The Northeast is home to some of the most historic and well-respected institutions of higher learning in the country, as well as around the world.
From the well-known Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Yale, to the possibly lesser-known (but still incredibly selective and rigorous) colleges like Brandeis University and Vassar College, this section of the country is jam-packed full of top-tier institutions.
Many of these schools, both large and small, are rooted in colonial and pre-Revolutionary history, with grand displays or architecture and ancient, looming buildings scattered throughout campus.
But, don’t let some of these old facades fool you. Many of the colleges on this list are also some of the wealthiest in the world, and inside the brick and mortar exteriors lie advanced technology and groundbreaking research facilities.
If you’re looking for a tradition-rich college experience somewhere near the upper east coast, then one of these schools may be for you.
Here is our list of the 25 best colleges in the Northeastern U.S.:
25. Brandeis University
Undergraduate enrollment: 3,614
One of just many top-caliber colleges near Boston, Brandeis stands alone in both having a castle on campus, and also for its nationally-recognized Heller School, which researches and drives public policy on mental health, substance abuse, and many other social issues and offers numerous graduate programs in these areas. For the 3,600 undergrads on campus, there are a total of 47 majors available from 24 unique academic departments as well as 22 interdepartmental programs.
24. Boston College
Chestnut Hill, MA
Undergraduate enrollment: 9,698
BC, although not technically within Boston city limits, is located just 6 miles west of the city. Boston College enrolls more than 9,500 undergrads and the school’s undergraduate business programs at the Carroll School of Management are consistently ranked as top 5 in the country.
23. Hamilton College
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,926
“College on the Hill”, or Hamilton College, is a small, private liberal arts school located in rural New York. The campus enrolls just under 2,000 undergrads each year. Hamilton’s May Day Music Festival was started in 2004 and has drawn a number of national acts, including Chromeo, The Pharcyde, Eve 6, and more.
22. Colgate University
Undergraduate enrollment: 2,890
Colgate University is a medium-sized, private liberal arts college located in rural New York state. The campus sits lakeside and is surrounded mostly by forested area, of which the college owns an additional 1,100 acres of undeveloped land.
21. Barnard College
New York, NY
Undergraduate enrollment: 2,489
Barnard College was established to be an Ivy League equivalent for women when many colleges were still all-men’s schools. This private liberal arts college in Manhattan enrolls just less than 2,500 undergrads.
20. Wesleyan University
Undergraduate enrollment: 2,906
Wesleyan University is a private liberal arts college with more than 2,900 undergraduates. This school offers 47 majors in 40 academic departments, and students have the ability to well as the create a custom major.
19. Johns Hopkins University
Undergraduate enrollment: 6,117
Johns Hopkins University enrolls over 6,100 undergraduate students each year, with Biomedical Engineering being on of the most popular majors. JHU is America’s oldest research university and offers degrees in a number of engineering, science, and art fields.
18. Tufts University
Undergraduate enrollment: 5,180
After spending decades as a small, liberal arts college, Tufts has since transformed itself into a medium-sized, private research university that regularly earns top accolades. Its campus outside of Boston enrolls nearly 5,200 undergraduate students each year.
17. Vassar College
Undergraduate enrollment: 2,477
Of the 2,400 undergraduate students enrolled at Vassar, the most common majors are English, Political Science, Psychology, Economics, and Biology. The medium-sized campus is about half-way between NYC and Albany.
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16. Haverford College
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,187
The most popular majors among Haverford College’s 1,200 undergraduate students: Biology, Psychology, and English. The small, liberal arts college is one of many well-respected schools nestled in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
15. Georgetown University
Undergraduate enrollment: 7,636
Located in Washington, D.C., GU is a private research university with more than 7,600 undergrads enrolled. Its Law and Public Policy programs are among the top in the nation, and President Bill Clinton is just one of the many notable alumni to study at this top-tier institution.
14. Cornell University
Undergraduate enrollment: 14,393
Cornell is a private, Ivy League research university that enrolls more than 14,000 undergraduates each year, with students studying in such programs at Biology, Hotel Administration, and Labor and Industrial Relations. The historic campus is both scenic and surrounded by natural beauty in the Finger Lakes region of New York. It sits just near Cayuga Lake.
13. Bowdoin College
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,795
Nearly 1,800 undergraduates are enrolled at Bowdoin, a private liberal arts school that is often given the distinction of being a “New Ivy League” college. Students at this college in Maine can choose from any number of majors, although it may be best known for its top-notch Government and Legal Studies programs.
12. Wellesley College
Undergraduate enrollment: 2,474
Wellesley University, a private liberal arts college, is often regarded as the top women’s college in the U.S. Along with offering excellent educational opportunities from 32 academic departments, Wellesley also allows students to take advantage of educational partnership programs with other top-tier colleges, such as Harvard, Olin, MIT, Babson, and more.
11. Brown University
Undergraduate enrollment: 6,455
Brown University is well known for its unique “New Curriculum”, which has no general education course requirements and instead allows students to build a class schedule entirely of their own choosing. Students at this Ivy League college are then graded as simply having completed the course in a “satisfactory” manor or receive a mark of “unrecorded no-credit”.
10. Amherst College
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,785
Approximately 1,800 undergrads call Amherst College home. The small, private liberal arts college allows students to create a curriculum of their own choosing from numerous interdisciplinary programs. Each student is paired with a faculty advisor, who works with the student to guide their curriculum selection process. The student-to-advisor ratio is just 5:1.
9. Dartmouth College
Undergraduate enrollment: 4,267
The smallest college in the Ivy League, Dartmouth is home to about 4,200 undergraduate students. The Dartmouth Plan, or the “D-Plan” as it’s often known, is an unconventional academic calendar practiced at Dartmouth, which has classes run in four, 10-week blocks.
8. Swarthmore College
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,534
Swarthmore is a small, liberal arts college just outside of Philadelphia. Political Science, Biology, and Economics are three of the most popular majors for the college’s 1,500 undergrads. Swarthmore is a member of “Tri-College Consortium” along with Bryn Mawr and Haverford. Students at each of these schools share library facilities and are able to cross-register for courses offered at any of the three.
7. Williams College
Undergraduate enrollment: 2,046
Williams College is a private liberal arts school with approximately 2,000 undergraduate students. There are four separate “Neighborhoods” around campus, where undergraduate students of all levels live together. First-year students live in groups of 20, alongside two juniors.
6. Columbia University in the City of New York
New York, NY
Undergraduate enrollment: 7,970
Columbia is one of the oldest colleges in the United States, originally named King’s College before the Revolutionary War took place. The Manhattan campus houses more than 7,900 undergraduate students from around the country and around the world.
5. University of Pennsylvania
Undergraduate enrollment: 11,525
The three most popular undergrad majors among UPenn’s 11,500 undergraduate students are Finance, Nursing, and Economics. Penn boasts the highest graduation rate of any college in Pennsylvania, with 87% of all students obtaining a degree within 4 years. The campus is located in Philly proper.
4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Undergraduate enrollment: 4,357
The MIT Engineers–their sports teams, as well as many of their students–count more than 4,300 undergraduates among their ranks. Located near Boston, this college is one of the most highly-regarding scientific and engineering research universities in the world.
3. Yale University
New Haven, CT
Undergraduate enrollment: 5,430
Approximately 5,400 undergraduate students are enrolled at Yale, which is one of the world’s most famous institutions of higher education with and endowment over $25 billion. Well known for academic excellence in nearly all areas, Yale University is especially known for producing a huge number of U.S. politicians, including five former Presidents and hundreds of members of Congress.
2. Harvard University
Undergraduate enrollment: 10,534
Harvard enrolls about 10,500 undergrads on its campus in the greater Boston area. It neighbors many other prestigious and well-known colleges, including MIT and Boston University. As one of the nation’s best and most well-respected colleges, Harvard also boasts the largest endowment (more than $36 billion) of any college in the U.S.
1. Princeton University
Undergraduate population: 5,323
Among the 5,300 undergraduate students at Princeton University, Economics, Political Science, and Public Policy are some of the top majors. Princeton is one of the oldest colleges in the U.S. and once housed the United States government for a short period of time in the oldest campus building, Nassau Hall.
About our 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