The United States is home to numerous educational options for potential students, but they are not all created equal. In fact, some of the highest-ranked colleges and universities set themselves apart year after year by committing to excellence, maintaining an impeccable reputation, and generating the most qualified and capable graduates. These schools, which are often regarded as the best colleges in the nation, attract bright students by offering unique opportunities and reputable degree programs taught by qualified professors and faculty.
In order to become one of the top-quality colleges by quality in the United States, schools must exhibit unmatched standards in educational quality and innovation. The colleges and universities that lead the pack often boast, among other features:
- High admissions standards
- Advanced teaching subjects
- Small class sizes
- High retention rates
- Numerous accreditations
Schools who master each of these elements offer students some of the greatest opportunities for a high-quality education. The following schools are ranked in our Top Online Colleges tool as leading the way in terms of educational quality and opportunities for their students:
1. Harvard University
There is a reason why Harvard University is generally at the top of any list of top colleges in terms of quality, prestige and influence, and it isn't only because of the school's fame and history. The results speak for themselves. Harvard University is proud to have generated 47 Nobel laureates, 32 heads of state and 48 Pulitzer Prize winners since its establishment in 1636. According to its mission statement, "education at Harvard should liberate students to explore, to create, to challenge, and to lead," and the school has managed to accomplish that goal year after year.
2. Yale University
Yale University is another school steeped in history and tradition. With roots all the way back to the 1640s, the school survived many game-changing events in our nation's history, including the American Revolutionary War. Over the centuries, the school has evolved into what it is now: a school whose undergraduate population is divided into 12 distinct communities. This unique arrangement allows Yale to provide its students with "both the intimacy of a small college environment and the vast resources of a major research university," with each "college" having its own master, dean, faculty, dining hall and other resources, according to the school's website.
3. Columbia University, New York
Founded in 1754, Columbia University is the oldest institution of higher education in the state of New York. It is also one of the highest-quality schools in the United States, with thriving undergraduate and graduate programs that continue to attract the most qualified students, faculty and staff. In fact, since 1901, there have been 82 Nobel laureates among its alumni, faculty, adjunct faculty, researchers and administrators.
4. Stanford University
Stanford is another school that is nearly always found on any list of the best colleges and universities. With 6,980 undergraduate and 8,897 graduate students, Stanford is known for its 5:1 undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio and its seven distinct schools from which students can choose. Stanford is proud of the fact that 97 percent of its undergraduate students live in campus housing, which can create an intimate atmosphere for students who desire to learn and grow.
5. Vanderbilt University
Founded with a gift from Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1873, Vanderbilt University is another independent university whose reputation precedes it. Vanderbilt has educated the likes of Vice President Al Gore and other Nobel Laureates who have blazed trails in fields such as chemistry and medicine. In terms of high-quality education, there is a reason why Vanderbilt often appears in top college lists: its commitment to excellence, diverse educational offerings and focus on academics continuously set it apart. Vanderbilt encourages and expects its students to aim high. As alum Jimmy Luo stated on the school's website: "...your dreams will never be too big for Vanderbilt. Nobody will ever tell you that what you want to do is impossible; here, the impossible is expected."
6. University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania only offered admission to around 12 percent of the 31,282 students who applied for the Class of 2017, which could be part of the reason the school's academic record is so superb. The school also prides itself on its commitment to diversity. Half of accepted students for the Class of 2017 are minorities, and 53 percent of the student body is female. The school also accepts international students from countries around the world, including Asia and South America, and offers a wide range of study abroad options. With an undergraduate graduate rate of 96 percent, the University of Pennsylvania has a lot to be proud of -- and a lot to offer its students.
7. Northwestern University
Founded in 1851, Northwestern University is made up of 12 distinct schools and colleges, and it is nationally and internationally recognized for its focus on research. Northwestern is also known for its commitment to global engagement and boasts its own Global Engagement Studies Institute, numerous study abroad opportunities, and other unique programs that bolster its interest in global outreach and diversity. In addition to being a global contender when it comes to high-quality colleges, Northwestern is proud to have a staff that includes a Nobel Prize laureate, Tony Award winners, Guggenheim Fellows and other esteemed faculty.
8. Dartmouth College
Founded in 1769, Dartmouth College consistently ranks near the top of high-quality college lists, and for good reason. Dartmouth is renowned for the impressive academic record of its students and the flourishing liberal arts programs that educate much of its student body. Students who don't attend Dartmouth for an education in liberal arts won't leave empty-handed, however. The New Hampshire school also has many advanced degree programs in the Arts & Sciences, including leading programs offered through its Geisel School of Medicine, Thayer School of Engineering and Tuck School of Business.
9. Duke University
Duke University is a private research school in Durham, N.C. Because of its continued commitment to the academics of its students and its overall legacy, it is often considered one of the top colleges in the United States. One factor that continually sets Duke apart is its focus on research, which has led to breakthroughs in numerous disciplines, ranging from medicine to the environment. For example, Duke researchers helped identify breast cancer susceptibility genes and have experienced clinical success with cell-based cancer immunotherapy.
10. Tufts University
Chartered in 1854, Tufts University is comprised of four different campuses (including one in Talloires, France), six libraries and more than 10,000 students. The school's focus on academics and research continues to earn it a place on lists of high-quality colleges across the globe. Tufts has a liberal arts foundation and places importance on learning, creativity and student-professor collaboration. With undergraduate and graduate offerings ranging from engineering to psychology to Africana studies, it's no wonder that Tufts continues to graduate well-rounded and highly educated students that go on to blaze trails in their chosen profession.
Top Quality Colleges Wrap-Up
With so many colleges and universities in the United States and around the globe, it takes a lot to rise to the top of any list of top colleges by quality. However, a consistent pattern emerges when you compare the best schools side by side. Top colleges who succeed year after year do so because of an unwavering commitment to excellence. They also tend to think globally, using that perspective to mold students into productive citizens who continue to make positive contributions to society.
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2. About, Northwestern University,
3. About, Tufts University,
4. About Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt University,
5. About: History, Yale University,
6. Academics at Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt University,
7. Academics, Tufts University, School of Arts and Sciences,
7. At a Glance, Tufts University,
9. Campus Life, Stanford University,
10. Columbia's Nobel Laureates, Columbia University in the City of New York,
11. Columbia University Mission Statement, Columbia University in the City of New York, 2014,
12. Duke University at a Glance, Duke University, Fall 2013,
13. Frequently Asked Questions, Duke University,
14. Frequently Asked Questions, Harvard University,
15. Get to Know Tufts, Tufts University,
16. Global Engagement Studies Institute, Northwestern University,
17. Harvard at a Glance, Harvard University,
18. History and Traditions, Dartmouth University,
19. History, Columbia University in the City of New York,
20. Northwestern Colleges and Schools, Northwestern University,
21. Northwestern Facts, Northwestern University,
22. Northwestern-Sponsored Programs, Northwestern University,
23. Our Faculty, Northwestern University,
24. Penn Facts, University of Pennsylvania,
25. ReVU: Quick Facts About Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt University,
26. Stanford Facts at a Glance, Stanford University,
27. Statistics and Facts, Columbia University,
28. Transforming Breakthrough Research Discoveries into Clinical Advances, Duke Surgical Sciences,
29. Yale History, Yale University,