Top 25 Best Private Colleges | 2019 Rankings

A gold star badge that says "College Raptor Top 25 Best Private Colleges 2019".Many of the most prestigious colleges in the country are private schools. Unlike public schools that are funded by state and local governments, private colleges are usually funded by tuition, fees, alumni donations, or other private sources.

Many people think that private schools are too expensive for them to attend. However, private schools are often made affordable through significant financial aid packages and scholarship awards.

Here are College Raptor’s picks for the top 25 best private colleges.

25. Wellesley College

A member of the original Seven Sisters Colleges, Wellesley is a women’s school that was chartered back in 1870 (though classes didn’t start until five years later). For every 7 students, Wellesley has 1 faculty member. Economics and Biology are the two most popular majors on campus.

24. Cornell University

  • Sidewalk leading to a red brick building at Cornell University.

    Flickr user J. Maughn

    Location: Ithaca, NY

  • Student Enrollment: 22,319
  • College Type: Private

A member of the famed Ivy League, many Cornell alumni have gone on to achieve fame of their own. Some notable names include Bill Nye, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, E.B. White, Christopher Reeve, and Toni Morrison. Of the total students enrolled, 65% of them are at the undergraduate level.

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23. Harvey Mudd College

  • Harvey Mudd campus building with a sign that has the college's name on it.

    Flickr user CampusGrotto

    Location: Claremont, CA

  • Student Enrollment: 842
  • College Type: Private

Though small in size, Harvey Mudd has a strong reputation for academic excellence. They have a 92% six year graduation rate, and a first year retention rate of 98%. Engineering, Computer Science, and Mathematics are the top three most popular majors on campus. Black and gold are the colors worn by the Stags and Athenas—the men’s and women’s sports teams.

22. Rice University

  • Sidewalk leading to Lovett Hall at Rice University.

    Flickr user Jill Ellwanger

    Location: Houston, TX

  • Student Enrollment: 6,855
  • College Type: Private

Three owls are on Rice’s seal, and their mascot is named Sammy the Owl. With such a wise symbol, it’s no surprise that Rice has impressive academics. Incoming freshman score, on average, between 33–35 on the ACT and 1500–1580 on the SAT. Of the total student enrollment, 57% are undergraduates.

21. Vanderbilt University

  • Many people in front of a building at Vanderbilt University.

    Flickr user Tom Hart

    Location: Nashville, TN

  • Student Enrollment: 12,587
  • College Type: Private

Though it has a respected reputation for music programs (especially given its location of Nashville), the most popular majors on campus is Economics. Black and gold are the school colors, and the mascot is named Mr. Commodore. Vanderbilt, affectionately called Vandy, has a student-to-faculty ratio of 8:1.

20. Franklin W Olin College of Engineering

  • Students participating in an event at Franklin W Olin College.

    Flickr user Sean Munson

    Location: Needham, MA

  • Student Enrollment: 378
  • College Type: Private

This college is truly unique. Known for its relatively young status (founded in 1997) and incredibly small student body, Olin has high standards for its applicants–a score of 32–35 on the ACT or a 1480–1570 on the SAT is the average. Olin has three majors available to study: Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering.

19. Washington University in St Louis

  • Sidewalk leading to a building at Washington University at St. Louis.

    Flickr user grabadonut

    Location: St. Louis, MO

  • Student Enrollment: 15,047
  • College Type: Private

Named after the legendary George Washington, this university has educated a number of other famous names, including: actor Harold Ramis, Greenpeace CEO Phil Radford, and even writer Tennessee Williams (though he dropped out). Washington University is known for its geographical diversity, with many students coming from New York, Illinois, and California.

18. Dartmouth College

  • Snow outside a Dartmouth College building.

    Flickr user Dennis Yang

    Location: Hanover, NH

  • Student Enrollment: 6,409
  • College Type: Private

Dartmouth’s Latin school motto, “Vox clamantis in deserto”, translates to mean “A voice crying out into the wilderness.” It has a 7:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and a 4 year graduation rate of 86%. Of the total students at Dartmouth, 67% are undergraduates, while the remaining 33% are graduate students.

17. Brown University

  • Brown University Van Wickle Gates.

    Flickr user thurdl01

    Location: Providence, RI

  • Student Enrollment: 9,781
  • College Type: Private

As an Ivy League school, it should come as no surprise that admittance is very selective. Of the over 30,000 applications received, Brown will admit only 8% of them. Additionally, average ACT and SAT scores are impressive, between 31–35 and 1420–1570 respectively. Fitting its name, one of the official school colors is brown, the other two are cardinal and white.

16. Duke University

  • Perkins Library at Duke University.

    Flickr user Chris Lawrence

    Location: Durham, NC

  • Student Enrollment: 15,735
  • College Type: Private

Given the university’s Methodists affiliation and motto of “Eruditio et Religio” (Knowledge and Faith) it’s a little ironic that their sporting teams are known as the Blue Devils. Duke has a 7 to 1 student-to-faculty ratio and an excellent 97% freshman retention rate. Their acceptance rate is 10%

15. Northwestern University

  • Plants in front of a Northwestern University building.

    Flickr user jojolae

    Location: Evanston, IL

  • Student Enrollment: 21,823
  • College Type: Private

A founder of the Big Ten conference, Northwestern is the only private college in the group. Mascot Willie cheers on the Wildcats at sporting events. The university has more graduate students than undergraduate, with a 60 / 40 split. Economics, Communication, and Journalism are the most populated majors on campus.

14. Amherst College

  • Amherst College campus building atop a grassy hill.

    Flickr user Henry

    Location: Amherst, MA

  • Student Enrollment: 1,849
  • College Type: Private

Established initially as a men’s college, Amherst opened its doors to women in 1975. Nowadays there’s a nearly even split between men and women, at 49.9% and 50.1% respectively. Incoming freshman score, on average, 32–34 on the ACT and 1450–1550 on the SAT. Amherst sports purple and white as their school colors.

13. Swarthmore College

  • Swarthmore College campus building surrounded by trees.

    Flickr user Simon

    Location: Swarthmore, PA

  • Student Enrollment: 1,543
  • College Type: Private

“Mind the Light” is the motto of Swarthmore, where the school colors are garnet and grey. While a small school, this college sees nearly 9,500 applications a year, though just over 1,000 are accepted. Economics, Biology, and Engineering are among the most popular majors on campus, followed by Computer Science and Experimental Psychology.

12. Williams College

  • Griffin Hall at Williams College.

    Flickr user Peter Rintels

    Location: Williamstown, MA

  • Student Enrollment: 2,150
  • College Type: Private

The purple and gold-wearing athletic teams at Williams College are cheered on by an interesting mascot—the Purple Cow. On average, incoming freshmen score between 31 and 35 on the ACT, and between 1420 and 1570 on the SAT. With an acceptance rate of 15%, Williams College admits nearly 1,300 students annually.

11. University of Notre Dame

  • University of Notre Dame's Golden Dome.

    Flickr user Dan Dzurisin

    Location: Notre Dame, IN

  • Student Enrollment: 12,393
  • College Type: Private

This university is known around the world, helped by the fact it has study and research centers in London, Beijing, Dublin, Jerusalem, and Rome. Notre Dame celebrates its Irish routes with a leprechaun mascot and their teams’ nickname: the Fighting Irish. 91% of students graduate within the traditional four years.

10. Columbia University in the City of New York

  • View outside Butler Library at Columbia University in the City of New York.

    Flickr user Andreas Komodromos

    Location: New York, NY

  • Student Enrollment: 29,372
  • College Type: Private

Founded before the creation of the Declaration of Independence, Columbia is full of history—including awarding the very first M.D. degree in the US. Columbia also awards the coveted Pulitzer Prize every year. It is located in Harlem, right on the Hudson River. They have a 6 to 1 student-to-faculty ratio.

9. Pomona College

  • Students enjoying a sunny day at Pomona College.

    Flickr user Dave & Margie Hill

    Location: Claremont, CA

  • Student Enrollment: 1,563
  • College Type: Private

Over 9,000 applications are sent in each year to Pomona College, and with an acceptance rate of just 8%, only about 720 apps are accepted. Pomona’s sports teams wear blue and gold and are cheered on by mascot Cecil Sagehen. This prestigious college has an impressive 4 year graduation rate of 91%.

8. University of Pennsylvania

  • College Hall at University of Pennsylvania.

    Flickr user Rob Pettengill

    Location: Philadelphia, PA

  • Student Enrollment: 24,960
  • College Type: Private

Founded by the great Benjamin Franklin, UPenn was one of nine colonial colleges chartered before the American Revolution. The top five most popular majors on campus are Finance, Registered Nursing, Political Science and Government, Economics, and Biology. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the school colors are a patriotic red and blue.

7. University of Chicago

  • View from outside a University of Chicago building.

    Flickr user Don Burkett

    Location: Chicago, IL

  • Student Enrollment: 15,775
  • College Type: Private

The official UChicago motto is “Crescat Scientia; vita excolatur”—Let knowledge grow from more and more; and so be human life enriched. Each year, approximately 28,000 applications are sent in, though the acceptance rate is only 9%. Many UChicago students are from Illinois, but many others come in from California and New York as well.

6. Stanford University

  • The view above Hoover tower at Stanford University.

    Flickr user Michael Estigoy

    Location: Stanford, CA

  • Student Enrollment: 17,184
  • College Type: Private

Given its proximity to Silicon Valley, it comes as no surprise that the most popular major on Stanford’s campus is Computer Science, followed by Human Biology and Engineering. During its foundation, Stanford was actually modeled off of Cornell and Harvard among other influential universities. Cardinal and white are the official school colors.

5. California Institute of Technology

  • The California Institute of Technology campus' iconic gene pool fountain.

    Flickr user Eric Chan

    Location: Pasadena, CA

  • Student Enrollment: 2,240
  • College Type: Private

7,339 undergraduate applications were sent in last year, but this school is quite selective, only accepting 587—for an acceptance rate of 8%. Orange and white are the classic colors of CalTech. There is an impressive number of distinguished alumni, including 72 Nobel laureates, 6 Turing Award winners, and 71 have won the US National Medal of Science and Technology.

4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology's dome building.

    Flickr user Andrew Hitchcock

    Location: Cambridge, MA

  • Student Enrollment: 11,376
  • College Type: Private

“Mens et Manus” is the Latin motto of this impressive school, translating to “Mind and Hand.” MIT is practically synonymous with academic excellence, and incoming freshmen score an average of 1500–1570 on the SAT, an average between 33 and 35 on the ACT. MIT is both a Land Grant and a Space Grant school.

3. Yale University

  • An alley on Yale University's campus.

    Flickr user Francisco Anzola

    Location: New Haven, CT

  • Student Enrollment: 12,458
  • College Type: Private

The first PhD ever awarded in the US came from Yale University. Economics, Political Science, and History are the most popular majors on campus. Students can enjoy one-on-one interactions with their professors, as the student-to-faculty ratio is 6:1. Yale also boasts an impressive 99% first year retention rate.

2. Harvard University

  • Memorial Hall building at Harvard University.

    Flickr user Paul Geffen

    Location: Cambridge, MA

  • Student Enrollment: 29,908
  • College Type: Private

Harvard is among the oldest universities in the US, founded back in 1636. It’s latin motto of “Veritas” means truth—a fitting motto for a school known for its law, political science, and social science programs. Students need impressive academics at Harvard, since the average ACT score is between 32–36, and SAT scores are between 1470 and 1590.

1. Princeton University

  • East Pyne Hall at Princeton University.

    Flickr user Kah-Wai Lin

    Location: Princeton, NJ

  • Student Enrollment: 8,181
  • College Type: Private

Princeton is one of the most well-known universities in the country, and for good reason. Several alumni have gone on to become impressive leaders in their fields, including: Alan Turing, Jimmy Stewart, Michelle Obama, and Sonia Sotomayor. As an Ivy League school, it’s not surprising that Princeton has a low acceptance rate of only 6%.

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.

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