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Top Private Colleges & Universities in the US

Written by Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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Updated: December 11th, 2023

One important decision when it comes time to look for colleges is whether you want a public or private school. Private schools tend to charge higher tuition, but usually offer more generous merit and need-based financial aid. So, while the price tag may look intimidating, they may end up being cheaper than many public options.

Check out our list below to compare the top private colleges and universities by size, graduation rate, admissions rate, cost, and much more. And don’t forget to apply for scholarships to help with the financial side of things!

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517 colleges
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Top College Top College
Top College Top College: Affordability

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cambridge, MA • Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

Cambridge, MA

Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

4% acceptance rate
4,629 undergraduate students
96% graduation rate
$5,084 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College
Top College Top College: Affordability

Stanford University

Stanford, CA • Private, Non-Profit, Suburb, Need-Blind

Stanford, CA

Private, Non-Profit, Suburb, Need-Blind

4% acceptance rate
7,645 undergraduate students
96% graduation rate
$7,200 average per year after aid
Learn More
Top College Top College
Top College Top College: Affordability

Princeton University

Princeton, NJ • Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

Princeton, NJ

Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

4% acceptance rate
5,236 undergraduate students
98% graduation rate
$11,080 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College
Top College Top College: Affordability

University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA • Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

Philadelphia, PA

Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

6% acceptance rate
10,644 undergraduate students
96% graduation rate
$14,851 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College

Franklin W Olin College of Engineering

Needham, MA • Private, Non-Profit, Suburb

Needham, MA

Private, Non-Profit, Suburb

18% acceptance rate
361 undergraduate students
97% graduation rate
$21,474 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College
Top College Top College: Affordability

Columbia University in the City of New York

New York, NY • Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

New York, NY

Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

4% acceptance rate
8,832 undergraduate students
97% graduation rate
$12,836 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College
Top College Top College: Affordability

Harvard University

Cambridge, MA • Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

Cambridge, MA

Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

4% acceptance rate
7,938 undergraduate students
97% graduation rate
$13,259 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College
Top College Top College: Affordability

Yale University

New Haven, CT • Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

New Haven, CT

Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

5% acceptance rate
6,535 undergraduate students
97% graduation rate
$16,341 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College

Harvey Mudd College

Claremont, CA • Private, Non-Profit, Suburb

Claremont, CA

Private, Non-Profit, Suburb

10% acceptance rate
905 undergraduate students
94% graduation rate
$30,026 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College
Top College Top College: Affordability

Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, MD • Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

Baltimore, MD

Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

8% acceptance rate
5,727 undergraduate students
95% graduation rate
$14,254 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College
Top College Top College: Affordability

Pomona College

Claremont, CA • Private, Non-Profit, Suburb, Need-Blind

Claremont, CA

Private, Non-Profit, Suburb, Need-Blind

7% acceptance rate
1,747 undergraduate students
93% graduation rate
$9,170 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College
Top College Top College: Affordability

Georgetown University

Washington, DC • Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

Washington, DC

Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

12% acceptance rate
7,395 undergraduate students
95% graduation rate
$24,570 average per year after aid
Learn More
Top College Top College
Top College Top College: Affordability

Claremont McKenna College

Claremont, CA • Private, Non-Profit, Suburb

Claremont, CA

Private, Non-Profit, Suburb

11% acceptance rate
1,414 undergraduate students
93% graduation rate
$20,114 average per year after aid
Learn More
Top College Top College
Top College Top College: Affordability

Rice University

Houston, TX • Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

Houston, TX

Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

9% acceptance rate
4,240 undergraduate students
92% graduation rate
$17,805 average per year after aid
Learn More
Top College Top College

Babson College

Wellesley, MA • Private, Non-Profit, Suburb

Wellesley, MA

Private, Non-Profit, Suburb

25% acceptance rate
2,532 undergraduate students
94% graduation rate
$31,267 average per year after aid
Learn More
Top College Top College
Top College Top College: Affordability

Williams College

Williamstown, MA • Private, Non-Profit, Town, Need-Blind

Williamstown, MA

Private, Non-Profit, Town, Need-Blind

9% acceptance rate
2,129 undergraduate students
94% graduation rate
$14,739 average per year after aid
Learn More
Top College Top College
Top College Top College: Affordability

Amherst College

Amherst, MA • Private, Non-Profit, Suburb, Need-Blind

Amherst, MA

Private, Non-Profit, Suburb, Need-Blind

9% acceptance rate
1,971 undergraduate students
92% graduation rate
$17,304 average per year after aid
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California Institute of Technology

Pasadena, CA • Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

Pasadena, CA

Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

4% acceptance rate
987 undergraduate students
93% graduation rate
$29,279 average per year after aid
Learn More
Top College Top College

Cornell University

Ithaca, NY • Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

Ithaca, NY

Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

9% acceptance rate
15,451 undergraduate students
94% graduation rate
$29,011 average per year after aid
Learn More
Top College Top College
Top College Top College: Affordability

Swarthmore College

Swarthmore, PA • Private, Non-Profit, Suburb, Need-Blind

Swarthmore, PA

Private, Non-Profit, Suburb, Need-Blind

8% acceptance rate
1,643 undergraduate students
94% graduation rate
$20,780 average per year after aid
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About the Data

We sort colleges on our lists according to their Scholarships360 Top Colleges Index Score. This score is calculated using up-to-date information taken directly from the College Scorecard. Additional information is sourced from the colleges themselves, as well as other publicly available information. If you see an error, feel free to contact us.

Advantages of private schools

There are many great reasons to attend a private school. Maybe you’re interested in the liberal arts experience, or you want to attend a school with a religious affiliation, or a specific private school has just caught your eye.

Private schools tend to offer more generous financial aid, both merit and need-based, than public schools. So, even though their price tag is higher, they can end up actually being cheaper for many students.

Many of the country’s most prestigious schools are also private. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and many others are all private options. That’s not to say there are no prestigious public options; schools like University of California Berkeley are known around the world for their strong academics. However, to some, a private education carries more prestigious connotations.

Also see: What’s the difference between a private and public university?

Why you should apply to public schools too

Even if you are primarily interested in private colleges and universities, it’s a good idea to apply to an in-state public school as well. Private schools may be your first choice, but in-state public schools can serve as excellent financial safety schools, and your application may end up coming in handy.

Advice From a College Access Professional

Finding a financially safe school is one of the most important decisions a high school senior can make. For many students, an in-state public institution is a great bet for a safe financial school because you will qualify for in-state tuition. When I worked in school counseling the University of Connecticut was a popular choice for our students, because our high school was in Connecticut so students received discounted, in-state tuition. 

Some public colleges also offer tuition discounts to out-of-state students through tuition reciprocity. In Connecticut, in-state students were also eligible to receive tuition discounts at out-of-state colleges like the University of Maine. 
Will Geiger

Scholarships360 Co-Founder

Former Associate Director of College Counseling at Hopkins School

Other college lists to consider

Frequently asked questions about private colleges

Are private colleges more expensive than public?

Private colleges typically carry a higher price tag than public schools. However, they also tend to be more generous with financial aid. If you’ve heard horror stories about the cost of private schools, don’t let that deter you from applying. At the end of the day, there is no way to tell how expensive a college will be until you apply and receive your financial aid award letter.

Are private colleges better than public?

Private colleges are not any better or worse than public schools as a rule. Every school is different, and the best way to decide on a school is to compare them directly. To learn more about the differences between these two types of schools, check out our article on public vs private colleges.

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