Research universities do much of the nation’s most important research and development for a wide array of areas. From developing new pharmaceuticals and nanotechnology to helping us understand the origin of our species and our universe.
Not all students at these colleges will study science–or do research–but, research universities in general tend to share common themes, such as medium to large class bodies.
Many students find that research universities have the right atmosphere, offering a sense of the scholarly pursuit of knowledge.
So, whether you’re an aspiring Chemistry Ph.D, or seeking a bachelor’s degree in English, if you’re looking for an enriching research university experience, one of these colleges may be right for you.
Here are the 25 best research universities in the U.S.:
25. Emory University
Undergraduate enrollment: 7,836
Emory University is a private research university that boasts an endowment of nearly $7 billion, making it among the top 20 in the country. Its 9 academic divisions include schools and colleges for programs ranging from Public Health to Theology, though it is most often noted for its extensive health sciences and medical research programs.
24. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC
Undergraduate enrollment: 18,370
Regularly regarded as one of the nation’s top research universities (not to mention their legacy for dominance in NCAA basketball), UNC Chapel Hill is home to more than 18,000 undergrads from every state in the union. It’s known not just for academic excellence, but also for offering generous scholarships and financial aid, as well as an extensive study-abroad program that take students to 70 countries around the world.
23. 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.
22. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor, MI
Undergraduate enrollment: 28,283
Located in southeastern Michigan, U of M is a public research university which enrolls about 28,300 undergraduate students. The university offers many majors for undergraduate students, but its top 3 majors are Experimental Psychology, Business Administration, and Economics.
21. University of California-Berkeley
Undergraduate enrollment: 25,951
UC Berkeley is a public research university in the San Francisco Bay area. The California flagship educates the most diverse undergraduate student body of any public university in the U.S., made up of about 26,000 students. Common major choices include Economics, Cell and Molecular Biology, and General Biology.
20. Tufts University
Undergraduate enrollment: 5,180
Tufts University is a private research university near Boston, which attracts more than 5,100 undergraduate students. Until the late 1970’s, Tufts was a small, liberal arts college. It was later transformed into what is now a world-renowned research university that is regularly regarded as one of the best in the country.
19. Georgetown University
Undergraduate enrollment: 7,636
Probably best known for its prestigious Law and Public Policy programs, Georgetown University is a private research university that enrolls over 7,500 undergraduates in the nation’s capital, just above the Potomac River. They offer 48 majors across four undergraduate schools and colleges. President Bill Clinton graduated from Georgetown.
18. Cornell University
Undergraduate enrollment: 14,393
Cornell is located in the Finger Lakes regions of New York near Cayuga Lake. The research university enrolls around 14,400 undergraduate students and about half that many graduate students. Biology, Hotel Administration, and Labor and Industrial Relations are Cornell’s top three undergraduate majors.
17. Rice University
Undergraduate enrollment: 3,965
Rice is a private research university located in downtown Houston. The school boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of just 5:1–one of the lowest in the nation–as well as a $5.5 billion endowment. Its 3,965 undergraduate students study in a range of areas, with Biochemisty, Bioengineering, and Mechanical Engineering being the most-popular majors.
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16. University of Virginia-Main Campus
Undergraduate enrollment: 16,087
UVA is a public research university located in north-central Virginia near the Appalachian Mountains. It boasts an undergraduate enrollment of about 16,000 students, and has the highest first-year retention rate of any college in the Southeast. Business, Liberal Studies, and Biology are UVA’s 3 most popular undergraduate major choices.
15. Vanderbilt University
Undergraduate enrollment: 6,835
Comprising 4 schools (Arts and Science, Engineering, Education and Human Development, and Music), Vanderbilt enrolls nearly 7,000 undergrads and offers more than 70 academic majors. The private research university is located in one of the nation’s most vibrant cities, Nashville, but it is also noted for its abundance of green space despite the urban setting.
14. Washington University in St Louis
St. Louis, MO
Undergraduate enrollment: 7,336
Considered one of the premiere research universities in the nation, Wash U has a relatively modest undergraduate enrollment of just over 7,000. Students are heavily involved in research, with more than 60% of undergrads participating in some kind of research across all areas. The three most popular majors: Psychology, Finance, and Biology.
13. 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”.
12. University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN
Undergraduate enrollment: 8,477
With a rich tradition in academics, athletics, and faith, ND is a popular college for students from around the country. Almost all of Notre Dame’s 8,500 undergraduate students live on campus, as this private research university is home to 29 separate residence halls. Majors of choice include Finance, Accounting, and Political Science.
11. Duke University
Undergraduate enrollment: 6,646
Duke University enrolls about 6,500 undergraduates and offers 46 art and science majors, plus 4 engineering majors, and the IDEAS program, which allows students to construct their own custom engineering major–one of the only such programs in the country. Its reputation for education excellence extends to nearly every program offered at the college, and its Durham campus extends more than 8,500 acres and contains more than 250 campus buildings, making it among the largest college campuses in the country.
10. Northwestern University
Undergraduate enrollment: 9,283
Just 12 miles north of Chicago lies the Northwestern campus in Evanston. Its 9,000+ undergrads choose from more than 120 undergrad majors, including their world-renowned Journalism and Engineering programs.
9. California Institute of Technology
Undergraduate enrollment: 877
CalTech is primarily a science and engineering university located in southern California. The school serves both undergraduates and graduate students and has a total undergraduate enrollment of around 1,000. Popular majors at CalTech include Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, and Chemical Engineering.
8. Columbia University in the City of New York
New York, NY
Undergraduate enrollment: 7,970
Just under 8,000 undergraduate students attend Columbia located in Upper Manhattan. As one of the nation’s oldest colleges, Columbia was originally founded as King’s College in 1754, but was renamed after the end of the Revolutionary War.
7. University of Pennsylvania
Undergraduate enrollment: 11,525
Penn, located in Pennsylvania’s largest city, has a total undergraduate enrollment of about 11,500 students. Its three most popular undergrad majors are Finance, Nursing, and Economics. At 87 percent, Penn has the highest 4-year graduation rate of any college in Pennsylvania.
6. University of Chicago
Undergraduate enrollment: 5,703
This medium-sized, private research university is among the most well-respected in the world. From its numerous scientific breakthroughs and award-winning faculty, to its urban campus setting, UC has much to offer to potential students.
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Undergraduate enrollment: 4,357
As one of the most highly-regarding scientific and engineering research universities in the world, MIT enrolls approximately 4,300 undergrads each year on its campus just outside of Boston. Although their sports mascot is a beaver, MIT’s sports teams are even named The Engineers.
4. Stanford University
Undergraduate enrollment: 7,274
One of the world’s foremost private research universities, Stanford has a long history of alumni entrepreneurs and technology tycoons. Among their ranks, 30 living billionaires call Stanford their alma mater, and businesses founded by Cardinal alum generate $2.7 trillion in annual revenue.
3. Yale University
New Haven, CT
Undergraduate enrollment: 5,430
An iconic college known the world over, Yale’s undergraduate population is just more than 5,400 students. Although lauded in all academic pursuits, Yale is especially notable for having graduated five U.S. Presidents and hundreds of members of the U.S. Congress. Its endowment is more than $25 billion.
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