Top 50 Best Colleges in the US | 2019 Rankings

College Raptor Rankings star badge that says "Top 50 Best US Colleges 2019".The Top 50 Best Colleges in the US is our most-selective and most prestigious rankings list. The schools in this category are the very best in the country.

We’ve analyzed thousands of colleges from around the US and selected the best of the four-year institutions throughout the nation. This list includes schools of all sizes, all locations, both public and private.

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

50. The Juilliard School

  • The Juilliard School building.

    Flickr user Shinya Suzuki

    Location: New York, NY

  • Student Enrollment: 939
  • College Type: Private

Located in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Juilliard is world-renowned for its drama, dance, and music programs. Given its prestigious reputation, it’s no surprise that Juilliard’s acceptance rate is just 6%. The most popular major the school offers is Stringed Instruments, followed by Dance and Keyboard Instruments.

49. United States Military Academy

  • Cadets from US Military Academy.

    Flickr user mikek7890.

    Location: West Point, NY

  • Student Enrollment: 4,389
  • College Type: Public

Known colloquially as “West Point” the US Military Academy sports the colors black and gold. To gain entry, students must apply and be nominated–typically by a Congressmen or Delegate, though students can also be nominated by the President or Vice President of the US. The acceptance rate is 10%.

48. Vassar College

  • Jewett House in Vassar College Campus.

    Flickr user Yibo Yu

    Location: Poughkeepsie, NY

  • Student Enrollment: 2,424
  • College Type: Private

Vassar was the first degree-granting institute of higher learning in the United States, and was one of the original Seven Sisters. It became coeducational in 1969. Nearly 7,800 applications were sent in last year, and with an acceptance rate of 24%, about 1,850 were accepted. They have almost 400 athletes on campus, a near even split between men and women.

47. Haverford College

  • Chase Hall old classroom building at Haverford College.

    Flickr user Roger W

    Location: Haverford, PA

  • Student Enrollment: 1,268
  • College Type: Private

“Non doctior, sed meliore doctrina imbutus” is the official school motto of Haverford, meaning “Not more learned, but steeped in a higher learning.” The average ACT score of incoming freshmen is between 30 and 34; for the SAT between 1410 and 1540. Haverford has a six year graduation rate of 90%.

46. Middlebury College

  • Middlebury College library building.

    Flickr user daiji

    Location: Middlebury, VT

  • Student Enrollment: 2,549
  • College Type: Private

Middlebury is the oldest college in the state of Vermont, founded back in 1800. Economics, Political Science, Environmental Studies, Psychology, and Neuroscience are the five most popular majors on campus. It was the first institute of higher learning in the country to award a Bachelor’s degree to an African-American student—Alexander Twilight, class of 1823.

45. Emory University

  • Psychology building and Cannon Chapel in Emory University.

    Flickr user Georgia Popplewell

    Location: Atlanta, GA

  • Student Enrollment: 14,067
  • College Type: Private

Incoming Emory freshmen score an average between 30–33 on the ACT and 1380–1510 on the SAT. This university has a 22% acceptance rate, and had nearly 24,000 applications sent in last year. “Cor prudentis possidebit scientiam” is the school motto, and translates to mean “The wise heart seeks knowledge.”

44. Hamilton College

  • Chapel building in the Hamilton College campus.

    Source: Flickr user chuckthewriter.

    Location: Clinton, NY

  • Student Enrollment: 1,883
  • College Type: Private

Named for trustee Alexander Hamilton in 1812, this college is exclusive to undergraduate students. There’s a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio and the most popular major on campus is Economics. Nearly 6,000 applications are sent in every year. Continental blue and buff are the official school colors.

43. Davidson College

  • Carnegie Guest House in Davidson College.

    Flickr user Melinda Stuart

    Location: Davidson, NC

  • Student Enrollment: 1,796
  • College Type: Private

“Alenda Lux Ubi Orta Libertas” is the motto of Davidson, meaning “Let learning be cherished where liberty has arisen.” The school has a 90% 4 year graduation rate and an acceptance rate of 20%. There is a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Davidson College’s school colors are black and red.

42. Colby College

  • Miller Library viewed from Lorimer Chapel in Colby College.

    Flickr user Roman Boed

    Location: Waterville, ME

  • Student Enrollment: 1,879
  • College Type: Private

Of the over 11,000 applications sent in, Colby will accept around 1,800 of them given the 16% acceptance rate. There is a 91% four year graduation rate. Colby has two unique official school colors, Colby blue and priscilla. The athletic teams are known as the Mules. The most popular major on campus is Economics.

41. Boston College

Boston College’s Greek school motto of “Αἰέν ἀριστεύειν” translates to mean “Ever to excel,” a fitting phrase for this historic college. Baldwin the Eagle is BC’s mascot, and students wear maroon and gold to cheer on the athletic teams. Boston College has an impressive 95% first year retention rate.

40. Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

  • Cooper Union art school building.

    Flickr user Dan DeLuca

    Location: New York, NY

  • Student Enrollment: 964
  • College Type: Private

With its small student body and prestigious art program, it’s no surprise that Cooper Union’s acceptance rate is quite selective–13%. The most popular majors are Fine / Studio Arts, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Architecture. For every 9 students, there’s 1 faculty member.

39. Tufts University

  • Tufts University campus during autumn.

    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.

38. Carleton College

  • Carleton College campus building.

    Flickr user Willy Lee

    Location: Northfield, MN

  • Student Enrollment: 2,105
  • College Type: Private

Blue and maize are the bold colors for the the Carleton Knights. The most popular majors on campus are Computer Science, Biology, Economics, International Relations / Affairs, and Chemistry. The average ACT scores for incoming freshmen are between 30–34; for the SAT it’s between 1410 and 1540.

37. Georgetown University

  • Staiway towards Georgetown University campus building.

    Flickr user Josh

    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.

36. United States Coast Guard Academy

  • United States Coast Guard Academy students tossing their hats in the air.

    Flickr user Coast Guard News.

    Location: New London, CT

  • Student Enrollment: 986
  • College Type: Public

The USCGA offers 8 possible majors to their cadets: Business, Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Oceanography, Political Science, Operations Research, Naval Architecture / Marine Engineering, and Electrical Engineering. They have an 84% four year graduation rate and an impressive 97% first year retention rate.

35. Johns Hopkins University

  • The Johns Hopkins University campus with green lawn.

    Flickr user Let Ideas Compete

    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.

34. College of William and Mary

  • Tucker Hall at the 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.

33. Washington and Lee University

  • Washington and Lee University campus in early winter.

    Flickr user Robert of Fairfax

    Location: Lexington, VA

  • Student Enrollment: 2,160
  • College Type: Private

The motto Non Incautus Futuri” translates to “Not unmindful of the future,” an apt phrase since the school was partially named after a very forward thinking historical figure: George Washington. The second part of this school’s name comes from Robert E. Lee, who was president of the school for 5 years.

32. University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

  • A huge crowd in University of Michigan football stadium.

    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.

31. Soka University of America

  • Soka University of America campus field.

    Flickr user Mark Weston

    Location: Aliso Viejo, CA

  • Student Enrollment: 430
  • College Type: Private

SUA has quite the noble school motto: “Be philosophers of a renaissance of life; Be world citizens in solidarity for peace; Be the pioneers of a global civilization.” Soka has an elder sister school in Tokyo, Japan. With a small student body, this university has a 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio.

30. 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.

29. Cornell University

  • Cornell University red brick campus building.

    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.

28. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • Location: Chapel Hill, NC

  • Student Enrollment: 29,468
  • College Type: Public

Regarded as a “Public Ivy,” UNC Chapel Hill receives nearly 40,000 applications a year. With an acceptance rate of 24%, around 9,500 students are admitted annually. There’s a total of 890 athletes on campus, with basketball, soccer, and field hockey being some of the most popular sports.

27. Harvey Mudd College

  • Harvey Mudd campus building with college name in brass lettering.

    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.

26. Rice University

  • Lovett Hall passage to Rice University campus.

    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.

25. Vanderbilt University

  • Students gathering in front of Vanderbilt University campus for an event.

    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.

24. 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.

23. University of California – Los Angeles

  • University of California Los Angeles campus building on a sunny day.

    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.

22. Washington University in St Louis

  • Washington University of St Louis Brookings Hall.

    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.

21. University of California – Berkeley

  • University of California Berkeley library campus building.

    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.

20. Dartmouth College

  • Dartmouth College campus building with snow-covered lawn.

    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.

19. Brown University

  • Front gates of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

    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.

18. Duke University

  • Perkins Library building at Duke University campus.

    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%

17. Northwestern University

  • Northwestern University building behind the trees.

    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.

16. Amherst College

  • Amherst College campus building atop 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.

15. Swarthmore College

  • Swarthmore College campus building made of old brick.

    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.

14. University of Virginia – Main Campus

  • University of Virginia campus lawn and building.

    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.

13. Williams College

  • Griffin Hall in Williams College campus.

    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.

12. University of Notre Dame

  • Golden Dome in University of Notre Dame campus.

    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.

11. United States Naval Academy

  • Students walking on the United States Naval Academy campus.

    Flickr user Butch Dalisay

    Location: Annapolis, MD

  • Student Enrollment: 4,528
  • College Type: Public

“Ex Scientia Tridens” translated to “From knowledge, seapower” is an apt school motto for this naval academy. Around 1,300 students are admitted each year. Several different engineering fields are popular majors on campus, including System Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Ocean Engineering, and Aerospace / Aeronautical / Astronautical Engineering.

10. Columbia University in the City of New York

  • College Walk and Butler library at the Morningside campus of Columbia University.

    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 sunny day on the Pomona College campus.

    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 the University of Pennsylvania campus.

    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

  • University of Chicago campus quad in early spring.

    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

  • Hoover Tower in Stanford University campus aerial shot.

    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

  • 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 great dome.

    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

  • Yale University architectural alley inside 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 in Harvard University campus.

    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 in Princeton University campus.

    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!

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