Top 10 Colleges in the US

An overview of the ten best universities for undergrad programs in the United States, including info on class profiles, tuition and fees, and intended fields of concentration.

Posted January 10, 2024

During high school, two of the most important decisions you will make are where you want to go to school and what you want to major in. Going to a good undergraduate university will set you up for success in your future job search and any higher education degrees.

Here are the top 10 undergraduate schools, based on lists by US News, Forbes, and Niche to help you decide what schools to apply for and attend.

1. Harvard University

Harvard is a private institution that was founded in 1636 by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It is located outside Boston in Cambridge, Massachusetts in an urban setting. The campus size is 5,076 acres and is made up of 13 schools and institutes, including its top-ranked business school, medical school, and law school. The academic calendar is based on semesters.

Harvard boasts the oldest library collection in the US and the largest private collection in the world. Eight presidents have graduated from Harvard, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. Other notable alumni include Henry David Thorough and Helen Keller.

Class Profile

Acceptance Rate: 4.7%

Applicants: 57,786

Admitted: 2,320

International Students: 15.6%

Average GPA: 4.18 (Unweighted)

Average SAT: 1520

Average ACT: 34

Intended Fields of Concentration

Social Sciences: 28.1%

Biological Sciences: 18.3%

Humanities: 15.3%

Engineering: 10.3%

Computer Science: 8.1%

Physical Sciences: 7.6%

Undecided: 6.3%

Math: 6%

Tuition and Fees

Tuition: $52,659

Fees: $4,602

Room: $12,056

Board: $7,446

Estimated personal expenses: $3,500

Estimated travel costs: $0-4,150

Total Estimated Cost: $80,263-84,413

See more details at Harvard University.

2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private institution and was founded in 1861. It is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts in close proximity to Harvard University. The academic calendar runs on a 4-1-4 timeline, which includes two four-month-long semesters and a month-long mini-term in between. In practice, this means that students will attend a fall and spring semester, and spend January in one specific class or project.

The focus of MIT is on scientific and technological research and the institute is divided into five schools, which include its highly ranked graduate schools like the School of Engineering and the Sloan School of Management. Freshmen are required to live on campus and about 70% of undergraduates also reside on campus. Distinguished alumni include Buzz Aldrin and the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Class Profile

Acceptance Rate: 4.1%

Applicants: 33,240

Admitted: 1,365

Female: 47%

International: 10%

Average GPA: 4.17 (Unweighted)

Middle 50% Score Range –

ACT: 34-36 

SAT: 780-800 (Math), 730-780 (Reading and Writing)

Tuition and Fees

Tuition: $57,590

Student Life Fee: $396

Housing: $11,980

Meals: $6,810

Educational Supplies: $850

Personal Expenses: $2,224

Total: $79,850

To discover more, visit the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

3. Yale University

Yale University is also a private institution that was founded in 1701 in New Haven, Connecticut. It runs on a semester-based academic calendar and is best known for its economics, history, political science, and drama programs. Its sports teams compete in the Ivy League conference and are well known for their rivalry with Harvard. In addition to its undergraduate programs, Yale also has many higher-education institutions like the law school, business school, art school, and nursing school. Each college has a head and a dean who live at the college. During their time at Yale, students will live in one of its 14 residential colleges.

Yale is also well known for its secret society, the most famous of which is the Skull and Bones Society whose members include George W. Bush and John Kerry. Other distinguished alumni include Meryl Street, Bob Woodward, and Edward Norton.

Class Profile

Acceptance Rate: 6.6%

Applicants: 35,220

Enrolled: 1,267

Male to Female Ratio: 52:48

Minority: 55%

First-Generation: 19%

International: 9%

ACT Range: 88% at 32-36

SAT Range

Math: 68% at 760-800 

ERW: 49% at 760-800; 38% at 700-750

Tuition and Fees

Tuition: $62,250

Room: $10,500

Board: $7,950

Health Insurance: $2,756

Student Activity Fee: $125

Total: $83,581

Check out Yale to learn more.

4. Princeton University

This private institution was founded in 1746 in Princeton, New Jersey, and operates on a semester-based academic calendar. Its mascot is the Princeton tiger and the sports teams play in the Ivy League conference. The women’s and men’s lacrosse teams are known for their consistently strong performances.

Students live in one of six residential colleges that provide communities and dining services. All undergraduate students are required to write a senior thesis or do an independent project (for engineering students). Notable alumni include US President Woodrow Wilson, model/actress Brooke Shields, and former first lady Michelle Obama.

Class Profile

Acceptance Rate: 5.6%

Total Applicants: 37,601

Total Admits: 1,647

Female: 49%

First-Generation: 18%

Middle 50% ACT: 32-35

Middle 50% SAT: 740-800 (Math); 710-770 (ERW)

Tuition and Fees

Tuition: $57,690

Room: $11,000

Board: $7,710

Miscellaneous Expenses: $3,500

Total: $79,900

See more information at Princeton University.

5. Columbia University

Founded in 1754 in New York City, Columbia University is a private institution with three undergraduate schools: Columbia College, the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the School of General Studies. It also boasts several highly-ranked graduate schools, including the business school, teachers college, law school, and medical school. It runs on a semester-based academic calendar.

The main campus is located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with a campus size of 36 acres. The university offers a broad range of student activities, including 28 Greek chapters. More than 90% of the students live on campus. Distinguished alumni include the first Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay and former President Barack Obama.

Class Profile

Acceptance Rate: 3.9%

Total Applications: 60,551

Total Admits: 2,358

Female: 50%

First-Generation: 17%

International: 13%

Middle 50% SAT: 1510-1560

Middle 50% ACT: 34-35

Tuition and Fees

Tuition (for a 30-point program): $58,440

Cost of Living (including room, board, and supplies): $26,010

Student Life Fee (Fall): $657

Health Insurance (Annual): $3,892

Total: $88,999

Learn more at Columbia University.

6. Stanford University

Stanford University was founded in 1885 and is a private institution located in California’s Bay Area, about 30 miles from San Francisco. Stanford is composed of seven schools, three of which are exclusively for graduate programs, including the top-ranked Graduate School of Business, School of Education, School of Engineering, and School of Law. The academic calendar is based on quarters.

Freshmen are required to live on campus and about 25% of the students are active in Greek life. There are many different student organizations such as the Pre-Business Association and the Stanford Solar Car Project. Famous alumni include former President Herbert Hoover, Hall of Fame NFL quarterback John Elway, and golfer Tiger Woods.

Class Profile

Acceptance Rate: 4.8%

Total Applicants: 55,471

Total Admits: 2,190

Female: 51%

International: 12%

First-Generation: 18%

SAT Middle 50%: 750-800 (Math); 720-770 (ERW)

ACT Middle 50%: 32-35

Tuition and Fees

Tuition: $57,693

Room and Board: $18,619

Student Fees: $2,145

Educational Supplies: $1,350

Miscellaneous Personal Expenses: $2,355

Total: $82,162

Explore Stanford to learn more.

7. University of Chicago

The University of Chicago was founded in 1890 in Hyde Park, IL. In addition to its undergraduate programs, Chicago also offers highly-ranked graduate degrees from the Booth School of Business, the Pritzker School of Medicine, and the Harris School of Public Policy Studies, among others. The academic calendar is based on quarters and students can choose from more than fifty majors and forty minors.

Freshmen are required to live on campus and more than 50% of upperclassmen choose to remain on campus. Within dorms, students are put into “houses” that serve as a way to foster tight-knit communities, providing academic and social support. There are more than 450 students organizations to choose from. The University of Chicago boasts 90 Nobel Prize Winners among its alumni and former President Barack Obama served as a professor at the law school for 12 years.

Class Profile

Acceptance Rate: 7%

Number of Applicants: 37,977

Number Accepted: 2,460

International: 18%

Female: 47%

SAT Middle 50%: 1510-1560

ACT Middle 50%: 33-35

Tuition and Fees

Tuition: $59,256

Student Life Fee: $1,707

Room and Board: $17,685 (On-Campus)

Educational Supplies: $1,800

Personal Expenses: $2,400

Total: $82,848

To learn more, check out: The University of Chicago.

8. University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania was founded in 1740 by Benjamin Franklin. It is located in Philadelphia, with an urban setting and a campus size of 299 acres. UPenn is composed of twelve schools, seven of which are exclusively for graduate degree programs, including the highly-ranked Wharton School, School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the School of Education.

The academic calendar is based on semesters. There are ten on-campus houses that students can live in, although many students choose to live in the numerous off-campus apartments and houses available. More than 25% of the students are involved in Greek life and there are more than 50 fraternities and sororities to choose from. There are also many student clubs and organizations, including performance groups like the ballroom dance club and student publications like the Penn Political Review. Notable alumni include singer John Legend and poet William Carlos Williams.

Class Profile

Acceptance Rate: 5.9%

Total Applications: 56,332

Total Admitted: 3,304

Students of Color: 56%

International: 13%

First-Generation: 16%

Female: 54%

SAT Middle 50%: 1490-1560

ACT Middle 50%: 35-36

Tuition and Fees

Tuition: $56,212

Fees: $7,240

Housing: $11,754 (On-Campus)

Food: $6,134

Educational Supplies: $1,358

Transportation: $1,036

Personal Expenses: $2,004

Total: $85,738

Visit the University of Pennsylvania to learn more.

9. Duke University

Duke University, a private institution founded in 1838, is located in Durham, North Carolina. The campus includes ten different schools of colleges, most of which offer both undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Graduate programs include the Fuqua School of Business, Pratt School of Engineering, School of Law, School of Medicine, Sanford School of Public Policy, and School of Nursing.

Duke utilizes a semester-based academic calendar. Students are required to live on-campus for their first three years and all freshmen live together on the East Campus. Approximately 30% of students are involved in Greek life and there are more than forty fraternities and sororities. Notable alumni include Melina Gates, NBA player Carlos Boozer, and three-time presidential candidate Ron Paul.

Class Profile

Acceptance Rate: 8.2%

Total Applicants: 39,774

Total Accepted: 3,244

International: 9%

Female: 49%

First-Generation: 9%

SAT Middle 50%: 1500-1570

ACT Middle 50%: 34-35

Tuition and Fees

Tuition: $60,594

Room: $9,164

Board: $8,320

Educational Supplies: $3,410

Total: $81,488

Learn more at Duke University.

10. University of California Berkeley

UC Berkeley was founded in 1868 and is a public institution. It is located in the San Francisco Bay area and has a total undergraduate enrollment of 31,814 (2021). It runs on a semester-based academic calendar. It is comprised of 14 different schools and colleges including several graduate programs like the Graduate School of Journalism and the Haas School of Business.

About 95% of freshmen choose to live on campus and there are more than 1000 student organizations and clubs to choose from, including many fraternities and sororities. The mascot is the California Golden Bear and Berkeley’s teams are well-known for their traditional rivalry with Stanford. Historically, UC Berkeley has been a center for liberal student activism. In 1964, a student protest for freedom of speech gained national attention. Notable alumni include Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren and Olympic gold medalist Jonny Moseley.

Class Profile

Acceptance Rate: 16.4%

Total Applicants: 87,393

Total Admits: 14,336

GPA Middle 25-75%: 4.15-4.30

ACT Middle 25-75%: 30-35

SAT Middle 25-75%: 680-790 (Math); 660-750 (ERW)

Tuition and Fees

Tuition and Fees: $14,254

Non-Resident Supplemental Tuition: $29,754

Health Insurance: $3,286

Room and Board: $17,220

Food: $1,644

Educational Supplies: $870

Personal Expenses: $1,876

Transportation: $400

Total: $39,550 (CA Resident); $69,304 (Non-Resident)

See more here: University of California Berkeley

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