Top 10 Oldest Universities In The US

In this article, we shall discuss ‘Top 10 Oldest Universities In The US’ in addition to other subtopics like: Overview Of Oldest Universities In United States, 10 Oldest Universities In The US, What Was The First College In The World?, When Was Yale University Established?.

Overview Of Oldest Universities In United States

Three universities from the 17th century preceded the American Revolution in 1765, and although no university can claim to be the oldest, they hold historical significance. Additionally, five of the listed universities are part of the esteemed Ivy League.


These universities have successfully blended their extensive historical legacy with an ongoing dedication to progress and creativity.

Now, let’s look at the top 10 oldest universities in the United States.


10 Oldest Universities In The US

1. Harvard University

Acceptance Rate: 6%

Top Courses: Computer Science, Economics, and Political Science.

This noble university came into existence in 1636 and was chartered in 1650. Harvard University, situated in Massachusetts, was initially named New College but later became Harvard College to commemorate its primary donor, John Harvard.


He left half of his financial estate and his extensive 320-volume scholar’s library to the university in his will. Harvard, not only the oldest university in the United States, stands as one of the most prominent globally.

2. The College of William and Mary

Acceptance Rate: 33%

Top Courses: Law, Public Policy, and Marine Science

This college was established in 1693. The College of William and Mary, the oldest university in the Southern United States, obtained its royal charter – the first of its kind in the country – from the British co-monarchs in office at the time, after whom it was named. Additionally, it holds the distinction of being the inaugural institution of higher education in the United States to implement a student honor code.

The university, positioned at 601-650 globally, also holds a spot in the top 450 worldwide for arts and humanities. It boasts a history of educating three U.S. presidents, among them Thomas Jefferson.

3. St. John’s College

Acceptance Rate: 87%

Top Courses: Mathematics and Philosophy

This prestigious institution came out in 1696. It started as King William’s School, the first ‘free’ school in the Maryland colony, aiming to liberate students through education. Now, it functions as a private liberal arts college.

In 1784, it adopted its present name and currently operates in two locations: Annapolis, Maryland (the state capital), and Santa Fe, New Mexico (the state capital). St John’s College, unaffiliated with any religion, is recognized for its intimate class settings, offering students individualized focus.

4. Yale University

Acceptance Rate: 6%

Top Courses: Political Science, Economics, and Computer Science

This university came into existence in 1701. Yale University holds the 17th position globally and was initially established as the ‘Collegiate School.’ In 1718, it underwent a name change to Yale, acknowledging a contribution from Elihu Yale, a governor of the British East India Company. Concurrently, the university relocated to its present site in New Haven, Connecticut, after being situated in Clinton, Saybrook, and Wethersfield.

Yale’s initial plan was to educate people in theology and sacred languages. However, by 1777, the institution expanded its curriculum to encompass humanities and sciences. In 1861, Yale achieved the milestone of being the first American university to confer a PhD. Presently, it holds the fourth position globally in law studies and the sixth in arts and humanities.

5. University of Pennsylvania

Acceptance Rate: 10%

Top Courses: Biology, Finance, and Political Science

The founders of this university established it in 1740. Benjamin Franklin established the University of Pennsylvania, commonly known as Penn, as the inaugural American university providing both undergraduate and postgraduate education. Penn pioneered multidisciplinary instruction across various faculties and achieved another milestone in 1765 by becoming the first U.S. university with a medical school.

At present, Penn holds the 15th position globally, with notable recognition in management and law, securing the fifth spot worldwide for business and management. The university is widely acknowledged for its robust commitment to extensive research endeavors.

6. Moravian College

Acceptance Rate: 86%

Top Courses: Psychology, Nursing, and Business

They established this college in 1742. It is in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. 16-year-old Countess Benigna von Zinzendorf founded it as Bethlehem Female Seminary, marking the inception of the first boarding school for young women in the United States. Its esteemed status led to a notable request from George Washington himself, who sought admission for two of his great-nieces and personally petitioned the headmaster.

The institution, initially called the Moravian Female Seminary, received a charter to confer baccalaureate degrees in 1863. In 1913, it transformed into Moravian Seminary and College for Women, later adopting a coeducational approach in 1954 through the merger of the gender-specific colleges.

7. University of Delaware

Acceptance Rate: 68%

Top Courses: Engineering, Business, and Environmental Studies

The University of Delaware, situated in Newark, was initially established as the ‘Free School’ and underwent multiple name and location alterations. Due to Delaware’s affiliation with the Pennsylvania colony until 1776, the university faced charter denial to avoid competition with the University of Pennsylvania.

UD doesn’t qualify as a colonial college since it didn’t receive official chartering as a higher education institution until 1833, post the American Revolution. Nevertheless, it boasts a remarkably extensive record of delivering excellent education.

8. Princeton University

Acceptance Rate: 7%

Top Courses: Computer Science, Molecular Biology, and Business.

The Princeton University came into existence in 1746. It initially came out as the College of New Jersey by New Light Presbyterians with the purpose of educating ministers. Also, Princeton University preserves various historical landmarks, including Nassau Hall, its oldest building constructed in 1756. Presently, Princeton holds the 13th position globally in the overall rankings.

9. Washington and Lee University

Acceptance Rate: 19%

Top Courses: Business Administration, Journalism, Law, and Mass Communications

The Washington and Lee University got established in 1749. Washington and Lee University, situated in Lexington, Virginia, is a private liberal arts institution. The primary patron of the university was George Washington, who, in 1796, bestowed $20,000 upon the academy—an amount that stood as the most substantial donation to a U.S. educational institution at that time.

Formerly known as Augusta Academy and Liberty Hall, the university acquired its present name primarily from General Robert E. Lee, who served as the university’s president from 1865 until his passing in 1870.

10. Columbia University

Acceptance Rate: 7%

Top Courses: Economics, Journalism, and Political Science

The Columbia University came into existence in 1754. It is situated in New York City. The Columbia University received its charter in 1754 under the name King’s College, granted by the royal charter of George II of Britain.

After gaining independence, it was renamed Columbia College in 1784. Currently holding the 18th position globally, the university’s historical roots are reflected in its notable alumni, which include five Founding Fathers of the United States.

What Was The First College In The World ?

The University of Al Quaraouiyine, located in Fez, Morocco, holds the distinction of being the world’s oldest university. Established in 859 as a mosque, it later evolved into a prominent hub for both spiritual and educational pursuits during the Islamic Golden Age.

What are the oldest universities in the United States?

The oldest universities in the US include Harvard University, founded in 1636, and the College of William & Mary, established in 1693.

When was Yale University Established?

Yale University, one of the oldest Ivy League institutions, was founded in 1701 in New Haven, Connecticut.

What is the significance of the College of William & Mary?

The College of William & Mary is the second-oldest higher education institution in the US and holds a notable place in American history as the alma mater of several US presidents.

Which Ivy League university is among the oldest?

The University of Pennsylvania, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1740, is an Ivy League institution and one of the oldest universities in the US.

What role did religious institutions play in the founding of these universities?

Many of the oldest universities in the US, such as Harvard and Yale, were initially established with strong religious affiliations, reflecting the societal values of the time.

What distinguishes Columbia University in terms of age?

Columbia University, founded in 1754, is one of the oldest universities in the US and the fifth oldest in the Ivy League.

Are any of these universities public institutions?

While many of the oldest universities, such as Harvard and Yale, are private institutions, some, like the College of William & Mary and the University of Georgia (1785), are public universities.


The oldest universities in the US have rich histories, often rooted in religious or colonial foundations, and have evolved to become centers of academic excellence with diverse missions.

Do well to read up more on this topic to get more information.

See Also: Best Universities In New York 2024


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