College Raptor’s Top 50 Best Colleges in the US list is the most prestigious and selective rankings list we have. Schools featured here are the best of the best. With vibrant histories, beautiful campuses, and amazing academic programs, these schools are truly iconic places of higher learning.
After thoroughly analyzing thousands of colleges, we selected the absolute best 50 four-year institutions of all sizes and types, from all over the country.
Below you’ll find a mixture of public and private, big and small, household names and schools you likely haven’t heard of before! Check out the list and learn more about America’s top colleges.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Unlike many schools, the U.S. Naval Academy does not possess an admission fee. Instead, prospective students need to be nominated by certain public officials. Students also need to pass a physical exam to gain admittance into the academy. The selectivity of this school may be due to the fact that the U.S. government pays for tuition and room & board.
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.
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.
The concept of the University of Virginia was created by Thomas Jefferson while he was president. It was the only school to stay open during the Civil War. The most popular major is Liberal Arts and Sciences. UVA graduates include politicians, Olympians, astronauts, Pulitzer Prize winners, and more.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
Some of the university’s most popular majors include Political Science and Government, Psychology, Sociology, and Biology. UCLA student athletes compete as the Bruins. The Bruins have won over 120 championships. Ongoing renovation projects on campus have led to UCLA’s acronym jokingly being said to mean “Under Construction Like Always.”
Berkeley has a reputation in activism internationally after Berkeley student involvement in the Free Speech Movement of 1964. The public research university’s most popular majors include General Economics, Computer Science, and Cellular / Molecular Biology. Out of just over 89,600 applicants, just above 13,440 students were admitted.
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.
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.
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.
At Claremont McKenna College, 93% of students graduate within 6 years. The school has fairly small class sizes, with 8 students for every 1 faculty member. The school’s football team competes at the NCAA Division III level. Legendary actor Robin Williams attended Claremont McKenna, but did not graduate.
This university is both academically and athletically talented, with many alumni going on to win Nobel Prizes or compete in the Olympics. Going by the Wolverines, their school colors are maize and blue. University of Michigan students most commonly study Business Administration and Management.
The private university is known for its research facilities. Approximately 58% of students receive grant aid. The most popular majors include Public Health, Registered Nursing, and Biomedical Engineering. Unlike many universities, Johns Hopkins has a higher population of graduate students than undergraduate, with over 20,000 grad and over 6,050 undergrad students.
With school colors of Carolina blue and white, this university is one of the 17 campuses of the University of North Carolina system. Out of nearly 41,940 applicants, only 9,645 students were admitted into the university. The notable faculty includes Nobel Prize laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, and Rhodes Scholars.
Georgetown University is home to the country’s largest student-run business and one of the oldest debating societies. The campus is located just north of the mighty Potomac River. The average ACT and SAT scores of accepted students is between 31--34 and 1,370--1,530 respectively. Their school motto is “Both into One.”
The College of William and Mary is a school of firsts. It was the first to introduce a Greek fraternity, the first to invoke an honor code for students, and was the first law school in America. The three most popular majors are Business Administration and Management, Political Science and Government, and Physical Education.
This women’s college, located just north of Lake Wabash, is regarded as having the largest network of women alumni in the world. Notable alumni include: Nora Ephron, Hillary Clinton, and Diane Sawyer. The college does not impose an application fee. It’s a very selective school, with only 20% of applicants admitted in.
Soka University of America has a unique and noble school motto: “Be philosophers of a renaissance of life; Be world citizens in solidarity for peace; Be the pioneers of a global civilization.” Which fits their mission of pacifism and human rights very well. Soka has three school colors: blue, white, and gold.
Tufts University is home to the Jumbos, their nickname paying homage to an elephant once owned by P.T. Barnum. The average ACT and SAT scores of incoming students is 31--34 and 1,380--1,530 respectively. At Tufts, 37% of students receive grant aid. The school’s most popular major is Computer Science.
Applying to the US Military Academy is free. The motto of the school is three words: “Duty, Honor, Country.” Students can be nominated for admission by congressmen, senators, and even the President of the United States, among other officials. Students in the academy are called “cadets” during their time in training.
Unlike many colleges, Carleton follows a trimester system, running on a 10-week term. Between 2000 and 2016, the school has been home to 122 National Science Graduate Fellows. Computer Science, Biology, Economics, International Relations, and Chemistry are the top five most popular majors.
On average, Haverford College has 8 students to 1 faculty member on campus. Incoming freshmen score, on average, between 32 and 34 on the ACT, and for the SAT between 1370 and 1530. Biology, Economics, English, Political Science, and Psychology are the top five most popular majors. The college has an acceptance rate of 19%.
Emory University is the home of the Eagles. Alumni from Emory include prime ministers, university presidents, and members of Congress. There is a near even split between undergraduate and graduate students---49% and 51% respectively. Honorary alumni include Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Tom Brokaw.
The United States Merchant Marine Academy is one of the five service academies in the US. Its motto is “Deeds not Words” and the official school colors are blue and gray. There is no undergraduate application fee and the academy is on a trimester calendar. The US Merchant Marine Academy offers six residence halls, and students are required to live on campus.
Founded in 1793, Hamilton College became co-educational in 1978. The college is named after Alexander Hamilton, who was a member of the Board of Trustees. Hamilton has graduated some influential names---like B.F. Skinner. Bernie Sanders lectured Political Science at Hamilton.
Vassar College was founded as a women’s college---the second of its kind in the US. It became coeducational in 1969. Vassar’s school colors are rose and gray. Student athletes are known as the Brewers. The most popular majors at Vassar include Economics, Political Science, and Biology.
Carnegie Mellon’s mascot is Scotty the Scottie Dog. The institution is quite selective, accepting only 17% of all students who applied. Carnegie Mellon also boasts a 10 to 1 student-to faculty ratio, and 97% of freshmen students return for their sophomore year there. CMU has four official school colors---cardinal, black, grey, and white.
The most popular majors at the United States Air Force Academy include Business Management and Administration, Economics, and Systems Engineering. Their school motto is reflected in their hard work---“Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence in All We Do.” Students commit to serve several years of military service after graduation.
The University of Southern California was founded in 1880, and was the earliest private research university in California. Their school colors are cardinal and gold. The most popular majors at this school include Business Administration, Speech Communication and Rhetoric, and Accounting.
In addition to the college’s location in Brunswick, Bowdoin also possesses a coastal studies center near Casco Bay. The college stresses a well-rounded academic plan, with requirements in various subjects, including a heavy writing course required during a student’s first year. They have a highly selective acceptance rate of 10%.
Like the other US military academies, the US Coast Guard Academy does not have an application fee. USCGA has an acceptance rate of 19% and a four year graduation rate of 81%. Many of the first year students come from Virginia, California, and Florida. Their mascot is Objee the Bear, named after a famous Coast Guard ship.
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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