To identify the Best Colleges in Massachusetts for 2017-2018 we averaged the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems with thousands of real student review scores from around the web to produce a unique College Consensus rating for each school. You won’t find a more comprehensive ranking of the top colleges and universities in Massachusetts anywhere. Read more about our rankings methodology and sources at our about page.
Colleges & Universities 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.
Harvard University 87 , of course, started higher education in the US, founded long before there was a United States, and setting the standards for university education and research in five different centuries now. But Massachusetts also pioneered the small liberal arts college format that is New England’s signature innovation, with institutions like Williams College 84 and Amherst College 84 creating the model. Women’s higher education didn’t start in Massachusetts, but with Mount Holyoke College 72 , Wellesley College 80 , and Smith College 81 , the commonwealth may well have perfected it, sending generations of women leaders into the world to shape the future. And institutions like MIT 86 – the world’s foremost private STEM-centered polytechnic institute – shaped the world we live in today with world-changing technology and scientific discoveries. The College Consensus Best Colleges in Massachusetts ranking is a ranking of the best of the best.
Here are the top colleges and universities of the Bay State.
For nearly four centuries, Harvard University has been the definitive university in the United States; when we say “Harvard,” it’s a shorthand for the most elite, most prestigious school imaginable. The first college chartered in America (in 1636), home of the continent’s first printing press, and the first corporation ever established in the colony, Harvard was the institution that set the standard for higher education in the US. Founded, like many other institutions, by members of the Congregationalist and Unitarian churches, Harvard’s heritage of progressive secular thought and learning has made it one of the world’s leading research institutions. With its main campus in Cambridge, MA, just outside Boston, Harvard has gradually spread throughout the Boston metro region, establishing itself as the city’s educational and cultural bedrock. Across the board, Harvard is perpetually ranked as one of the world’s foremost universities.
Harvard possesses the largest endowment of any American college, which allows the university to ensure that all students can afford their schooling; while the posted tuition is high, most students pay nothing, with all costs paid by grants, while tuition is capped for wealthier students as well. That means that anyone who can get into Harvard can go to Harvard, regardless of cost – although as one of the most selective universities in the world, getting into Harvard is the challenge. From law to medicine, the humanities to engineering, Harvard’s programs are unparalleled, and the enormous influence Harvard has held over American culture can be seen everywhere, from the many alumni who went on to the presidency (from John Adams to Barack Obama), to leaders of industry, medicine, arts, and literature.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology – better known simply as MIT – is one of the foremost STEM-centered universities in the world, a pioneer and innovator in engineering, computer science, aeronautics and aerospace, and virtually every other field of science and technology. While it was founded in 1861, the Civil War delayed opening until peacetime, when MIT was established, along with the University of Massachusetts, as a Morrill Land-Grant institution; it remains one of just a handful of private land-grant universities. MIT pursued the land-grant purpose of providing current science and technology instruction, but unlike other land-grant colleges, which emphasized agriculture and mechanical engineering, MIT emulated European polytechnic institutes, setting a precedent for the form in the US.
Today, MIT is regularly named among the top 10 universities in the world, and is recognized for research and teaching excellence in STEM, business, economics, and other fields enhanced by technology. MIT was a trailblazer in computer networking, hacking, artificial intelligence, and other wonders of the digital age, and remains one of America’s Dream Schools for students interested in science. As such, MIT is also one of the most selective institutions in the nation, with an acceptance rate below 10% (as low as 8% in some years). The majority of MIT’s students are graduate students, though undergraduate and graduate student bodies overlap a great deal, and all students are involved in intensive research in their areas. MIT’s rigor and difficulty are legendary, and heralded by students who succeed; meritocracy is central to the culture of the university, which famously refuses to issue honorary degrees, or to award graduates with honors. MIT lives and breathes excellence.
Founded in 1791, Williams College was the second college chartered in Massachusetts, and therefore one of the nation’s oldest liberal arts colleges. Originally Williams was the Williamstown Free School, but soon instituted tuition when it was officially chartered as a college by the legislature. Williams was extremely influential throughout the 19th century, establishing the American tradition of academic dress (the robes and caps worn by graduates to this day) and inspiring the American Foreign Mission Movement, after a group of students began the first American missionary organization. Williams has long been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the #1 liberal arts college in the United States, and it remains a model for undergraduate education in the humanities and sciences.
Williams College is recognized as one of the top undergraduate educators in the nation, and with its small student body (just over 2000) and incredibly low student:faculty ratio of 7:1, Williams students count on an incredibly high level of support and mentorship from their professors. All students at Williams have their complete financial needs met by the college through grants and scholarships, making Williams one of the best values in the nation, and nearly half of Williams’ student body is made up of students from a minority background. All of that support gives Williams one of the highest 4-year graduation rates in the US, giving Williams College a solid spot in the rankings as not only one of Massachusetts’s best colleges, but one of the nation’s premier educators.
Massachusetts’ third college, Amherst College began as Amherst Academy in 1814, a secondary school established for the young people of the town. In 1821, the president of Williams College took a group of students from Williams to Amherst Academy to found Amherst College, starting a long-standing rivalry between the two schools (and a persistent legend that Amherst’s library began with books stolen from Williams). Amherst was also a pioneer in transitioning liberal arts education from the classical roots of Greek, Latin, and theology, which was the standard of the time, to a modern curriculum focused on literature, contemporary languages, and the sciences; it would become the model of modern liberal arts education that continues today. Today, U.S. News & World Report ranks Amherst the #2 liberal arts college in the nation, while Forbes places it in the top 20 national colleges overall.
While Amherst College defined the modern liberal arts college, today it does not operate with a standard core curriculum, as traditional liberal arts colleges usually do. Instead, students determine their own courses in an open curriculum, and often develop their own interdisciplinary majors; Amherst was, in fact, the first college in the US to institute interdisciplinary majors. Students’ development is aided by an 8:1 student:faculty ratio, which gives faculty more ability to guide students. Amherst is also part of the Five College Consortium, which allows students to take courses at Amherst and four other partners in the area – Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Hampshire Colleges, and UMass Amherst. This consortium adds to the opportunity Amherst students enjoy, and helps make Amherst College one of Massachusetts’ leading colleges.
The most prestigious and influential women’s college in the US, Wellesley College was founded in 1870 as the Wellesley Female Seminary, a school designed to prepare young women for the changes in society spurred by the progress of the 19th century women’s rights movement. One of the original Seven Sisters – a loosely-organized group of New England women’s colleges that traditionally paired with the Ivy League men’s colleges – Wellesley was historically associated with Harvard University and MIT. While other women’s colleges became coeducational in the 20th century, Wellesley remains all-women, and is considered the most powerful, influential women’s institution in the nation, sustained by the highest endowment of any women’s college and an alumni list that includes national and international leaders.
Wellesley is ranked as the #3 liberal arts college in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, and its excellence as an undergraduate educator is recognised by publications including Forbes, the Princeton Review, and Washington Monthly. With a student:faculty ratio of 7:1, Wellesley is known for intensive undergraduate research and faculty support for students; more than 50 official majors are available, though many students develop their own interdisciplinary degrees. While Wellesley has historically been affiliated with Harvard and MIT, the college also cross-lists with Brandeis University, Olin College, and Babson College, in addition to offering dual degree programs in engineering with MIT and Olin College. Students at Wellesley don’t just have access to excellent undergraduate education – they have access to a heritage that makes women into world leaders, industry giants, and cultural transformers.
The largest of the Seven Sisters, Smith College is a prestigious women’s college founded in 1871 in the will of philanthropist Sophia Smith, who used her considerable inherited wealth to promote women’s education that could stand equal to men’s opportunities. Smith is also part of the Five Colleges Consortium, along with Amherst College (#4 above), Smith’s historically-affiliated partner. Smith’s alumni includes pioneering leaders in the women’s movement like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, national and international business leaders, and cultural influencers like Julia Child and Sylvia Plath. U.S. News & World Report ranks Smith the #12 liberal arts college in the US, while Kiplinger’s has consistently called Smith a best value.
Smith is largely an undergraduate institution, though coed graduate programs include teaching and biology master’s degrees. Though Smith is classed with small liberal arts colleges – and has the 9:1 student:faculty ratios, small classes, and individualized attention associated with the form – Smith has made a name as a STEM educator. Smith was the first women’s college of offer an engineering degree, and the Center for Women in Mathematics attracts female students from around the nation for a special 1-year program to improve the standing of women in the mathematics field. Interdisciplinary research, collaboration, and leadership are central to Smith’s curriculum and philosophy, and the results are clear – 70% of graduates go straight into their careers, while 25% go on to graduate school.
College of the Holy Cross
Founded in 1843 by the Society of Jesus, the College of the Holy Cross is the oldest Catholic college in New England, and one of the first Jesuit schools in the US; its diplomas were originally issued by Georgetown University, the first Catholic college. The college was meant to be built in Boston, but conflicts with the largely Protestant city leadership pushed the church to move the college to Worcester, which was then still largely countryside, where the college could operate freely. Holy Cross has been highly influential in Massachusetts, as well as in the Catholic Church; it has traditionally been one of the largest educators of American Catholic clergy, including the nation’s first African-American bishop.
Holy Cross is the only Catholic college in U.S. News & World Report’s top 50 national liberal arts colleges, and has been regularly named a best value by Kiplinger’s. With its foundations in the Jesuit tradition, College of the Holy Cross puts a distinct focus on faith and service, as well as intense intellectual and academic rigor. Holy Cross’ curriculum is rooted in the traditional liberal arts, building on the values and freedom of the humanities, while service learning and community engagement projects are central to the college’s mission. With a 9:1 student:faculty ratio, Holy Cross has the support and mentorship associated with the small liberal arts college heritage, and one of the highest graduation rates in the nation – as well as 91% acceptance for graduates entering medical and law schools – demonstrates why College of the Holy Cross is one of Massachusetts’ top colleges.
Named for Charles Tufts, the Massachusetts industrialist and philanthropist who donated the land for the campus, Tufts University was founded in 1852 by the Universalist Church (now part of the Unitarian Universalist Association). Tufts was designed as an independent, nonsectarian liberal arts institution (a rarity for the time), and instruction was based on the British tutorial model, in which students worked one-on-one with faculty advisors. For its first century, Tufts was a traditional liberal arts college, but after WWII the school began a period of expansion, especially in engineering and technology, that culminated in a full, comprehensive university. Now classified as a private research university, Tufts is ranked in Forbes’ top 20 research institutions, and U.S. News & World Report’s top 30 national universities.
With a student body of well over 10,000 – split about evenly between undergraduate and graduate students – Tufts University has grown well past its liberal arts college roots, and remains one of the fastest-growing universities in its class. Tufts is highly selective, accepting only around 14% of applicants, and even fewer in its acclaimed School of Engineering, which is one of the oldest and most respected engineering programs in New England. Innovative initiatives at Tufts include the Tisch College of Civic Life, which provides a unique 1+4 program (with one year dedicated to service), and the Experimental College, which offers nontraditional, interdisciplinary courses not available elsewhere. Its commitment to innovation makes Tufts one of the most impressive New Ivies, and a top Massachusetts university.
Mount Holyoke College
The oldest of the Seven Sisters, Mount Holyoke College was, quite literally, a model of women’s education; founded in 1837, it provided the blueprint for many institutions that came after it, including Vassar and Wellesley. While its original name was the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, and it was first affiliated with Andover Seminary, Mount Holyoke was not founded as a religious school. Other affiliations include Dartmouth College and the Five Colleges Consortium. Mount Holyoke is ranked in the top 50 national liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report, while the college is regularly ranked a best value for its combination of academic reputation and return on investment.
Mount Holyoke is still a women’s college, while many other women’s colleges have become coed, and its primary mission remains preparing women for leadership in every facet of modern life, from business and government to art and academia. Students can choose from more than 50 majors, more than half of which are interdisciplinary, and Mount Holyoke puts particular emphasis on undergraduate research, aided by a 10:1 student:faculty ratio that gives students easy access to world-class research opportunities. Study abroad is highly encouraged, and nearly half of Holyoke students take at least a semester studying internationally. With a 92% job and graduate education placement rate for graduates, Mount Holyoke has more than earned its reputation among Massachusetts’ best colleges.
Founded in 1917 as the Bentley School of Accounting and Finance, Bentley University is one of the world’s foremost business, management, and finance institutions. Originally a for-profit school, Bentley’s founder, Harry C. Bentley, was an entrepreneur and educator who developed his pioneering business education plan teaching throughout Boston, including Boston University. The school quickly grew, offering both day and evening classes, and was incorporated as a nonprofit after WWII. Today, Bentley’s curriculum emphasizes ethical leadership and decision-making, as well as integrating technology and business, and its commitment to excellence has made Bentley U.S. News & World Report’s #2 regional college in the North.
Bentley is a comprehensive business university, offering degrees from the bachelor’s to the doctoral level, including one of the nation’s most esteemed MBA degree programs, both on-campus and online. Money magazine and The Economist both name Bentley in the nation’s top 20 business schools. While Bentley is primarily known for business, it also offers an innovative Liberal Studies major that can be combined with its business degree for a double major, preparing students to take one managerial, leadership, and entrepreneurial roles in other disciplines, like health, arts, and sciences. Bentley has often been called one of the most innovative institutions in the nation, and Bentley easily qualifies as one of Massachusetts’ premier universities.