Top 25 Best Research Colleges in the US (2024)

At the height of academia are the research colleges. These schools give both students and faculty the opportunity to participate in hands-on research and in turn the potential to make incredible advancements in the sciences. And in fact, they do. Every single year.

What is a Research College?

Research colleges refer to schools that offer research opportunities to students and professors. They offer bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees to their students. They also tend to receive federal research grants and fund their own research. Research universities can be public or private and are often known for their distinguished faculty.

Research colleges and universities cover a wide variety of majors from medicine to technology. Though much emphasis is put on graduate and Ph.D. programs, research universities also have excellent undergraduate opportunities.

With top-notch resources, programs, and professors, the universities and colleges featured on this top 25 list are the pinnacles of research colleges throughout the country.

Top 25 Best Research Colleges | 2024

Harvard University has turned out some amazing alumni. In fact, the school has more alumni, researchers, and faculty that have won Nobel Prizes and Field Medals than any other school in the world. Alumni also include eight U.S. presidents, 188 living billionaires, and 110 Olympic medalists. The most common majors include Econometrics and Quantitative Economics, Social Sciences, and Computer Science.
Location Cambridge, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 31,345
A private Ivy League research university, Princeton University was founded in 1746 and originally known as the College of New Jersey. This makes it the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the country. The school receives around 37,600 applications annually and has an acceptance rate of only 4.5%, making it highly competitive.
Location Princeton, NJ
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 8,478
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, offers up to a doctorate degree with many undergraduate students focusing on Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering. Mathematics and Physics are also common majors. Alumni have gone on to found companies like Intel, Koch Industries, Dropbox, and Campbell Soup.
Location Cambridge, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 11,934
Yale University got its start in 1701 under the name Collegiate School, getting its current name in 1718. Their motto, “lux et veritas,” means “light and truth” in Latin. The university is made up of fourteen schools including the undergraduate college, twelve professional schools, and the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Yale’s acceptance rate is just 5.4%.
Location New Haven, CT
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 14,567
Also known as Caltech, the California Institute of Technology’s motto is, “the truth shall make you free.” Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering are top majors among students, and there have been over 75 Nobel laureates that have been associated with Caltech (including 40 alumni and faculty members).
Location Pasadena, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,397
Stanford University has a 4% acceptance rate and a 98% first year retention rate. Their student-to-faculty ratio is only 5:1. The 31st president of the United States, Herbert Hoover, was a graduate of Stanford. Other alumni have included Fulbright Scholars, members of Congress, astronauts, and billionaires. Known as the Stanford Cardinals, their colors are cardinal and white.
Location Stanford, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 17,680
The University of Chicago receives over 37,900 applications though only about 2,400 were accepted. Therefore, the school has a 6.5% acceptance rate. The school is made up of their undergraduate college and five graduate research divisions. They also have campuses all over the world from Hong Kong to Paris.
Location Chicago, IL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 18,832
Columbia has a very selective acceptance rate of 4.4%, accepting only about 2,700 students out of over 61,000 applicants. Top choices in regard to majors include Econometrics and Quantitative Economics, Computer Science, and Political Science and Government. It’s the oldest institution of higher education in the state, founded before the Declaration of Independence.
Location New York City, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 33,776
The University of Pennsylvania was founded in 1740, primarily by Benjamin Franklin, who was also their first president. Franklin Field, where the Quakers play in the NCAA Division I – Ivy League, is named after the founder. With a 98% first year retention rate, 89% of students will go on to graduate in four years. 96% will graduate in six.
Location Philadelphia, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 28,038
Methodists and Quakers founded Duke University in 1838. The school has produced 50 Rhodes Scholars, three Turing Award winners, and 15 Noble laureates. Known as the Blue Devils, the university’s colors are Duke blue and white. The top majors among students include Computer Science, Public Policy Analysis, and Biology.
Location Durham, NC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 17,620
Popular majors at Brown University include Computer Science, Biology, Applied Mathematics, Economics, and Quantitative Economics. Founded in 1764, it was the first school in North America that accepted students regardless of their religion. Their women’s institution, Pembroke College, was merged into Brown in 1971. Alumni have gone on to create famous companies including ZipRecruiter, Cards Against Humanity, and CNN.
Location Providence, RI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 10,696
Top majors at Northwestern University are Econometrics and Quantitative Economics, Digital Communication and Media, and Speech Communication and Rhetoric. A founding member of the Big Ten Conference, top sports for the Wildcats include football, basketball, baseball, and soccer. Willie the Wildcat cheers them on and the colors are purple and white.
Location Evanston, IL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 23,409
A private Ivy League research university, Dartmouth was founded before the Declaration of Independence was signed. Three famous alumni were Daniel Webster, Robert Frost, and Thaddeus Stevens. The school also graduated several members of the Senate and House of Representatives in the United States, Nobel Prize laureates, and more.
Location Hanover, NH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 6,761
Thomas Jefferson founded The University of Virginia. The school had a Board of Visitors that included Jefferson, James Monroe, and James Madison. Well known for its secret societies, the school is also known for their sporting accomplishments. The Cavaliers, who wear orange and blue, have over 30 championship wins.
Location Charlottesville, VA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 26,005
Edward Sorin founded the University of Notre Dame in 1842 as a private Catholic research University. Their motto is, “Vita Dulcedo Spes” or “Life, Sweetness, Hope” – referencing the Virgin Mary. The school’s teams are known as the Fighting Irish and wear the colors blue and gold. Their mascot is the very iconic leprechaun.
Location Notre Dame, IN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 13,139
Cornell University is made up of seven undergraduate colleges and seven graduate divisions. Some famous alumni have been Christopher Reeve, Bill Nye, E.B. White, and Anthony Fauci. 97% of students stay on after the first year, with 94% graduating within six years. Computer Science is the most popular major.
Location Ithaca, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 25,582
A selective school, fewer than 10% of applicants are accepted into Rice. The school has 11 residential colleges and eight schools of academic study. Rice University was established in 1912 and named after William Marsh Rice. He had requested a free-tuition educational institute be opened after his death.
Location Houston, TX
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 8,285
Many students at Vanderbilt University major in Social Sciences, but others choose to pursue degrees in Multi-/Interdisciplinary Studies. Other common majors are Computer Science, Neuroscience, and Economics. The university was named in honor of Cornelius Vanderbilt, a shipping and rail magnate, due to his gift of $1 million.
Location Nashville, TN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 13,796
Washington University in St. Louis was named after George Washington and founded in 1853. A private research university, the school receives just under 34,000 applications a year and accepts around 4,500 students. Commonly chosen majors are Computer Science, Experimental Psychology, and Finance. Top sports on campus include track, football, and soccer.
Location Saint Louis, MO
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 16,973
The University of California – Berkeley was the state’s first land-grant university and the first campus in the school system. The California Golden Bears, competing in the Pac-12 conference, have won over 100 national championships. With a 96% first year retention rate, 79% will go on to graduate within 4 years, 93% within 6.
Location Berkeley, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 45,036
Johns Hopkins University was founded in 1876 and named for its first benefactor. Known as the first research university in the country, its motto in Latin is, “veritas vos liberabit,” or “the truth will set you free.” The Blue Jays men’s lacrosse team plays in the Big Ten Conference and has over 40 national titles. The two most popular majors are Cell/Cellular and Molecular Biology and Neuroscience.
Location Baltimore, MD
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 32,049
The University of North at Chapel Hill goes by several different names including UNC, Chapel Hill, and Carolina. It’s a public research university and the flagship of the school system. Enrolling students in 1795, it’s one of the oldest public schools in the country. UNC became coeducational in 1877 and began admitting African-American graduate students in 1951.
Location Chapel Hill, NC
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 31,641
The two most commonly chosen majors at University of Michigan – Ann Arbor are Computer and Information Sciences and Business Administration. However, Economics, Physiological Psychology/Psychobiology, and Experimental Psychology are also popular. Accepting just 20% of applicants, 45% of students who are accepted decide to attend the following year.
Location Ann Arbor, MI
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 50,278
A private Jesuit research university, Georgetown University was founded as the Georgetown College in 1789 by Bishop John Carroll. It’s the oldest Catholic institution of higher education in the country and offers over 40 different majors. Past graduates include Bill Clinton, Lyndon B. Johnson, senators, representatives, and other leading politicians.
Location Washington, DC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 20,935
Tufts University receives over 31,100 applications a year and accepts 11.4% of students. It got its start as Tufts College and was a small liberal arts college. In the 1970s, it became a research university. The university offers over 70 undergraduate programs; Econometrics and Quantitative Economics and Computer Science are the most popular.
Location Medford, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 13,293

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Is a Research College Right for You?

One of the major benefits of attending a research college is the potential opportunity to participate in research in your field. Participation allows you to have hands-on research and experience that can translate to your career after graduation; it also looks amazing on a resume. In addition, these opportunities can lead to amazing network connections and help to prepare you for graduate programs.

However, research colleges are not for everyone. For example, an English major may find opportunities at one of these schools, but their interests and goals are likely to be better fitted for a liberal arts college. They are, though, perfect for those interested in science, medicine, technology, and other research-intensive majors and careers.

Interested in any of these top research colleges? 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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