The 25 Best Private Colleges – 2016 University Rankings

Here are our top 25 Private Colleges for 2016!There are many myths out there about private colleges–that they’re overpriced, or stuffy, or only for rich kids.

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

Cornell University - Best Private Colleges

Source: Flickr user 30416747@N00.

Ithaca, NY

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.

Learn more about Cornell University


24. Washington and Lee University

Lexington, VA

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.

Learn more about Washington and Lee University


23. Bowdoin College

Brunswick, ME

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.

Learn more about Bowdoin College


22. Wellesley College

Wellesley, MA

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.

Learn more about Wellesley College


21. Rice University

Rice University - Best Private Colleges

Lovett Hall” by The original uploader was AniRaptor2001 at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Houston, TX

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.

Learn more about Rice University


20. Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University - Best Private Colleges

Bensontower” by Dansan4444Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Commons.

Nashville, TN

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.

Learn more about Vanderbilt University


19. Washington University in St Louis

Washington University in St. Louis - Best Private Colleges

Brookings“. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

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.

Learn more about Washington University in St. Louis



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18. Brown University

Brown University - Best Private Colleges

Brown university robinson hall 2009a” by chensiyuan – chensiyuan. Licensed under GFDL via Commons.

Providence, RI

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.

Learn more about Brown University


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.

Learn more about the University of Notre Dame


16. Duke University

Duke University - Best Private Colleges

Source: Flickr user OHinOZ.

Durham, NC

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.

Learn more about Duke University


15. Northwestern University

Northwestern University - Best Private Colleges

By Rdsmith4 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Evanston,  IL

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.

Learn more about Northwestern University


14. Amherst College

Amherst College - Best Private Colleges

Source: Flickr user David Brooks.

Amherst, MA

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.

Learn more about Amherst College


13. Dartmouth College

Dartmouth College - Best Private Colleges

Source: Flickr user sarunas_b.

Hanover, NH

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.

Learn more about Dartmouth College


12. Swarthmore College

Swarthmore, PA

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.

Learn more about Swarthmore College


11. Williams College

Williams College - Best Private Colleges

Ephtowers” by SERSeanCrane – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons.

Williamstown, MA

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.

Learn more about Williams College


10. California Institute of Technology

Cal Tech - Best Private Colleges

Source: Flickr user joebehr.

Pasadena, CA

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.

Learn more about California Institute of Technology



9. Pomona College

Pomona College - Best Private Colleges

Source: Flickr user wlcarchitectsphotography.

Claremont, CA

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.

Learn more about Pomona College


8. Columbia University in the City of New York

Columbia University - Best Private Colleges

Source: Flickr user skinnylawyer.

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.

Learn more about Columbia University in the City of New York


7. University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA

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.

Learn more about University of Pennsylvania


6. University of Chicago

Chicago, IL

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.

Learn more about the University of Chicago


5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT Campus - Best Private Colleges

Source: Flickr user infanticida.

Cambridge, MA

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.

Learn more about Massachusetts Institute of Technology


4. Stanford University

Stanford University - Best Private Colleges

Source: Flickr user ahockley.

Stanford, CA

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.

Learn more about Stanford University


3. Yale University

Yale University - Best Private Colleges

Source: Flickr user 29457092@N07.

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.

Learn more about Yale University


2. Harvard University

Harvard University - Best Private Colleges

Source: Flickr user 127687091@N07.

Cambridge, MA

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.

Learn more about Harvard University


1. Princeton University

Princeton University - Best Private Colleges

Princeton (6035183309)” by popejon2 from Paddington, Australia – PrincetonUploaded by russavia. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

Princeton, NJ

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.

Learn more about Princeton University

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

View all of the 2016 Best Colleges rankings from College Raptor

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