of the best of the best.

Here are College Raptor’s Top 25 Best Research Universities of 2018!

25. College of William and Mary

Flickr user benuski

  • Location: Williamsburg, VA
  • Student Enrollment: 8,484
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

This historic school was royally founded. King William III and Queen Mary II sent letters in 1693 to establish the school, making W&M the second oldest institute of higher learning in the United States after Harvard. Their mascot is the griffin, and they play in the NCAA I-FCS division. Track, football, soccer, and swimming are popular sports on campus.

24. Georgetown University

Flickr user Josh

  • 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. University of Michigan–Ann Arbor

Flickr user Ken Lund

  • Location: Ann Arbor, MI
  • Student Enrollment: 43,651
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

Originally founded in Detroit in 1817, the public university has expanded over the years to a combined area of over 34 million square feet, which includes its central campus in Ann Arbor, regional campuses in Flint and Dearborn, and an extension center in its original home. Its most popular majors are Business, Economics, Psychology, and Computer and Information Sciences.

21. University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill

  • Flickr user Rhonda

    Location: Chapel Hill, NC

  • Student Enrollment: 29,084
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

UNC Chapel Hill shares the title of oldest public university in the United States with two other schools, since it began enrolling students in 1795. North Carolina competes athletically as the Tar Heels, and the popular school colors are Carolina blue and white. Students can also participate in over 550 officially recognized student organizations.

20. University of California–Los Angeles

  • Flickr user Andy Dietler

    Location: Los Angeles, CA

  • Student Enrollment: 41,908
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

Political Science is the most popular major at this powerhouse school, followed by Psychology, Economics, and Sociology. Their freshman retention rate is an impressive 96%. UCLA’s alumni have gone on to win numerable awards including: 105 Academy awards, 278 Emmy awards, 3 Pulitzers, and 3 Grammy awards.

19. 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.

18. 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.

17. 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.

16. University of California–Berkeley

  • Flickr user K. Oliver

    Location: Berkeley, CA

  • Student Enrollment: 38,189
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

Berkeley, the result of an 1868 merger of the private College of California and the public Agricultural, Mining and Mechanical Arts college, is the oldest research university in the UC system. The school’s faculty, alumni and researchers make up an impressive group which includes Nobel laureates, Academy Award winners, and Olympic gold medalists.

15. 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.

14. 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.

13. 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.

12. 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.

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. University of Virginia–Main Campus

  • Flickr user Rex Hammock

    Location: Charlottesville, VA

  • Student Enrollment: 23,883
  • 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. Notable UVA alumni are Olympians, astronauts, and US leaders, including former president Woodrow WIlson.

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!