flags outside harvard university building

When it comes to higher education, the United States stands out in terms of the quantity and quality of schools. The United States has some of the best universities in the world. According to a recent global study, eight of the top ten universities in the world are American. 

So then, what are the top ten universities in North America’s 50 states? Below, we’ve listed what are widely considered the most prestigious and rigorous institutions of higher education in the country. Many of these are historic schools spread all around the country, each with significant prestige, academic rigor, and notable alumni.

There are many factors used to evaluate which university is “best” in the USA. And, those factors can vary from student to student, depending on their academic pursuits. To that end, we’ve listed the top universities in the United States of America in alphabetical order. Each university affords unique academic experiences; a numeric ranking doesn’t do them justice.

California Institute of Technology

One of the best US universities on the West Coast is California Institute of Technology, known commonly as Caltech. Caltech is one of the most selective universities in the United States. In fact, it’s ne of only a few universities primarily dedicated to pure and applied sciences.

The university admittance rate in 2021 was a mere 3.9%. The average SAT and ACT scores were 740-780 and 35-36 respectively. Caltech currently offers 28 majors, with the most popular being Chemical Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Physics. 

Originally known as Throop University after its founder Amos G. Throop, the school opened in 1891. Today, the school is known for having produced an impressive number of alumni. These are individuals who have changed the world with their scientific advancements. Notable alumni include the inventor of the pH meter, Arnold Beckman, and the co-inventor of the semiconductor transistor, William Chockley.

In total, 41 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to the students, alumni, and faculty of the school. Visiting professors have included such household names as Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. Undoubtedly, Caltech’s mark on humanity through its theoretical and applied sciences is significant. It puts the institution firmly in the company of the most prestigious and influential universities in the United States.

two columbia university frames

Columbia University

First established by royal charter under George II of Great Britain, Columbia University’s original name was King’s College. It was renamed only after the American Revolution. A member of the elite Ivy League schools, Columbia has produced American pioneers. These include Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and other founding fathers.

Many of Columbia University’s colleges are internationally ranked. Most notable are Columbia Law School, the Mailman School of Public Health, and the School of Social Work. This is not to limit the scope of Columbia’s academic excellence, as their programs range a wide gamut of subjects. In 2011, the Mine ParisTech Profession Ranking of World Universities named Columbia a top producer of CEOs.

Columbia is a university participating in a very high amount of research. In fact, many significant scientific developments occurring through their medical education programs. Recently, the first interface between brains and computers was developed by neuro-engineers working under Columbia. Columbia consistently positions itself as a place of significant import and influence in the United States. Its rigorous academic programs train its students to do the same.

couple holding harvard law frame and harvard med school frame

Harvard University 

An analysis of the top US universities would be amiss without a discussion of Harvard. Harvard University, one of the oldest institutions of higher education in the country, has a long and storied history. Harvard is one of the most prestigious schools in the country and offers high-level premier education. Harvard was established in 1636 as Harvard College. It is also a member of the Ivy League, the elite and historic college association of the east coast. Harvard’s undergraduate programs focus on the liberal arts and sciences. The Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard Medical School, and Harvard Law School are considered the best master’s degree programs in the country.

Harvard Kennedy School specializes in public policy. The school has produced officials and heads of state for the U.S. and many other nations around the world. The Harvard Library system consists of 80 individual libraries. Together, these number 20.4 million books, magazines, and other documents, making it the world’s largest academic library system. Without a doubt, Harvard University is not only one of the best universities in the USA but also in the world.

man holding johns hopkins frame

Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University is considered by many to be the oldest research university in the United States. It was founded in 1876 by the philanthropist Johns Hopkins who gave $7 million to establish it. At the time, this gift represented the largest philanthropic gift in the history of the United States. Johns Hopkins University is known for its research programs. The college has had the highest annual expenditures in research and development each year since 1990. This significant investment has secured Johns Hopkins University’s place as one of the top US colleges. The school spans multiple states and countries, with locations in Maryland, Washing DC, Italy, and China. 

JHU has been an active player in various civil rights movements. Much of this activism can be attributed to the convictions of its founder. The university was trailblazing in its enrollment of African-Americans, with the first being mathematician Kelly Miller in 1887. This is also true of women, with mathematician Christine Ladd-Franklin as the first in 1897. Fans of college athletics should note that Johns Hopkins University competes in the Big Ten Conference. JHU also has a well-decorated men’s lacrosse team. 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is one of the most famous names in the world of applied sciences. At its founding in 1861, MIT was based on the European polytechnic university model. It specialized in practical laboratory instruction to meet the challenge of an increasingly industrialized United States. In their first year, undergraduate students at MIT undergo rigorous training in calculus, physics, chemistry, and biology. This training prepares them for more advanced coursework in their major. 63% of students at MIT are enrolled in the college’s engineering division, which spans 19 degrees. Today, MIT is best known for its developments in the worlds of mechanical and electrical engineering. It’s also made great strides in computer science and artificial intelligence. 

MIT possesses a famous rivalry with the California Institute of Technology. The two are some of the most highly honored engineering schools in the nation. Most college rivalries are played out at athletic events. However, the MIT/Caltech rivalry is usually expressed through academic achievements and pranks. In 2006, MIT students stole a famous piece of Caltech property, the Fleming cannon, and displayed it on their own campus. There is fierce competition between the two schools to be the top US university for engineering and applied sciences. It is unquestionable that the academic programs of both are highly respected.

princeton grad with boxed diploma frame

Princeton University

The third Ivy League school on this list is New Jersey’s Princeton University, which was founded in 1746. Princeton possesses the largest endowment per student in the United States, with a staggering endowment of $37.7 billion. Athletics and academics come together powerfully on this campus. We’d be remiss not to mention Princeton’s excellent sports programs. Like other schools on this list, Princeton has produced a distinguished, well-rounded alumni. 

Princeton is one of the best universities in the US for those interested in public policy or political science. It has produced more than 200 Rhodes Scholars, 75 Nobel laureates, two US Presidents, and twelve US Supreme Court Justices. The school offers two bachelor’s degrees: a Bachelor of Arts, and a Bachelor of Science in Engineering. Students pursuing a Bachelor of Arts select a concentration as their area of study. They take thorough coursework in the liberal arts tradition, including the study of literature, language, and philosophy. Those pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Engineering likewise have extensive coursework that instead focuses on mathematics, physics, and computer programming.

Stanford University

Stanford University is located in Stanford, California, and has one of the largest campuses in the United States. The university spans 8,000 acres on the San Francisco Peninsula. The campus boasts multiple reservoirs, a seasonal lake, 49 miles of roads, and more than 1,000 species of plants. Stanford is not known primarily for their campus, however beautiful. The university is known throughout the world for its superior academic programs. In 2021, Stanford sponsored more than 7,900 separate research projects, which spanned multiple labs, centers, and institutes. In 2014, Slate magazine dubbed Stanford “the Harvard of the 21st century.” It was named the defining school of the American education system and the best university in the US. 

Among its many achievements, Stanford carries an elite distinction. It’s known as the birthplace of the internet, under the direction of Vint Cerf and Robert E. Khan. It’s a leader in technology, business, and the humanities. Stanford has a strong culture of professional and academic risk-taking that rewards students for their independent spirit.

U California Berkely football game aerial view

University of California, Berkeley

The University of California Berkeley is not only one of the USA’s top universities but the world’s. It’s lauded for its undergraduate programs in science, engineering, and mathematics, as well as its research-oriented graduate and doctoral programs. In 2010, the United States National Research Council Rankings identified UC Berkeley as having the greatest number of highly ranked doctoral programs in the USA. This includes concentrations in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Molecular Biology, Computer Science, and more. In fact, Berkeley has consistently ranked as the best public university in the USA. Berkeley’s faculty includes 1,629 full-time and 896 part-time research faculty members, spread across over 130 different academic departments. The scientific contributions of their alumni include such discoveries as the atomic bomb, 16 new elements, and the flu vaccine. Undoubtedly, for any student pursuing STEM careers, Berkeley has world-class offerings of programs.

University of Chicago

The only midwestern school to make this list? The University of Chicago, which is located in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. In addition to undergrad programs, it boasts five graduate research schools in Law, Business, Medicine, Social Work, Public Policy, and Divinity.

The University of Chicago has additional campuses in as far-flung places as London, Paris, Beijing, Delhi, and Hong Kong. The University of Chicago has a track record of excellence across a diverse array of academic fields. Areas of expertise range from mathematics to literary criticism, and from theology to economics.

The college is revered for producing the first stable, self-sustaining nuclear reaction. It’s also known for the development and refinement of the carbon dating process. University of Chicago’s undergraduate programs are known to have particularly challenging standards. These include heavy workloads of research, reading, and writing, making it one of the most intense educational experiences in the country. The University of Chicago deservedly belongs as one of the tier-one universities in the USA.

aerial view of Yale University campus

Yale University 

Rounding out our list of top universities is a final Ivy League school of name recognition on par with Harvard. Yale University is located in New Haven, Connecticut, and is the third-oldest institute of higher education in the United States. Like many schools founded during the Colonial era, Yale was originally established to educate clergy and members of local Congregationalist churches. That’s why the curriculum focused on theology and ancient languages, such as Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic.

By the time of the American Revolution, Yale broadened its coursework to the humanities and sciences. Since then, Yale’s academic prestige has only grown and is known as one of the best universities in the USA. Today, among Yale’s most popular undergraduate programs are Economics, Public Relations, and History. Many of their graduates have gone on to find great success in public service. Five US presidents attended Yale, as well as many international leaders of state. 

10 Best Universities in the USA

The United States of America is rich with excellent universities, many of which could not be included in our list of the top 10 universities in the USA. If you’re a prospective student, it’s essential to have a good understanding of your goals and priorities as you research schools. If you’re an alumni of any of these outstanding schools and are proud of your alma mater, consider showcasing your diploma in one of our handcrafted frames! All of our frames are made in the USA and can be customized to your unique preferences. Browse our online selection and find the perfect frame today!

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