Top 25 Best Research Colleges in the US | 2021 Rankings

Best Research Colleges badgeThe aptly named “research colleges” put a large emphasis on research from both students and faculty. Many of America’s best universities and colleges fall under the research category. They make impressive advancements in the sciences every single year.

With top-notch professors, resources, and programs, the universities and colleges featured on this list are the pinnacles of research colleges throughout the US. Though a lot of emphasis is put on graduate and PhD programs, research universities also have quality undergraduate education.

The 25 research universities and colleges listed here are academia’s finest. Check them out!

Top 25 Best Research Collges

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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 grants 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
Founded in 1838, Duke University went through many names before settling on what it’s currently known as today. 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
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. Because of that, and everything else Dartmouth College has to offer, 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. Because of their unique and flexible take on classes, they see about 35,000 applications every year, but only accept 8% of those students.
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
The University of Virginia was founded by Thomas Jefferson with James Madison and James Monroe sitting on the Board of Visitors. The school is also the oldest serving research university in the South. Some popular majors at the University of Virginia include Liberal Arts and Sciences, Business, and Biology.
Location Charlottesville, VA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 24,639
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. Northwestern has a 6:1 student-to-faculty ratio.
Location Evanston, IL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 22,127
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
The University of California -- Los Angeles is considered a Public Ivy and for good reason -- with amazing facilities and resources available to students, as well as hundreds of majors and degree programs, it’s no wonder that there are over 44,000 students currently attending. Every year, the university receives over 113,000 applications, though only 14% of them are accepted.
Location Los Angeles, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 44,537
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. The school has 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
The University of California -- Berkeley is the oldest University of California school, having been founded in 1868. Known for its innovation and research, UC Berkeley gets over 89,000 applicants every year. Students attending should expect an average class size of twenty students for every one faculty member.
Location Berkeley, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 42,501
The University of Michigan -- Ann Arbor is the oldest university in Michigan and is also known today as a research powerhouse. Almost 65,000 students apply to the university every year, though only 22% of them are accepted. Those who attend the university can expect a class size of around eleven students for every one faculty member.
Location Ann Arbor, MI
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 46,716
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of the oldest public universities in the US and considered a Public Ivy. Today, over 30,000 students attend the university and almost 42,000 hopeful students apply there every year. Only 22% of them are admitted. The incoming class has an average score between 28 to 33 on the ACT and 1,330 to 1,500 on the SAT.
Location Chapel Hill, NC
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 30,011
Johns Hopkins University is famously known for its dedication to research. It was also America’s first research university and helped found the Association of American Universities. Today, its campus sits in Baltimore, Maryland, though it has multiple facilities and campuses around the world. Some of the most popular majors at Johns Hopkins include Public Health, Neuroscience, and Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering.
Location Baltimore, MD
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 26,152
Georgetown University has a rich and colorful history, from having one of its halls be a National Historic Landmark to having the oldest and still-performing student theatre troupe. It’s not a surprise that the university gets almost 23,000 applicants annually. Students who are admitted into Georgetown University can expect an average class size of eleven students for every one faculty member.
Location Washington, DC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 19,204

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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.