Top 25 Best Research Colleges | 2019 Rankings

These institutes are prime examples of academia at its best. While many of these heavy-research schools have fantastic undergraduate programs, an emphasis is put on graduate and doctoral programs. At research universities, students can earn their PhDs and go out into the world to change it for the better.

Many of the very best research colleges are well-known household names.

Here are College Raptor’s 25 best research colleges in the US:

25. Tufts University

  • Flickr user Steve McFarland

    Location: Medford, MA

  • Student Enrollment: 11,489
  • College Type: Private

Over 20,000 applications are sent into Tufts every year, and with a 15% acceptance rate, only about 3,000 get accepted. There is a nearly even split between graduate and undergraduate students on campus, 52% and 48% respectively. Their mascot is Jumbo the Elephant, and their school colors are Tufts Blue and brown.

24. Georgetown University

  • Flickr user NCinDC

    Location: Washington, DC

  • Student Enrollment: 18,525
  • College Type: Private

Georgetown counts presidents, kings, Supreme Court Justices, and diplomats among their alumni. It is located right next to the historic Potomac River. The university has a 90% 4 year graduation rate, and a student-to-faculty ratio of 11:1. 60% of the students at Georgetown are at the graduate level.

23. Johns Hopkins University

  • Location: Baltimore, MD

  • Student Enrollment: 23,917
  • College Type: Private

Considered the first research university in the United States, Johns Hopkins has more graduate students (75% of total enrolled students) than undergrads. Incoming freshmen have impressive test scores, on average 32–35 or 1480–1570 on the ACT or SAT respectively. Their school colors are Hopkins blue, white, and black, and their athletic teams are known as the Blue Jays.

22. College of William and Mary

  • Flickr user benuski

    Location: Williamsburg, VA

  • Student Enrollment: 8,617
  • College Type: Public

Founded in 1693 by King William III and Queen Mary II, this college also the very first to have a Greek society—Phi Beta Kappa. Business, Political Science, Health and Fitness education, Biology, and Psychology are the five most popular majors on campus. W&M sports the colors green and gold.

21. University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

  • Flickr user Ken Lund

    Location: Ann Arbor, MI

  • Student Enrollment: 44,718
  • College Type: Public

In addition to being Michigan’s oldest institute of higher learning, the state’s flagship school, UM is also a space and sea grant college. The University of Michigan was originally located in Detroit, but moved to Ann Arbor in 1837. Almost 60,000 applications are sent in each year, and with an acceptance rate of 27%, over 16,000 are accepted.

20. 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.

19. 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.

18. University of California – Los Angeles

  • Flickr user Andy Dietler

    Location: Los Angeles, CA

  • Student Enrollment: 43,548
  • College Type: Public

Second oldest of the University of California system, UCLA received a whopping 102,225 applications last year. However, with an acceptance rate of 16%, only 16,356 were accepted. The 4 year graduation rate is 74% but jumps up to 91% at 6 years. 74.96% of UCLA students come from California.

17. Washington University in 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.

16. University of California – Berkeley

  • Flickr user K. Oliver

    Location: Berkeley, CA

  • Student Enrollment: 40,154
  • College Type: Public

UC Berkeley sports two unique colors: Berkeley Blue and California Gold. Students and mascot Oski cheer on the Golden Bears during athletic events. Economics, Computer Science, Cell / Molecular Biology, Electrical Engineering, and Business Administration are the five most popular majors on campus.

15. Dartmouth College

  • 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.

14. Brown University

  • 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.

13. 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%

12. Northwestern University

  • 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.

11. University of Virginia – Main Campus

  • Flickr user Rex Hammock

    Location: Charlottesville, VA

  • Student Enrollment: 23,898
  • College Type: Public

Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, this flagship university has been the university of impressive alumni, including 8 NASA astronauts / launch directors, 8 Pulitzer Prize winners, and widely recognizable names like Edgar Allen Poe, Georgia O’Keefe, Robert and Ted Kennedy, and Tina Fey, among others.

10. University of Notre Dame

  • 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.

9. 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.

8. 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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.

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

College Raptor Staff

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