50 best private colleges ranked from least to most expensive
Private colleges in the U.S. are known for having higher tuition because of the way they fund them compared to public colleges. Students can frequently pay less than the sticker price thanks to large endowments—money or financial assets (such as real estate) donated to a nonprofit or university, usually with strict long-term guidelines. Donations are given based on the idea that they will help further the organization’s mission. An endowment fund can help a school lower tuition costs for its students, but it is also used for things like maintaining or upgrading campus facilities or hiring professors.
Students may choose a private college for a diverse set of reasons. Private colleges may have more freedom in their initiatives, as they are not funded by the government like public institutions, so uniqueness is often a draw for prospective students. A private college might also set a student up for future success with close-knit alumni networking groups or a higher-than-average expected salary upon graduation.
To determine which of the country's best colleges are least (and most) expensive, Stacker looked to Niche’s 2019 ranking of the best private colleges in the U.S. That data considered several factors, such as professors (number of awards won by faculty, student-faculty ratio); campus (quality of campus food and housing); diversity, student life (safety, diversity, athletics); local area; safety (campus crime rate, local crime rate); and the most heavily weighted factors: academics (acceptance rate, quality of professors) and value (average loan amount, alumni earnings). Niche’s data sources include the U.S. Department of Education, the universities themselves, and student and alumni surveys. Stacker then ordered the top 50 schools from Niche’s best private colleges list from least to most expensive based on 2019–20 tuition.
The decision to go to college is big, but where to go is perhaps an even larger one. This list may help narrow down the search. Each school in this gallery is featured along with its tuition, location, student population, student-to-faculty ratio, acceptance rate, graduation rate, and six-year median earnings. In addition, you’ll learn about factors like universities’ endowment funds, net cost after financial aid, and famous alumni.
Read on to find out which of the top 50 private colleges in the U.S. has a staggering tuition of $58,359—and which institutions can greatly reduce costs for their students with impressive endowment funds.
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#50. Harvard University
- Tuition: $47,730
- Location: Cambridge, MA
- Students: 7,147 (student to faculty ratio: 7:1)
- Acceptance rate: 5% (ACT: 32-35, SAT: 1460-1590)
- Six year median earnings: $89,700
Harvard's endowment fund sits a healthy $38.3 billion. This enables the university to award ample scholarship dollars and keep tuition below that of its Ivy League peers. Even though tuition costs over $47,000 a year, the average student pays about $17,000 after receiving aid.
#49. Rice University
- Tuition: $48,330
- Location: Houston, TX
- Students: 3,916 (student to faculty ratio: 6:1)
- Acceptance rate: 16% (ACT: 33-35, SAT: 1490-1580)
- Six year median earnings: $65,400
Clocking in at over $48,000 a year, tuition at Rice University has steadily risen at least 3% every year since 2000. Known for its engineering and biochemistry degrees, this Texas school in 2018 announced an initiative to provide free tuition to all students whose parents earn less than $130,000 a year. On average, students pay $24,000 in tuition a year.
#48. Vanderbilt University
- Tuition: $50,800
- Location: Nashville, TN
- Students: 6,805 (student to faculty ratio: 7:1)
- Acceptance rate: 11% (ACT: 32-35, SAT: 1440-1570)
- Six year median earnings: $69,000
This Nashville school holds an endowment fund of $6.4 billion, generously funding aid and scholarships that reduce the eye-popping tuition from over $50,000 a year to just over $23,000. Its medical school is considered among the nation's best and musicians flock to its undergraduate music program.
#47. University of Pennsylvania
- Tuition: $51,156
- Location: Philadelphia, PA
- Students: 10,496 (student to faculty ratio: 6:1)
- Acceptance rate: 9% (ACT: 32-35, SAT: 1420-1560)
- Six year median earnings: $85,900
With an endowment war chest totaling $13.8 billion, Ivy League member Penn considers itself America's first university. Its famous Wharton business school attracts aspiring moguls for both undergrad and graduate degrees. After aid disbursement, the typical student pays about $24,000 a year in tuition.
#46. California Institute of Technology
- Tuition: $52,506
- Location: Pasadena, CA
- Students: 961 (student to faculty ratio: 3:1)
- Acceptance rate: 8% (ACT: 34-35, SAT: 1530-1590)
- Six year median earnings: $85,900
CalTech, as the name implies, focuses on engineering, natural science, and advanced technical degrees, including doctorates. With an endowment of $2.93 billion and a highly selective admissions process, financial aid brings the average tuition paid by each student down to about $24,000.
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#45. Stanford University
- Tuition: $52,857
- Location: Stanford, CA
- Students: 7,064 (student to faculty ratio: 12:1)
- Acceptance rate: 5% (ACT: 32-35, SAT: 1390-1540)
- Six year median earnings: $94,000
Stanford attracts some of the world's top engineering talent for its popular degrees in engineering, computer and information sciences, and biological and biomedical sciences. Its $26.5 billion endowment fund allows it to offer enough financial aid to drastically reduce the average tuition paid by each student to around $16,000 a year.
#44. Davidson College
- Tuition: $52,990
- Location: Davidson, NC
- Students: 1,810 (student to faculty ratio: 9:1)
- Acceptance rate: 20% (ACT: 30-33, SAT: 1310-1470)
- Six year median earnings: $58,900
With $821.8 million banked in endowment, Davidson College punches above its weight with 23 Rhodes Scholars hailing from the Christian liberal arts school. Average tuition paid by each student runs about $28,000 a year. Biology/biological sciences, political science, economics, psychology, and literature are the school's most-popular majors.
#43. Emory University
- Tuition: $53,070
- Location: Atlanta, GA
- Students: 6,794 (student to faculty ratio: 9:1)
- Acceptance rate: 22% (ACT: 30-33, SAT: 1350-1520)
- Six year median earnings: $66,000
Niche's #1 in Best Christian Colleges in America, Emory is known for its business, biology, nursing, economics, and psychology programs. Emory has amassed a $7.31 billion endowment, some of which goes toward financial-aid packages that reduce the average tuition cost to about $27,000 a year.
#42. New York University
- Tuition: $53,229
- Location: New York, NY
- Students: 25,347 (student to faculty ratio: 9:1)
- Acceptance rate: 28% (ACT: 29-33, SAT: 1290-1490)
- Six year median earnings: $61,900
Besides the exorbitant cost of living in New York City, students at New York University fork over almost $50,000 a year for tuition. NYU extends merit-based scholarships to all qualifying students, which averages $37,000 per qualifying student. This hotbed for communications, marketing, and business majors holds an endowment fund of $4.3 billion.
#41. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Tuition: $53,450
- Location: Cambridge, MA
- Students: 4,510 (student to faculty ratio: 3:1)
- Acceptance rate: 7% (ACT: 33-35, SAT: 1490-1570)
- Six year median earnings: $104,700
MIT sits atop Niche's rankings as the #1 in Best Colleges in America, making it one of the world's preeminent learning institutions. As expected from a technology school, MIT's top degrees trend toward the sciences with computer science, mechanical engineering, mathematics, electrical engineering, and physics drawing the most student demand. A $16.4 billion endowment allows it to offer enough aid to bring down the average tuition cost to about $22,000 a year.
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