Best private universities in the United States 2019

Explore the best private universities in the US using Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education’s US College Rankings data 

September 20 2018

Many of the US’ highest-ranked universities are classified as private universities, including Harvard UniversityMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyStanford University and Yale University

These universities are funded primarily through student tuition fees, which are generally higher than those of public universities. Accordingly, private universities generally have better staff-to-student ratios and more income for resources, which may be one reason why they rank higher than the public universities in the country. 

All the universities 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 Education US College Rankings 2019. Private universities also dominated the top 100 of the overall ranking.

A number of liberal arts colleges including Williams CollegeAmherst College and Pomona College have also entered the top 100 private universities in the US. 

The majority of private universities in the US are not for profit. 

The WSJ/THE US College ranking is a more student-centred ranking because of its emphasis on student outcomes and student engagement. The results of the THE US Student Survey of more than 200,000 students are incorporated into the analysis. The full methodology can be found here


Explore more top universities in the US

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Top five private universities in the US

1. Harvard University

It’s no surprise that Harvard University topped this list, considering that it also took the top spot in the overall WSJ/THE US College Ranking 2019. 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. 

2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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. 

3. Yale University

Notable alumni of Yale University include 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, the Chinese student society, foosball club and the chamber orchestra. 

4. Columbia University

Columbia University is divided into 20 schools, including three undergraduate schools and graduate schools in law, education and business. 

According to New York magazine, Columbia University is the second-largest landowner in New York City, after the Catholic Church. 

Students are guaranteed on-campus housing for all four years as undergraduate students. 

5. California Institute of Technology

The California Institute of Technology or Caltech is the smallest university in the top 5, with fewer than 3,000 students. Admissions to the university are rigorous, with only the highest-scoring students being accepted to the institution. 

Caltech students are renowned for playing pranks and one of the most well-known was the time they altered the Hollywood sign to read Caltech by covering up parts of the letters. 

The majority of students live on campus in university-owned accommodation. Fewer than 20 per cent of students live off campus.  


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Top 100 private universities in the US

Private university rank 2019 WSJ/THE US college rank 2019 University City State
1 1 Harvard University Cambridge Massachusetts
2 2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge Massachusetts
3 3 Yale University New Haven Connecticut
4 4 Columbia University New York New York
5 5 California Institute of Technology Pasadena California
6 6 Stanford University Stanford California
=7 =7 Brown University Providence Rhode Island
=7 =7 Duke University Durham North Carolina
9 9 Princeton University Princeton New Jersey
10 10 University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia Pennsylvania
11 11 Cornell University Ithaca New York
12 12 Dartmouth College Hanover New Hampshire
13 13 Northwestern University Evanston Illinois
=14 =14 University of Chicago Chicago Illinois
=14 =14 Rice University Houston Texas
16 16 Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
17 17 University of Southern California Los Angeles California
18 18 Washington University in St Louis Saint Louis Missouri
19 19 Vanderbilt University Nashville Tennessee
20 20 Emory University Atlanta Georgia
21 21 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore Maryland
22 22 Amherst College Amherst Massachusetts
23 23 Williams College Williamstown Massachusetts
24 24 Pomona College Claremont California
25 26 University of Notre Dame Notre Dame Indiana
26 27 New York University New York New York
27 29 Wellesley College Wellesley Massachusetts
28 30 Georgetown University Washington DC
29 31 Swarthmore College Swarthmore Pennsylvania
30 32 Tufts University Medford Massachusetts
31 =33 Claremont McKenna College Claremont California
32 35 Carleton College Northfield Minnesota
33 36 Boston University Boston Massachusetts
34 =37 Middlebury College Middlebury Vermont
=35 =39 Case Western Reserve University Cleveland Ohio
=35 =39 Haverford College Haverford Pennsylvania
37 =41 Smith College Northampton Massachusetts
38 44 Bowdoin College Brunswick Maine
39 46 Wesleyan University Middletown Connecticut
40 47 University of Miami Coral Gables Florida
41 =48 Lehigh University Bethlehem Pennsylvania
42 50 Bryn Mawr College Bryn Mawr Pennsylvania
43 =51 University of Rochester Rochester New York
=44 =53 Colgate University Hamilton New York
=44 =53 University of Richmond University of Richmond Virginia
46 55 George Washington University Washington DC
47 56 Tulane University  New Orleans Louisiana
48 57 Davidson College Davidson North Carolina
49 59 Barnard College New York New York
50 =62 Wake Forest University Winston-Salem North Carolina
51 64 Bucknell University Lewisburg Pennsylvania
52 65 Mount Holyoke College South Hadley Massachusetts
=53 =67 Boston College Chestnut Hill Massachusetts
=53 =67 Hamilton College Clinton New York
55 69 Northeastern University Boston Massachusetts
56 70 Lafayette College Easton Pennsylvania
57 71 Colby College Waterville Maine
58 72 Vassar College Poughkeepsie New York
59 74 Drexel University Philadelphia Pennsylvania
60 75 Washington and Lee University Lexington Virginia
61 76 Grinnell College Grinnell Iowa
62 77 Bates College Lewiston Maine
63 78 Brandeis University Waltham Massachusetts
64 79 Oberlin College Oberlin Ohio
65 82 Franklin and Marshall College Lancaster Pennsylvania
=66 =83 Denison University Granville Ohi
=66 =83 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Troy New York
=66 =83 Scripps College Claremont California
69 =87 Rhode Island School of Design Providence Rhode Island
70 89 Macalester College Saint Paul Minnesota
71 91 College of the Holy Cross Worcester Massachusetts
72 92 Connecticut College New London Connecticut
73 93 Union College Schenectady New York
74 =94 Occidental College Los Angeles California
75 98 Worcester Polytechnic Institute Worcester Massachusetts
=76 =100 Gettysburg College Gettysburg Pennsylvania
=76 =100 Southern Methodist University Dallas Texas
=76 =100 Trinity University San Antonio Texas
79 103 Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Terre Haute Indiana
80 =104 Babson College Wellesley Massachusetts
=81 =107 Saint Louis University Saint Louis Missouri
=81 =107 Wheaton College (Massachusetts) Norton Massachuetts
83 109 Spelman College Atlanta Georgia
84 110 Kenyon College Gambier Ohio
85 111 Trinity College Hartford Connecticut
=86 =112 Pitzer College Claremont California
=86 =112 Syracuse University Syracuse New York
88 =114 DePauw University Greencastle Indiana
89 116 Dickinson College Carlisle Pennsylvania
90 117 University of Denver Denver Colorado
91 118 Howard University Washington DC
92 119 Santa Clara University Santa Clara California
=93 =120 Creighton University Omaha Nebraska
=93 =120 University of the Pacific Stockton California
=93 =120 Skidmore College Saratoga Springs New York
96 124 Villanova University Villanova Pennsylvania
97 125 Bentley University Waltham Massachusetts
=98 =126 Loyola Marymount University Los Angeles California
=98 =126 Ohio Northern University Ada Ohio
=98 =126 Reed College Portland Oregon

Read more: Best public universities in the US

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