Top Catholic Colleges and Universities

Sacred Heart Statue on the University of Notre Dame Campus
Sacred Heart Statue on the University of Notre Dame Campus. Michael Hickey / Getty Images

Attending a Catholic college or university has many advantages. The Catholic Church, especially in the Jesuit tradition, has a long history of emphasizing scholarly excellence, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise that some of the best colleges in the country are affiliated with Catholicism. Thinking and questioning tend to be central to the college missions, not religious indoctrination. The church also emphasizes service, so students looking for meaningful volunteer opportunities will typically find many options that are often integral to the educational experience.

While there are some schools in the United States with religious affiliations that require students to attend mass and sign statements of faith, Catholic colleges and universities tend to welcome students of all beliefs. For students who are Catholic, however, campus can be a comfortable place with a large population of students who share common values, and students will have easy access to religious services right on campus.

The top Catholic colleges and universities listed below have been selected for a range of factors including reputation, retention rates, graduation rates, academic quality, value, and curricular innovations. The schools vary widely in size, location, and mission, so I have not tried to force any kind of arbitrary ranking on them. Instead, I simply list them alphabetically.

Gasson Hall on Boston College campus in Chestnut Hill, MA
Gasson Hall on Boston College campus in Chestnut Hill, MA. gregobagel / Getty Images

​Boston College was founded in 1863 by the Jesuits, and today it is one of the oldest Jesuit university in the U.S., and the Jesuit university with the largest endowment. The campus is distinguished by its stunning Gothic architecture, and the college has a partnership with beautiful St. Ignatius Church.

The school always places high on rankings of national universities. The undergraduate business program is particularly strong. BC has a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. The Boston College Eagles compete in the NCAA Division 1-A Atlantic Coast Conference.

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College of the Holy Cross
College of the Holy Cross. Joe Campbell / Flickr

Founded in the mid-1800s by Jesuits, the College of Holy Cross boasts a long history of academic and faith-based success. Stressing the idea that Catholicism is "a love of God and love of neighbor," the school encourages missions, retreats, and research that serves a large community. A variety of worship services are offered at the college's chapels.

Holy Cross has an impressive retention and graduation rate, with well over 90% of entering students earning a degree within six years. The college was awarded a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for its strengths in the liberal arts and sciences, and the school's 10 to 1 student/faculty ratio means that students will have a lot of personal interaction with their professors.

  • Location: Worcester, Massachusetts
  • Enrollment: 2,720 (all undergraduate)
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Creighton University
Creighton University. Raymond Bucko, SJ / Flickr

​Another Jesuit-affiliated school, Creighton offers several degrees in ministry and theology. With both on-site and online resources available, students can worship, attend retreats, and connect with a community that encourages the integration of education and Catholic tradition.

Creighton has a 11 to 1 student/faculty ratio. Biology and nursing are the most popular undergraduate majors. Creighton frequently ranks #1 among Midwest master's universities in U.S. News & World Report, and the school also wins high marks for its value. On the athletic front, the Creighton Bluejays compete in the NCAA Division I Big East Conference.

  • Location: Omaha, Nebraska
  • Enrollment: 8,383 (4,203 undergraduates)
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Fairfield University
Fairfield University. Allen Grove

Founded by the Jesuits in 1942, Fairfield University encourages ecumenical and inclusive outreach and education. The Egan Chapel of St. Ignatius Loyola, a beautiful and visually-striking building, offers a range of meeting and worship opportunities for students.

Fairfield's strong international programs and has produced a surprising number of Fulbright Scholars. Fairfield's strengths in the liberal arts and sciences earned the school a chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society, and the university's Dolan School of Business is also well regarded. In athletics, the Fairfield Stags compete in the NCAA Division I Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

  • Location: Fairfield, Connecticut
  • Enrollment: 5,137 (4,032 undergraduates)
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Keating Hall at Fordham Huniversity
Keating Hall at Fordham Huniversity. Chriscobar / Wikimedia Commons

The only Jesuit university in New York City, Fordham welcomes students of all faiths. Reflecting the tradition of its faith, the school offers resources and opportunities for campus ministry, global outreach, service/social justice, and religious/cultural studies. There are many chapels and worship spaces in and around Fordham's campus.

Fordham University's main campus sits next to the Bronx Zoo and the Botanical Garden. For its strengths in the liberal arts and sciences, the university was awarded a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. In athletics, the Fordham Rams compete in the NCAA Division I Athletic 10 Conference except for the football team which competes in the Patriot League.

  • Location: Bronx, New York
  • Enrollment: 15,582 (9,258 undergraduates)
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Georgetown University
Georgetown University. Kārlis Dambrāns / Flickr / CC by 2.0

Established in 1789, Georgetown is the oldest Jesuit university in the country. The school offers services and resources to any and all faiths, so students can feel included and welcomed into the community. Georgetown's tradition is based in service, outreach, and intellectual/spiritual education.

Georgetown's location in the capital has contributed to its sizable international student population and the popularity of the International Relations major. Over half of Georgetown students take advantage of the many study abroad opportunities, and the university recently opened a campus in Qatar. For strengths in the liberal arts and sciences, Georgetown was awarded a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. On the athletic front, the Georgetown Hoyas compete in the NCAA Division I Big East Conference

  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Enrollment: 18,525 (7,453 undergraduates)
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Gonzaga University—Foley Center Library
Gonzaga University—Foley Center Library. SCUMATT / Wikiemedia Commons

Gonzaga, like many Catholic universities, focuses on the education of the whole person — mind, body and spirit. Founded by Jesuits in 1887, Gonzaga is committed to "developing the whole person" — intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, and culturally. 

Gonzaga boasts a healthy 12 to 1 student/faculty ratio. The university ranks highly among Master's institutions in the West. Popular majors include business, engineering, and biology. On the athletic front, the Gonzaga Bulldogs compete in the NCAA Division I West Coast Conference. The basketball team has met with notable success.

  • Location: Spokane, Washington
  • Enrollment: 7,567 (5,183 undergraduates)
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Foley-Building-Loyola-Marymount.jpg
Foley Center at Loyola Marymount. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin

Loyola Marymount University is the largest Catholic university on the West Coast. Also a Jesuit-founded school, LMU offers a range of services and outreach programs for students of all faiths. The school's Sacred Heart Chapel is a beautiful space, complete with a multitude of stained glass windows. There are numerous other chapels and worship spaces around campus.

The school has an average undergraduate class size of 18 and a 13 to 1 student/faculty ratio. Undergraduate student life is active with 144 clubs and organizations and 15 national Greek fraternities and sororities. In athletics, the LMU Lions compete in the NCAA Division I West Coast Conference.

  • Location: Los Angeles, California
  • Enrollment: 9,330 (6,261 undergraduates)
  • Explore the Campus: LMU Photo Tour
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Cuneo Hall at Loyola University Chicago
Cuneo Hall at Loyola University Chicago. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin

Loyola University in Chicago is the largest Jesuit college in the country. The school offers "Alternative Break Immersions," where students can travel within (or outside) the country, focusing on personal growth and global social justice initiatives.

Loyola's business school frequently does well in national rankings, and the university's strengths in the liberal arts and sciences have earned it a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. Loyola occupies some prime real estate in Chicago, with a northern campus on the Chicago waterfront and a downtown campus just off the Magnificent Mile. In athletics, the Loyola Ramblers competes in the NCAA Division I ​Missouri Valley Conference.

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Loyola University Maryland
Loyola University Maryland. Crhayes31288 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Loyola University, a Jesuit college, welcomes students of all faiths and backgrounds. The school's retreat center, a 20-acre spot in the mountains, provides programs and events to students and faculty throughout the school year.

Loyola University is located on a 79-acre campus just down the road from Johns Hopkins University. The school is proud of its 12 to 1 student/faculty ratio, and its average class size of 25. In athletics, the Loyola Greyhounds compete in the NCAA Division I Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, with women's lacrosse competing as an associate member of the Big East Conference.

  • Location: Baltimore, Maryland
  • Enrollment: 6,084 (4,104 undergraduates)
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Marquette Hall at Marquette University
Marquette Hall at Marquette University. Tim Cigelske / Flickr

Founded by Jesuits in 1881, Marquette University's four pillars of education are: "excellence, faith, leadership, and service." The school offers a wide range of service projects for students to join, including local outreach programs and international mission trips. 

Marquette frequently places well on rankings of national universities, and its programs in business, nursing and the biomedical sciences are worth a close look. For its strengths in the liberal arts and sciences, Marquette was awarded a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. On the athletic front, Marquette competes in the NCAA Division I Big East Conference.

  • Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Enrollment: 11,294 (8,238 undergraduates)
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Main Building at the University of Notre Dame
Main Building at the University of Notre Dame. Allen Grove

Notre Dame boasts that its undergraduate alumni have earned more doctorates than any other Catholic university. Founded by the Congregation of the Holy Cross in 1842, Notre Dame offers a wide array of programs, organizations, and events that focus on faith-based growth and education. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart, on Notre Dame's campus, is a gorgeous and world-renowned Holy Cross church.

The school is highly selective and has a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. Roughly 70% of accepted students rank in the top 5% of their high school class. The university's 1,250-acre campus has two lakes and 137 buildings including Main Building with its well-known Golden Dome. In athletics, many Notre Dame Fighting Irish teams compete in the NCAA Division I Atlantic Coast Conference.

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Harkins Hall at Providence College
Harkins Hall at Providence College. Allen Grove

Providence College was founded by Dominican friars in the early 20th century. The school focuses on the importance of service, and the interaction of faith and reason. The curriculum is distinguished by a four-semester-long course on western civilization that covers history, religion, literature and philosophy.

Providence College typically ranks well for both its value and its academic quality when compared to other master's level colleges in the Northeast. Providence College has an impressive graduation rate of over 85%. In athletics, the Providence College Friars compete in the NCAA Division I Big East Conference.

  • Location: Providence, Rhode Island
  • Enrollment: 4,568 (4,034 undergraduates)
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Saint Louis University
Saint Louis University. Wilson Delgado / Wikimedia Commons

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is the second oldest Jesuit university in the country. As the commitment to service is one of the core teachings of the college, volunteering and community outreach are part of a large number of course on campus, and students can earn credit for their service.

The university has a 13 to 1 student/faculty ratio and an average class size of 23. Professional programs such as business and nursing are particularly popular among undergraduates. Students come from all 50 states and 90 countries. In athletics, the Saint Louis Billikens compete in the NCAA Division I Atlantic 10 Conference.

  • Location: St. Louis, Missouri
  • Enrollment: 16,591 (11,779 undergraduates)
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Santa Clara University
Santa Clara University. Jessica Harris / Flickr

As a Jesuit university, Santa Clara focuses on the growth and and education of the whole person. Students at Santa Clara (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) can take advantage of workshops, discussion groups, and service events on campus, in order to help themselves, their communities, and the larger global society. 

The university wins high marks for its retention and graduation rates, community service programs, alumni salaries, and sustainability efforts. Business programs are the most popular among undergraduates, and the Leavey School of Business ranks highly among the nation's undergraduate B-schools. In athletics, the Santa Clara University Broncos compete in the NCAA Division I West Coast Conference.

  • Location: Santa Clara, California
  • Enrollment: 8,422 (5,438 undergraduates)
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Siena College
Siena College. Allen Grove

Siena College was founded by Franciscan friars in 1937. Students can get involved in a number of service trips — with Habitat for Humanity or with Franciscan organizations — that take place across the country, and around the world. 

Siena College is highly student-centered with a 14 to 1 student/faculty ratio and an average class size of 20. The college can also boast of an 80% six-year graduation rate (with most students graduating in four years). Business is the most popular field for students at Siena. In athletics, the Siena Saints compete in the NCAA Division I Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

  • Location: Loudonville, New York
  • Enrollment: 3,239 (3,178 undergraduates)
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Stonehill College
Stonehill College. Kenneth C. Zirkel / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Stonehill College, founded by the order of the Holy Cross, opened its doors in 1948. With a focus on service and outreach, the school offers a range of volunteer opportunities. On campus, students can attend mass and other services at the Chapel of Mary and Our Lady of Sorrows Chapel, as well as several chapels in the residence halls.

Stonehill ranks well among national liberal arts colleges, and the school recently appeared in U.S. News & World Report's list of "Top Up-and-Coming Schools." Stonehill students come from 28 states and 14 countries, and the college wins high marks for its level of student engagement. Students can choose from 80 majors and minors. In athletics, the Stonehill Skyhawks compete in the NCAA Division II Northeast Ten Conference.

  • Location: Easton, Massachusetts
  • Enrollment: 2,481 (all undergraduate)
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Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California
Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California. Alex Begin / Flickr

Little Thomas Aquinas College is probably the most unusual school on this list. The college uses no textbooks; instead, students read the great books of Western civilization. Unaffiliated with any specific Catholic order, the school's spiritual tradition informs its approach to education, community service, and extracurricular activities.

The college has no lectures, but sustained tutorials, seminars and laboratories. Also, the school​ has no majors, for all students acquire a broad and integrated liberal education. The college frequently ranks highly among national liberal arts colleges, and it also wins praise for its small classes and its value.

  • Location: Santa Paula, California
  • Enrollment: 386 (all undergraduate)
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University of Dallas
University of Dallas. Wissembourg / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Founded in the mid-20th century, the University of Dallas manifests its Catholic roots by offering degrees in ministry and religious studies, as well as providing the campus community several worship and service opportunities. Students can attend mass at the Church of the Incarnation.

The University of Dallas does well on the financial aid front -- nearly all students receive significant grant aid. Academically, the university can boast of a 13 to 1 student/faculty ratio, and the school's strengths in the liberal arts and sciences earned it a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. The university has a campus in Rome where nearly 80% of all undergraduates study for a semester.

  • Location: Dallas, Texas
  • Enrollment: 2,357 (1,407 undergraduates)
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GE Aviation EPISCenter at the University of Dayton
GE Aviation EPISCenter at the University of Dayton. Ohio Redevelopment Projects - ODSA / Flickr

The University of Dayton's Center for Social Concern helps to spread their mission of service and community; students are able to integrate their academic pursuits with service and missions projects around the world. A Marianist college, Dayton offers theology and religious studies among its many majors and degrees. 

The University of Dayton's program in entrepreneurship has been ranked highly by U.S. News and World Report, and Dayton also gets high marks for student happiness and athletics. Nearly all Dayton students get financial aid. In athletics, the Dayton Flyers compete in the NCAA Division I Atlantic 10 Conference.

  • Location: Dayton, Ohio
  • Enrollment: 10,803 (8,330 undergraduates)
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Romanaggi Hall at the University of Portland
Romanaggi Hall at the University of Portland. Visitor7 / Wikimedia Commons

Like many schools on this list, the University of Portland is committed to teaching, faith, and service. Founded in the early 1900s, the school is affiliated with the order of the Holy Cross. With several chapels on campus, including one in each residence hall, students have the chance to join worship services, or have a place for reflection and contemplation.

The school frequently ranks among the best western master's universities, and it also earns high marks for its value. The school has a 13 to 1 student/faculty ratio, and among undergraduates nursing, engineering and business fields are all popular. The engineering programs frequently place well in national rankings. In athletics, the Portland Pilots compete in the NCAA Division I West Coast Conference.

  • Location: Portland, Oregon
  • Enrollment: 3,661 (3,041 undergraduates)
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Immaculata Church at USD
Immaculata Church at USD. Photo Credit: chrisostermann / Flickr

As part of its mission to integrate academic success and community service, the University of San Diego provides numerous opportunities for students to attend lectures and workshops, volunteer in the community, and address issues of social justice. Interested students can also take courses in theology and religious studies.

USD's attractive campus with its Spanish Renaissance style architecture is a short drive to the beach, mountains, and downtown.The diverse student body comes from all 50 states and 141 countries. Students can choose from 43 bachelor degrees, and academics are supported by a 14 to 1 student/faculty ratio. On the athletic front, the University of San Diego Toreros compete in the NCAA Division I West Coast Conference.

  • Location: San Diego, California
  • Enrollment: 8,508 (5,711 undergraduates)
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Villanova University
Villanova University. Alertjean / Wikimedia Commons

Affiliated with the Augustinian order of Catholicism, Villanova, like the other school in this list, believes in educating the "whole self" as part of its Catholic tradition. On campus, the St. Thomas of Villanova Church is a beautiful space where students can attend mass and other important events and programs.

Located just outside of Philadelphia, Villanova is well known for both its strong academics and athletic programs. The university has a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, a recognition of its strengths in the liberal arts and sciences. In athletics, the Villanova Wildcats compete in the Division I Big East Conference (football competes in the Division I-AA Atlantic 10 Conference). Villanova students also host the Pennsylvania Special Olympics on their campus.

  • Location: Villanova, Pennsylvania
  • Enrollment: 10,842 (6,999 undergraduates)
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Xavier University Basketball
Xavier University Basketball. Michael Reaves / Getty Images

Founded in 1831, Xavier is one of the oldest Jesuit universities in the country. Another school that promotes "alternative breaks," Xavier provides opportunities for students to travel on service projects around the country and the world when school is not is session. 

The university's preprofessional programs in business, education, communications and nursing are all popular among undergraduates. The school was granted a chapter of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society for its strengths in the liberal arts and sciences. In athletics, the Xavier Musketeers compete in the NCAA Division I Big East Conference.

  • Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Enrollment: 6,584 (3,923 undergraduate)
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Grove, Allen. "Top Catholic Colleges and Universities." ThoughtCo, Jan. 29, 2018, thoughtco.com/top-catholic-colleges-and-universities-788301. Grove, Allen. (2018, January 29). Top Catholic Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/top-catholic-colleges-and-universities-788301 Grove, Allen. "Top Catholic Colleges and Universities." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/top-catholic-colleges-and-universities-788301 (accessed February 26, 2018).