Visualized: The Best Universities in America
The United States is home to many world-class universities like Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, which boast innovative research programs, famous alumni, prestigious awards, and students and faculty from all over the world.
But which schools are actually the best ones in America?
This ranking uses data from U.S. News & World Report to rank America’s 50 best universities from the Ivy League to public institutions. Additionally, this visual shows the average tuition and acceptance rate of each school.
Here’s a look at how different categories are scored in the ranking. It is worth noting that U.S. News relies on each university’s independent reporting of data and information and does not standardize or corroborate the reported information themselves.
How categories are weighted:
- Graduation & Retention Rates = 22%
- Undergraduate Academic Reputation = 20%
- Faculty Resources = 20%
- Financial Resources per Student = 10%
- Graduation Rate Performance = 8%
- Student Selectivity for Fall Entering Class = 7%
- Social Mobility = 5%
- Graduate Indebtedness = 5%
- Average Alumni Giving Rate = 3%
The Top Schools
Ivy League universities are often assumed to be the top schools in America, but in reality, only four of the eight make the top 10.
Here’s a closer look:
|Rank||University||Acceptance Rate||School Type||Tuition and Fees (Private or Public Out-of-State)||In-State Tuition (Public Institutions Only)||State|
|#1||Princeton University||4%||Private, Ivy League||$57,410||N/A||New Jersey|
|#2||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||4%||Private||$57,986||N/A||Massachusetts|
|#3||Yale University||5%||Private, Ivy League||$62,250||N/A||Connecticut|
|#3||Harvard University||4%||Private, Ivy League||$57,261||N/A||Massachusetts|
|#6||University of Chicago||6%||Private||$62,940||N/A||Illinois|
|#7||University of Pennsylvania||6%||Private, Ivy League||$63,452||N/A||Pennsylvania|
|#7||Johns Hopkins University||8%||Private||$60,480||N/A||Maryland|
|#9||California Institute of Technology||4%||Private||$60,864||N/A||California|
|#10||Duke University||6%||Private||$63,054||N/A||North Carolina|
|#12||Dartmouth College||6%||Private, Ivy League||$62,430||N/A||New Hampshire|
|#13||Brown University||6%||Private, Ivy League||$65,146||N/A||Rhode Island|
|#15||Washington University in St. Louis||13%||Private||$60,590||N/A||Missouri|
|#17||Cornell University||9%||Private, Ivy League, Land-Grant||$63,200||N/A||New York|
|#18||Columbia University||6%||Private, Ivy League||$65,524||N/A||New York|
|#18||University of Notre Dame||15%||Private||$60,301||N/A||Indiana|
|#20||University of California, Los Angeles||11%||Public||$44,830||$13,804||California|
|#20||University of California, Berkeley||15%||Public||$43,980||$14,226||California|
|#22||Georgetown University||12%||Private||$62,052||N/A||District of Columbia|
|#22||Carnegie Mellon University||14%||Private||$61,344||N/A||Pennsylvania|
|#25||University of Southern California||13%||Private||$64,726||N/A||California|
|#25||New York University||13%||Private||$58,168||N/A||New York|
|#25||University of Michigan--Ann Arbor||20%||Public||$57,273||$17,786||Michigan|
|#25||University of Virginia||21%||Public||$56,837||$21,381||Virginia|
|#29||Wake Forest University||25%||Private||$62,128||N/A||North Carolina|
|#29||University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||19%||Public||$37,558||$8,998||North Carolina|
|#29||University of Florida||30%||Public, Land-Grant||$28,658||$6,380||Florida|
|#32||University of California, Santa Barbara||29%||Public||$44,204||$14,450||California|
|#34||University of California, San Diego||34%||Public||$46,374||$15,348||California|
|#34||University of California, Irvine||29%||Public||$43,739||$13,985||California|
|#36||University of Rochester||41%||Private||$61,678||N/A||New York|
|#38||University of California, Davis||49%||Public||$44,494||$14,740||California|
|#38||University of Texas at Austin||29%||Public||$40,996||$11,752||Texas|
|#38||University of Wisconsin--Madison||60%||Public, Land-Grant||$39,427||$10,796||Wisconsin|
|#41||William & Mary||37%||Public||$46,625||$23,970||Virginia|
|#41||University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign||6%||Public, Land-Grant||$35,110||$17,138||Illinois|
|#44||Case Western Reserve University||30%||Private||$62,234||N/A||Ohio|
|#44||Georgia Institute of Technology||18%||Private||$32,876||$11,764||Georgia|
|#49||The Ohio State University||57%||Private, Land-Grant||$35,019||$11,936||Ohio|
|#49||University of Georgia||40%||Private, Land-Grant||$30,220||$11,180||Georgia|
One of the Ivies, Columbia University, actually dropped 16 spots from last year’s ranking due to a scandal involving misreported statistics by the university, which was exposed by one of its own professors. There have been critiques of the U.S. News & World Report ranking since, as it doesn’t provide a uniform set of standards for the universities, but lets them determine how they score their categories themselves.
Among the top 10 schools admittance is very competitive, and none of the acceptance rates surpass the 7% mark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, and Caltech are among the most difficult universities to get into, with only 4% of applicants receiving that exciting acceptance letter. On the flip side, the universities of Illinois and Wisconsin, for example, accept 60% of all applicants.
Types of Universities
A few more things to know—there are eight private schools in the U.S. that have earned the distinction of “Ivy League,” due to their history and prestige. A number of schools are also classified as land-grant universities—built on land which was essentially given to them by the U.S. government. This was in an effort to provide higher education to lacking communities across the country, and there is at least one in every state.
These are the U.S.’ eight Ivy League Institutions:
- Princeton University
- Yale University
- Columbia University
- Brown University
- Harvard University
- Cornell University
- Dartmouth University
- University of Pennsylvania
Beyond these prestigious academies, there are many high caliber institutions like The Ohio State University and the University of Wisconsin—both of which are land-grant universities.
Among the top 50, there are another four land-grant universities:
- University of Florida
- University of Georgia
- University of Illinois
- Cornell University
There is ripe controversy, however, surrounding land-grant universities, as, in many cases, the U.S. government funded these institutions through expropriated indigenous land.
The Cost of an American Education
U.S. college tuition is famous for being unaffordable. Combining all the federal and private loans in the country, the total student debt comes out to $1.75 trillion and the average borrower owes $28,950.
Here’s a look at how tuition breaks down on average:
The most expensive school in America is Columbia University, with the cost of admission coming out to a whopping $65,524, with some estimates showing even higher rates for the 2022/2023 academic year. The least expensive among the top 50 is the University of Florida at $6,380 for in-state tuition—more than 10x cheaper than Columbia.
But many Americans may soon see their college loans forgiven. The Biden administration’s initiative to cancel student debt will roll out any day now and will be available on federal loans for select qualifying individuals. It has the potential to provide 40 million people with as much as $20,000 in debt forgiveness.
And given that American universities make up eight of the 10 best universities in the world, perhaps the price tag will be worth it.
Ranked: America’s Best Universities
Evaluated on 19 different metrics, here’s the list of America’s best universities, led by 14 private schools.
Ranked: America’s Best Universities
The latest ranking of America’s best universities is here, perfectly timed for the approaching admissions season.
“Best” is of course subjective, and U.S. News and World Report has compiled 19 metrics on which they evaluated more than 400 national universities. Some of them include:
- Graduation rates & performance: A four-year rolling average of the proportion of each entering class earning a bachelor’s degree in six years or less. Performance is measured against predictions made by the publishers, and when beaten, the university gains a higher scoring.
- Peer assessment: A two-year weighted average of ratings from top academics—presidents, provosts and deans of admissions—on academic quality of peer institutions with which they are familiar.
- Financial resources: The average per student spend on instruction, research, student services and related educational expenditures in the 2021 fiscal year.
- Debt: A school’s average accumulated federal loan debt among borrowers only.
- Pell graduation rates & performance: the same calculation as stated above, but focused only on Pell Grant students, adjusted to give more credit to schools with larger Pell student proportions.
The website’s methodology section details how they sourced their data, the weights assigned to each metric, and their changes over the years.
From the hundreds assessed come the nearly 50 best universities that offer a variety of undergraduate majors, post-graduate programs, emphasize research, or award professional practice doctorates.
Which are the Best Universities in America?
At the top of the list, Princeton University is the best university in the country, known for its physics, economics, and international relations departments. Notably, it’s a rare Ivy league university that does not have a law, medical, or business school.
Here’s the full ranking of America’s best universities, along with annual tuition requirements.
|1||Princeton University||New Jersey||$59,710|
|7||Duke University||North Carolina||$66,172|
|9||Brown University||Rhode Island||$68,230|
|12||Columbia University||New York||$65,524|
|12||Cornell University||New York||$66,014|
|12||University of Chicago||Illinois||$65,619|
|18||Dartmouth College||New Hampshire||$65,511|
|20||University of Notre Dame||Indiana||$62,693|
Michigan, Ann Arbor
|22||Georgetown University||Washington, DC||$65,082|
|22||University of North|
Carolina at Chapel Hill
|North Carolina||$39,338 (out-state)
|24||Carnegie Mellon University||Pennsylvania||$63,829|
|24||University of Virginia||Virginia||$58,950 (out-state)
University, St. Louis
California, San Diego
|28||University of Florida||Florida||$28,658 (out-state)
|35||New York University||New York||$60,438|
|35||University of Illinois|
|New Jersey||$36,001 (out-state)
|40||University of Washington||Washington||$41,997 (out-state)
|43||The Ohio State University||Ohio||$36,722 (out-state)
|47||Texas A&M University||Texas||$40,607 (out-state)
|47||University of Georgia||Georgia||$30,220 (out-state)
|47||University of Rochester||New York||$64,384|
|47||Virginia Tech||Virginia||$36,090 (out-state)
|47||Wake Forest University||North Carolina||$64,758|
|53||Florida State University||Florida||$21,683 (out-state)
|53||William & Mary||Virginia||$48,841 (out-state)
MIT places second, and Harvard and Stanford tie for third. Yale rounds out the top five.
Private universities, including seven Ivy League colleges, dominate the top of the rankings. Meanwhile, the highest-ranked public schools are tied at 15th, both state schools in California.
For affordability, since the higher ranks are populated by private universities, there tends to be a broad correlation of better universities being more expensive. That said, the most expensive school in the top 50 ranks is actually the University of Southern California, tied at 28th, for $68,237/year.
As it happens, also tied at 28th, the University of Florida is the most affordable public school for in-state students ($6,381/year) and Florida State University tied at 53rd, is the most affordable for out-of-staters at $21,683/year.
However these costs are tuition-only, and don’t account for other necessary expenses: accommodation, food, and textbooks.
Best University versus Best “Fit”
Finding the best university for prospective students is more than just perusing a long ranking list.
Aside from the numerous schools present within each university—which can often be the best for specific majors—factors like location, proximity to family, campus culture, the non-academic pursuits (sports, extracurriculars, internships) are also taken into consideration.
In fact, research has found that just attaining a university degree improves future earnings potential and employability.
Furthermore, individual engagement at college (irrespective of the rank of the school in question) plays a far bigger role in learning and general well-being than simply attending a highly-ranked school.
However, for low income and minority students, attending a top-ranked school does improve future earnings considerably. For women, it also often results in delaying marriage and kids, which results in more work-hours and as a result, more pay.
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