Best universities in Washington DC

Find out all about Washington DC's top universities, and explore their positions in the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education US College Rankings

September 24 2018
Washington, D.C.


Washington DC is the federal capital of the US and sits at the beating heart of the nation’s political and cultural scene. The city is peppered with monuments to past triumphs and great leaders, many along the National Mall. The nation’s history is preserved in the city’s famous museums including the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress (the largest in the world) and the National Archives, which house the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.

Washington DC is a bustling city that lives and breathes politics and its downtown restaurants buzz with the gossip of political aides and White House staffers. Many lobbying groups, professional bodies, trade unions and international organisations have their headquarters in the city.

But it’s not all history and politics – the district also has a vibrant arts scene. The National Symphony Orchestra is based here and the famous Ford’s Theatre, site of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, still stages plays.

With so much culture and history, it is no surprise that the district also boasts some of the most prestigious universities in the country. Students wishing to study in Washington DC will find an exciting, student-friendly city to explore and all the opportunities that come with living and studying at the political heart of the US. If you want to study in Washington DC, it is important to find the right university.

These are the best universities in Washington DC based on the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education US College Rankings 2019. 

1. Georgetown University

Georgetown University is a private research university in the historic Georgetown district of Washington DC. Founded in 1889, Georgetown is the oldest Catholic university in the US. The university has a prestigious reputation to match its historic roots and alumni include former US president Bill Clinton, as well as more than a dozen foreign heads of state.

Georgetown has fewer than 20,000 students, with the majority studying at postgraduate level. The university is highly international, with 11 per cent of its student body made up of international students from more than 130 countries. The university has also opened campuses in Italy, Turkey and Qatar.

Undergraduate degrees in 48 majors are offered through the university’s four undergraduate schools. Five of the university’s schools offer master’s degrees. Georgetown’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service is renowned for its teaching in international affairs and about 50 per cent of Georgetown undergraduates across all subjects spend time studying overseas. The university’s prestigious law school sits on Capitol Hill alongside the Supreme Court and the White House.

Georgetown is also respected for the quality of its research. The institution’s focus on internationalisation extends into its research efforts as well, with $5.6 million donated by the US Department of Education to fund fellowships in international studies.

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2. George Washington University

Named after the first president of the USA, George Washington University is a private research university founded in 1821 as a result of President Washington’s stated desire that there should be a world-class institution of higher learning in the new nation’s capital. The university consistently ranks highly in the US and is respected for the quality of its teaching and research.

The university is divided into 10 colleges and schools: the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, the Elliott School of International Affairs, the Milken Institute School of Public Health, the College of Professional Studies, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of Medicine & Health Sciences, the Law School, the School of Nursing, and the Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

The university is popular with students, especially its business and international affairs courses and the university consistently appears high-up in the US rankings in these fields. The central location of the main campus, just minutes from the White House and the Lincoln Memorial put George Washington University at the heart of the political action.

Famous alumni include former US Secretary of State Colin Powell and former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

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3. Howard University

Howard University was opened in 1867 as a non-sectarian institution open to people of both sexes and all races. A historically black university, Howard has always had a strong focus on inclusivity and equality. The university has more than 10,000 students studying a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications.

Subjects are divided across 13 different schools and colleges and there are graduate schools in business, nursing, engineering, pharmacy, law, social work, education, communications, art, science, divinity, dentistry, and medicine.

The university campus covers 256 acres in the northwest of Washington DC. The campus boasts several historical buildings as well as an art gallery, which opened in 1928, housing more than 4,000 works of art. The university has 10 residence halls on and off campus.

Among the many respected research institutions at Howard is The Beltsville Center for Climate System Observation, a NASA University Research Center that works in partnership with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Top universities in Washington DC 2018 

Click each institution to view its World University Rankings profile

Washington DC rank US College Rank University City
1 30 Georgetown University Washington
2 55 George Washington University Washington
3 118 Howard University Washington
4 141 Catholic University of America Washington
5 153 American University Washington

Read more: Best universities in the world


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