Top Private Universities in the US

A List of Some of the Country's Best Private Universities

My list of the ten best universities is filled mostly with Ivy League schools. This list adds ten more outstanding private universities to the mix. Each one of these universities is highly placed in national rankings, and each provides a winning combination of quality academics, high-level research, attractive facilities and strong name recognition. I've listed the universities alphabetically to avoid petty and arbitrary distinctions.

Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University Campus
Carnegie Mellon University Campus. Paul McCarthy / Flickr

Carnegie Mellon University is best known for its top-ranked science and engineering programs, but prospective students shouldn't underestimate the school's strengths in the arts and sciences as well.

Chicago, University of

The-Oriental-The Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago-Museum-University-of-Chicago.jpg
The Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin

Although the University of Chicago has almost twice as many graduate students as undergrads, the undergraduate programs are highly respected and a significant majority of students go on to graduate school. Social sciences, sciences, and humanities are all strong.

Emory University

Goizueta Business School at Emory University
Goizueta Business School at Emory University. Daniel Mayer / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Emory's multi-billion-dollar endowment ranks with many Ivy League universities and helps support its strong schools of medicine, theology, law, nursing, and public health. The prestigious Goizueta Business School can boast faculty members such as former President Jimmy Carter.

Georgetown University

Georgetown University
Georgetown University. Kārlis Dambrāns / Flickr / CC by 2.0

Georgetown is a private Jesuit university in Washington, D.C. The school's location in the capital has contributed to its sizable international student population and the popularity of the International Relations major. Bill Clinton stands out among Georgetown's notable alumni.

Johns Hopkins University

Mergenthaler Hall at Johns Hopkins University
Mergenthaler Hall at Johns Hopkins University. Daderot / Wikimedia Commons

The majority of undergraduate programs at Johns Hopkins are housed in the attractive red-brick Homewood Campus in the northern part of the city. Johns Hopkins is best-known for its professional programs in the health sciences, international relations and engineering, but the liberal arts and sciences are also strong.

Northwestern University

Northwestern University
Northwestern University. Photo Credit: Amy Jacobson

Located on a 240-acre campus in a suburban community just north of Chicago on the shore of Lake Michigan, Northwestern has a rare balance of exceptional academics and athletics. It is the only private university in the Big Ten athletic conference.

Notre Dame, University of

Washington Hall at the University of Notre Dame
Washington Hall at the University of Notre Dame. Allen Grove

Rice University

Rice University
Rice University. faungg's photos / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Rice University earns its reputation as a "Southern Ivy." The university boasts a multi-billion-dollar endowment, a 5 to 1 ratio of undergraduates to faculty members, a median class size of 15, and a residential college system modeled after Oxford.

  • Location: Houston, Texas
  • Enrollment (2016): 6,855 (3,893 undergraduate)
  • Type of College: Private Research University
  • Distinctions: member of the NCAA Division I Conference USA; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa; member of the Association of American Universities
  • See cost, financial aid, and admissions data in the profile
  • Rice GPA, SAT and ACT graph

Vanderbilt University

Tolman Hall at Vanderbilt University
Tolman Hall at Vanderbilt University. Photo Credit: Amy Jacobson

Like a few of the other universities on this list, Vanderbilt has an impressive mix of strong academics and Division I athletics. The university has particular strengths in education, law, medicine, and business.

Washington University in St. Louis

Washington University St. Louis
Washington University St. Louis. 阿赖耶识 / Flickr

For both the quality of its programs and the strength of its students, Washington University is comparable to many of the East Coast Ivy League universities (with, Wash U would argue, a bit more Midwest friendliness). Every undergraduate belongs to a residential college, creating a small-college atmosphere within this mid-sized university.