best colleges in the us

College Rankings: Best Colleges in the US & Best Universities in the World–Introduction

The most important step in the college application process is creating lists of colleges you want to target.  As you make your list, both global and US college rankings can provide useful information. This information can help you find the best colleges and best universities for you. 

If you look up the “best colleges in the US” or “top 100 universities in the USA”, you’ll find many different lists of colleges. But what do these college rankings mean, and how should you use them to decide the best university for you?

In this guide, we will help you understand:

  • How to use the college rankings to build your college list?
  • Why “fit” is more important than how a school scores in college rankings?
  • How to identify the best colleges for you?
  • How to get into the best university on your list?

We will also discuss the best sources to explore as you gather information about top college rankings. These lists of colleges and college rankings will help you find the best university for you.

Our top 3 recommended sources for college rankings are:

  • U.S. News and World Report college rankings
  • Forbes college rankings
  • Wall Street Journal college rankings

How college rankings are decided

US college rankings are decided using a variety of metrics. These relate to academics, graduation rates, campus culture, and more. As we present our own lists of best colleges in the US and best universities in the world, we’ll also discuss how US college rankings are made. Then, we’ll explain what college rankings show and why they’re important to your college application process.

A deeper understanding of college rankings will help you understand how the best colleges in the world earned their reputations as prestigious universities. It will also help you see how these elite colleges compare to the best colleges in the US. Through this guide, you’ll see exactly what it means for a school to be one of the “best universities” in the country. 

Tips for getting into the best colleges in the world

In this “College Rankings : Best Colleges in the US and Best Universities in the World” guide, we’ll naturally discuss some of the best academic programs at these best colleges in the US and best colleges in the world. As some of the lowest acceptance rate colleges, these schools are also the hardest colleges to get into. Therefore, if you want to know how to get into the best colleges in your chosen lists of colleges, be prepared to work hard.

The best universities in the USA take your academics and extracurriculars seriously. So, to impress the best universities in the USA, you’ll need to maximize all parts of your profile. You must push yourself in class, in extracurriculars, and in your college application process. Do this, and you’ll have a shot at getting into the best colleges in the US, and even the best colleges in the world!

How do they measure best college?

Since so many people rely on the rankings of the best universities in the USA, assessing each school is an intricate and data-driven process. U.S. News determines rankings for best universities based on 17 indicators of quality, some of which we’ll cover below. 

Meanwhile, the Forbes college rankings primarily use a student’s return on investment when working out the top universities in the USA. So, schools do well in the Forbes college rankings if their students graduate on time, secure high salaries and low debt, and go on to have successful careers. 

Lastly, the Wall Street Journal college rankings use four key factors to determine the best universities in the USA. The best colleges in the Wall Street Journal college rankings have the best resources, outcomes, engagement, and environment. 

As you can see, college rankings that determine the best universities in the USA can use a variety of metrics. By understanding these metrics, you can learn how to use the U.S. News and World Report college rankings—as well as other college rankings—to build your own college list. Remember, the “best university” will look different for everyone. As you craft your college list, you should focus on finding the best university for you—not the best university for Forbes. 

College rankings and COVID-19

Keep in mind, US college rankings do not fully account for the many impacts of the COVID-19, such as a college’s ability to shift to online education. However, the best colleges in the US and the top 10 universities in the USA remain so because of their stability in an unstable world. Schools on the list of best universities in the USA have the financial ability to cope with volatility and rising costs, which helps them retain their high rank. When considering how to get into the best college, you should keep ranking in mind.

best colleges in the us

What is a good college ranking?

US college rankings can’t tell you everything you need to know about a school. However, as you work to find the best university for you, US college rankings are a useful tool. 

Top college rankings—like lists of the top 100 universities in the USA—can provide useful information when researching schools. However, there is no “good” or minimum college ranking you need to look for. Similarly, there’s no one “best university” for everyone. A school ranked at #25 is not going to give you an objectively worse experience than one ranked at #11. So, if you want to find the best colleges for you, look further than the lists of the top 100 universities in the USA. 

Schools that consistently top lists like the U.S. News college rankings, Wall Street Journal college rankings, the Forbes college rankings, and the U.S. News and World Report College Rankings offer great educations and produce successful graduates. However, so do many other schools. A higher college ranking does not guarantee a better college experience—or a more successful career after you graduate. 

Focus on your interests and needs

The best way to rank schools is based on whether they meet your needs. So, go beyond the “best colleges in the US” and “best universities in the world” lists of colleges that you read. Instead, research the best academic programs for your interests. This will help you find the best university for your needs.

Many of the best colleges in the world will not specialize in your niche—whether that’s debate, lacrosse, or neuroscience! It’s your job to look beyond the many lists of “top US universities” out there to the examine the school’s academic, financial, and social offerings. If a school is the perfect fit for you financially, academically, and socially, that is the real best university, no matter the college rankings. 

Where can I find lists of colleges?

Since there are so many lists of colleges available, you might struggle to know which college rankings to look at. So, let’s break down the world and US college rankings to help you find the best university for you. 

If you want to know the top 100 universities in the USA, two popular lists of colleges include the U.S. News college rankings—Best National University Rankings—and Forbes college rankings—Americas Top Colleges List 2021. Then, looking internationally, you have the U.S. News and World Report College Rankings—Best Global Universities Rankings

Interest-based lists

If you are interested in a certain type of school, U.S. News also offers a variety of best university lists based on your interest. Some examples include:

  • National Liberal Arts Colleges
  • Undergraduate Business Programs
  • Computer Science Programs for Undergraduates
  • Undergraduate Engineering Programs
  • Historically Black Colleges and Universities

If you have a more specific interest, U.S. News provides sub-lists of colleges for certain academic disciplines. For example, if you want to study computer science and work in game/simulation development, U.S. News provides a list of schools with programs emphasizing game programming within a core computing education. These individual lists mean there’s a bit more to breaking down the best universities rankings than it first appears!

Student experience lists

You can also find college rankings for non-academic factors related to the student experience. These lists of colleges include:

  • First-Year Experiences
  • Study Abroad
  • Campus Ethnic Diversity
  • Least Debt
  • Co-ops/Internships
  • Undergraduate Research/Creative Projects

While you may not think these lists are as important when you start your search for the best university, be sure to check them out. These types of lists can round out the offerings of each of the best universities. In this, they can provide more holistic context on the campus experience. 

Financial lists

Another factor to consider as you look at the best colleges in the US is “return on investment.” This is how well your investment of money and time in a university will pay off after you graduate. Often, the best colleges in the world are also the most expensive, leaving students with high amounts of debt. On the other hand, these schools are often also the best academic colleges. So, graduates can take advantage of the alumni networks of these prestigious universities to seek out employment prospects. 

Some of the most elite colleges are both expensive and are not the best college for academics. If you have financial backing and feel these elite colleges are a good fit, feel free to apply. But if not, it’s better to find top US universities that are more financially viable. 

For more information about applying for financial aid, click here

Specialized lists

Similarly, there are a variety of Forbes college rankings available. If you are looking for a more specialized type of institution, Forbes’ lists of colleges include:

  • America’s Best Value Colleges
  • Top Liberal Arts Colleges
  • Forbes Top Public Universities
  • Top Research Universities

Rather than splitting them into separate lists, Forbes gives you the option to add filters to their overall top college rankings. This allows you to narrow down their list by specific criteria, including:

  • Location (by state)
  • School size (small, medium, large)
  • Campus setting (rural, suburban, urban)
  • Type of institution (public vs private)

How are colleges ranked?

IIn order to understand how these lists of colleges are created, it is important to know how outlets like U.S. News and World Report, Wall Street Journal, and Forbes calculate their college rankings.

Top college rankings are based on a variety of factors. This can include information about a school’s academics, financial aid, graduation rates, and more. Although the data points for any given university should be the same on any list, different lists use different formulas to calculate their college rankings.

Inside Forbes college rankings

For example, Forbes college rankings consider a variety of factors—including how many graduates of a given school made it onto their Forbes American Leaders List, as well as financial metrics—to calculate the top universities in USA. In particular, the Forbes college rankings use the metrics below to determine the top US universities:

  • Alumni Salary (20%)
  • Student Debt (15%)
  • Return On Investment (15%)
  • Graduation Rate (15%) 
  • Forbes American Leaders List (15%)
  • Retention Rate (10%)
  • Academic Success (10%)

These factors are unique to Forbes and aren’t used in other top college rankings, such as U.S. News. So, there will be a bit of variety among the best university rankings. This list shows that 65% of the factors in Forbes college rankings relate to students’ finances or future prospects. 

As you compile your list of “best universities,” consider whether finances are an important or necessary factor for you. If they are, the Forbes college rankings will be a great resource to find list of best universities in USA for your needs. However, if finances are not a priority in building your college list, perhaps some other reputable college lists will be better for you.

As you choose which college rankings to rely on, check out the “Where can I find lists of colleges” section of this guide. There, we explore US college rankings which use different kinds of criteria to calculate the best universities in the USA. Now, let’s look at U.S. News and World Report rankings and discuss why they might be a good source of college rankings to consider as you build your college list.

Are U.S. News college rankings reliable?

When it comes to academics, the U.S. News and World Report college rankings are largely reliable. However, they also don’t account for a student’s individual experience. So, you shouldn’t base your college decisions off of the U.S. News college rankings alone. As we’ve seen, college rankings are calculated based on a variety of factors including graduation rates, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, and more. 

Let’s break down the U.S. News college rankings in detail to help you understand how they’re created and what you can learn from them. For nearly four decades, U.S. News has published lists of the best universities in the US and best liberal arts colleges in the country. These rankings offer useful information that helps inform students during the college process. U.S. News also provides a breakdown of how they calculate their top college rankings and where their data comes from.

For the 2021-2022 academic year, the U.S. News college rankings were largely based on information gathered in the spring and summer of 2021. However, since some schools have recently adopted test-optional policies, testing data may come from earlier years. 

The U.S. News college rankings for best universities are calculated using 17 indicators of academic quality across nine college ranking factor categories.

U.S. News and World Report ranking factor categories:

  • Graduation and retention rates: the rate of first-year students who remain after their first year and the average six-year graduation rate 
  • Social mobility: Pell Grant graduation rates, outcomes upon graduation for Grant recipients
  • Graduation performance: statistics regarding employment for graduates
  • Undergraduate academic reputation: assessment of academics through surveys
  • Faculty resources: class size, faculty compensation, and student-faculty ratio 
  • Student selectivity: acceptance rate, SAT/ACT scores, high school class standing in top 10%
  • Financial Resources: calculated per student based on endowment and number of students
  • Alumni: average alumni giving rate
  • Graduate indebtedness: average amount that students owe in loans upon graduation

Most schools (85%) included in the U.S. News college rankings directly submitted information to the U.S. News and World Report. This data was then compared to previous years’ submissions and third-party data when available. This indicates a very comprehensive ranking of the best universities, based on the amount of data that U.S. News assesses each year.

Ensuring accuracy

If a school didn’t directly provide information, U.S. News used data from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard and the National Center for Education Statistics. To ensure accuracy, U.S. News then cross-references the data that schools submit. U.S. News also asks schools to provide an attestation from a top academic official to ensure the accuracy of their reports. Schools that didn’t include this attestation still appear in the U.S. News college rankings but have an added footnote.

Although the U.S. News college rankings are created using verified data, it is important to consider what that data represents. For example, the average alumni giving rate is reported to measure “student satisfaction and post-graduate engagement.” However, this number doesn’t account for factors like the amount individual alumni contributed or how these funds impacted student life. 

So, rather than simply relying on the U.S. News college rankings, take time to understand the data behind the college rankings. U.S. News and World Report can’t tell you what you need in a school, so don’t get hung up on numbers. Instead, use college rankings simply as one tool to help you find the best colleges for you.

What are the Forbes rankings based on?

For the last thirteen years, Forbes has published their own top college rankings. As we touched on above, the Forbes college rankings aim to emphasize student outcomes over schools’ reputations. Their selection and ranking process uses the Carnegie Classification to create a pool of institutions that they consider the best universities. These include doctoral research universities, master’s universities and colleges, baccalaureate colleges, and colleges that provide specialized four-year programs in engineering, business, and art. Forbes then evaluates these schools across a variety of factors in order to determine the best university.

The Forbes college rankings use 11 indicators of future success. Their ranking factors span across seven categories:

  • Alumni Salary
  • Debt
  • Return on Investment
  • Graduation Rate
  • Forbes American Leaders List
  • Retention Rate
  • Academic Success

To build the Forbes college rankings, Forbes uses data from The College Scorecard, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, PayScale, Third Way, the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, and two federal databases that track student outcomes.

How do the Wall Street Journal college rankings compare?

It is clear that US college rankings all use different criteria. So, you might not see certain schools listed across rankings of the best colleges in the world or top universities in USA. In fact, some schools can appear in very different places on different “best colleges” lists. This can make it hard to compare their strengths and weaknesses and determine what are the best colleges in the USA or world and find the best university for you. 

Fortunately, the Wall Street Journal college rankings offer another approach to understanding the best colleges in the USA. The Wall Street Journal college rankings are a good example of college rankings which judge the best colleges in the US based on a wide range of different factors. In particular, the WSJ compiles its college rankings based on 15 factors across four different categories.

Wall Street Journal college ranking criteria:

  1. Resources (30%)
  2. Engagement (20%)
  3. Outcomes (40%)
  4. Environment (10%)

In addition to their college rankings, the Wall Street Journal also provides a solution to the problem of comparing best universities!

Comparing best colleges

They have a college comparison tool, which allows you to enter the names of two best colleges and receive a category-by-category comparison of how they measure up. The Wall Street Journal’s tool offers you information on each college—its position in the Wall Street Journal college rankings, value for money, student debt, tuition fees, etc. 

Tools like this let you do targeted research on your best colleges. Longer lists like the U.S. News and World Report college rankings help you get an overview of the best colleges in the world and top universities in the USA. But this WSJ tool is helpful for when you’ve decided your personal shortlist of best universities. It helps you weigh specific factors to decide which is the best university from your list.


Finally, this Wall Street Journal college rankings comparison tool is a great resource because it uses such an array of metrics, both financial and academic. Unlike the Forbes college rankings, which is finance- and prospects-focused, the Wall Street Journal college rankings factor in resources, outcomes, and environment. Find out more about what the metrics in the Wall Street Journal college rankings mean here.

Now that we’ve covered how college rankings from U.S. News and World Reports, Forbes, and Wall Street Journal are decided, let’s look at actual lists of the best colleges in the US.

College rankings: a few words of caution

When you type “best universities in the world,” “top 10 universities in the USA,” or “hardest colleges to get into” into your search engine, you will find vast numbers of “top college rankings” out there. Be aware that many of these lists of colleges were not compiled by impartial sources with rigorous research methods. 

Some sites may claim a certain school is the “best university” purely because they have a financial connection to the school. Others generate poorly researched lists of colleges just to make money from advertisers when you visit their “Top 10 universities in the USA” site.  

Therefore, our advice as you look for the top universities in USA is to stick to authoritative sources only. Many of those have been discussed in this “Best Colleges in the US & Best Universities in the World” guide, and include:

  • The U.S. News and World Report College Rankings
  • Forbes College Rankings
  • Wall Street Journal College Rankings

For a longer list of trusted sources for the top universities in the USA, check out this guide.

So far, we’ve covered how college rankings from U.S. News and World Reports, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal are determined, and cautioned you against trust just any old list of colleges. Now, let’s look at actual lists of the best colleges in the US from based on our research.

Navigating college rankings is hard. You don’t have to do it alone. Register today to create your free account and connect with one of CollegeAdvisor.com’s 300+ Admissions Experts and former Admissions Officers. They’ll help you navigate college rankings to build the college list of your dreams. Jumpstart your admissions journey today!


best colleges

What are the best colleges in the US? 

No matter what stage of the college process you are in, you’ve likely thought about college rankings. They are an excellent place to start when crafting your college list. With almost 4,000 post-secondary institutions in the US, and over 1,400 ranked annually, it can be daunting to decide which of the best colleges in the US are for you. Also, there are many changes to the college admissions process due to COVID-19: shifts in standardized testing, virtual instead of in-person campus tours, and many other factors. However, one thing hasn’t changed: the schools that rank among the best colleges in the US. 

You may be wondering, “How do college rankings affect my college application process?” In short, rankings can tell you how competitive a school’s admissions process will be. They can also indicate your odds of admission to the best university of your choice. If you look at a list of top universities in the USA, you’ll notice that they pride themselves on low acceptance rates. These top 10 universities in the USA accept less than 10% of tens of thousands of applicants. One of the top 10 universities in the USA, therefore, will be far more competitive than one in the top 100 universities in the US college rankings.  

Top sources

As we discussed earlier, the most well-recognized source for ranking the top US universities is the U.S. News and World Report rankings of National Universities, with Princeton, Columbia, Harvard, and MIT topping the charts. In contrast, Forbes’ list is topped by a public institution, the University of California at Berkeley, and followed by Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and Columbia.

The Wall Street Journal sees the 2022 Best Colleges in the US differently. On their list, Harvard, Stanford, and MIT are at the top of the US college rankings. Finally, Niche ranks the top colleges in the USA with an entirely different set of criteria that produces a unique order. In this section, we will cover each of these lists to give you an idea of the top 10 universities in the USA. Take each list of the best colleges in the US with a grain of salt, as each source uses different criteria. 

In other words, just because a school is among the top US universities doesn’t mean that it should top your own college list. For insights from an admissions officer on how to build a college list, click here. Creating a strong college list is one of the most important tasks you will complete during your admissions process. For more on how to solidify your college list, watch our webinar.

Keep reading to learn about the top 10 universities in the USA, how to increase your admissions odds at the country’s best colleges, and how to find the best university for you.

What are the top 10 colleges in the US?

The Forbes college rankings, the U.S. News college rankings, and the Wall Street Journal college rankings each offer comprehensive lists of colleges. These include the top 100 universities in the USA. Unlike the Forbes college rankings, U.S. News reports ties between schools, so we’ve included the top 12 colleges tied for spots in the top 10. 

The top 10 colleges in the US according to U.S. News’ Best National University Rankings are:

  • #1 Princeton University
  • #2 Columbia University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • #5 Yale University
  • #6 Stanford University, #6 University of Chicago
  • #8 University of Pennsylvania
  • #9 California Institute of Technology, Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern University

The top 10 colleges in the US according to Forbes’ America’s Top Colleges List 2021 are:

  • #1 University of California, Berkeley
  • #2 Yale University
  • #3 Princeton University
  • #4 Stanford University
  • #5 Columbia University
  • #6 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • #7 Harvard University
  • #8 University of California, Los Angeles
  • #9 University of Pennsylvania
  • #10 Northwestern University 

The top 10 universities in USA according to WSJ/THE 2022 College Rankings List are:

  • #1 Harvard University
  • #2 Stanford University
  • #3 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • #4 Yale University
  • #5 Duke University
  • #6 Brown University
  • #7 California Institute of Technology
  • #8 Princeton University
  • #9 John Hopkins University
  • #10 Northwestern University

The U.S. News college rankings, Forbes college rankings, and Wall Street Journal college rankings include hundreds of schools. This makes them great resources if you want to learn about the top 100 universities in the USA.

Rankings can give you a solid sense of the top universities in USA. However, keep in mind that the US college rankings are not the most important element of your college list. Factors such as location, available majors, cost of attendance, size, and campus culture play a more important role in which schools you consider your top universities in the USA. So, look beyond the top 100 universities in the USA as you build your college list. 

The U.S. News rankings don’t take qualitative factors into consideration, such as student satisfaction and quality of campus life; they are based solely on the numbers. So, while a school may not make the U.S. News and World Report best university rankings, it may be worth considering based on other factors. 

On the other hand, some lists of best universities—such as the Wall Street Journal college rankings—do attempt to quantify student experience.  When the WSJ explains its method for choosing the best colleges, it turns out 20% of the college rankings is based on “engagement”—how well the schools “inform, inspire and challenge students.” So, you can use some US college rankings as a starting indication for student experience. Still, further research is essential.  

best colleges in the us

What college has the best academics?

When you are selecting among the best universities, academics are a key factor. “Which schools have the best academic programs?” you might wonder. The simple answer is that it depends on what you want to study. In truth, no ONE college has the best academics for every field. 

There are U.S. News college rankings of the best academic colleges for specific majors. These U.S. News college rankings list the best academic colleges for undergraduate business programs, computer science programs, engineering programs, nursing programs, and more. 

If you’re looking to find the best college for academics, you may want to look more specifically at the subjects that interest you. Some schools might not feature in lists of “Top 10 universities in USA” or even “Top 100 universities in the USA,” but they will be among the best universities for certain programs of study. Meanwhile, other schools are both the best academic colleges overall and they’re the best university in a specific field. So, think beyond the top 10 universities in USA as you craft your college list. 

Because deciding the best academic colleges can be a bit of a broad categorization, both Forbes and U.S. News do not rank the best college for academics overall. Rather, they create general “Top Universities in USA” lists, which we have copied above. Numerous different factors, including academics, go into curating these “top US universities” lists each year. However, if you are looking for the #1 best college for academics, you won’t find that ranking on either of those websites. 

Niche, on the other hand, does create a specific list of the best academic colleges. View their complete “2022 Colleges with the Best Academics in America” list here. The top ten best academic colleges on the list are: 

The top ten best academic colleges on the list are: 

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  2. Harvard University
  3. Stanford University
  4. Yale University
  5. Princeton University
  6. University of Chicago
  7. Brown University
  8. Duke University
  9. Dartmouth College
  10. Columbia University

As you can see, there is a lot of overlap between the lists of the best university overall and the best college for academics, but they are not identical. All of the best universities overall will have some of the best academic programs. So, if that’s a key factor for you, consider applying to the best universities for academics listed above. 

You might wonder which metrics are used to produce these lists of “top US universities for academics.” In this article, Niche explains that it calculates its list of best universities for academics using a number of factors.

The most important factors in this case are: 

  1. Acceptance rate
  2. Professor grade (including awards won by faculty, student-faculty ratio, and student surveys regarding professor quality)
  3. Student surveys on academics
  4. Admissions yield
  5. Diversity grade

From this list, we can see that what makes the best universities for academics is partly tied to what makes them the hardest colleges to get into—the acceptance rate. After this, the quality of teaching has the greatest impact on what makes a college one of the top universities in USA for academics. 

If you’re curious about the best university for specific programs, you can turn to the U.S. News college rankings for individual best academic programs. Once again, it is essential that you do research on the best colleges in the world or top US universities for your intended major or area of interest. Don’t limit yourself to lists of overall best universities in the US or best colleges in the world. These best colleges lists will only give you a broad academic overview, not the granular detail needed to find the best university for you.  

Wondering how to get into the best college for academics? Start by demonstrating a passion for the academic field of your choice, and be sure to maintain a high GPA. When applying to the best academic colleges, you want to prove that academics matter to you.

What is the top college in the US?

As you can see from the lists above, no college consistently ranks #1 on the list of top universities in the USA. The verdict on the #1 school among top US universities depends on which list you look at. It also varies from year to year. For those who are looking at top US universities for liberal arts, the rankings of large public research universities will be less relevant. For students looking for how to get into the best university for research, start by focusing on rankings of larger schools that offer research opportunities. 

Ultimately, all that matters is which of the best colleges in the US is best for you. Many factors contribute to rankings. The top US universities – particularly the top 10 universities in the USA – are the most competitive for admission. Each of the best colleges in the US receives tens of thousands of applications each year, and many very qualified applicants are rejected each cycle. The number of students who apply to college is growing each year, particularly the number of applicants to the best universities in the USA. That means the top 10 universities in the USA are “reach” schools for everyone!

Keep reading this guide to learn more about increasing your chances of getting into the top universities in the USA, tips on how to get into the best college, and how to find your ideal fit. 

For more information on Top US universities, check out this video from The Wall Street Journal on 2022 Top Colleges.

What are my chances of getting into the best colleges? 

When considering how to get into the best university, know that each of the best universities has a different process for how they select admitted students. You can take a look at each school’s website to learn more details about the admissions process, if they offer any guidelines on the selection process, or if they review holistically. For example, check out Yale’s page on what admissions looks for, or check out MIT’s open application review process. Pages like these from admissions will tell you exactly how to get into the best college of your choice. Be sure to research the admissions process for each of the best universities on your list. This can help you decide what to highlight in your application.

You should also pay attention to the acceptance rates listed for the best university of your choice. Schools that are high up in the U.S. News or Forbes’ rankings will likely have single-digit acceptance rates, indicating their exclusivity. For example, Princeton admitted just 4.4% of applicants to their class of 2025. Stanford had a 3.9% acceptance rate for their class of 2025. Harvard’s acceptance rate for the class of 2025 was 4.0%. These low numbers will make each of the best universities a “reach” school for every candidate applying. Your “how to get into the best university” strategy should be strong and well thought-out if you are applying to any of these schools. 

Don’t forget safety schools

Because of these statistics, no matter which of the best universities interests you, you should make sure to apply to a few “safety” schools as well. There is no easy route to acceptance into the best universities in the country. However, with a strong application and a compelling personal narrative, you will have a good shot at acceptance.

When thinking about how to get into the best college, be sure to do research on each school to improve your application. And, no matter what, you want to end up at the best university for you; don’t just attend a school because it is highly ranked. The most important thing about the school that you ultimately attend is that it’s the best university for you, academically, socially, and financially.

What can I do to increase my chances of getting into the best colleges?

There is no golden ticket for admission to the best universities in the USA. However, if you’re wondering how to get into the best university, there are several strategies for maximizing your chances of being accepted to the best colleges in the US.

Start early

Creating a plan for academic success early in high school is key to being accepted to the top US universities. During your freshman year, map out a plan to take challenging, rigorous courses. Stay focused on your academics so you achieve strong grades while balancing your course load. 

Elite colleges don’t just care about how you do in your classes—they also care about which classes you take. The best colleges in the US want to see that you’ve taken advantage of every opportunity available to you. So, if your school offers AP or IB classes, take them—this will increase your odds of getting into the best colleges in the world. AP and IB classes will also boost your GPA, which will help you stand out at elite colleges. The stronger your academic profile, the more likely you are to be accepted into the best colleges in the US. 

To stand out at the best universities in the world, you should also think ahead about course selection. Note that the top US universities often regard taking calculus in high school as a benchmark for academic rigor. It is most important to take calculus if you are applying as a STEM major or to any of the top 10 universities in the USA. Also, most engineering programs require students to take both calculus and physics during high school. Planning your courses early in high school will enable you to take the necessary classes before graduation that will demonstrate academic rigor to the best colleges in the US. Taking challenging classes will also indicate that you can succeed at the best academic colleges, should you choose to apply.

Want some tips on course selection? Check out our webinar on how to select your high school classes. 

best colleges

Maximizing your standardized test scores for the best colleges in the US

Another key way to impress the lowest acceptance rate colleges is through standardized testing. High SAT/ACT scores can bolster your academic profile and help you show the best colleges in the US that you would succeed in a rigorous academic environment. 

To match the average SAT/ACT scores for the top universities in the USA, start preparing early. The best colleges in the US tend to have high average SAT and ACT scores. So, to stand out at elite colleges, start studying for the SAT or ACT by the beginning of your junior year. Take the PSAT in your sophomore and junior year if you can—that way, you’ll know where to focus your studying as you prepare to apply to the best colleges in the US. 

However, when it comes to standing out at the best colleges in the US, testing isn’t everything. Many top US universities have recently changed their testing policies. Many of the hardest colleges to get into no longer require students to submit SAT/ACT scores. If you have strong scores, you should still submit them, as they can boost your odds at the lowest acceptance rate colleges. Still, you should ensure you stand out to the best colleges in the US in other ways. 

If you did not meet your full potential at the beginning of high school, there is always an opportunity to improve. The best colleges in the US value growth and an upward trend in your grades. The top US universities place an emphasis on your junior year grades. Especially if you are looking to get into schools with the best academic programs, you should strive for high grades. 

Consider priority deadlines

If you are applying to top US universities by their early action, early decision, or priority deadlines, schools will If you are applying to top US universities by their Early Action, Early Decision, or priority deadlines, schools will look at the grades for your most recently completed semester. If you are planning to apply to some of the best colleges in the US but need time to improve your grades or scores, consider applying by the Regular Decision deadline. This will allow you to demonstrate strong academic achievement to the top universities in the USA during the fall of your senior year.

Keep in mind that at some of the best colleges in the US, the Early Action or Early Decision acceptance rate is considerably higher. So, as you plan your application strategy, research the acceptance rates at the elite colleges on your list. This can increase your chances of acceptance to the best colleges in the US. 

Early Decision vs. Regular Decision

The difference between ED and RD acceptance rates often comes down to the best colleges in the US’s desire to increase their yield rates—if you get in, schools want you to attend. However, some of the schools at the top of the U.S. News and World Report college rankings (including Harvard and Stanford) tend not to accept more students in the non-binding EA round. Instead, these schools rely on their prestige to increase their yield rates. So, at some of the most prestigious universities, the differences between the ED and RD acceptance rates are negligible—this includes many of the top 10 universities in the USA. 

However, at some of the best colleges in the US, this difference can be massive—as much as 20%. This is often the case at the schools that top the U.S. News and World Report college rankings for liberal arts colleges. So, if you’re wondering how to get into the best colleges in the US, you should look at these statistics. Applying early might be the key to getting into one of the top universities in the USA.

Whether you’re a freshman or a senior in high school, watch our webinar below to learn how to create your college application timeline and help you plan how to get into the best college.

Learn about the best universities in the USA beyond the US college rankings

The U.S. News and World Report college rankings are a great starting place for your college research. However, the US college rankings can only tell you so much about the best colleges in the US. There is a lot more to learn about each school! 

Our webinars and articles by CollegeAdvisor’s Admissions Experts are a great way to learn about potential schools for your list at any stage in the process. Whether you are a freshman or senior, you have a lot to learn! We’re here to help you find the best universities for you. 

Additionally, each individual college’s website is a great resource to help you learn more about the top US universities. Look beyond the surface. The homepage of each of the best colleges in the US has basic information and lots of marketing material. Academic department pages, websites of clubs or organizations, and curriculum catalogs also offer helpful details. As you learn about the top US universities, take notes! They will come in handy when you are writing supplemental essays for why you want to attend the top 10 universities in the USA. 

Researching your intended major at the best universities in the USA is undoubtedly important. However, you should also research the many other activities you could join at each university. Have more questions? Click here to watch a webinar with former Admissions Officer Mark Seamon on how to research colleges beyond academics.

best colleges in the us

Differentiate yourself

As an applicant to the best colleges in the US, it may feel nearly impossible to stand out. However, there are many ways to show the top universities in the USA what makes you special. First and foremost, be authentic when choosing what activities to get involved with in high school. 

The top universities in the USA value students who are genuine. Instead of trying to guess which extracurriculars, internships, or service projects would impress the best universities in the USA, choose those that you are most excited about. Be true to yourself and you will not only convey your sincerity, but also, you’ll actually enjoy the classes, activities, and endeavors you’re pursuing. This will make you stand out in admissions processes for each of the best universities. 

Want to learn more about tailoring your extracurriculars to your college application? Check out our article to get tips on improving your “how to get into the best university” strategy.

Be a leader

Another way to differentiate yourself from your high school peers when preparing to apply to the best universities in the USA is to be a leader. Perhaps this takes the form of an appointed leadership position in a club or organization at your school. Maybe you were voted into student government by your peers. Or, maybe you just helped your peers master a skill. Informal leadership positions are equally impressive when applying to the top universities in the USA. 

Informal leadership means that you are being a leader among your peers—regardless of your “title.” For instance, you could demonstrate leadership on a sports team during a game, volunteer by tutoring other students at your school, or initiate a fundraiser in a club in which you are a member. These methods of demonstrating leadership impress college admissions officers. The best colleges in the US are looking for students who show initiative and willingness to take on responsibility. Leadership will be a key part of planning how to get into the best college.

Develop a passion project

At CollegeAdvisor, we recommend pursuing a passion project as a way to elevate your application, particularly for the top 10 universities in the USA. The purpose of passion projects is two-fold. First, remember that high school should help you find your path forward both in college and your future career. Some ideas for passion projects include organizing a fundraiser, creating original work such as a book, film, or website, starting a business or charity, and taking an online course to further your hobbies or interests. All of these will catch the eye of admissions officers from the best universities in the USA. 

Watch the webinar linked here to learn more about impressing the best colleges in the US with your passion project. In this webinar, you will learn more about how to decide on a passion project (or two!) and how to put your ideas into action. We also do a deep dive into showcasing your extracurriculars in your college applications.

During the summer, you will have more time and flexibility to pursue leadership, passion projects, internships, and jobs. Check out our guide to maximizing your summer break and making yourself stand out to top universities in the USA.

Focus on the fit

The best colleges in the US, according to the definitive US college rankings sources, are quite unique. They each have programs, opportunities, and priorities that set them apart from other selective colleges and universities. While Ivy League schools and the top 10 universities in the USA are often grouped together for the sake of rankings, you should consider the offerings of each one individually. The campus cultures also vary significantly!

The best colleges in the US aren’t the best fit for every applicant. Some are urban, while others are suburban; some place a greater emphasis on undergraduate research, but others are focused on graduate student work. One of the best ways to get the “inside scoop” is to talk to current students or alumni of each university. Visit colleges that you are seriously considering if possible, and don’t be afraid to ask questions during your tour and information session. Many colleges also offer an opportunity to interview during the application process. If you can, take advantage of this opportunity—not just to impress the school, but also to figure out if it’s the best university for you.

When creating your college list, utilize the US college rankings. However, be mindful of the many factors that contribute to rankings of the top universities in the USA. Your ultimate goal is to find the best college in the US for you!

In the next section, we’ll cover the best universities in the world: how they stack up against the best colleges in the US, and how to get into these elite schools.

Need help building a competitive admissions strategy? CollegeAdvisor.com can help! Register today to create your free account and connect with one of CollegeAdvisor.com’s 300+ Admissions Experts and former Admissions Officers. CollegeAdvisor students are 4x more likely to get into their top schools.


best colleges in the world

Best Universities in the World: A Guide to International Elite Colleges

Most students know that the United States is home to many of the world’s most prestigious universities. As an American student, it’s natural to look first at the best colleges in the US as you begin your college process. However, the US is not the only place where you can get a quality education.

Some of the lowest acceptance rate colleges are in the US, and the most prestigious universities in the US—including Harvard, MIT, and Stanford—rank among the top 10 best universities in the world. 

However, other countries boast some of the lowest acceptance rate colleges as well. This guide will introduce you to some of the best universities in the world and talk about the features that set these most prestigious universities apart.

If you’re looking to get a world-class education and experience life in a new country, an international school could be the best university for you. Keep in mind, though, that these are also some of the most prestigious universities in the world, which makes them some of the hardest colleges to get into. CollegeAdvisor.com can help you get accepted to these lowest acceptance rate colleges. Many of our advisors come from the best colleges in the world themselves, so sign up for your account to get started on learning how to get into the best university for you.

What are the best universities in the world?

You’re probably familiar with the U.S. News college rankings for the top 100 universities in the USA. However, did you know that the U.S. News and World Report college rankings also address global universities? 

The best universities in USA each have different programs that make them unique. However, if you want to go beyond the top universities in USA, you might consider these schools. The top 10 universities in USA are some of the best colleges in the world, but there are plenty of other options. 

According to the U.S. News and World Report college rankings, the best colleges in the world outside of the United States include: 

All of the above schools are among the best colleges in the world, with large populations of international students and faculty. Each one offers a world-class education in a wide variety of subjects. As such, all of them are among the most prestigious universities in the world and some of the hardest colleges to get into. 

If you attend one of these best colleges in the world, you’ll learn from elite professors who are at the forefront of their fields. At the best colleges in the world, you’ll work hard, and you’ll achieve a lot. Plus, if you attend one of the best colleges in the world outside the US, you’ll have the chance to explore a whole new environment. 

Recognize the differences

While this list of the best universities in the world is not exhaustive, it gives you a solid idea of what elite colleges are out there. As you can see, the best universities in the world can look a lot of different ways. For instance, while both Oxford and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology are among the best colleges in the world, they offer vastly different programs. 

Just because two schools top the U.S. News and World Report college rankings, then, does not mean those schools are the same. The best universities in the world for computer science, for instance, will not be the best universities in the world for English literature. So, as you look at any list of the best colleges in the world, keep your own needs in mind. After all, the best colleges in the world might not be the best colleges for you. 

best colleges

What are the hardest colleges to get into?

Selectivity is a hallmark of most elite colleges, whether in the US or abroad. The best universities in the world have strong applicants from across the world. 

The schools we discuss in this article are some of the lowest acceptance rate colleges in the world. Additionally, international students tend to be accepted at lower rates than their domestic counterparts. 

Although not all the best colleges in the world report their international acceptance rates, some of the most prestigious universities like Oxford and Cambridge have acceptance rates of around 13%. Other schools like the University of Toronto have so many independent programs that they do not calculate an overall acceptance rate.

In general, international students have a harder time getting into these lowest acceptance rate colleges. You need to have outstanding qualifications to get into the best colleges in the world. 

Because the applicant pool at these lowest acceptance rate colleges is so competitive, you need to craft a particularly strong application. Additionally, keep in mind that admissions criteria vary across different countries. Most of the best universities in the world require American students to take Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses in high school to prove that they are ready for the rigors of one of these elite schools. 

Some of the best colleges in the world also ask students to demonstrate knowledge of a foreign language. At the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, one of the most prestigious universities in the world for STEM subjects, most courses are taught in German. International students, therefore, must submit documentation that they are proficient in German.

What makes a university elite?

We’ve talked a lot about the “best colleges in the world.” But what does that mean, and what makes the best universities in the world special?

Expert faculty members

The best colleges in the world earned their rankings by attracting expert professors in their fields. At these lowest acceptance rate colleges, you can expect to learn from professors who have doctoral degrees and who have conducted cutting-edge research in their fields. In fact, one of the things that separates elite colleges from other schools is the ability for students to research alongside their professors. Because these are some of the lowest acceptance rate colleges in the world, they can give students opportunities not available at other institutions.

Research opportunities

Professors at the best universities in the world are often engaged in pioneering research. At these schools, students can get involved with these research programs even as undergraduates. At the best colleges in the world, students have the qualifications necessary to conduct these advanced research projects and become published academics alongside their professors. 

Preparation for careers

Elite colleges prepare you to join the workforce. At the best universities in the world, you can choose from a wide variety of majors or concentrations. All of these schools boast programs that help students prepare for careers in law, medicine, engineering, academia, and other fields. Employers value degrees from these most prestigious universities, which in turn helps boost their reputation and attract more qualified students.

best colleges in the world

Vibrant student life

It is no surprise that many of the best colleges in the world are located in the most exciting cities. London, Beijing, Toronto, Melbourne, and Zurich are all home to some of the best colleges in the world. Many elite colleges are located in the heart of these bustling cities. Not only does this let students access some of the greatest cultural attractions in the world, but it also gives them the chance to work with prestigious employers in these cities. 

All of these features—and many more—make international education a great option for students looking to study at the best colleges in the world. After all, these most prestigious universities offer students incredible access to academic and cultural opportunities.

High-achieving alumni

Many of the best colleges in the world boast lists of alumni that would impress any ambitious student. This is true for the schools that top the US college rankings as well as the U.S. News and World Report college rankings for global universities. For instance, famous people from Margaret Atwood to Matt Damon attended Harvard—one of the best universities in USA. The best colleges in the US and the world tend to have vast alumni networks that support students long after their time on campus has ended. So, if you attend one of these elite colleges, you’ll enter a well-connected network filled with experts from all fields. 

World-class school facilities

The best universities in the world are also centers for groundbreaking research. So, it goes without saying that these elite colleges also have elite facilities. Many of the best colleges in the US have massive libraries filled with documents you can’t access anywhere else. The best universities in the world are also home to labs and other centers of innovation used by students and professors alike. 

Competitive application process

Since the best colleges in the world offer so much, it should come as no surprise that these elite colleges are some of the hardest colleges to get into. Often, the best universities in the world are also the lowest acceptance rate colleges. The acceptance rates at the best colleges in the world can drop as low as 3%. So, if you want to get into the schools that top the US college rankings or the lists of the best colleges in the world, you should do all you can to stand out. 

What is a good world ranking for a university?

The best universities in the world we describe in this guide are highly ranked, both in their home countries and internationally. The hardest colleges to get into are all among the top 30 best colleges in the world. 

All of these schools appear among the top three schools in their home countries. Behind the United States, the United Kingdom has the second-most schools in the world’s top 20 rankings. These schools include Oxford, Cambridge, and University College London. Australia has two colleges in the top 30 world rankings (the University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney). Other countries—including Switzerland, Canada, and China—have their top-ranked domestic university in this list of elite colleges.

Best Colleges–Beyond ranking

However, don’t get too hung up on these rankings. You can get a world-class education at any of the most prestigious universities in the world, whether it is ranked 1st or 21st. So, you should focus on finding the best university that suits your interests and academic goals. Oxford and Cambridge Universities offer a wide variety of humanities-centered programs in a small college town setting. On the other hand, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Tsinghua University are among the best universities in the world for engineering programs. The University of Toronto and the University of Melbourne, by contrast, boast several different campus locations, each with a different focus. 

So, whatever experience you’re looking to get, you can find it at one of the best colleges in the world. Below we’ll provide some additional information about each of the elite colleges mentioned earlier in this guide.

What are the most elite universities?

In this section, we’ll walk you through some of the best universities in the world outside of the US. Each of these most prestigious universities offers something different than its peers. So, if you’re looking to attend elite colleges outside of the US, these schools might be right for you. 

Each school on this list ranks in the top 35 in the U.S. News and World Report college rankings for best global universities. However, college rankings don’t tell you everything. That’s why we’ve broken down these schools to help you learn what makes them unique. 

Oxford University

One of the hardest colleges to get into in the world, Oxford University is located in Oxfordshire in the Midlands region of England. Founded in the 13th century, Oxford is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the English-speaking world. Now, it is home to more than 30 individual colleges, each of which offers students a wide variety of academic programs.

The heart of an Oxford education lies in its tutorials—small, personalized classes between two or three students and their tutor, who is an expert in their field of study. These tutorials offer students individualized attention from their instructors. However, Oxford students also study in seminars, labs, and other more traditional classes. This style of education is very different from that offered by elite colleges in the US.

Oxford is home to over 40,000 students, with nearly a third of the city’s population aged 30 or below. And if that weren’t enough, London is only an hour away by train. Oxford is one of the most prestigious universities out there, and any student wanting to attend one of the UK’s most elite colleges should consider Oxford.

Cambridge University

You might call Cambridge the rival university to Oxford in the UK. Both schools are among the best universities in the world, and they are located just two hours apart. While Oxford barely beats Cambridge in the rankings of the best universities in the world, Cambridge is a fantastic school in its own right. With over 700 student societies, Cambridge truly has a place for everybody, no matter your background or interest.

Cambridge offers supervisions that are very similar to Oxford’s tutorials. This means that your education will consist mostly of conversations between you and your supervisor, accompanied by at most two other students. The supervisor reads and evaluates your work, critiques your arguments, and helps you develop your opinions about your chosen field.

University College London

While Cambridge and Oxford offer education in the seclusion of a historic and charming college town, University College London is located in the heart of central London. Their research-based curriculum makes them one of the best colleges in the world—they immerse their students in research opportunities from their first term through graduation. UCL also has over 40,000 students on its campus. This level of accessibility makes UCL one of the best universities in the world.

best universities in the world

University of Toronto

You don’t have to travel to a different continent in order to find one of the best universities in the world. The University of Toronto is located right across the US border in Ontario’s capital city of Toronto. The school’s three distinct campuses offer students a wide range of studies and disciplines. In 2020, the University of Toronto was ranked in the top 10 best universities in the world for global employability, meaning that their graduates have an excellent chance of landing a job after graduation.

The diversity of educational opportunities at Toronto is one of the things that make them one of the most prestigious universities in the world. With over 700 majors, minors, and specialties to choose from, students can expand their knowledge with flexible options not found at most American elite colleges. The University of Toronto combines the academic range of a large public university with the personalization and diversity of a small liberal arts college, making it one of the best universities in the world for students to find their interests.

University of Melbourne

For those looking for one of the hardest colleges to get into in an exotic location, the University of Melbourne offers quality education in one of Australia’s most vibrant cities. The University of Melbourne is Australia’s leading research university and one of the best universities in the world for both graduate and undergraduate research. This university is on the cutting edge of genomics research, sustainability, and health care research, making it one of the most prestigious universities for research. 

Students can choose from one of seven different pathways (arts, biomedicine, commerce, design, fine arts, music, and science) to launch their education. Each pathway contains several different majors. Students also engage in breadth study, taking courses outside of their chosen major to explore new interests and take advantage of the programs offered by one of the world’s most prestigious universities. As one of the most prestigious universities in the world, Melbourne combines state-of-the-art research facilities with a friendly and welcoming atmosphere to create a college experience that rivals any of the lowest acceptance rate colleges out there.  

best colleges in the world

Tsinghua University

Located in the bustling metropolis of Beijing, Tsinghua University is one of the most elite colleges when it comes to science and engineering. Although these are not the only programs Tsinghua offers, they are definitely the most sought-after by top students. As one of the lowest acceptance rate colleges, admissions are extremely competitive. Students should expect courses delivered in Chinese and English. 

Tsinghua University offers special programs for particularly gifted students in disciplines such as Mathematics, Computer Science, Physics, and more. These programs are extremely competitive, making Tsinghua one of the lowest acceptance rate colleges on this list. 

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology

This STEM-focused university located in Zurich is one of the best universities in the world for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math focused disciplines. Located in the same country as the Large Hadron Collider, this university offers access to some of the finest facilities for scientific research in the world. Most students stay past their undergraduate degree to do Master’s or Doctoral studies there, making it one of the most prestigious universities in the world. The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology offers students the opportunity to launch a scientific career in one of Europe’s most elite colleges.

Imperial College London

Located in the heart of central London, Imperial College London is one of the most prestigious universities in the UK. Formerly part of the UCL system, Imperial College London became an independent university in 2007. It is home to over 17,000 students and offers programs in engineering, medicine, natural sciences, and business.

As one of the best universities in the world, Imperial College London prides itself on its research opportunities. Students at Imperial have the chance to undertake research either on-site in London or abroad at elite colleges like MIT or Seoul National University. If you want a top tier education at one of the best colleges in the world, Imperial might be the place for you. 

University of Sydney

Like the University of Melbourne, the University of Sydney is one of the best universities in Australia. The University of Sydney is located in Sydney, Australia. Founded in 1850, it is the oldest university in Australia. It is home to just under 50,000 students and features programs in a wide variety of disciplines. 

Like many of the best colleges in the world, the University of Sydney offers vast research opportunities for both undergraduates and graduate students. In fact, it hosts over 70 research centers for humanities and STEM fields alike. These include the Brain and Mind Centre, the Sydney Indigenous Research Hub, and more.

University of Edinburgh

As the best university in Scotland, the University of Edinburgh is a great option for any student hoping to attend one of the best universities in the world outside the US. Founded in 1583, the University of Edinburgh’s historic, castle-like campus is home to three colleges—arts, humanities and social science; medicine and veterinary medicine; and science and engineering. So, no matter your major, you’ll find a program at Edinburgh that fits your needs. 

All first-year students from outside Edinburgh are guaranteed housing in their first year. Students can also enroll in free six-week introductory courses in Gaelic, giving them a taste of Scotland’s linguistic and cultural history. 

What can I do to get into the best universities?

Each of the best universities is tough to get into. Unfortunately, there is no one answer to how to get into the best university of your choice. Each school on the list of best universities has a very low acceptance rate; in most cases, it is single-digit. 

As you brainstorm how to get into the best college, keep your own needs in mind. Look beyond top college rankings, and do some research. After all, the best universities in USA—or the world—are not all the same. Each of the top universities in USA is unique. 

The best university for you won’t necessarily be the school with the lowest acceptance rate or the best college for academics. The best university for you will be the one that fits you overall: this means academically, socially, and financially. 

Applying to top US universities vs. top global universities

Wondering how to get into the best university in the world? It starts with research. Just because two schools have similar college rankings does not mean that they look for the same things in the application review process. 

The best colleges in the world are also some of the hardest colleges to get into. Moreover, each of these elite colleges has its own application requirements. As you plan how to get into the best university, make sure you research these application processes carefully. 

The application process for the top universities in USA is vastly different than that for elite colleges outside the US. If you’re applying to schools like the top 10 universities in USA, you’ll likely use the Common Application. There, you’ll fill in your personal details. You’ll also submit essays and supplements that show the schools on your list who you are outside of the classroom. 

When you apply to the top 100 universities in the USA—or any top US universities—you want to show what makes you unique. You want to tell a story with your personal statement. Above all, you want to create a standout candidate profile with top-tier grades, essays, and extracurriculars. 

For many of the best universities in the world outside of the US, however, this is not the case. For instance, elite colleges in the UK like Oxford and Cambridge do not care about your extracurricular resume or your personal narrative. Instead, they simply want to see that you’ve excelled academically. The same is true for many schools in the UK. So, as you fill out your UCAS application for any UK schools, you should foreground your academic achievements rather than your non-academic extracurriculars or personal interests. 

Keeping deadlines in mind

The most prestigious universities outside the US also have different application deadlines. 

The UCAS deadline for Oxford and Cambridge is October 15—much earlier than the deadline for many top US universities. Oxford and Cambridge also require applicants to sit for additional examinations and undertake practical interviews. So, if you’re planning to apply to Oxford or Cambridge, you should start planning early. 

Several of the best universities in the world also use rolling admissions, which means you may receive a decision on your application just weeks after you submit it. 

Schools like the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne use the UAC portal. To apply, you’ll need to create an account and submit your applications by the end of September. 

Applying to the lowest acceptance rate colleges

In this guide, we’ve gone beyond the U.S. News and World Report college rankings and discussed many of the hardest colleges to get into. As the best universities in USA and the world, these schools offer a lot to their students. However, they’re also some of the hardest colleges to get into. 

Do you have your eye on one of the hardest colleges to get into? Start with thorough research. Look beyond top college rankings and focus on what each school on your list looks for in applicants. There’s no way to guarantee admission into the best universities in USA or the world. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t strategize. 

If you are looking to apply to the best universities and boost your chances of acceptance, there are several things you can do. Your “how to get into the best college” plan should start with research on each of the best universities, so you can demonstrate to the school that you are interested in them. Keep in mind that not all schools that top the U.S. News college rankings look for the same things. So, make sure that you tailor each application to the school where you’re applying. The top universities in USA look for different things than the top schools in the UK or elsewhere. 

elite colleges

Start your applications early

Start early on your application, especially the writing supplements. The application deadlines for some elite global schools are earlier than those for the top 10 universities in USA. With this in mind, make sure your research extends beyond top college rankings. Check the individual requirements for every school on your list, including additional testing or interviews. 

Aim to maintain a high GPA, and if the best university you’re applying to accepts SAT or ACT scores, prepare for those standardized tests. If the best university you are applying to offers an interview, sign up. Go on a tour to get a feel for what could be your future home. 

Get help from CollegeAdvisor

CollegeAdvisor can also help you with how to get into the best university of your choice. We have a dedicated team of advisors and resources to help you with the admissions process at the best universities. Whether you’re looking for the best academic colleges, the best universities overall, or the best university for a specific program of study, we can help you create a strong college list and craft a personal narrative for your application. We have tips, strategies, and resources for how to get into the best college of your choice. Although the acceptance rates of the best universities can be intimidating, don’t let that discourage you from applying to the school of your dreams!

Best Universities in the World: Additional Tips

If you want to attend one of these lowest acceptance rate colleges, start preparing early. Consider taking the most advanced courses your high school has to offer, and, if necessary, start learning whatever language you might need to attend these elite colleges. Finally, remember that these are some of the lowest acceptance rate colleges in the world. Plus, international admissions is often even more competitive than domestic admissions. 

Each of these elite colleges offers something special to students: a chance to learn in a different country and experience other cultures and ways of learning. The US is not the only country that boasts some of the best colleges in the world. If you think you might be interested in experiencing life abroad at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, you should explore it. And if you need help building the best possible candidate profile for these most prestigious universities, CollegeAdvisor.com is here to help.

College Rankings: Best Colleges in the US & Best Universities in the World image; a photo of students graduating from college wearing black and red gowns; collegeadvisor.com

College Rankings: Best Colleges in the US & World – Final Thoughts

In this guide, we’ve covered college rankings, U.S. News college rankings, Forbes college rankings, best colleges in the US, best universities in the world, and elite colleges. If you’re planning to attend college in the US or abroad, use this as a resource to help build a college list that meets your needs. Remember, if you’re struggling to research schools, lists of colleges can help you learn what colleges are out there. However, before you comb through the top 100 universities in the USA, start by thinking about what matters to you. You should consider variables such as location, academic offerings, diversity, etc.

It’s also important to look beyond reputation and prestige. Just because a school is named one of the best colleges in the US, or even as one of the best universities in the world, that doesn’t mean that it is the best university for you. At the end of the day, college rankings are second to your needs as a student and your growth as an individual.

Once you’ve created your own set of criteria, check out CollegeAdvisor’s list of schools and colleges and start narrowing down your choices. Create a free account on our site to research schools, build a college list, track your applications, and access admissions content.


This article was written by Caroline Marapese, Notre Dame ‘22, Alex Baggott-Rowe, Davidson ’16, and Stefanie Tedards. If you want to get help with your college applications from Alex or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expertsregister with CollegeAdvisor.com today.