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Top-Ranked Private Universities That Aren't Ivy League

Briana Boyington, Josh Moody

Harvard, Princeton and Yale are often mentioned in conversations about which colleges offer the best education, but elite private universities extend beyond Ivy League schools.

Most of the top 20 National Universities -- institutions that are often research-oriented and offer bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees -- in the U.S. News 2020 Best Colleges rankings are private universities. And while many state research universities are highly ranked, there are several notable differences between private and public universities.

[See: Where to Find the 2020 U.S. News Best Colleges.]

Private universities tend to be more selective about whom they admit and often have more stringent admissions standards than public universities, which typically cater to a wider range of students. With smaller student populations and lower acceptance rates, the average student likely won't have the opportunity to receive an education at an elite, private institution. Most of the top 20 private universities had less than 10,000 students enrolled in 2018.

Stanford University in California, for instance, only accepted 4% of students who applied for the fall 2018 semester, according to U.S. News data. In comparison, the University of California--Los Angeles, the highest-ranked public school in the 2020 rankings, accepted 14% of students in 2018.

Private universities also tend to receive large donations, which can cover costs associated with academic programs, student aid, campus resources and faculty. Public schools are less likely to have hefty endowments, are supervised by the state and are partially funded by tax dollars and state subsidies.

Combined, the selective admissions, smaller student body and financial edge can lead to better student outcomes. Based on data reported by 365 ranked National Universities to U.S. News, the average six-year graduation rate for private nonprofit institutions was 71% for the 2012 cohort, compared to 61% for public institutions.

Private schools typically have higher tuition prices, frequently resembling the price of tuition and fees for out-of-state students at public universities. But private schools often offer generous financial aid packages to help students afford their education.

[Read: See the Average College Tuition in 2019-2020.]

Rice University in Texas is the most affordable of the top 20 private schools with tuition and fees at $49,112 for the 2019-2020 academic year.

The table below shows the fall 2018 undergraduate enrollment and acceptance rates as well as the 2019-2020 tuition and fees for the top 20 private National Universities. Ivy League schools and National Liberal Arts Colleges are excluded from this list.

The Top 20 Private Universities in the U.S.

School Name ( State) National Universities Rank Acceptance Rate Enrollment 2019-2020 Tuition and Fees
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 3 (tie) 7% 4,602 $53,790
University of Chicago 6 (tie) 7% 6,552 $59,298
Stanford University (CA) 6 (tie) 4% 7,087 $53,529
Northwestern University (IL) 9 8% 8,231 $56,691
Duke University (NC) 10 (tie) 9% 6,682 $58,198
Johns Hopkins University (MD) 10 (tie) 11% 6,064 $55,350
California Institute of Technology 12 (tie) 7% 948 $54,600
University of Notre Dame (IN) 15 (tie) 18% 8,617 $55,553
Vanderbilt University (TN) 15 (tie) 10% 6,861 $52,070
Rice University (TX) 17 (tie) 11% 3,992 $49,112
Washington University in St. Louis 19 15% 7,751 $55,292
Emory University (GA) 21 19% 7,086 $53,804
University of Southern California 22 (tie) 13% 19,907 $58,195
Georgetown University (DC) 24 15% 7,459 $56,058
Carnegie Mellon University (PA) 25 (tie) 17% 6,947 $57,119
Wake Forest University (NC) 27 29% 5,225 $55,440
New York University 29 (tie) 20% 26,733 $53,308
Tufts University (MA) 29 (tie) 15% 5,643 $58,578
University of Rochester (NY) 29 (tie) 29% 6,535 $56,026
Boston College (MA) 37 (tie) 28% 9,377 $57,910

Want to learn more about other top colleges? Access the U.S. News College Compass to find enrollment data, complete rankings and much more. Sign up for the U.S. News Extra Help: College Admissions free email newsletter to receive expert education advice twice a month.

U.S. News surveyed more than 1,900 colleges and universities for the 2019 survey of undergraduate programs. Schools self-reported myriad data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News' data the most accurate and detailed collection of college facts and figures of its kind. The admissions data above are correct as of Sept. 16, 2019.

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