With more and more of today’s top students striving to outperform their peers in 2019, entry to some of the most prestigious universities in the United States has never been more competitive. The Northeastern United States still holds the lion’s share of the country’s prestigious universities, but in recent years, elite schools on the West Coast and in the South are making a splash in college rankings.
Here are just ten of the best universities and colleges in the US, and how they’re preparing their graduates for world-changing careers.
1. Harvard University
As the oldest (and arguably most prestigious) university in the United States, Harvard boasts a world-famous college and top-tier professional schools for law, medicine, and business. Founded by Puritans soon after the arrival of the Mayflower, Harvard still retains the austere and hardworking ethos of its early founders.
Harvard’s storied campus has been the setting of films such as “With Honors” and “The Paper Chase”; alumni include Bill Gates, John Adams, Mark Zuckerberg, and Natalie Portman. Studying at the university can also be a great stepping stone to a political career: No less than seven US presidents have studied at Harvard.
2. MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Just down the river from Harvard, MIT feels like a world away from the clubby atmosphere of its Cambridge rival. While it isn’t as old or as grand as your typical elite US school, MIT more than holds its own as a world-class university.
The site of some of the 20th Century’s biggest scientific breakthroughs, MIT remains an academic powerhouse, and its graduates command some of the largest starting salaries in the US. The school has also counted top-tier academics like John Nash (on whom the film “A Beautiful Mind” was based) and Noam Chomsky among its faculty. In “Good Will Hunting,” Matt Damon famously plays a math genius who works as a janitor at MIT.
3. Princeton University
Perhaps the most aristocratic university in the United States, Princeton is renowned for its bucolic setting and cutting-edge research. Once a professor at the university, Albert Einstein’s house can still be seen a few blocks from the school’s main campus.
Princeton is rivaled only by Harvard in terms of pure academic prestige; its languorous and donnish culture was lovingly portrayed by alumnus F. Scott Fitzgerald in the novel “This Side of Paradise.”
4. Stanford University
With its proximity to Silicon Valley and its status as a West Coast version of an Ivy League school, Stanford has become one of the most prestigious universities in the world over the last 50 years.
With a list of alumni ranging from Elon Musk to Larry Page to Tiger Woods, Stanford is no slouch when it comes to producing accomplished graduates. For aspiring computer scientists aiming to create the next billion-dollar start-up, in fact, entrance to Stanford has become something of a rite of passage in recent years.
5. Yale University
Set amid the sleepy grandeur of New Haven, Connecticut, the dreaming spires of Yale University have inspired students for generations. Perhaps the most politically-minded university in the United States, Yale has historically been known as a training ground for future presidential candidates and secret service operatives.
In 2004 alone, two Yale alumni (and members of the school’s elite Skull and Bones society) competed against one another for the US presidency. And while they shared nearly-identical educational backgrounds at Yale, there was little love lost between candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry when campaign season heated up.
6. Columbia University
Famous as Barack Obama’s alma mater, Columbia’s upper-Manhattan setting makes it a first-choice destination for elite students looking to experience the culture of the Big Apple. In addition to its famous college for undergraduate studies, Columbia boasts top-tier law and business schools.
Warren Buffett is said to have honed his trademark investing style while still a student at Columbia, and other famous former students include Jack Kerouac, J.D. Salinger, and Beto O’Rourke. If you’re looking for an Ivy League education in a big city setting, you can’t go wrong with Columbia.
7. University of Chicago
Worlds away from the leafy New England climes of the Ivy League and the hotbed intellectual culture of Stanford and Berkeley, the University of Chicago remains a Midwestern powerhouse through and through. Indeed, how many schools can claim that they have an entire field of economics named after them?
Famous University of Chicago graduates include Bernie Sanders, Carl Sagan, Milton Friedman, and Susan Sontag.
8. Dartmouth College
Among the most beautiful and tranquil of Ivy League schools, Dartmouth played a big part in defining American higher education for generations of learners. The school’s small campus, cozy atmosphere, and plethora of fraternities inspired the film “Animal House,” for example, so get ready to attend a toga party or two if you decide to apply. Famous Dartmouth alumni include Fred Rogers, Mindy Kaling, Dr. Seuss, and Robert Frost.
9. Duke University
The American South is home to a number of prestigious universities like Vanderbilt and the University of Virginia, but Duke University often sets the bar for top schools south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Duke is justly famous for its stellar sports teams and challenging curriculum; its list of notable graduates includes Tim Cook, William Styron, and Richard Nixon.
10. California Institute of Technology
Regarded by some people as the West Coast’s answer to MIT, the California Institute of Technology is a home base for some of the world’s top scientific minds. With its proximity to Los Angeles, Caltech also provides its students and faculty with the amenities of big city life and West Coast culture at its best.
The school was also the setting of the popular television show “The Big Bang Theory,” but its graduates will tell you that most students are not as awkward as Sheldon Cooper. If you’re looking to study the sciences west of the Mississippi, Caltech should be top on your list.