These universities are funded primarily through student tuition fees, which are generally higher than those of public universities. Accordingly, private universities usually have better staff-to-student ratios and more income for resources, which may be one reason they rank higher than the country’s public universities.
All the institutions in the prestigious Ivy League group are private universities.
We’ve pulled together the top 100 private colleges in the US, based on data from the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher EducationUS College Rankings 2021. Private universities also dominated the top 100 of the overall ranking.
The majority of private universities in the US are not for profit.
TheWSJ/THEUS College ranking is a more student-centred ranking because of its emphasis on student outcomes and engagement. While previously we have used results from the US Student Survey for the ranking, we were unable to conduct a survey in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, we have used data from the 2019 survey to inform this year’s ranking. The full methodology can be found here.
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It’s no surprise that Harvard University tops this list, considering that it also took the top spot in the overall WSJ/THE US College Ranking 2020. Harvard has also been a mainstay at the top of the THE Reputation Ranking for the past six years.
The cost of attending Harvard is high, with tuition fees averaging about $43,000 a year. However the university offers generous financial aid packages for less advantaged students.
According to the university’s website, it has stepped up financial aid by 75 per cent since 2007, now offering about $170 million per year to students. In fact, 50 per cent of students receive financial aid.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology has more than 500 recognised student activity groups. One of these is the student newspaper, The Tech, which is published in print and online.
MIT also sponsors 31 varsity sports and has one of the broadest NCAA Division III athletic programmes.
MIT has never awarded an honorary degree, nor does it award athletic scholarships. It has only twice awarded honorary professorships, to former British prime minister Winston Churchill in 1949 and author Salman Rushdie in 1993.
Notable graduates of Yale University include former US secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, and actress Meryl Streep. In fact, Yale has an impressive group of alumni including five US presidents, 20 Nobel prizewinners and 32 Pulitzer winners.
Yale is famous for its secret societies, including Scroll and Key and Skull and Bones, which only started admitting women in 1991. There are also plenty of student societies that aren’t so secret, such as the mathematics society, Chinese students’ society, foosball club and the chamber orchestra.
Stanford University was founded in 1885 by Jane and Leland Stanford, in the heart of Silicon Valley.
In total, companies founded by Stanford affiliates and alumni generate more than $2.7 trillion annual revenue, which would be the 10th largest economy in the world. These companies include Google, Nike, Netflix, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, Instagram and Charles Schwab.
Stanford counts 19 Nobel laureates within its community today and numerous famous alumni from the worlds of art, social sciences, business, politics, humanities, media, sports and technology.
=5. Brown University
Founded in 1764, Brown University is the seventh oldest university in the United States. It is part of the Ivy League and, as an institution that prides itself on openness, was the first of the members to accept students from all religious affiliations.
A defining characteristic of the university was its introduction of the “Brown Curriculum”, which altered undergraduate education immeasurably at the institution. It was inspired by Francis Wyland, Brown’s fourth president, who argued that a student should have the freedom to “study what he chose, all that he chose, and nothing but what he chose”. The new “Open Curriculum”, which was launched in 1970, allowed students to develop their own core curriculum rather than be bound to a prescribed “liberal arts education”. It has defined Brown’s undergraduate experience to this day.
=5. Duke University
Duke University is a private research university in Durham, North Carolina. The university was founded by Methodists and Quakers in 1838. It was originally located in the town of Trinity and then moved to Durham in 1892.
The original campus was rebuilt in a Georgian architectural style and is now known as East Campus, after the 1930 addition of West Campus, Gothic in style and home to the impressive Duke Chapel tower.
There are 10 schools and colleges; the oldest is Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, founded in 1859, and the youngest is the Nicholas School of the Environment, established just 25 years ago.
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Top 100 private universities in the US
|Private University Rank 2021||US College Rank 2021||University||City||State|
|2||2||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||Cambridge||Massachusetts|
|3||3||Yale University||New Haven||Connecticut|
|=5||=5||Brown University||Providence||Rhode Island|
|=5||=5||Duke University||Durham||North Carolina|
|=7||=7||California Institute of Technology||Pasadena||California|
|=7||=7||Princeton University||Princeton||New Jersey|
|9||9||Cornell University||Ithaca||New York|
|11||11||Johns Hopkins University||Baltimore||Maryland|
|12||12||Dartmouth College||Hanover||New Hampshire|
|13||13||University of Pennsylvania||Philadelphia||Pennsylvania|
|14||14||The University of Chicago||Chicago||Illinois|
|=15||=15||Columbia University||New York||New York|
|18||18||Washington University in St Louis||Saint Louis||Missouri|
|19||19||University of Southern California||Los Angeles||California|
|20||20||Carnegie Mellon University||Pittsburgh||Pennsylvania|
|25||27||New York University||New York||New York|
|26||28||University of Notre Dame||Notre Dame||Indiana|
|31||35||Claremont McKenna College||Claremont||California|
|39||48||Case Western Reserve University||Cleveland||Ohio|
|40||49||University of Rochester||Rochester||New York|
|41||50||Colgate University||Hamilton||New York|
|42||52||Barnard College||New York||New York|
|43||53||University of Miami||Coral Gables||Florida|
|44||54||Mount Holyoke College||South Hadley||Massachusetts|
|45||55||Boston College||Chestnut Hill||Massachusetts|
|46||=56||Hamilton College||Clinton||New York|
|=48||=59||Davidson College||Davidson||North Carolina|
|=48||=59||University of Richmond||Richmond||Virginia|
|50||62||Vassar College||Poughkeepsie||New York|
|52||64||Wake Forest University||Winston-Salem||North Carolina|
|=53||=66||Bryn Mawr College||Bryn Mawr||Pennsylvania|
|=55||=68||Tulane University||New Orleans||Louisiana|
|57||70||George Washington University||Washington||DC|
|58||=71||Washington and Lee University||Lexington||Virginia|
|60||76||Franklin & Marshall College||Lancaster||Pennsylvania|
|=61||=77||Macalester College||Saint Paul||Minnesotta|
|64||=83||Santa Clara University||Santa Clara||California|
|67||88||Southern Methodist University||Dallas||Texas|
|68||=89||Loyola Marymount University||Los Angeles||California|
|=71||=94||Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute||Troy||New York|
|73||96||University of the Pacific||Stockton||California|
|=74||=98||Skidmore College||Saratoga Springs||New York|
|=74||=98||Whitman College||Walla Walla||Washington|
|76||=100||Occidental College||Los Angeles||California|
|=77||=102||Colorado College||Colorado Springs||Colorado|
|=79||=106||Connecticut College||New London||Connecticut|
|83||113||Trinity University||San Antonio||Texas|
|=84||=114||Saint Louis University||Saint Louis||Missouri|
|87||117||College of the Holy Cross||Worcester||Massachusetts|
|88||118||Illinois Institute of Technology||Chicago||Illinois|
|89||119||University of Denver||Denver||Colorado|
|90||120||Worcester Polytechnic Institute||Worcester||Massachusetts|
|=93||=124||Babson College||Babson Park||Massachusetts|
|=93||=124||Syracuse University||Syracuse||New York|
|=97||=129||Brigham Young University-Provo||Provo||Utah|
|100||132||Union College||Schenectady||New York|
Read more: Best public universities in the US