To identify the Best Colleges in Minnesota 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 Minnesota anywhere. Read more about our rankings methodology and sources at our about page.
Colleges & Universities in Minnesota
Minnesota’s known for “nice,” and it’s true: if being one of the best educated, healthiest, wealthiest, and happiest states in the nation is “nice,” then that’s Minnesota to a T. When Minnesota became a state in 1858, the territory had already been settled by pioneering Swedes, Norwegians, and Germans who weren’t afraid of a little snow and ice. They brought with them a love for learning and a faith in hard work that set the stage for Minnesota’s education landscape. Minnesota is tenth in the nation for the proportion of bachelor’s degree graduates, and the state’s high levels of health, wealth, and happiness are almost certainly tied to their high levels of education and work. Minnesota is home to some of the best colleges and universities in the nation, definitely more than a top 10 ranking can cover.
The best colleges and universities in Minnesota are dedicated to providing the people of the Midwest with the foundations they need for career and personal success. The Land of 10,000 Lakes is also filled with nationally-ranked, top-tier small liberal arts colleges like Carleton College 82 , Augsburg College 64 , and Gustavus Adolphus College 67 , most of them founded by the faithful Protestant and Catholic settlers who envisioned the future for their descendants that is actually seen in full flower today. Minnesota is also home to the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities 64 , one of the nation’s best public research universities and a center of learning, research, and culture for the Midwest. Everywhere Minnesotans turn, there is a top college or university, keeping Minnesota just the way it is – nice.
Here are the top colleges and universities of the North Star State.
Founded in 1866, Carleton College came from a resolution by the Minnesota Conference of Congregational Churches to establish a college in the young, rapidly growing town of Northfield. With a large number of New Englanders settling in the area, the church – an education-centered denomination that also founded such institutions as Yale and Dartmouth – decided that an Ivy League-style liberal arts college would be in order. Through the 20th century, Carleton grew into a highly selective, highly respected institution ranked by U.S. News & World Report as a top 10 national-level liberal arts college, and by Kiplinger’s as one of the best values in national liberal arts colleges.
As a small, liberal arts college, Carleton is dedicated to excellence in undergraduate education, preparing traditional college-aged students for career or graduate school with a applicable, adaptable grounding in the classical humanities and sciences. Carleton’s student body is just short of 2000, with an incredibly low 9:1 student:faculty ratio. That means Carleton students get the best possible support and guidance from their instructors that a liberal arts college can provide. Lifelong learning is the central goal of Carleton’s curriculum – teaching students how to learn. As such, Carleton has one of the highest rates of graduates going on to PhD programs, and one of the highest rates of women graduating in the sciences, of any school of its size and class; nearly 75% of graduates will go on to graduate school, demonstrating why Carleton is a top Minnesota college.
Macalester College is a small, private liberal arts college founded in 1874 by a Presbyterian minister, Edward Duffield Neill, who had been a missionary to the frontier territory in the 1840s. From the beginning Macalester was designed to train future leaders, standing alongside the most elite colleges back east for its academic rigor and Christian humanist values. Macalester’s dedication to multiculturalism and internationalism began as far back as the 1940s, when the college began recruiting international students and reaffirming the values of progressive, global liberal arts. Macalester has been named a “Hidden Ivy” and a “New Ivy” for its combination of academic excellence and service to the community, and U.S. News & World Report ranks Macalester in the top 25 national liberal arts college.
Macalester has made major strides in the 21st century, turning up again and again in the media as an up-and-coming institution and a best value. Students come to Macalester for all of the amenities of a small liberal arts college – small class sizes, engaged professors, a strong network of partnerships, and the opportunity to do complex, graduate-level research in an undergraduate environment. Macalester’s traditional liberal arts curriculum is fortified by its top-notch professional preparation, and the college has been recognized as one of the best national “feeder” schools for the most elite graduate programs. The college’s proximity to the Twin Cities also plugs students in to great opportunities for internships and jobs after graduation.
The first college founded by Norwegian Lutherans in the US, Augsburg College (named for the Augsburg Confession, one of the seminal documents of Lutheranism) was originally a Lutheran seminary for training ministers in the church. From its founding in 1869, it was only five years before the seminary became a college, opening up its doors to students for purposes beyond church service, especially the Norwegian immigrant farmers and workers settling Minnesota. After WWII Augsburg fully completed the shift to a liberal arts college, sending the seminarians off to a neighboring theology school. Today, Augsburg is recognized as one of the finest liberal arts colleges in the Twin Cities, ranked by U.S. News and World Report as a top 25 regional Midwestern college, and as one of the top colleges in the nation for service learning.
Global awareness and community engagement are central to Augsburg’s curriculum and student life, as witnessed by the college’s place on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. With initiatives like the Center for Global Education and Experience, the Strommen Center for Meaningful Work, and the Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship, interdisciplinary research organizations on campus demonstrate what is really important to Auggies. Augsburg draws on the traditional liberal arts curriculum to cultivate responsible citizens, ethical leaders, and selfless helpers who are not just prepared for their careers, but steeped in values that will make them trusted leaders and world-changers. That’s what makes Augsburg College one of the best colleges in Minnesota.
St Olaf College
Like Augsburg College, St. Olaf College was inspired by the large population of Norwegian Lutheran immigrants pouring into Minnesota in the late 19th century. St. Olaf (named for the patron saint of Norway) was founded in 1874 to provide dual-language education in Norwegian and English, with three Lutheran ministers gathering $10,000 in donations from their parishioners – many of them Norwegian farmers and laborers with visions of a better life for their children. St. Olaf College is still associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church to this day, and retains its proud Norwegian heritage through study of Scandinavian culture, Scandinavian symbols, and upholding Lutheran values.
St. Olaf is dedicated to the traditional liberal arts, with all students working through a core of foundational courses that provide a common ground and deep immersion in the critical thought, problem-solving, and communication that are the heart of the liberal arts. With more than 40 majors, many of them interdisciplinary in nature, students are prepared for the job market and graduate schooling, and St. Olaf’s nationally-recognized Department of Music gets consistent high nods from ranking publications. A 12:1 student:faculty ratio gives professors the freedom to get to know students and act as mentors, and students have access to world-class research. It’s no wonder St. Olaf College has been named a College that Changes Lives, and is recognized as a top Consensus College.
Saint Johns University
Saint John’s University is a small, private Catholic liberal arts institution founded in 1857 by the monks of Saint John’s Abbey, a monastery in Collegeville, MN. Rooted in the values of the Benedictine order, Saint John’s is known for their educational excellence and their deep commitment to sustainability and community service. Though it is a men-only institution, Saint John’s has an unusual collaboration with the all-female College of Saint Benedict in the neighboring town of Saint Joseph; beginning in 1955, SJU and CSB have shared facilities, faculty, and resources in coeducational classes, though they return to their respective campuses. Saint John’s University is ranked one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
With an enormous 2700-acre campus, most of it preserved wilderness, Saint John’s is known for its environmental awareness, and students are immersed in outdoor activities, hands-on research, and a good deal of skiing and hiking. Just as the Benedictine Rule is dedicated to personal growth, accountability, and social responsibility, SJU’s curriculum revolves around ethical leadership and citizenship, using the traditional liberal arts framework to provide the Catholic ideal of education for the whole person – mind, body, and soul. A 12:1 student:faculty ratio, and the advantages provided by access to two world-class faculties and resources, gives makes Saint John’s University one of the most prestigious universities in the Midwest, and one of Minnesota’s top universities.
College of Saint Benedict
Founded in 1913, the College of Saint Benedict was the culmination of many years of labor and service by the Sisters of Saint Benedict’s Monastery, who had been opening hospitals and schools throughout Minnesota since sending missionaries to the rugged territory in the 1850s. Like many other Minnesota colleges, CSB was intended to provide educational opportunity for the immigrants of the area. The world’s only Benedictine women’s college, the College of Saint Benedict established a unique partnership with Saint John’s University in which the two single-gender colleges create a coeducational environment by sharing resources and faculty. Like its partner, CSB is one of U.S. News & World Report’s top 100 national liberal arts colleges.
The College of Saint Benedict has been named one of the 10 best Catholic colleges, and an up-and-coming university, largely based on the college’s world-class liberal arts undergraduate education. CSB is particularly renowned for the exceptional music program; half the student body participates in the many choirs and ensembles that perform and record. The CSB curriculum is highly service and social justice-oriented, as evidenced by the projected Center for Ethical Leadership in Action, an interdisciplinary research institution to be started with a 2017 gift of $10 million from an anonymous source. Above all, the College of Saint Benedict seeks to give young women the power to choose their own way in life, and the ethical and moral responsibility to use their power for the good of their fellow humans.
Minnesota’s first college, Hamline University was founded in 1854 and named for Leonidas Lent Hamline, a Methodist bishop whose donation helped establish the university. Hamline’s fascination with the possibilities of the frontier inspired the college, which actually was not able to begin college courses until 1857, when the oldest students aged into college. The rugged, can-do spirit of the frontier never left Hamline, even as the college grew into a nationally recognized liberal arts university and a cornerstone of the Twin Cities. Ranked in the top 20 regional Midwestern universities by U.S. News & World Report, Hamline has also been recognized widely as a best value, providing world-class education for an affordable tuition.
Hamline is Minnesota’s only United Methodist college, and shares with its denomination a commitment to community service and social justice, as evidenced by more than 150,000 community service hours logged per year by Hamline students. With its 12:1 student:faculty ratio and small classes, Hamline is very much in line with the standards of the traditional liberal arts college, but Hamline is also dedicated to experiential learning: every single Hamline student takes part in an internship, a service-learning activity, or some other hands-on research project before graduating. Hamline is so confident, they will forgive tuition for students who take longer than 4 years to graduate – a very unique and refreshing policy for one of Minnesota’s best universities.
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Chartered by the Minnesota Territorial government in 1851, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities is the flagship of the University of Minnesota system and one of the largest, most prestigious public research institutions in the Midwest. As a top-tier, R1 research university (the highest Carnegie Classification), UMN is a definitive model of public higher education. The University of Minnesota has been named a Public Ivy – a public university with the quality and reputation of the Ivy League – and is central to intellectual and cultural life in Minnesota. Ranked in the top 75 national universities by U.S. News & World Report, UMN is also the state’s land-grant institution, dedicated to providing the best possible education for the state’s residents.
As a public research university, UMN has been at the forefront of discoveries and advances in areas as varied as computer science, agriculture, and nuclear energy. Scientists at UMN provided the basic building blocks for the internet by developing hyperlinking, and pioneered supercomputing and the disk drive. With well over 46,000 students, including undergraduate and graduate students, UMN is a nation unto itself, with a highly diverse student body made up of student from more than 130 nations and 18% American minority students. UMN faculty includes Nobel Prize winners, Guggenheim Fellows, MacArthur Geniuses, and other internationally-renowned scholars. The University of Minnesota is not only one of the best in the state – it’s the world’s university.
Gustavus Adolphus College
Named for the beloved Swedish king, Gustavus Adolphus College was founded in 1862 as a school for Swedish Lutheran children who had immigrated to Minnesota in large numbers. It is the oldest of Minnesota’s numerous Lutheran colleges, and remains tightly aligned to the Evangelical Lutheran Church and to its Swedish roots. Today, GAU is best known as the home of the annual Nobel Conference, America’s only academic conference authorized by the Nobel Prize Committee. Each year since 1963, a panel of scientists, writers, and artists honored by the Nobel Committee meet at GAU to present their research and discuss topics of academic importance following the Nobel Prize ceremony.
Gustavus Adolphus is ranked in the top 100 national liberal arts college, and the top 50 best values, by U.S. News & World Report. GAU’s 75 undergraduate majors are built on the foundation of the classical liberal arts, alongside interdisciplinary studies and uniquely GAU programs like Scandinavian Studies. An 11:1 student:faculty ratio helps initiate and sustain undergraduate research, while the unique Three Crowns Curriculum – supported by an NEH grant – gives 60 students the opportunity to work as a cohort through a series of interdisciplinary, discussion-based courses rather than the regular core curriculum. These kinds of innovations have made GAU one of the nation’s highest producers of graduates who go on to PhD programs, and earn Gustavus Adolphus College its place among Minnesota’s best.
Bethel University (MN)
Dating back to a seminary for Swedish Baptists originally founded in Chicago in 1871, Bethel University moved to Saint Paul, MN in 1914, eventually finding its current home in the Saint Paul suburb Arden Hills. Bethel’s Christian heritage remains central to the university’s curriculum and student life, and its status as an evangelistic, Christ-centered institution attracts Christian students from across the US and abroad. At over 6000 students, Bethel is one of the largest institutions in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the nation’s premier organization of faith-based higher learning. No longer Baptist, Bethel is affiliated with the non-denominational, evangelical Converge Worldwide.
Bethel Seminary is still a part of Bethel University, but in a century and a half Bethel has expanded from that origin into undergraduate, graduate, and adult education programs as well. In recent years, Bethel has also developed a solid reputation regionally and nationally for online education, developing more than 30 fully online programs and earning notice from Lumosity as one of America’s smartest colleges. One of Bethel’s core commitments is racial reconciliation, including a major in Reconciliation Studies and the Bethel Anti-Racism and Reconciliation Commission. Three-quarters of Bethel’s students also participate in study-abroad programs, bringing the Bethel mission and vision worldwide and earning one of Minnesota’s top universities a global reputation.