Best private universities in the US 2018

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

November 24 2017

Many of the US’ highest-ranked universities are classified as private universities including Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford 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 2018. Private universities also dominated the top 100 of the overall ranking.

A number of liberal arts colleges including Williams College, Amherst 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 owing to the 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. 


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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 2018. 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 since 2007 by 75 per cent, now offering about $170 million per year to students. In fact, 50 per cent of students receive financial aid. 

2. 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. 

3. 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 has both an online and print publication. 

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. 

4. Stanford University

Since 2013, the university has been organised into seven academic schools: humanitites and sciences; engineering; earth, energy and environmental sciences; law; business; education; medicine. 

The schools of education, business, law and medicine provide graduate programmes only. 

The university is one of the top fundraising universities in the US. In 2012, it became the first school to raise more than $1 billion in a year.  

5. Duke University 

Duke University students are expected to live on campus for the first three years of their undergraduate degree. This requirement was introduced to help students connect with each other and to foster a sense of community within the student body. 

About 30 per cent of undergraduate men and approximately 40 per cent of undergraduate women at Duke are members of fraternities and sororities. 

The university is well known for having a high student-to-staff ratio and 70 per cent of classes have fewer than 19 students. 


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Top 100 private universities in the US

Click each institution to view its World University Rankings 2018 profile

WSJ/THE US College Rank 2018 Private University Rank 2018 University City State
1 1 Harvard University Cambridge Massachusetts
2 2 Columbia University New York New York
=3 =3 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge Massachusetts
=3 =3 Stanford University Stanford California
5 5 Duke University Durham North Carolina
6 6 Yale University New Haven Connecticut
7 7 California Institute of Technology Pasadena California
8 8 University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia Pennsylvania
9 9 Princeton University Princeton New Jersey
10 10 Cornell University Ithaca New York
=11 =11 Brown University Providence Rhode Island
=11 =11 University of Chicago Chicago Illinois
=11 =11 Washington University in St Louis Saint Louis Missouri
14 14 Rice University Houston Texas
=15 =15 Northwestern University Evanston Illinois
=15 =15 University of Southern California Los Angeles California
=17 =17 Dartmouth College Hanover New Hampshire
=17 =17 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore Maryland
19 19 Emory University Atlanta Georgia
20 20 Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
21 21 Vanderbilt University Nashville Tennessee
22 22 Williams College Williamstown Massachusetts
23 23 Amherst College Amherst Massachusetts
24 24 University of Notre Dame Notre Dame Indiana
26 25 Pomona College Claremont California
28 26 Wellesley College Wellesley Massachusetts
29 27 New York University New York New York
30 28 Swarthmore College Swarthmore Pennsylvania
31 29 Georgetown University Washington DC
32 30 Tufts University Medford Massachusetts
34 31 Case Western Reserve University Cleveland Ohio
35 32 Claremont McKenna College Claremont California
36 33 Middlebury College Middlebury Vermont
37 34 Smith College Northampton Massachusetts
38 35 Carleton College Northfield Minnesota
39 36 Bowdoin College Brunswick Maine
=40 37 Boston University Boston Massachusetts
42 38 Haverford College Haverford Pennsylvania
44 39 University of Miami Coral Gables Florida
45 40 Wesleyan University Middletown Connecticut
49 41 Bryn Mawr College Bryn Mawr Pennsylvania
50 42 Lehigh University Bethlehem Pennsylvania
51 43 University of Rochester Rochester New York
52 44 Wake Forest University Winston-Salem North Carolina
54 45 Davidson College Davidson North Carolina
55 46 Colgate University Hamilton New York
59 47 Bucknell University Lewisburg Pennsylvania
60 48 Boston College Chestnut Hill Massachusetts
=61 =49 Hamilton College Clinton New York
=61 =49 University of Richmond University of Richmond Virginia
63 51 Oberlin College Oberlin Ohio
64 52 George Washington University Washington DC
65 53 Colby College Waterville Maine
=66 =54 Bates College Lewiston Maine
=66 =54 Northeastern University Boston Massachusetts
=66 =54 Vassar College Poughkeepsie New York
70 57 Lafayette College Easton Pennsylvania
=71 58 Tulane University New Orleans Louisiana
73 59 Washington and Lee University Lexington Virginia
74 60 Barnard College New York New York
=75 61 Grinnell College Grinnell Iowa
77 62 Mount Holyoke College South Hadley Massachusetts
78 63 Macalester College Saint Paul Minnesota
79 64 Trinity University San Antonio Texas
81 65 Southern Methodist University Dallas Texas
83 66 Worcester Polytechnic Institute Worcester Massachusetts
=84 =67 Denison University Granville Ohio
=84 =67 Drexel University Philadelphia Pennsylvania
=84 =67 College of the Holy Cross Worcester Massachusetts
=87 =70 Brandeis University Waltham Massachusetts
=87 =70 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Troy New York
=89 72 Franklin & Marshall College Lancaster Pennsylvania
91 73 Occidental College Los Angeles California
92 74 Union College Schenectady New York
=93 =75 Scripps College Claremont California
=93 =75 Trinity College Hartford Connecticut
=96 =77 University of Denver Denver Colorado
=96 =77 Kenyon College Gambier Ohio
98 79 Bentley University Waltham Massachusetts
101 80 Spelman College Atlanta Georgia
=102 =81 Connecticut College New London Connecticut
=102 =81 Rhode Island School of Design Providence Rhode Island
104 83 Howard University Washington DC
=105 =84 Saint Louis University Saint Louis Missouri
=105 =84 The College of Wooster Wooster Ohio
108 86 Syracuse University Syracuse New York
109 87 DePauw University Greencastle Indiana
110 88 Gettysburg College Gettysburg Pennsylvania
=111 89 Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Terre Haute Indiana
=113 =90 Brigham Young University-Provo Provo Utah
=113 =90 Dickinson College Carlisle Pennsylvania
=115 =92 Pitzer College Claremont California
=115 =92 Wheaton College (Massachusetts) Norton Massachusetts
=117 94 University of the Pacific Stockton California
119 95 Yeshiva University New York New York
=120 =96 Colorado College Colorado Springs Colorado
=120 =96 Villanova University Villanova Pennsylvania
=123 98 Babson College Wellesley Massachusetts
=125 99 Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago Illinois
127 100 Seattle University Seattle Washington

Read more: Best public universities in the US

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