Top 25 Best Private Colleges in the US | 2020 Rankings

Best Private Colleges BadgeMany of the private colleges in America are well-known household names, with long and fascinating histories–some of which date back before the founding of the United States itself.

Private colleges tend to be nonprofit institutions that are funded internally through endowments and donations. Because of this, private colleges offer some of the highest financial aid packages and might be more affordable than you think.

The 25 schools featured on this are the best of the best private colleges in the US. Not only do students attending these schools enjoy their time there academically, these schools have beautiful campuses, amazing academic and campus resources, and have vibrant traditions. 

Best Private Colleges in the US

Founded back in 1746, Princeton University (initially known as the College of New Jersey) is older than the United States itself. As such, its history is rich and colorful. During the American revolution, a battle took place at Princeton and British soldiers even occupied Nassau Hall. It is a proud member of the Ivy League, as well. The school colors are orange and black.
Location Princeton, NJ
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 8,374
Harvard is the oldest institute of higher learning in the United States of America. It was founded in 1636, and has seen countless famous faces pass through its historic halls. Notable alumni include: Teddy Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Benazir Bhutto, Bill Gates, and both Barack and Michelle Obama, among many others. Their motto “Veritas” means “Truth.”
Location Cambridge, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 31,566
In 1861, Yale awarded the very first PhD within the United States. At the time, however, it was known as Yale College. This university is a member of the esteemed Ivy League. Each year, Yale receives well over 35,000 college applications, though it has a low acceptance rate of just 6%. Their mascot is a Bulldog named Handsome Dan.
Location New Haven, CT
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 13,433
Stanford University holds a strong reputation throughout the world. Stanford’s notable alumni include Nobel laureates, Olympic medalists, and billionaires. The school is located right in the middle of Silicon Valley, known as the technology capital of the US. The university has a low acceptance rate of 4%. Out of around 47,450 applicants, just under 1,900 students were accepted.
Location Stanford, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 17,381
With their Latin motto meaning “Mind and Hand,” this institute emphasizes hands-on learning. MIT has played pivotal roles of assistance during impactful times in world history, developing technology during the Cold War and WWII. Incoming students score on average between 34 and a perfect 36 on the ACT, and between 1500 and 1570 on the SAT.
Location Cambridge, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 11,574
This private research university is affiliated with 90 Nobel laureates, one of the highest concentrations of laureates in the world. The University of Chicago also houses the largest university press in America, the University of Chicago Press. The university’s most popular major is Econometrics and Quantitative Economics.
Location Chicago, IL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 17,002
From changing the Hollywood sign to read CALTECH, to making trick MIT mugs which turned to CalTech’s logo and colors when warmed, one thing that CalTech is known for is its practical jokes. Of course, they’re also known for their impeccable science and engineering programs. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Computer Science is the most popular major.
Location Pasadena, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,233
Columbia University was founded by King George II of England in 1754. The university is the second most selective college of the Ivy League, with an acceptance rate of 6%. The school is the founding place of many historic events, being the first place in North America to witness the splitting of uranium and is where FM radio was created.
Location New York, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 31,077
The University of Pennsylvania is associated with a number of successful people, including scholars and dozens of Fortune 500 CEOS. UPenn is a trendsetter, housing the very first medical school, first collegiate business school, and the first student union building. The university witnessed the founding of America, with eight of the signers of the Declaration of Independence graduating from the school.
Location Philadelphia, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 25,860
Williams College is the second oldest college of Massachusetts. One of the school’s traditions involves a mountain. On a Friday in October, the college’s president declares the day to be Mountain Day and cancels all classes. Students will then go to Stony Ledge and enjoy snacks and singing performances.
Location Williamstown, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,149
Pomona is a college of diversity, with students from all over the US and from 63 countries. The college moved from Pomona to Claremont in 1889. It has built an academic reputation rivaling the Ivy Leagues since. Any student at Pomona also has the option to take over half of their classes at any of the Claremont Colleges.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,573
Duke University has had its name changed many times, originally called Brown’s Schoolhouse. The school has many notable alumni, including Richard Nixon, Tim Cook, and Melinda Gates. Duke’s most popular major is Public Policy Analysis, followed by Econometrics and Quantitative Economics, Biology, and Nursing.
Location Durham, NC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 16,606
Known for its selectivity, Northwestern University has an acceptance rate of 8%. Out of 40,425 applicants, only about 3,235 students were admitted into the school. Northwestern is a large research university located on the banks of Lake Michigan. The university’s colors are purple and white.
Location Evanston, IL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 22,127
The University of Notre Dame was originally an all-male school, founded in 1842. The school houses many well-known landmarks, including the Golden Dome and Basilica. Notre Dame has also graduated a number of famous faces---including: Regis Philbin, Condoleezza Rice, and Nicholas Sparks.
Location Notre Dame, IN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 12,607
Rice University’s most popular majors include Computer and Information Sciences, Chemical Engineering, and Biochemistry. Rice is home to the nation’s first nanotechnology center. Academics aren’t Rice’s only strong point; the university participates in 14 NCAA Division I varsity sports. Their mascot is Sammy the Owl.
Location Houston, TX
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 7,124
Brown University is one of the nine colonial colleges built before the American Revolution. Over time, Brown has set itself apart from the other universities in its academic structure. The school lets students decide their own curriculum surrounding their concentrations, and abolished general education requirements in 1969.
Location Providence, RI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 10,257
Dartmouth’s school color is known as Dartmouth green. The school has many famous alumni, including Mindy Kaling, Robert Frost, and Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel). Outside of academics, Dartmouth has a number of athletic varsity teams nicknamed the Big Green. Interestingly, Dartmouth has never had an official mascot.
Location Hanover, NH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 6,572
Washington University in St. Louis has school colors of red and green. The university consists of seven schools open to graduates and undergraduates encompassing a plethora of subjects. Popular majors at the university include Finance, Psychology, Computer Science, and Biology. WUSTL has a 4-year graduation rate of 88%.
Location St. Louis, MO
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 15,852
Founded in 1864 and as one of the first coeducational schools in the country, Swarthmore is used to setting an example. The school even played a role in the formation of American football. Today, the school is home to nearly 430 varsity athletes. Common varsity sports include soccer, lacrosse, and basketball.
Location Swarthmore, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,559
Vanderbilt University holds an acceptance rate of 10%, admitting about 3,430 students out of over 34,300 applicants. The school has a student to faculty ratio of 7 to 1 and requires all students to live on-campus. Vanderbilt’s mascot is called Mr. Commodore, or Mr. C, who has the appearance of a naval officer.
Location Nashville, TN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 12,824
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering is a small but impressive school. It is known for its focus on STEM-based academics and project-based curriculum. Olin only offers Bachelor’s degrees, and does not possess any graduate programs. The school’s mascot is a Phoenix named Frank. The original school colors, before changing to a gradient of bright tones, were blue and silver.
Location Needham, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 390
“I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study,” said founder Ezra Cornell in 1868. Cornell does in fact have a plethora of programs, the most popular of which are Biology, Labor and Industrial Relations, Computer Science, Hotel Administration, and Agricultural Economics.
Location Ithaca, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 23,600
Washington and Lee University has an acceptance rate of 21%, a pretty selective rate. This school requires that students live on-campus. The average ACT and SAT scores of admitted students are between 31--34 and 1,348--1,490 respectively. W&L is named after George Washington and Robert E. Lee.
Location Lexington, VA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,223
Harvey Mudd College holds a focus in engineering and science and is a part of the Claremont Colleges. The average ACT and SAT scores for accepted applicants is between 34--35 and 1,490--1,560 respectively. The men’s athletic teams compete as the Stags, while the women are called the Athenas.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 902
Amherst College is a strictly undergraduate institution, located in Massachusetts. The college is a part of the Five College Consortium, giving students the chance to attend class at any one of the five colleges included in the group. Amherst has a historic rivalry with both Williams College and Wesleyan University.
Location Amherst, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,855

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


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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