But, those are just common misconceptions. Private colleges and universities across the country offer top-notch educations in a wide variety of subjects, and for a wide variety of students. In fact, many of the nation’s best private colleges are known for having exceptionally generous need-based aid and actively looking to recruit low-income, high-achieving students.
So, if your dreams are to attend one of the country’s elite private universities, don’t let price or myths hold you back. Check out the schools ranked here and learn more about which college may be right for you.
Here are the 25 best private colleges in the U.S.:
25. Cornell University
Undergraduate enrollment: 14,393
Biology, Hotel Administration, and Labor and Industrial Relations are among the most popular majors for Cornell undergrads. This Ivy League campus sits on Cayuga Lake in western New York state and enrolls nearly 15,000 undergraduate students.
24. Washington and Lee University
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,855
This liberal arts college in Virginia is named for the first president, who provided an endowment in its early years, and for Robert Lee, who served as the university’s president. Washington and Lee University enrolls just under 2,000 undergrads and is nationally championed for educational excellence and generous financial aid.
23. Bowdoin College
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,795
Although not a member of the Ivy League, Bowdoin is generally honored as being among a new class of private colleges and universities offering an equivalent quality of education. Bowdoin enrolls 1,800 undergrads, with its most oft-cited programs being the college’s Government and Legal Studies majors.
22. Wellesley College
Undergraduate enrollment: 2,474
Wellesley College is arguably the nation’s top women’s college. Not only is it known for offering a leading education from its own campus, but it also has partnerships with colleges such as Harvard, MIT, and Babson, which allow its women to obtain a dual degree or cross-register at other prestigious universities.
21. Rice University
Undergraduate enrollment: 3,965
Rice is a private research university located in downtown Houston. The 4,000 undergrads study in a range of areas, but Biochemistry, Bioengineering, and Mechanical Engineering are most popular. The college has an endowment of $5.5 billion and has just 5 students for every 1 faculty.
20. Vanderbilt University
Undergraduate enrollment: 6,835
Vanderbilt University comprises four unique schools: Arts and Science, Engineering, Education/Human Development, and Music. In total, the college enrolls about 7,000 undergrads and offers more than 70 majors. Students also have the ability to create their own major.
19. Washington University in St Louis
St. Louis, MO
Undergraduate enrollment: 7,336
Wash U is a research university that enrolls nearly 7,500 undergraduates students, with more than 60% participating in some form of research. The three most popular majors among students at Washington University: Psychology, Finance, and Biology.
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18. Brown University
Undergraduate enrollment: 6,455
This Ivy League college 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 and earn a mark of either “satisfactory” or “unrecorded no-credit”. Brown University enrolls more than 6,000 undergrads in Rhode Island.
17. University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN
Undergraduate enrollment: 8,477
Among undergrads at ND, the most popular majors are Finance, Accounting, and Political Science. Its campus in northern Indiana draws an enrollment of more than 8,400 undergraduate students, of which nearly all live on campus.
16. Duke University
Undergraduate enrollment: 6,646
Duke offers 46 arts and sciences majors, 4 engineering majors, and the IDEAS program, which allows students to create their own major within the engineering field. The huge campus in Durham enrolls about 6,700 undergraduate students and is made up of more than 250 campus buildings spread over 8,500 acres of land.
15. Northwestern University
Undergraduate enrollment: 9,283
Touted for their Medill School of Journalism and many other top-tier academic programs, Northwestern offers a whopping 124 undergraduate majors. NU is one of the most selective colleges in the Midwest. Their campus in central Illinois attracts just over 9,000 undergrads.
14. Amherst College
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,785
This private liberal arts college in central Massachusetts is home to 1,800 undergraduate students. At Amherst, undergrads are guided by advisors and allowed to create their own curriculum, combining interdisciplinary studies from various fields and majors. Each advisor works with only 5 students at a time, ensuring that they have plenty of face-to-face time with each one.
13. Dartmouth College
Undergraduate enrollment: 4,267
Dartmouth College is the smallest Ivy League school with 4,300 undergrads. The college’s well-known “D Plan” is an unconventional academic calendar, in which students enroll in classes for 10-week blocks, with 4 blocks running throughout the year.
12. Swarthmore College
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,534
Political Science, Biology, and Economics are three of the most popular majors at Swarthmore, a small liberal arts college just outside of Philadelphia. The college enrolls about 1,500 undergrads and 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.
11. Williams College
Undergraduate enrollment: 2,046
Undergrads enrolled at Williams College will be placed in one of four “Neighborhoods”, where they’ll live alongside other students, including freshmen through seniors. Freshmen are housed in groups of 20, along with two juniors who act as mentors for the group. This private liberal arts school enrolls just about 2,000 undergraduates at its campus in the far northwestern corner of Massachusetts.
10. California Institute of Technology
Undergraduate enrollment: 977
CalTech is nationally and internationally recognized as a top-tier university offering a number of undergraduate and graduate degrees in a number of science and engineering fields. With just fewer than 1,000 undergraduates, the most popular majors include Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, and Chemical Engineering.
9. Pomona College
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,610
Pomona College is an exclusively-undergraduate liberal arts school with an enrollment of about 1,600 undergrads. As a member of the Claremont Colleges consortium, the college is co-located with Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Pitzer, and Scripps. Pomona is known for majors in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.
8. Columbia University in the City of New York
New York, NY
Undergraduate enrollment: 7,970
Students looking for an Ivy League education in the heart of the city flock to Columbia, which enrolls about 8,000 undergrads. The college campus is located right in Manhattan and has one of the most geographically diverse student bodies in the country. Columbia is one of the oldest colleges in the United States, originally named King’s College before the Revolutionary War took place.
7. University of Pennsylvania
Undergraduate enrollment: 11,525
Penn boasts the highest graduation rate of any college in Pennsylvania, with 87% of all students obtaining a degree within 4 years, which also places it among the top colleges nationally. The Ivy League campus is located in Philly proper and UPenn’s 11,000 undergrads are most likely to study one of these majors: Finance, Nursing, or Economics.
6. University of Chicago
Undergraduate enrollment: 5,703
More than 5,700 undergrads attend the University of Chicago campus just north of downtown. This private research university is known for many breakthroughs and awards, including Fermi’s creating of the first man-made, self-sustained nuclear reaction and the creation of radiocarbon dating.
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Undergraduate enrollment: 4,357
Located near Boston, this college is one of the world’s foremost schools for numerous fields, but most notable for their science and technology programs. MIT is not just known for engineering in the classroom, the sports team is also known as the Engineers.
4. Stanford University
Undergraduate enrollment: 7,274
Stanford may be best known as a hub for technology entrepreneurship. This world-renowned private research university has produced many of the world’s tech millionaires and billionaires. In total, 30 living billionaires call Stanford their alma mater. The school is nearly synonymous with excellence in Engineering (of nearly all types) and Computer Science.
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 an endowment of 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