Going to college is one of the most significant experiences of your life. In fact, college is as much an experience as it is an education. Your freshman year is pivotal in determining the kind of experience you will have in college. A positive first year will greatly increase your likelihood of staying at your school and earning your degree. Not such a good year? You might find yourself looking to transfer to a new school. While transferring isn’t the end of the world, it is a headache: you have to start everything from scratch, make new friends, get to know a new place, and reestablish yourself all over again. In order to avoid the headache of a transfer, it’s important that you find a school at which you’ll be happy your freshman year. To help with that, we have ranked the top 50 schools with the happiest freshmen.
The primary criteria for our ranking are freshman retention rates. But you will notice that many of these schools have the same percentage of freshman that return for their second year. In order to delineate schools within a given percentage of freshman retention, we ranked them based upon overall graduation rate. We figure that you will want to find a school that not only offers a great first year experience, but excels in making sure its students graduate with a degree.
Wellesley College, a private institution with total undergraduate enrollment of 2,481 students, ranks seventh in the 2014 edition of Best National Liberal Arts Colleges. Wellesley has a breathtaking natural environment in the classically New England town of Wellesley, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. Students can choose from more than 150 student organizations on campus. Instead of sororities, Wellesley has societies that serve as social and academic clubs. Housing is guaranteed for incoming freshmen, and the majority of students live in Wellesley’s 21 residence halls throughout their four years. Wellesley has a cross-registration program with MIT, offering students a greater range of courses. The college has a strong science program, including the nation’s second oldest physics lab and there is a student-teacher ratio of 7:1 and a freshman retention rate of 95 percent.
United States Military Academy
Located in West Point, New York, approximately 50 miles north of New York City on the Hudson River, resides The United States Military. It is the oldest of the country’s five federal service academies. There is no cost for tuition to attend, but students, referred to as cadets, must fulfill an active-service duty obligation upon graduation. Army offers a wide range of extracurricular clubs, from the glee and gospel clubs to the ski and sailing clubs and boasts a 95 percent freshman retention rate. The Army Black Knights participate in 24 intercollegiate varsity sports at the NCAA Division I level and are known for their rivalry with the Naval Academy, particularly in football. Every cadet is required to participate in an intercollegiate, club, or intramural sport each semester. Cadets live in barracks on campus all four years and receive a monthly stipend.
Wesleyan University is a private liberal arts college located in Middletown, Connecticut overlooking the Connecticut River. The Connecticut River is a beautiful work-out location for Wesleyan’s rowing team, but if rowing isn’t your sport Wesleyan offers about 200 student organizations that might be up your alley. Founded in 1831, it has about 2,900 undergraduate students. Wesleyan has a 95 percent freshman retention rate and requires all freshmen to live on campus. Wesleyan is a member of the New England Small College Athletic Conference in NCAA Division III with 29 varsity team, 16 club sports teams, and 8 intramural sports. The college is also part of the unofficial “Little Three” athletic conference with Amherst and Williams.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
One of ten schools located in Worcester, Massachusetts, Worcester Polytechnic Institute provides a rigorous private education grounded in the sciences. Founded in 1865, WPI resides on 80 tree-filled acres within the city’s urban center. The community of Worcester Polytechnic Institute is very tight-knit, with an undergraduate enrollment of only 3,952 and a freshman retention rate of 96 percent. The majority of students are men (70 percent), and 70 percent of students are involved in athletics in the school at some level. The student body is actively engaged in campus activities, such as contests like the epic tug-of-war held throughout the year between the freshmen sophomore classes.
Located in Boston, a city steeped in American history and full of activities for students, Northeastern University offers a private education to its 13,107 undergraduate students. Northeastern boasts a 96 percent rate of retaining freshmen. At Northeastern students gain substantial work experience before receiving their diplomas. Between 2006 and 2013 about 90 percent of Northeastern undergraduates are placed in “experiential learning opportunities” in over 110 countries and completed at least one professional co-op during their college career. Northeastern University is environmentally aware and was a founding member of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment since 2007. Cited in 2012, as America’s Greenest College by Green Metric Ranking of World Universities.
University of Rochester
Founded in 1850, The University of Rochester is located two miles south of downtown Rochester, New York, in the bend of the Genesee River. Total undergraduate enrollment of 5,785, its setting is suburban, and the campus size is 707 acres. The University of Rochester is described as one of the smallest and most collegiate schools among the nation’s top research universities. The university pioneered the Take Five Scholars Program two decades ago, which has allowed more than 900 students to study, tuition free, for an additional semester or year in areas outside their formal majors. Rochester’s a cappella ensembles are among the country’s best, and it boasts a freshman retention rate of 96 percent.
University of Florida
The University of Florida is the oldest university in the state of Florida and has been considered a “Public Ivy” since 2001. It is located in Gainesville, a college town bolstered by the school’s nearly 50,000 students. The Florida Gators sports teams compete in the NCAA Division I Southeastern Conference. The Gator football team competes in the notorious stadium commonly called the “The Swamp.” The team became the namesake of popular sports drink Gatorade in 1966, after freshmen Gators experimented with the novel beverage. The annual Gator Growl, held each Homecoming weekend, has been called the largest student-run pep rally in the world. About 15 percent of students are involved in the school’s 60-plus fraternities and sororities. Freshmen do not have to live on campus, though about 80 percent opt to do so and 96 percent of them return for their second year.
College of William and Mary
The College of William and Mary is the second oldest college in the nation, founded in 1693 by King William III and Queen Mary II of England. Despite it’s historic legacy, William and Mary is a cutting-edge research university. William and Mary has a freshman retention rate of 96 percent and is consider “Public Ivy” school—one of only eight in the country. It is highly selective, and offers a world-class education. The school is located in historic downtown Williamsburg, Virginia, which along with Jamestown and Yorktown comprise the Historic Triangle. Students can therefore not only study but can walk the streets where the beginnings of representative government were first lived. William and Mary is steeped in tradition, including the ringing of the Wren bell by graduating seniors in the Sir Christopher Wren Building, the oldest college building in the nation.
University of California—Los Angeles (UCLA)
The University of California—Los Angeles, commonly referred to as UCLA, is located in the Westwood neighborhood of L.A., just five miles from the Pacific Ocean. UCLA was the most applied-to four-year university nationwide; over 105 thousand applications have been submitted for Fall 2014. The total undergraduate enrollment is 27,941, and 96 percent of freshman return after their first year. Founded in 1882, UCLA has been designated as a Public Ivy. The campus is home to world-renowned faculty who teach in more than 125 majors, with more than two-dozen of these academic programs ranked among the top 20 in their disciplines. UCLA athletes have competed in every Olympics since 1920 except 1924, and won gold in every Olympics that the U.S. has competed in since 1932. Amongst other honors, UCLA alumni and faculty helped create the Internet: the campus was the first node in ARPANET—the predecessor of the Internet.
University of California—Berkeley (UC Berkeley)
The University of California—Berkeley, often referred to as Cal, is situated overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Berkeley guarantees two years of housing for incoming freshmen, 96 percent of which return for their sophomore year. There are more than 1,200 student organizations on campus, ranging from political groups to a hang gliding club and everything in between. Often referred to as “bohemian Berkeley,” Berkeley is well known as a hub of liberal student activity, trendy coffee houses, and for its diverse culinary and cultural scene. Over 4,000 Cal students do volunteer work yearly. UC Berkeley is the only U.S. school to produce over 3,000 Peace Corps volunteers since the latter’s inception in 1961. UC Berkeley combines outstanding teaching and research programs with broad access for students of all means—educating more federal Pell Grant recipients from low-income families than all eight Ivy League universities combined.
Founded in 1912, Rice University is located on a beautiful 285-acre campus in urban core of Houston, Texas. Referred to by many as “The Harvard of the South,” Rice is home to an intimate academic community of 3,848 undergraduate students, a teacher to student ratio of 9:1, and a freshman retention rate of 96 percent. Rice offers incoming students a dynamic student life in the nation’s fourth-largest city, as the campus is located within Houston’s Museum District. There is also plenty of natural beauty as well, as Rice boasts one of the city’s nicest running trails, which runs around the campus and through several of Houston’s established neighborhoods. The Rice Owls boast 14 varsity NCAA Division I athletic teams and are well known for their strong baseball program. Rice is home to the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, a nonpartisan think tank, which offers coursework, internships and lectures.
Established in 1789, Georgetown is the nation’s oldest Jesuit University. Georgetown is situated overlooking the Potomac River just a few minutes from downtown Washington, D.C. The university’s connection to Washington, D.C. is part of what makes the Georgetown experience exciting and unique. With close proximity to the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court, and major theaters and museums, Washington offers a wide variety of cultural events, jobs, and internships across multiple sectors. Georgetown has a freshman retention rate of 96 percent, and freshmen and sophomores are required to live on campus in one of the many residence halls. Other students choose to live in the townhouses and apartments along the cobblestone streets surrounding campus. The Georgetown Hoyas are part of NCAA’s Division I and are well known for their dominant men’s basketball team, which maintains a fierce rivalry with Syracuse and plays most home games at the Verizon Center, also home to the Washington Wizards.
Hamilton is the third-oldest college in New York and was named after its former board of trustee and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton College was originally a men’s college until 1978 when it became coeducational after uniting with its sister institution, Kirkland College. 98 percent of students live in one of the 27 residence halls on campus. All students receive a Bachelor of Arts degree with 54 optional areas of study. Nearly half of students study abroad during their time at Hamilton through 180 programs around the world or the school’s consortium programs. Although Hamilton remains small by present-day standards and currently has a student body of fewer than 1,900, it provides resources and facilities comparable to those of undergraduate institutions substantially larger in size. While faithfully maintaining the tradition of liberal learning in a comfortably intimate environment, Hamilton retains 96 percent of its freshman class.
Founded in 1873, Vanderbilt is a private internationally recognized research university located a mile and a half southwest of downtown Nashville. The university has a strong student/faculty ratio of 8:1, strong partnerships among its 10 schools, neighboring institutions, and the community, as well as being designated a national arboretum. On campus, Greek organizations play a big role in social life, with approximately 40 percent of students affiliated with Greek life. Vanderbilt has a freshman retention rate of 96 percent and all undergraduate students are required to live on campus. Freshmen live together in The Commons, which has six LEED certified green dorms.
California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
Located in Pasadena, California, Caltech is a renowned science and engineering research and education school. Boasting an intimate student/faculty ratio of 3:1, social and academic life at Caltech centers on the eight student houses, which the school describes as “self-governing living groups.” Student houses incorporate an admired Caltech tradition: dinners served by student waiters. Only freshmen are required to live on campus, but around 80 percent of students remain in their house for all four years, and 96 percent of freshman return after their first year. Caltech is ranked second in the U.S. in return on investment of degree and its students are among the lowest in the nation for a four-year, student debt.
Cornell’s campus is bordered by Fall Creek and Cascadilla Gorge and looks out on picturesque Cayuga Lake. The university also showcases Cornell Plantations, which burst with beautiful flora and ponds. Ithaca itself has been named one of the top 100 places to live, a top-ten recreation city, a best green place to live, and one of the “foodiest” towns in America. Cornell University was founded in 1865, and has been distinguished as an Ivy League school with a freshman retention rate of 96 percent. Overall, it has seven undergrad schools and colleges that define their own academic programs and admit students. Collectively, they offer more than 4,000 courses across nearly 100 departments, with around 70 undergrad majors and more than 90 minors. As of 2010, Cornell is the only university with three female winners the Nobel Prizes among its alumni.
Washington University in St. Louis
Located in the suburbs of St. Louis, Washington University offers incoming students an opportunity to explore their academic interests with unparalleled flexibility and learning opportunities. With just over 7,000 undergraduate students and very intimate 8:1 student-teacher ratio, Washington University students are able to work closely with advisors to combine majors with minors, second majors, and pre-professional programs to develop their own unique academic program. Washington University is also committed to identifying and nurturing the pursuit of each students passion, by offering over 300 student clubs and organizations. In turn, 96 percent of Washington University’s freshman return after their first year in school.
Founded in 1851, Northwestern University is a private institution located along Lake Michigan in Evanston, Illinois. Chicago is easily accessible via public transportation, which affords students the opportunity to supplement their education with a wide variety of cultural, practical, and social experiences for their incoming students, 97 percent of which return after their first year. Of Northwestern’s dozen schools, nine offer undergraduate programs in addition the school’s 11 residential colleges that offer thematic living quarters for social and academic programming. Northwestern’s Dance Marathon, created in 1975, is one of the largest student-run philanthropies in the country and has raised more than $14 million for Chicago-area charities. Northwestern University is a Division I school in the Big Ten athletic conference. Northwestern’s women’s lacrosse team has won multiple NCAA national championships.
Vassar is located in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in the scenic Hudson Valley, 75 miles north of New York City. Founded in 1861, Vassar was one of the first historically women’s colleges in the northeast, but in 1969 Vassar became coeducational. The Maria Mitchell Observatory and the Main Building, which once housed the entire college, are registered as National Historic Landmarks. The Vassar Quidditch team, known as the Butterbeer Brewers, competes against other colleges in the sport from the “Harry Potter” novels. Vassar is a residential college, where freshmen are required to live on campus, 96 percent of whom return for their sophomore year. The school guarantees housing for all four years, and 98 percent of students live in the nine residence halls and apartments.
Columbia University is New York state’s oldest higher learning institution and the fifth oldest in the United States. Columbia, an Ivy League school, ranks fourth in the 2014 edition of Best National Universities. Columbia has a freshman retention rate of 96 percent, and a total undergraduate enrollment of 6,068, with a student/faculty ratio of 6:1. Columbia is located on 32 acres (6 city blocks) in upper Manhattan between the northwest corner of Central Park and the Hudson river, with everything from Times Square to The Guggenheim close at hand. More than 90 percent of students live in on-campus housing, ranging from traditional residence halls to university-owned brownstones. Fun fact: Columbia University administers the Pulitzer Prize.
Located in Williamstown Massachusetts at the foothill of Mount Greylock in the Berkshire Mountains, Williams College is one of the oldest colleges in the country. Founded in 1793, the school was originally a men’s college until 1970, when women were first admitted. Williams ranks number one in 2014 for National Liberal Arts Colleges, boasting a student to teacher ratio of 7:1 and a freshman retention rate of 96 percent. The school has Oxford-style tutorials, which rely heavily on student participation. The school has many unique student activities, including the semi-annual, school-wide trivia contest and the annual Mountain Day when students hike Mount Greylock.
United States Naval Academy
The scenic Naval Academy campus, known as the Yard, is located in historic Annapolis, Maryland, where the Severn River flows into the Chesapeake Bay, approximately 33 miles east of Washington, D.C. Naval Academy students, known as midshipmen, are officers in training. In return for fully funded Bachelor of Science degrees, graduates of Navy and are commissioned either as Ensigns in the Navy or Second Lieutenants in the Marine Corps for five years. All midshipmen live in Bancroft Hall, a huge dormitory complex, and receive a monthly stipend. The Naval Academy has a 97 percent freshman retention rate and is 79 percent male and 21 percent female. The school offers more than 70 extracurricular activities for midshipmen, from the debate team to the alpine ski team, among others.
University of Michigan—Ann Arbor
The University was founded in 1817 as the University of Michigania. Originally located in Detroit, the institution’s home moved to Ann Arbor in 1837. The University of Michigan boasts one of the best college towns in the country and Rolling Stone described it as “A campus scene that rocks.” Freshmen—97 percent of whom return for their sophomore year—are guaranteed housing but are not required to live on campus. Nearly 20 percent of the undergraduate student body is affiliated with Greek life at Michigan. If Greek life does not sound appealing, there are more than 1,200 other student organizations from which to choose. There are more than 1,000 undergraduate research opportunities on this campus, and the Wolverines have built athletic dynasties in football, men’s swimming, diving, and ice hockey.
University of Southern California (USC)
University of Southern California is home to 18,316 undergraduates and nearly 3,200 full-time faculty. Southern California’s campus—lovingly called “Troy”—is located in the heart of one of the biggest metropolises in the world, Los Angeles, California. USC has 21 schools and colleges and offers nearly 250 majors and minors, including professional programs and 97 percent of their freshman are retained each year. One of the most noted of USC’s schools is the School of Cinematic Arts, the oldest and largest film school in the United States, offering degrees in six programs. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated at least one USC alumnus every year since the inception of the Academy Awards in 1929. USC enrolls more international students than any other U.S. university and offers extensive opportunities for internships and study abroad. USC has a storied athletics program, with a nationally powerful football program and more Olympians than any other US university.
University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the nation’s oldest state university, with a rich history stretching back more than two centuries. UNC has a total undergraduate enrollment of 18,503 and retains 97 percent of its freshman class. UNC is situated in the beautiful college town of Chapel Hill, considered one of the best college towns in the country, offering plentiful choices of live music, restaurants, and shopping. The North Carolina Tar Heels are members of the Atlantic Coast Conference and have one of the most successful programs in men’s basketball, which maintain a storied rivalry with nearby Duke University. Former players include Michael Jordan and Vince Carter. A member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, Carolina regularly ranks as the best value for academic quality in U.S. public higher education.
Tufts University is located in the Medford/Somerville area of Massachusetts, not far from downtown Boston. Tufts offers a blended education of both a research university and a liberal arts college, offering more than 70 undergraduate degree programs to its 5,300 undergraduate students who are split about 90 percent in the School of Arts and Sciences and 10 percent in the School of Engineering. 97 percent of freshman return for their sophomore year at Tufts, and all freshmen and sophomores are required to live on campus in dorms, suites, or university-owned houses or apartments. Notable student groups at Tufts include the Cycling Club, the Beelzebubs (an all-male a cappella group), and the Freethought Society. About half of the student body participates in study abroad programs. Tufts’ permanent art collection features works by Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and John Singer Sargent.
Located just a short drive north of Charlotte, Davidson College is the ninth ranked liberal arts college in the country, according to US News and World Report. Davidson has a 97 percent freshman retention rate, and offers 25 majors and 17 minors, in addition to a robust Interdisciplinary Studies program. About one-quarter of Davidson’s students compete in Division I athletics, and 80 percent study or work internationally during their Davidson careers. More than 95 percent of students choose to live on campus in residence halls, apartments, co-op living/learning houses and international houses. The Cake Race, a 1.3-mile dash around campus—where winners receive freshly baked cakes—is one of many activities during Wildcat Welcome Week. Davidson became the nation’s first liberal arts college to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages with its initiative called The Davidson Trust, giving all students the chance to graduate free of debt.
Haverford is a leading liberal arts college located just outside Philadelphia. The campus boasts a nationally recognized arboretum including a 3.5-acre duck pond, gardens, and wooded areas. Haverford is a residential college, where more than 98 percent of students live in one of the residence halls, campus apartments, or houses, and 97 percent of freshman return for their second year. Popular Majors at Haverford include biology, chemistry, economics, English, political science, and psychology. Haverford has the oldest college soccer team and only varsity cricket team in the country. The C. Christopher Morris Cricket Library and Collection is the largest collection of cricket memorabilia in the world. Haverford offers a number of study abroad programs through its International Academic Programs office, including programs designed specifically for pre-med students and science and math majors.
Ranked fourth in the 2014 edition of National Liberal Arts Colleges, with a freshman retention rate of 97 percent, Bowdoin College offers a private liberal arts education in a coastal New England setting. Located in Brunswick, Maine, Bowdoin College boasts a large offering of student organizations, the largest and most active being the Outing Club, which offers 100 excursions each year. The Peucinian Society, Founded in 1805, is one of the nation’s foremost literary societies and the oldest student organization at Bowdoin College, with alumni including poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Bowdoin College has a robot team named Northern Bites, who compete in the Standard Platform League of RoboCup.
Located a few short miles from Philadelphia, Swarthmore College is a private liberal arts college with an intimate student body of 1,545 students. The campus is also adjacent to the Scott Arboretum, which adds to the campus’s renowned beauty. Unlike most liberal arts colleges, Swarthmore also offers a B.S. in engineering. It ranks third in National Liberal Arts Colleges for the 2014 edition of Best Colleges, offers a student/faculty ratio of 8:1, and has a freshman retention rate of 97 percent. Swarthmore offers programs around the world in more than 100 locations and about half of its students study abroad. Swarthmore has many unique traditions, including Worthstock, the school’s take on Woodstock, featuring outdoor live music, dancing and food and the Crum Regatta, where students race down Crum Creek in homemade boats.
Johns Hopkins University
The Johns Hopkins University has three major campuses. The majority of the undergraduate community is located on the Homewood campus, a little haven in the north Baltimore neighborhood of Charles Village. The Krieger School of Arts & Sciences and the Whiting School of Engineering are found on the Homewood campus, while the other locations also offers undergraduate programs through the Carey Business School, the Peabody Institute, and the School of Nursing. Johns Hopkins has a freshman retention rate of 97 percent and has an undergraduate enrollment of 5,192. JHU ranks first among U.S. universities in receipt of federal research and development funds. It has ranked number one for over 3 decades by the NSF (National Science Foundation) amongst U.S. academic institutions for various research endeavors, including science, medicine, and engineering. In addition, JHU was “the first medical school to admit women on an equal basis with men and to require a bachelor’s degree.” The JHU Blue Jays have 22 athletic teams and participate in NCAA Division I for men’s and women’s lacrosse and Division III for all other sports.
Located in the Champlain Valley of central Vermont, with Vermont’s Green Mountains to the east and New York’s Adirondacks to the west, Middlebury College is renowned for its strengths in international studies and environmental education. With a freshman retention rate of 97 percent, the 2014 edition of Best Colleges ranked Middlebury fourth in National Liberal Arts Colleges. Middlebury is home to the Bread Loaf School of English, as well as the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, one of the oldest and most prestigious writers’ conferences in the nation. The Middlebury Panthers have 31 NCAA Division III varsity teams and are members of the New England Small College Athletic Conference. The school also competes in “Muggle Quidditch” and founded the International Quidditch Association based on the sport from the “Harry Potter” novels. Middlebury also hosts the country’s oldest Winter Carnival, featuring a ski competition and live music.
Duke University’s campus is situated on nearly 9,000 acres in Durham, N.C, a city of more than 200,000 people. Duke Forest covers 7,200 acres and serves as a natural outdoor laboratory for Duke and neighboring universities. The forest is used for research, protecting wildlife and rare plant species, and studying timber management practices. It is also a popular place to walk or run. 97 percent of Duke’s freshman return for their sophomore year. Part of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Blue Devils are best known for their outstanding men’s basketball program, in addition Duke has won national championships in lacrosse and soccer, and women’s golf and tennis. More than 75 percent of Duke students pursue service-learning opportunities locally and around the world through DukeEngage and other programs that advance the university’s mission of “knowledge in service to society.”
Founded in 1764 prior to American independence from the British Empire in Providence, Rhode Island, Brown is the third oldest institution of higher education in New England and seventh oldest in the United States, and has a freshman retention rate of 97 percent. Curriculum at Brown allows any course to be taken on a satisfactory/no credit basis. In addition, there are no pluses or minuses in the letter grading system. The school has the oldest undergraduate engineering program in the Ivy League (1847). The Brown Bears have 35 NCAA Division I athletic teams, most notable being their men’s soccer team, which consistently ranks among the top 25 teams in the nation. One tradition at Brown is that the Van Wickle Gates opens its center section only twice a year: once to let incoming students onto campus and once to let recent graduates exit after commencement. Also, Brown hosts an annual celebratory “Spring Weekend” with athletic events, concerts, and free food.
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame is an independent, national, Catholic research university located adjacent to the city of South Bend, Indiana. Undergraduate enrollment for the 2012-13 academic year was 8,475 with a freshman retention rate of 97 percent. The University is organized into four undergraduate colleges: Arts and Letters, Science, Engineering, and the Mendoza College of Business. Only freshmen are required to live on campus, but most students choose to remain on campus in one of the 29 single-sex residence halls. The halls serve as the centers of social life at Notre Dame, as there is no Greek life on campus. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the 14-story Hesburgh Library with its 132-feet-high mural depicting Christ the Teacher, and the University’s historic Main Building with its famed Golden Dome are among the most widely known university landmarks in the world. The Notre Dame “Fighting Irish” boast more than 25 varsity NCAA Division I athletic teams and are well known for their historic football program.
Located in Claremont, California, Pomona College is within an hour of the Pacific Ocean, the Mojave Desert, the San Gabriel Mountains, and the city of Los Angeles. There aren’t many places in the world where you can ski in the morning, play on the beach in the afternoon, and take in a major league baseball game or an opera at night (not to mention the simple joy of wearing flip-flops in the middle of February). Pomona’s founders envisioned “a college of the New England type” when they created this school with small classes and strong student-faculty relationships. Pomona offers its 1,600 students a premier liberal arts degree with curriculum in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences with a study-faculty ratio of 8:1 and a freshman retention rate of 97 percent. On-campus housing is guaranteed if requested, and more than 97 percent of students live in the 14 residence halls, two-thirds of which contain single rooms.
Founded in 1636, Harvard University is the oldest university in the United States. Routinely ranking first or second overall in many university ranking lists, Harvard’s extensive library system houses the oldest collection in the United States and the largest private collection in the world. At Harvard, on-campus residential housing is an integral part of student life, and 97 percent of their freshman class return for their sophomore year. Freshmen live around the Harvard Yard at the center of campus, after which they are placed in one of 12 undergraduate houses for their remaining three years. Eight U.S. presidents graduated from Harvard College, including Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. Other notable alumni include Henry David Thoreau, Helen Keller, Yo-Yo Ma, and Tommy Lee Jones.
Hillsdale College is an independent, residential, liberal arts college located in Hillsdale, Michigan. It was the first American college to prohibit in its charter any discrimination based on race, religion, or sex, and became an early force for the abolition of slavery. It was also the second college in the nation to grant four-year liberal arts degrees to women. It has a total undergraduate enrollment of 1,434, and has a freshman retention rate of 98 percent. The distinctively rural town of Hillsdale, Michigan lies just miles away from the borders of Ohio and Indiana, and offers recreational opportunities for the outdoors lover with its numerous lakes, rivers, and nature areas, including the College’s own Slayton Arboretum. Hillsdale distinguishes itself from other institutions by it’s principled determination never to accept federal taxpayer funding and core curriculum containing the essence of the classical liberal arts education, where by students are introduced to the history, philosophical and theological ideas, works of literature, and scientific discoveries that have shaped Western Civilization.
Harvey Mudd College
Born from the urgency of “The Space Race” in the 1950s, Harvey Mudd College offers a technical liberal arts education with specialization in the sciences, engineering, and mathematics. As a residential college in Claremont, California, freshmen are required to live on campus, and 99 percent of students remain on campus in one of the eight dormitories. Dorm competitions are regularly held, ranging from water polo to broomball. Harvey Mudd has a freshman retention rate of 98 percent and is ranked second in Undergraduate Engineering Colleges and sixteenth in Liberal Arts Colleges by U.S. News & World Report. PayScale 2014 ranks HMC first in Best Schools for Return on Investment. Harvey Mudd offers students a unique opportunity in its Clinic Program, where teams of four students work for a year on a project suggested by a company. The Clinic Program offers students a first-hand look at a particular industry and allows the sponsoring company to hire an inexpensive Clinic team whom they often try to recruit after graduation.
Known for its academic excellence and warm, welcoming campus community Carleton College is a small, private liberal arts college in the historic river town of Northfield, Minnesota. Carleton offers 37 majors and 15 concentrations in the arts, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences and enrolls 2,055 undergraduate students with a freshman retention rate of 98 percent. All freshmen are required to live on campus, and about 90 percent of students choose to remain on campus in one of the residence halls, shared interest houses, or campus townhouses. Intramural sports like quidditch, broomball, dodgeball, and sand volleyball are popular among students in addition to their 170 student organizations. A newer tradition is the “Silent Dance Party” during study days prior to finals when students don headphones and dance together in the library.
University of Virginia
Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, the University of Virginia is located in the charming town of Charlottesville. UVA offers 56 bachelor’s degrees in 53 fields to its total undergraduate enrollment of 15,822. UVA houses one of the 25 remaining original copies of the Declaration of Independence, called a Dunlap Broadside, in its Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. Only first-year students are required to live on campus, but 98 percent of them return to school for their second year. Greek life is prominent at UVA with a membership that includes approximately 30 percent of the student body. The Cavaliers, known unofficially as Wahoos or ‘Hoos, are part of the NCAA Division I Atlantic Coast Conference and are well known for their dominant men’s and women’s lacrosse teams. In 2014, UVA ranked second in Top Public School, fifth in Best Undergraduate Business Programs, and 24th in Best National University by U.S. News and World Report.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a private research university founded in 1861, is renown for its research and education in the physical sciences and engineering and more recently in biology, economics, linguistics, and management. Amongst its discoveries are the 2014 finding of a two-dimensional material similar to graphene that could be used to make flat solar cells and transistors. MIT is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, across the Charles River from downtown Boston. Only freshmen students are required to live on campus, but about 70 percent of students choose to remain on campus during their four years of study, and 98 percent of freshman return for their second year. MIT offers housing in one of the coolest dorms in the country, commonly called “The Sponge,” designed by architect Steven Holl. The MIT Engineers boast more than 30 NCAA Division III Teams, and their mascot is a beaver, which MIT chose because of its “remarkable engineering and mechanical skill and its habits of industry.”
Founded in 1769, Dartmouth is a private Ivy League research university located in Hanover, New Hampshire. Dartmouth College ranked tenth in the 2014 edition of Best National Universities, with a student/faculty ratio of 8:1 and a freshman retention rate of 98 percent. The Arts & Sciences consist of 40 academic departments and programs; top majors among 2013 graduates were economics, government, history, engineering sciences, psychological and brain sciences, biological sciences, english, and mathematics. Dartmouth’s year-round academic calendar of four 10-week terms allows students to decide when to study on campus, and when to use time away from Hanover to gain work experience, engage in service, be an intern, or study abroad. Dartmouth offers 34 intercollegiate varsity sports at the NCAA Division I level, 24 intramural sports, and approximately 36 club sports. Three-quarters of Dartmouth undergraduates participate in some form of athletics. Dartmouth’s Outing Club is the oldest and largest collegiate outing club in the country and is the most popular student organization at Dartmouth, offering outdoor activities, expeditions, gear rentals, and courses.
University of Pennsylvania
Founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1740, University of Pennsylvania is a private institution located in Philadelphia. Inspired by what Benjamin Franklin called “an inclination . . . to serve mankind,” Penn weaves civic awareness and civic action into campus life. Approximately 13,000 University students, faculty, and staff participate in more than 300 Penn volunteer and community service programs. Penn has a 98 percent freshman retention rate. The Penn Quakers have more than 25 NCAA Division I sports that compete in the Ivy League, and are noted for successful basketball and lacrosse teams. Franklin Field is the oldest collegiate football field still in use and the country’s first double-decked college stadium. Penn, though secular, has a strong religious life with its Hillel for Jewish students, Penn Newman Catholic Center, and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. More than 2,000 students each year participate in international study programs offered in more than 70 countries around the world. The Fisher Fine Arts Library, considered architect Frank Furness’ most distinctive major work, sits on Penn’s campus.
Leland Stanford Junior University, or more commonly Stanford University, is a private research university located between San Francisco and San Jose in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, one of the most intellectually dynamic and culturally diverse areas of the nation. Established in 1885, Stanford now has 6,980 Undergraduates and boasts a 5:1 student to faculty ratio with a freshman retention rate of 98 percent. It is the largest contiguous campus in the U.S. with over 8,000 acres has 700 buildings. Stanford ranks fifth in the 2014 edition of Best National Universities and has been named the most selective research university in the U.S. The approximate annual revenue of companies founded by Stanford alumni is about $2.7 trillion, which includes the likes of Google, Yahoo!, Nike, Hewlett-Packard, and Sun Microsystems. The Stanford Cardinals have successful lacross, tennis, and golf programs, but are most well known for the football tradition—the “Big Game”—against Cal.
Amherst College is an exclusively undergraduate private liberal arts college located the small town of Amherst, Massachusetts, about a 90-minute drive from Boston. Amherst College ranks second in the 2014 edition of Best National Liberal Arts Colleges and has a freshman retention rate of 98 percent. Amherst has always shown awareness of and support for those who might not commonly have had access to higher education—for example, graduating its first African American student, Edward Jones, in 1826, and Joseph Hardy Neesima of the Class of 1870 was the first Japanese student ever to graduate from a Western college. The Amherst Lord Jeffs participate in NCAA Division III sports, and are also part of the unofficial Little Three athletic conference with Williams and Wesleyan, which has lasted more than 100 years. Amherst has taken great strides to become more sustainable, as it protects 500 acres of open land and water in its wildlife sanctuary.
Princeton University is fourth oldest college in the United States. Founded in 1746, Princeton has a total undergraduate enrollment of 5,336, a student/faculty ratio of 6:1, and a freshman retention rate of 98 percent. Princeton University is the top ranked school in the 2014 edition of Best National Universities. Members of the Ivy League, the Princeton Tigers are well known for their consistently strong men’s and women’s lacrosse teams. One unique aspect of Princeton’s academic program is that all undergraduate students are required to write a senior thesis. One of the University’s most distinctive characteristics is its close-knit residential community. Housing is guaranteed for undergraduates, and nearly all students live on campus. The residential colleges offer students a supportive and enriching environment full of opportunities for personal growth.
Soka University of America
Soka University is a private, non-profit, liberal arts college located in south Orange County, California in the City of Aliso Viejo. Founded on the Buddhist principles of peace, human rights, and the sanctity of life, Soka is open to students of all nationalities and beliefs and is committed to diversity in its academic community. Soka offers a BA in Liberal Arts with concentrations in Environmental Studies, Humanities, International Studies, and Social and Behavioral Sciences, and has a freshman retention rate of 99 percent. In addition to residence coursework, the tuition of SUA includes a study abroad program, allowing every undergraduate student to spend a semester of their junior year living and learning in another culture. Soka offers generous financial aid with free tuition available to eligible admitted students whose earned family income is $60,000 or less (room and board fees still apply). Soka University of America is a 7-mile drive to the beach and Aliso Viejo offers an abundance of cultural, educational, sporting, and adventure opportunities.
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is the city of Chicago’s elite institution of higher learning. Situated in Chicago’s Hyde Park community, the university offers a rich campus life in a big-city setting to its undergraduate enrollment of 5,590 students. Freshmen are required to live on campus, and more than 50 percent of students choose to remain on campus all 4 years, living in “houses” within their dorms, which serve as tight-knit communities that provide academic and social support. University of Chicago’s ranking in the 2014 edition of Best National Universities is fifth, and it has a freshman retention rate of 99 percent. The University of Chicago also has a 6:1 Student/Faculty ratio where nearly 80 percent of classes have fewer than twenty students, allowing for an intimate intellectual settings where students can thrive academically. The Chicago Innovation Exchange (CIE) is the University of Chicago’s new hub for multidisciplinary collaborations and support for business start-up activities by University faculty, students, and area entrepreneurs.
Yale University is a private Ivy League research university in New Haven, Connecticut, founded in 1701. The university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States. It has a total undergraduate enrollment of 5,405, a freshman retention rate of 99 percent, and a student/faculty ratio of 6:1. Yale’s distinctive residential system divides the undergraduate population into twelve separate college communities of approximately 450 members each, which enables students both the intimacy of a small college environment and the vast resources of a major research university. Yale is well known for its secret societies, the most famous of which is Skull and Bones. Yale’s buildings, towers, lawns, courtyards, walkways, gates, and arches comprise what one architecture critic calls “the most beautiful urban campus in America.” Yale University ranks third in the 2014 edition of U.S. News and World Report’s Best Colleges and National Universities.