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Top Universities in the U.S.

These Ten Schools Frequently Top the Rankings of National Universities


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These comprehensive universities offer graduate degrees in fields such as liberal arts, engineering, medicine, business and law. For smaller colleges with more of an undergraduate focus, check out the list of top liberal arts colleges. I won't make the arbitrary distinctions needed to decide whether Harvard or Princeton or Stanford is the better school. Listed alphabetically, these ten universities have the reputations and resources to rank them among the best in the country.

Compare Ivy League Schools: SAT Scores | ACT Scores
Compare Top Universities (non Ivy): SAT Scores | ACT Scores

Brown University

Brown University Campus
Barry Winiker / Photolibrary / Getty Images

Located in Providence Rhode Island, Brown University has easy access to both Boston and New York City. The university is frequently considered the most liberal of the Ivies, and it is well known for its flexible curriculum in which students construct their own plan of study. Brown, like Dartmouth College, places more emphasis on undergraduate study than you'll find at research powerhouses like Columbia and Harvard.

Columbia University

Photo of Columbia University in Spring by Yandi at Flickr
Yandi / Flickr

Strong students who love an urban environment should definitely consider Columbia University. The school's location in upper Manhattan sits right on a subway line, so students have easy access to all of New York City. Keep in mind that Columbia is a research institution, and only about a third of its 26,000 students are undergraduates.

Cornell University

Cornell University Sage Hall
Upsilon Andromedae / Flickr

Cornell has the largest undergraduate population of all the Ivies, and the university has strengths in a broad range of disciplines. You need to be willing to tolerate some cold winter days if you attend Cornell, but the location in Ithaca, New York, is beautiful. The hillside campus overlooks Lake Cayuga, and you'll find stunning gorges cutting through the campus. The university also has the most complex administrative structure among the top universities since some of its programs are housed within a state-funded statutory unit.

Dartmouth College

Baker Library and Tower at Dartmouth University
Photo Credit: Allen Grove

Hanover, New Hampshire, is the quintessential New England college town, and Dartmouth College surrounds the attractive town green. The college (really a university) is the smallest of the Ivies, yet it can still boast of the type of curricular breadth we find at the other schools on this list. The atmosphere, however, has more of a liberal arts college feeling than you'll find at any of the other top universities.

Duke University

Duke University
cb2vi3 / flickr

Duke's stunning campus in Durham, North Carolina, features impressive Gothic revival architecture in the campus center, and extensive modern research facilities spreading out from the main campus. With an acceptance rate in the teens, it is also the most selective university in the South. Duke, along with nearby UNC Chapel Hill and NC State, make up the "research triangle," an area purported to have the highest concentration of PhDs and MDs in the world.

Harvard University

Harvard University
David Paul Ohmer / flickr

For better or worse, Harvard University almost always tops the rankings of national universities, and its endowment is by far the largest of any educational institution in the world. All of those resources bring some perks: students from families with modest incomes can attend for free, loan debt is rare, facilities are state of the art, and faculty are often world-renowned scholars and scientists. The university's location in Cambridge, Massachusetts, places it within an easy walk to other excellent schools such as MIT and Boston University.

Princeton University

Princeton University
_Gene_ / Flickr

In the U.S. News & World Report and other national rankings, Princeton University frequently vies with Harvard for the top spot. The schools, however, are very different. Princeton's attractive 500-acre campus is located in a town of about 30,000 people, and the urban centers of Philadelphia and New York City are each about an hour away. With just over 5,000 undergrads and about 2,600 grad students, Princeton has a much more intimate educational environment than many of the other top universities.

Stanford University

Stanford University
soapbeard / Flickr

With a single digit acceptance rate, Stanford is the most selective university on the west coast. It is also one of the strongest research and teaching centers in the world. For students who are looking for a prestigious and world-renowned institution but don't want the cold winters of the Northeast, Stanford is worth a close look. Its location near Palo Alto, California, comes with attractive Spanish architecture and a mild climate.

University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania
rubberpaw / Flickr

Benjamin Franklin's university, Penn, is frequently confused with Penn State, but the similarities are few. The campus sits along the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, and Center City is just a short walk away. The University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School is arguably the strongest school of business in the country, and numerous other undergraduate and graduate programs place high in national rankings. With close to 12,000 undergraduates and graduate students, Penn is one of the larger Ivy League schools.

Yale University

Yale University
o2ma / flickr

Like Harvard and Princeton, Yale University frequently finds itself near the top of rankings of national universities. The school's location in in New Haven, Connecticut, allows Yale students to get to New York City or Boston easily by road or rail. The school has an impressive 5 to 1 student / faculty ratio, and research and teaching are supported by an endowment of nearly $20 billion.

More Great Universities

The universities listed here don't do justice to the wealth of great schools in the U.S. Also, this list has a clear focus on the Ivy League. For more top picks, check out this list of ten more great universities.

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