Oldest Colleges in The US: A Journey Through Time

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Passant Mohamed

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24 April, 2023

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6 mins read

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University Life

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Have you ever wondered about the oldest colleges in the U.S.? The USA has some of the oldest colleges in the world that have secured through time their places among the top-ranked educational institutions in the world.

Some of the oldest colleges in the U.S. date back to the 17th century and even before the 1765 American Revolution. Also, among the prestigious Ivy League members, you will find several of the oldest universities in the USA.

Let's learn more about some of the oldest colleges in the U.S. in order!

Top Oldest Colleges and Universities in the USA

Oldest Colleges in The US

Harvard University (1636) 

Acceptance Rate: 6%

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

Harvard University is the oldest University in the USA, and one of the most well-known top universities worldwide. It was founded by the Massachusetts legislature and is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is a prestigious private university and one of the Ivy League universities.

Harvard is currently ranked third in the Q.S. World University Rankings. Also, according to the Q.S. World University Rankings by subject, it is ranked first globally for the broad subject area of life sciences and medicine and second for arts and humanities.

The College of William and Mary (1693) 

Acceptance Rate: 33%

Top Courses: Law, Public Policy, and Marine Science

In the next place in our list of oldest colleges in the U.S., comes the College of William and Mary, a public research university. William and Mary is located in Williamsburg, Virginia, United States. King William III and Queen Mary III established the institution. It was the first higher education institution in the United States of America to establish a student honour code.

Based on entrance exams, students' prior academic performance, and grades, this 330-year-old U.S. higher education school has a selective admission procedure. The college is ranked 601-650 worldwide and is among the top 450 in the world for arts and humanities. Three U.S. presidents were educated there, including Thomas Jefferson.

St John's College (SJC) (1696)

Acceptance Rate: 87%

Top Courses: Mathematics and Philosophy

St John's College (SJC) is the oldest college in the United States. It was the first "free" school in the Maryland colony and was founded as King William's School. Now, it is a private liberal arts college. 

SJC has two campuses: one in Maryland's state capital of Annapolis and one in New Mexico's state capital of Santa Fe. Despite not being listed in the Q.S. World University Rankings, the college was named one of the top 100 liberal arts colleges in the U.S. by U.S. News & World Report.

Oldest Colleges in The US

Yale University (1701)

Acceptance Rate: 6%

Top Courses: Political Science, Economics, and Computer Science

The fourth on our list is Yale University, now rated 17th globally, and was formed as a 'Collegiate School'. In 1718, the institution was renamed Yale in honour of a gift from Elihu Yale, who is a British East India Company governor and a wealthy British merchant who left a considerable amount of money to the school.

The University takes home at New Haven, Connecticut, and is well-known for its Ivy League status. Yale is divided into three primary divisions:

  • Undergraduate arts and sciences schools

  • Graduate schools (including law schools)

  • Professional schools (business and medicine)

University of Pennsylvania (1740)

Acceptance Rate: 10%

Top Courses: Biology, Finance, and Political Science

The University of Pennsylvania, known as Penn, was established by one of the United States' founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin. Penn is a Philadelphia-based non-profit private higher education university. It was the first institution in the United States to provide undergraduate and graduate programmes. 

Penn was also the first university in the United States to offer a full range of liberal arts and sciences programmes, as well as the first to grant degrees and establish a medical school (1765), law school (1834), and business school (1881).

The institution currently ranks 15th in the world and fifth in the world for business and management. Furthermore, the university is well-known for its intense research effort.

Moravian College (1742)

Acceptance Rate: 86%

Top Courses: Psychology, Nursing, and Business

Next on our list is Moravian College. Moravian University, located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is a non-profit private liberal arts higher education institution that was established as the United States' first boarding school for women. The college was founded in 1742 by 16-year-old Countess Benigna von Zinzendorf as Bethlehem Female Seminary. It is the oldest University in North America.

Moravian University had an excellent reputation that George Washington requested the headmaster of the university for the admission of his great-nieces. Eventually, the University became coeducational when colleges for the two genders merged in 1954.

University of Delaware (1743)

Acceptance Rate: 68%

Top Courses: Engineering, Business, and Environmental Studies

The University of Delaware, also known as U.D., is a public research university famous for its academic programmes, opportunities for research, and dedication to innovation. The university is in Newark, Delaware, providing undergraduate and graduate programmes. Reverend Francis Alison and Reverend Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant established the university as a private institution. They wanted to build a non-denominational college that would be available to people of all colours, genders, socioeconomic backgrounds, and religious beliefs. 

The University of Delaware offers a unique blend of classic and modern characteristics, including the famous Memorial Hall and the revolutionary Roselle Centre for the Arts, which has earned LEED certification. The university also has an outstanding record of high-quality teaching, ranking joint 491st in the overall Q.S. World University Rankings.

Colleges in The US

Princeton University (1746)

Acceptance Rate: 7%

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

In our list of oldest universities in U.S., comes Princeton University. It was founded as the College of New Jersey through a land grant by King George II of Great Britain. Not only is Princeton University one of the most prestigious universities in the U.S., but also it is a private Ivy League research university that is well-known for its academic excellence, high-quality education, and wonderful campus. 

Princeton is ranked 13th worldwide, seventh in the fields of arts and humanities, and fourth in mathematics.

Washington and Lee University (1749)

Acceptance Rate: 19%

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

Washington and Lee University, located in Lexington, Virginia, is a private liberal arts university. The university is named after George Washington, who donated an enormous amount of money to the university, and Robert E. Lee, who was its president after the Civil War. 

Washington and Lee University, or W&L, also houses the historic Lee Chapel and Museum, which is dedicated to the life and memory of Robert E. Lee. Among the top reasons that graduates of W&L achieve in their careers are individualised attention, interdisciplinary learning, and the Honour System, in addition to more than 40 undergraduate and graduate programmes.

Columbia University (1754)

Acceptance Rate: 7%

Top Courses: Economics, Journalism, and Political Science,

In tenth place is another one of the oldest colleges in the US, Columbia University. It is a private Ivy League research university in Upper Manhattan, New York City. George II of Britain granted a royal licence to establish Columbia University in 1754 as King's College. The university was renamed Columbia College in 1784 when the United States gained independence. Not only is Columbia University one of America's oldest colleges, but it is also the oldest university in New York. 

It is currently a member of the Association of American Universities and regularly ranks among the top 15 universities. In addition, the university was the first to award medical degrees to women in 1859, before any other school, and handed its first degree to a woman in 1860, also before any other school.

Colleges in The US

Brown University (1764)

Acceptance Rate: 9%

Top Courses: Computer Science, Biology, and Creative Writing

Brown University is a private Ivy League research university founded by one of America's greatest heroes, Moses Brown. It was established mainly to educate African-Americans, Native Americans and other minorities through residential programs. Therefore, Brown University is best known for student autonomy, diversity, and inclusion!

The university has a beautiful campus in Rhode Island and features the historic Van Wickle Gates and modern Friedman Hall.

Rutgers University (1766)

Acceptance Rate: 60%

Top Courses: Psychology, Pharmacy, and Computer Science

 In twelfth place comes Rutgers University, which is located in New Brunswick, NJ. Rutgers was founded as a private Queens College by the Dutch Reformed Church in 1766.

It was one of the nine colonial universities founded before the Declaration of Independence. These universities are Harvard, Yale, William and Mary, Princeton, Dartmouth, the University of Pennsylvania, King's or Columbia, Brown, and Queen's or Rutgers. Currently, it is regularly ranked among the top public universities in U.S.

All of these notable educational institutions offer many courses and programmes for international students. If you want to know more about admissions, visit the official website of any of these universities!


1. What is the oldest college in the U.S.?

The oldest and first college in the U.S. is Harvard University, founded in 1636.

2. What is the oldest Ivy League school?

Harvard University is the oldest university in the United States and one of the most selective Ivy League universities. In the National Universities ranking, the University is tied for second place.

3. What is the oldest public U.S. college?

The University of Georgia, located in Athens, Georgia, gained its state charter in 1785, making it the first state-chartered public university in America.

4.  What is the oldest University in South America?

The University of The Andes is the oldest university in North America. It is located in Colombia and was founded in 1948 by a group of Colombian intellectuals.

5.  What is the oldest University in North America?

Moravian University is the oldest university in North America. It was founded in 1742 by Moravians.


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