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    What Are the Oldest Universities in the USA?

    By Cece Gilmore

    Cece Gilmore is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cece earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Arizona State University. While at ASU, she was the education editor as well as a published staff reporter at Downtown Devil. Cece was also the co-host of her own radio show on Blaze Radio ASU.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: September 28th, 2023
    What Are the Oldest Universities in the USA?

    From the beginning, education has been an important part of our country. There are many old universities in the United States that are rich in history–some were founded in the 17th century. Let’s take a look at some of the oldest universities in the USA and learn when, where, and who they were founded by. We also included a few fun facts to share the unique history of each school. 

    Top 10 oldest universities in the USA 

    Harvard University

    • Year founded: 1636
    • Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
    • Founded by: Massachusetts Legislature

    Harvard University was originally called the “New College,”  which was fitting since it was the first college in the American Colonies. The name was soon changed to Harvard College to honor its first benefactor, John Harvard. John Harvard left half of his estate and his 320-volume scholar’s library to the university within his will. Harvard University is an Ivy League university that graduated eight future presidents of the United States. 

    The College of William and Mary

    • Year founded: 1693
    • Location: Williamsburg, Virginia 
    • Founded by: King William III and Queen Mary III of England

    The College of William and Mary was named after the British co-rulers King William III and Queen Mary III, who gave the university its royal charter. William and Mary is the second oldest higher education institute in the United States, and the oldest public school. The College of William and Mary is located in the small historic city of Williamsburg, the largest outdoor living history museum in the USA. 

    St. John’s College – Annapolis

    • Year founded: 1696
    • Location: Annapolis, Maryland
    • Founded by: The Maryland colony

    St. John’s College is a private liberal arts college that was originally founded as “King William’s School,” which was the Maryland colony’s “free school.” Known for its “Great Books” curriculum, SJC graduates the top two percent of students earning PhDs in the humanities. St John’s has a sister campus located in Santa Fe, New Mexico that was founded in 1964. Students enrolled at St. John’s may transfer between campuses to earn their degrees. 

    Yale University

    • Year founded: 1701
    • Location: New Haven, Connecticut
    • Founded by: Colonial clergymen

    Yale University started out as “Collegiate School,” which was an institution to train students for employment in church and state. In 1777, Yale’s curriculum began to expand to include humanities and sciences. Yale was originally founded in the small town of Saybrook, Connecticut before moving to New Haven, Connecticut  in 1716. Along with Harvard and Princeton, Yale is known as one of the “Big Three” universities in the Ivy League. 

    University of Pennsylvania

    • Year founded: 1740
    • Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    • Founded by: Benjamin Franklin

    The University of Pennsylvania was one of the first United States universities to offer both undergraduate and graduate programs. In 1740, Benjamin Franklin founded what was then called the “Publick Academy of Philadelphia” to educate students for business and “publick service” rather than for religious service. Constantly evolving, UPenn was also one of the first institutions to have a medical school in 1765. Today, UPenn has a total of 12 world-renowned undergraduate and graduate schools. 

    Moravian University

    • Year founded: 1742
    • Location: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
    • Founded by: Countess Benigna von Zinzendorf

    German Countess Benigna von Zinzendorf was 16 years old when she established the Bethlehem Female Seminary, one of the first boarding schools for young women in the United States. In 1863, the Seminary joined with Moravian College (formally the Boy’s School) to become the Moravian College & Moravian Theological Seminary. In 2021, the Moravian College became Moravian University, which includes the School of Natural and Health Sciences, the School of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, and true to its roots, the Moravian Seminary.

    University of Delaware

    • Year founded: 1743
    • Location: Newark, Delaware
    • Founded by: Rev. Dr. Francis Alison

    The University of Delaware was originally founded as the “Free School” in New London, Pennsylvania to educate clergy. Since then, UD has changed its name and location several times. Since Delaware was part of the Pennsylvania colony, the University was denied a charter in order to prevent any tension between the University of Delaware and the University of Pennsylvania. In 1765, the school relocated to Newark, Delaware as “NewArk College,” soon to be renamed again to “Delaware College.” In 1921, when the small women’s college joined, the University of Delaware was officially formed. 

    Princeton University

    • Year founded: 1746
    • Location: Princeton, New Jersey
    • Founded by: New Light Presbyterians

    Princeton University is one of the nine colleges chartered before the American Revolution. Originally founded to train Presbyterian ministers, Princeton still retains some of its historic landmarks, including Nassau Hall.  While Nassau Hall is the Princeton admissions building today, “Old Nassau” served as the capital of the newly formed United States in 1783. Princeton University is one of the eight schools in the Ivy League

    Washington & Lee University

    • Year founded: 1749
    • Location: Lexington City, Virginia
    • Founded by: Scotch-Irish Presbyterian pioneers

    Washington & Lee University is the ninth oldest university in the United States. W&L is a small liberal arts university focusing mainly on undergraduate education  and a well- regarded law school, The university is named after George Washington and Robert E. Lee due to their contributions to the formation and development of the school. George Washington donated a generous amount of money to the school, while Robert E. Lee was president of the college for five years. 

    Washington College

    • Year founded: 1782
    • Location: Chestertown, Maryland
    • Founded by: Evolved from Kent County Free School

    Washington College is a small liberal arts school located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The college took the name of General George Washington (yes, that George Washington!), who served on the board of the College until he was elected as the first president of the United States. George Washington donated not only his name, but also 50 guineas (a “guinea” was a British coin) to found Washington College, the very first college chartered after gaining independence from Britain. 

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