The College Consensus ranking of the Best Colleges in Massachusetts combines the results of the most respected college ranking systems with the averaged ratings of thousands of real student reviews from around the web to create a unique college meta-ranking. This approach offers a comprehensive and holistic perspective missing from other college rankings. Visit our about page for information on which rankings and review sites were included in this year’s consensus rankings.
The Best Colleges & Universities in Massachusetts category is limited to schools in Massachusetts. Schools that did not qualify for a Consensus Score were ranked by their Student Review score.
If you’re interested in online-based schools, check out our ranking of the Best Online Colleges in Massachusetts. You can also find out more about college financial aid with our list of the Top Massachusetts Scholarships.
Higher Education in Massachusetts
Ranking the best colleges and universities in Massachusetts is like compiling a highlight reel of the greatest game ever played, but that also means accepting all of the sheer greatness that cannot fit. Massachusetts, after all, is where higher education in the New World began, and the commonwealth is home to the nation’s top-ranked university, top-ranked liberal arts college, top-ranked women’s college, and top-ranked polytechnic institute – across the board, Massachusetts’ colleges and universities dominate in reputation, wealth, productivity, and student satisfaction. With such an incredibly rich field to draw from, the biggest shock is the institutions that don’t even make it into the top 10 – schools that, in any other state, would be far and away the dominant name.
The Best Colleges in Massachusetts: Too Many to Name
Immortalized on NPR’s “Car Talk” (and in every movie that needs to signify “genius”), there may be no suburban city with the higher ed cred of Cambridge, MA (“Our fair city”), the home of both Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Harvard University, of course, started higher education in the US, founded long before there even was a United States, and the university has been setting the standards for university education and research in five different centuries now (the 17th to the 21st, if you’re counting). Of course, it’s been central to comedy for the last 40 years, too, thanks to the Harvard Lampoon. Not nearly as old, but every bit as influential, MIT – the world’s foremost private STEM-centered polytechnic institute – shaped the world we live in today with world-changing technology and scientific discoveries. And that’s just one suburb of Boston, the nation’s most concentrated higher education city, with more than 50 colleges in the metropolitan area (yes, New York City has more colleges, but NYC has five times the population of Boston, and four times the square mileage, so we’re calling it).
But Massachusetts also pioneered the small liberal arts college format that is New England’s signature innovation, with institutions like Williams College and Amherst College creating the model. Women’s higher education didn’t start in Massachusetts, but with institutions like Mount Holyoke College, Wellesley College, and Smith College, the commonwealth may well have perfected it, sending generations of women leaders into the world to shape the future. Massachusetts’ liberal art colleges are known for strong student support and mentorship, and for their deep wells of alumni networking and funding, but they’re also known as leaders in student life. Massachusetts colleges represent some of the best college dining halls, the best college rec centers, and the best college dorms. After all, students today expect to get what they pay for – even if, as in many of the best Massachusetts colleges, they pay nothing at all.
With all of the Ivies and Little Ivies and STEM giants, it’s easy to overlook Massachusetts’ public university system, but that would be a mistake – they’re every bit as influential and pioneering as the others. The University of Massachusetts – the premiere public research university in New England – gave America the model of the ideal college town (and the greatest alternative rock band of the 80s). Meanwhile the UMass System has spread across the state to meet the educational needs of the small cities, former industrial regions, and rural areas with the same level of educational excellence and resources that have always been Ann Arbor’s strong suit. The impact that a strong system of regional universities can make, in one of the most educated and wealthiest states in the nation, is significant; Massachusetts is the fastest-growing state in New England, and strong regional education will be a factor in closing the growing gap between the haves and the have nots.
The Future of Massachusetts’ Best Colleges
Massachusetts’ biggest challenges are the kind that face a state that has a long history of health, wealth, and education: to incorporate newcomers into what is already one of the most densely-populated states in the union; to provide educational opportunity across classes and races as the state’s demographics change; and to work extra hard to keep that history of success from becoming just history. But the people of Massachusetts, and the best colleges in Massachusetts, are on the job, just like they’ve been since Day 1 of the United States.