Top 25 Best Private Colleges in the US | 2021 Rankings

Best Private Colleges badgeThere are private universities in the US older than the country itself! Many of the best colleges in America are private, many are even household names. Rich with history, private colleges can go on to produce equally historic alumni.

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 just be more affordable than you’d imagine.

The 25 schools featured here are the cream of the private crop. Not only do students attending these schools enjoy their time there academically, these schools also have beautiful campuses, amazing student resources, and vibrant traditions.

Top 25 Best Private Colleges

One of the oldest universities in America, having predated the founding of the country itself, Princeton University is a school with an amazing history. In 1783, Princeton’s Nassau Hall was America’s capital for a few months! In present times, people recognize Princeton University as a prestigious and highly selective Ivy League school, with over 35,000 students applying there every year.
Location Princeton, NJ
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 8,374
Almost everyone has heard about Harvard University, and for good reason. Not only is Harvard University the oldest college in the United States, it also holds the largest academic library system in the world. Over 42,000 students apply to Harvard every year, but only under 5% of those applicants are accepted into this renowned Ivy League.
Location Cambridge, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 31,566
Originally named the Collegiate School, Yale University renamed itself in 1716 to thank Elihu Yale, who funded a new building on campus. From there, Yale University continued to grow, even awarding the first PhD in the United States. The school also has the second-largest endowment -- over half the students attending Yale receive over $52,000 in grant and over $50,000 in institutional aid.
Location New Haven, CT
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 13,433
MIT is widely known for its innovation and contributions in the advancements in technology and modern sciences, including the development of digital circuits, creating its own unit of length, and discovering the genetic basis of human cancer, to name a few. MIT is also highly selective -- over 21,000 students apply to MIT annually, but only 7% of them are accepted.
Location Cambridge, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 11,574
Stanford University’s full name is Leland Stanford Junior University, named after the founder’s late son, and was one of the first universities to open its doors to both men and women. Stanford has one of the largest campuses in America, and houses a multitude of research facilities, libraries, art museums, and more. With such a wide variety of resources available, it’s no wonder that 99% of freshmen come back for their sophomore year.
Location Stanford, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 17,381
The University of Chicago has a long and rich history -- it houses the largest university press in America, it has the second-oldest student improvisational troupe, and developed radiocarbon dating, to name a few. Thus, it’s not surprising that over 32,000 students apply to the University of Chicago every year or that the school has a 99% first-year retention rate.
Location Chicago, IL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 17,002
As its name suggests, the California Institute of Technology is dedicated primarily to science and engineering. Beyond academics, CalTech is also known for its long-standing love of pranks, it’s rivalry with MIT, and their honor code. Unsurprisingly, the most popular majors at CalTech include Computer Science, Physics, and Electrical Engineering.
Location Pasadena, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,233
First chartered by King George II as King’s College, the school broke away after the American Revolution and was renamed. Students at Columbia University can expect an average class size of 6 students to 1 faculty member. Popular majors include Econometrics, Computer Science, and Political Science.
Location New York, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 31,077
The University of Pennsylvania was founded by Benjamin Franklin and is home to America’s first school of medicine and collegiate business school. It’s therefore not surprising that the most popular majors at UPenn include Finance, Registered Nursing, and Economics. UPenn also had the first student union and the first double-decker collegiate football stadium.
Location Philadelphia, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 25,860
Pomona College was founded in 1887 and later on created the Claremont College. Students who attend Pomona have the choice to take up to half their classes at the other four colleges and are free to use the other colleges’ resources. Because of these amazing opportunities, it’s no wonder that Pomona College is incredibly selective, accepting only under 8% of all applicants. r half of their classes at any of the Claremont Colleges.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,573
Founded in 1838, Duke University went through many names before settling on its current title. Because of its rich history and beautiful campus, it’s not surprising to see that almost 36,000 students apply to Duke every year, though only 9% of them are accepted. On average, incoming freshmen score between 32 and 35 on the ACT and between 1,480 and 1,570 on the SAT.
Location Durham, NC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 16,606
As a liberal arts college, Williams College focuses on interdisciplinary studies and runs on a 4-1-4 schedule. Students can use the winter semester to take an interesting class, focus on their research, or study abroad. Along with their unique academic calendar, students can expect an average class size of six students to every faculty member.
Location Williamstown, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,149
Dartmouth College is highly selective and for good reason. Not only does the college offer the Dartmouth Plan, which allows more freedom to students building their schedules, Dartmouth also covers the tuition of students with families that make less than $100,000 a year. The school receives 22,000 applications, but only accepts 9% of them.
Location Hanover, NH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 6,572
As the 7th oldest university in America and as the first school to accept any student regardless of their religion, Brown University has been paving the way for a different way of seeing education ever since. Brown University is most widely known for its Open Curriculum -- as long as students fulfill their concentration requirements and take at least 30 courses while at Brown, they can graduate.
Location Providence, RI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 10,257
The University of Notre Dame has grown exponentially since its creation -- not only does it have a sprawling campus, the university has academic centers all around the world. Students attending the University of Notre Dame can find amazing resources available to them and many major in either Finance, Mechanical Engineering, or Accounting.
Location Notre Dame, IN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 12,607
Although it technically began as a university, Washington University in St. Louis was originally a night school until they received enough funding to become a fully-fledged university. Today, almost 16,000 students attend the university with a 97% first year retention rate. Some popular majors at the school include Computer Science, Finance, and Experimental Psychology.
Location St. Louis, MO
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 15,852
Northwestern University is known for many things -- as a founder of the Big Ten Conference, as an amazing research university, and as an extremely selective school. Every year, 40,000 students send in their applications to Northwestern and only 8.5% of them receive an acceptance.
Location Evanston, IL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 22,127
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering is unique in that it has an extremely small student body and only three majors: Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Electrical Engineering. Additionally, students who attend have half of their tuition covered by the Olin Scholarship. Because of the scholarship and glowing reputation in the engineering field, Olin College receives almost 900 applicants per year, only accepting less than 140 of them.
Location Needham, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 390
Rice University opened its doors as a co-ed school, something that was unusual at the time. A year later, they created the Honor System, something that is still used and taken seriously today. Today, Rice University has over 7,000 students and receives over 20,000 applications every year. Some of the most popular majors at Rice include Computer and Information Sciences, Chemical Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering.
Location Houston, TX
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 7,124
Though Swarthmore College was founded in 1864, the school didn’t hold class until 1869. Swarthmore College is part of the Tri-College Consortium with two other schools -- students attending can register for classes at the other colleges. With such an amazing opportunity, it’s no wonder that Swarthmore is highly selective, with the incoming freshmen class typically scoring between 30 to 34 on the ACT and 1,400 to 1,550 on the SAT.
Location Swarthmore, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,559
Vanderbilt University is a well-known research institution. Unsurprisingly, many students are drawn toward Vanderbilt -- over 34,000 students apply annually and less than 10% of them are accepted. Popular majors at Vanderbilt include Economics, Social Science, and Interdisciplinary Studies. There is a 7:1 student-to-faculty ratio.
Location Nashville, TN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 12,824
Cornell University is one of the few private land-grant schools in the US and was originally founded to explore and contribute to all fields of knowledge. Staying true to their mission, Cornell University offers a wide variety of majors students can choose from -- some of the more popular ones being Computer Science, Labor and Industrial Relations, and Biology.
Location Ithaca, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 23,600
As a liberal arts school, Amherst College has adopted an open curriculum, where students aren’t required to take any core classes and lets students create their own interdisciplinary study. Many students at Amherst major in fields such as Economics, Mathematics, and English Language and Literature, just to name a few.
Location Amherst, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,855
Washington and Lee University was founded in 1749, making it the country’s ninth-oldest university. The university has a rich history, from the inception of one of America’s oldest collegiate secret societies in 1880 to the university adopting their famous student-run honor system in 1905. The most popular major is Business.
Location Lexington, VA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,223
Harvey Mudd College is part of the Claremont Consortium. Because of that, some students choose to major in fields such as Engineering, Computer Science, or Mathematics and Computer Science at Harvey Mudd. Others may choose to do an Independent Program of Study or major in a field offered by one of the other schools.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 902

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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.