The Oldest Colleges in the United States

While parts of the world have had centers of learning for thousands of years, the relative youth of the United States of America has given us colleges that are only hundreds of years old. Below are some of the oldest colleges in the US that are still operating today.

As you may have guessed, all of these schools are located on the East Coast in the New England region. Formed when European settlers grew hungry for knowledge, these schools are not only the oldest, but are also some of the most prestigious in the US.

10. Columbia University


Columbia University is located in New York City, New York and is a large private university with a student population of just over 32,000. Founded in 1754 as King’s College, Columbia went through trying times during the American Revolution. The college was renamed Columbia after it reopened in 1784.  

Students wishing to be admitted to Columbia must have excellent SAT or ACT scores although most admitted students submitted SAT scores averaging 1530. College Factual ranks Columbia University at #27 in the nation.

(Image Credit: Columbia University’s Butler Library by Andrew Chen; licensed CC BY-SA-3.0)

9. Washington and Lee University

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Washington and Lee University is located in Lexington, Virginia and is a small private liberal arts university with approximately 2,200 students. Founded in 1749 as Augusta Academy, the school went through numerous name changes throughout its history. General Robert E. Lee served as the college’s president from 1865 to his death in 1870 prompting the school to change its name one last time.

Today, the school’s most popular majors include Business Administration, Accounting and Economics. College Factual ranks this school #46 in the nation.

(Image Credit: Iconic buildings of Washington and Lee University by Bobak Ha’Eri; licensed CC BY-SA-3.0)

8. Princeton University


Princeton University is located in Princeton, New Jersey and was founded as the College of New Jersey in 1746. This private school is medium sized with about 5,400 undergraduates. Albert Einstein became associated with Princeton due to his work with its partner school, the Institute for Advanced Study.

Students attending Princeton need to have a strong SAT score with the average admitted student scoring 1530. Popular majors include Computer Engineering and Economics. College Factual ranks Princeton #19 in the nation and #1 in New Jersey.

(Image Credit: Nassau Hall by Smallbones; licensed CC0)

7. University of Delaware

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The University of Delaware is a large public university located in Newark, Delaware. Founded in 1743 by a Presbyterian minister, the University wasn’t fully chartered until well after the American Revolution in 1833. Popular majors include liberal arts, finance and health. College Factual ranks the University of Delaware #90 in the nation.

With the university being public, acceptance rates are much higher compared to the private schools on this list. Students granted admission have an average SAT score of 1240.

(Image Credit: Memorial Hall by Cargoudel; licensed CC BY-SA-3.0)

6. Moravian College

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Moravian College is probably one of the few schools on this list you may not have heard of. Moravian was founded in 1742 as part of the Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and was the first girls’ boarding school in the US.

Today, Moravian is a small private college with just over 2000 students. Popular majors include nursing and business administration. College Factual ranks Moravian #459 in the nation. Students wishing to enter Moravian have an average SAT score of 1090.

(Image Credit: Colonial Hall photo courtesy of Moravian College)

5. University of Pennsylvania

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The University of Pennsylvania is a large private school located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The university has an interesting history as it was founded in 1740 by Benjamin Franklin. The school is one of the nine colonial colleges formed prior to the American Revolution.

Today, the school is known for its strong finance and business administration programs.  Students entering this university have an average SAT score of 1510. College Factual ranks University of Pennsylvania #4 in the nation.

(Image Credit: The Quad Bryan Y.W. Shin; licensed CC BY-SA-3.0)

4. Yale University


Yale University is a large private school located in New Haven Connecticut. Formed in 1701, Yale is the fourth oldest university in the United States. Named after one of its main benefactors Elihu Yale, the university was chartered by the Connecticut Colony as a school to train ministers.

Today, the school is ranked #6 in the nation by College Factual and is extremely selective when it comes to admitting students. Admitted students have an average SAT score of 1540.

(Image Credit: Yale Law School by Pradipta Mitra; licensed CC BY-SA-3.0)

3. St. John’s College


St. John’s College was originally founded in 1696 as King William’s School. The school was later absorbed as part of the chartering of St. John’s in 1785. Today, the school is a small private school located in Annapolis Maryland.

With fewer than 1000 students, the school offers only one bachelor’s degree in liberal arts along with two master’s degrees. Students wishing to enter should have an average SAT score of 1370. St. John’s College is ranked #298 in the nation.

(Image Credit: St. John’s College at Annapolis by smi23le; licensed CC BY-SA-2.0)

2. College of William and Mary


The College of William and Mary – named after King William III and Queen Mary II, was formed in 1693. The school has a lengthy history dating 75 years before the American Revolution when then King William and Queen Mary established the school in the British controlled colony of Virginia. During its first few decades, the College had educated several prominent historical figures including several presidents.

Today, the school is a medium sized public research university located in Williamsburg, Virginia with approximately 8400 students. College Factual ranks the College of William and Mary #66 in the nation.

(Image Credit: A View of the Wren Building from the Sunken Garden by Smash the Iron Cage; licensed CC BY-SA-4.0 – No alterations made)

1. Harvard University


It’s hard to imagine just how old Harvard is. Founded in 1636, Harvard is the oldest college in the United States. Some other things going on in the world around this time: Just five years earlier, the bubonic plague ravaged Italy killing off nearly 500,000 people. The Taj Mahal enters into construction in 1632 and in 1636, France enters the 30 Years’ War against the Holy Roman Empire. Harvard was formed to train puritan clergy in October 1636.

Today, Harvard is a large private university with over 20,000 students. The average SAT score of accepted students is 1540. College Factual ranks Harvard #2 in the nation just behind CalTech.

(Image Credit: Harvard College by Jacob Rus; licensed CC BY-SA-2.0)