Top 50 Best Colleges in the USA | 2021 Rankings

Best US Colleges badgeThe Top 50 Best Colleges in the USA list is the most prestigious and selective rankings list College Raptor releases every year. Schools that are featured here are the pinnacle of higher education. With vibrant histories, beautiful campuses, and amazing academic programs, these schools are iconic institutions.

After thoroughly analyzing thousands of colleges, Raptor selected the top 50 four-year schools of higher education of all sizes and types around the United States.

Below you’ll find a mixture of public and private, big and small, household names and schools you maybe haven’t even heard about. Check out the list and learn more about America’s best colleges.

Top 50 Best Colleges in the USA

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 can expect an average class size of six students to one faculty member and for many of their classmates to either be a Econometrics and Quantitative Economics, Computer Science, or Political Science and Government major.
Location New York City, 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
The United States Naval Academy is the second-oldest service academy. Students who want to attend the academy must be nominated. However, out of the 16,000 students who are nominated each year, only 1,300 are accepted, making the United States Naval Academy extremely selective. Those who do receive an acceptance have their tuition covered by the US Navy and must perform active service after graduating.
Location Annapolis, MD
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 4,512
Pomona College was founded in 1887 and later on created the Claremont Colleges, a group of five colleges that were all close to each other. 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.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,573
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
As a liberal arts college, Williams College focuses on interdisciplinary studies and runs on a 4-1-4 schedule. Students have two semesters with four courses, with a short winter semester in the middle. 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. 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 seventh-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
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. Students who attend Northwestern University can expect an average class size to be around six students to every one faculty member.
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
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, with multiple other research facilities and centers affiliated with it. 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. Students attending the school can expect an average class size to have seven students to every one faculty member.
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
As a liberal arts school, Amherst College has adopted an open curriculum, where students aren’t required to take any core classes and 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. The college is also part of the Five College Consortium.
Location Amherst, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,855
Washington and Lee University was founded in 1749. The school 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. Some of the more popular majors at Washington and Lee University include Business, Accounting, and Economics.
Location Lexington, VA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,223
The University of Michigan -- Ann Arbor is the oldest university in Michigan and is also known today as a research powerhouse, having been one of the founders of the Association of American Universities. 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 11 students for every 1 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. The school has a 22% acceptance rate. The incoming class has an average score between 28 to 33 on the ACT and 1,330 to 1,500 on the SAT. The majority of students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are from North Carolina.
Location Chapel Hill, NC
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 30,011
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, as long as they minor in something at Harvey Mudd.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 902
Johns Hopkins University is famously known for its dedication to research. It was also America’s first research university. 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
Claremont McKenna College was originally a men-only school, before transitioning into a coeducational school in 1976. Today, there’s a near even split of women and men attending and women and men who were accepted to the school. Incoming freshmen, on average, scored between 30 to 34 on the ACT and 1,400 to 1,530 on the SAT.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,327
The United States Air Force Academy is the newest of the service academies. Students interested in attending must be nominated by a person in Congress. The academy is extremely selective, only accepting 11% of its applicants. Students who are admitted have their tuition and other costs covered by the United States Air Force.
Location USAFA, CO
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 4,336
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
Soka University of America is a unique school -- it offers one degree: Liberal Arts. Students can choose one of four tracks; students also participate in Learning Clusters and must study a language during their time at Soka University, culminating in a study abroad experience. With such a small student population, it’s no surprise that the average class size is eight students for every one faculty member.
Location Aliso Viejo, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 442
The Juilliard School is one of the most prestigious music, art, and dance schools, so it’s not surprising that over 2,800 students send in an application every year. However, Juilliard is extremely selective, only admitting 200 students -- many of whom had to attend auditions to even be considered. The small student body means that the average student-to-faculty ratio is 5:1 and 96% of freshmen come back to Juilliard for their sophomore year.
Location New York City, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 942
The United States Coast Guard Academy is the smallest service academy and the only one that doesn’t require a student to have a congressman’s nomination. However, like the others, this academy is highly selective, only accepting 19% of their applicants. Though students only have a few majors to choose from, majors have their own tracks, and students can take elective classes through Connecticut College.
Location New Haven, CT
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,071
The College of William and Mary is the second-oldest university in America and is nicknamed the “Alma Mater of the Nation” because so many important characters in American history graduated from there. The college also established one of the first law and medical schools in the country. Today, almost 9,000 students attend the school, 72% of which are undergraduates.
Location Williamsburg, VA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 8,817
Tufts University began as a small, liberal arts school before transitioning into the large, research university it is today. The university also houses the country’s oldest international relations graduate school, which isn’t surprising -- Tufts University places a heavy emphasis on internationalism and is known for its study abroad programs. Some of the most popular majors include Computer Science, International Relations and Affairs, and Biology.
Location Medford, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 11,586
Wellesley College is a women-only college, created by Henry and Pauline Durant, who believed in preparing women for the societal changes that were to come. Wellesley is also part of the Seven Sisters Colleges. The college is highly selective, only accepting 19 of all applicants. Students who attend the college can expect a typical class size to be around eight students for every one faculty member, and Wellesley boasts a 96% first-year retention rate.
Location Wellesley, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,534
Bowdoin College is located in Brunswick, Maine, though it also has other scientific facilities elsewhere in the state. Students at Bowdoin have few core curriculum requirements and can even participate in joint engineering programs with three other universities. Some of the more popular majors students choose at Bowdoin include Political Science and Government, Econometrics and Quantitative Economics, and Biology.
Location Brunswick, ME
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,828
Hamilton College was a men’s school for nearly a century before combining with the women-only Kirkland College and becoming coeducational. Today, there’s a near-even split of men and women attending Hamilton College, as well as a near-even split of men and women being admitted. Incoming students typically scored between 30 to 34 on the ACT and 1,390 to 1,530 on the SAT.
Location Clinton, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,005
Carleton College was named after William Carleton, who donated $50,000 to the school after seeing its first president survive a carriage and train accident. The school is quite selective, only accepting 20% of all applicants and many attendees are National Merit Scholars. Some of the most popular majors at Carleton include Computer Science, Biology, and International Relations and Affairs.
Location Northfield, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,097
Middlebury College has a long and interesting history. It was the first college to grant a degree to an African-American student, was the first college in New England to become co-ed, and hosts the oldest writers’ conference in America, the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Middlebury College’s academic reputation means that the school sees over 9,000 applications every year, though only 1,500 are accepted.
Location Middlebury, VT
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,611
Founded in 1863, Boston College’s Greek motto--”Αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν” translates to mean, “Ever to Excel.” First year applicants certainly do excel, as their average ACT scores range between 30 and 34 and their SAT scores range from 1380 and 1520. The school has an acceptance rate of about 28%. BC also boasts an impressive 90% 4 year graduation rate.
Location Chestnut Hill, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 14,720
Carnegie Mellon University is known for its focus on interdisciplinary work and its far-reaching facilities and institutions that go beyond the main campus. Students at Carnegie Mellon have a wide array of resources available to them to explore and grow in almost any academic field. Because of what the university has to offer, the school sees over 24,000 applications every year and only accepts 17% of them.
Location Pittsburgh, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 14,029
Emory University is a dedicated research university with divisions and facilities around America and the world. It also provides the largest healthcare network in Georgia. Unsurprisingly, the most popular majors at Emory include Registered Nursing, Biology, and Neuroscience. Students at Emory University can expect a typical class size of nine students for every one faculty member.
Location Atlanta, GA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 14,458
The University of Southern California is classified as a research university and has made multiple scientific and technological advancements since its inception, including creating the first antivirus software and DNA computing. Over 47,000 students attend this university, and 41% of them are from California. Students can expect a typical class size to be around nine students for every one faculty member.
Location Los Angeles, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 47,310
To be admitted into the United States Military Academy, students must first be nominated by officials such as congressmen or even the President. As the oldest US service academy, the United States Military Academy had the first accredited engineering program and had the first class rings. Over 12,000 students try to get into this prestigious academy, though only 1,400 are accepted.
Location West Point, NY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 4,589

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

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.

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