To identify the Best Colleges in New York 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 New York anywhere. Read more about our rankings methodology and sources at our about page.
Colleges & Universities in New York
Ranking the best colleges and universities in New York is pretty close to a fool’s errand. The fourth most-populous state in the US, and one of the densest, New York has more than 200 schools, from the renowned State University of New York ( SUNY 70 ) system – quite possibly the world’s foremost public higher education system – to two Ivy League universities, Columbia University 80 and Cornell University 79 . New York’s small (and not so small) liberal arts colleges are models of the form, in many cases literally, including the first women’s college in the US ( Vassar College 79 ). The Cooper Union 75 , on the other hand, brought European-style polytechnic education to America, while also establishing itself as the longest-running, entirely free college.
New York’s higher education excels in the areas where New York dominates. After all, students can get a degree in finance or management anywhere in the nation, but why not from Wall Street? Whether it’s theater, filmmaking, writing, or art, students in New York may be as little as blocks or no more than a train ride from the epicenter of the field. Law, medicine, and engineering are all critical parts of New York professional life, and some of the finest law, medical, and engineering schools are in New York, both concentrated in NYC, and distributed throughout the state. From the beautiful countryside and forests of upstate, to the Adirondacks and Catskills in the southern and western regions, to the mega-metropolis of New York City, the best colleges and universities in New York show the rest of the world how higher education is done.
Here are the top colleges and universities of the Empire State.
Columbia University in the City of New York
One of the most prestigious institutions in the world, Columbia University is the oldest college in New York, and one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution. Founded in 1754, Columbia University began as King’s College, chartered by George II when the city of New York began emerging as a significant colony. After the American Revolution, King’s College was renamed Columbia College to firmly establish its American character, and Columbia began growing alongside New York City, becoming known as an educational leader just as New York became a business and cultural leader. Columbia University is a founding member of the Ivy League, the watchword for excellence and selectivity, and is regularly ranked among the greatest universities in the world – currently U.S. News & World Report’s #5 in the nation.
Accepting less than 6% of applicants, Columbia is one of the three most selective universities in the US, though its student body of roughly 30,000 puts it among the largest colleges as well, much larger than most of its Ivy League rivals. Columbia has some of the most decorated faculty in the world, including numerous Nobel Prize winners. Many of Columbia’s professional schools, such as law, medicine, and journalism, provided models for professional education, either as pioneers (Columbia was the first university in the US to offer an MD degree), or as perfecters. Columbia’s researchers have been at the center of some of the world’s most important discoveries, from splitting the atom to the programming that powers the internet, and any student who finds themselves at Columbia finds themselves in the line of Founding Fathers, Fortune 500 CEOs, and world-renowned poets alike.
The youngest of the Ivy League, Cornell University was founded in 1865 as New York’s land-grant university. While the land-grant model was intended to focus on agriculture and technology, Cornell went farther with a comprehensive emphasis on the humanities, the sciences, and the professions from the very beginning. Cornell is one of only three private land-grant universities, and founder Ezra Cornell’s vision was an open, accessible institution for any student who was willing. In that spirit Cornell, while highly competitive, is still less selective than its Ivy League rivals – though, at 12% acceptance, Cornell still only accepts the best of the best. U.S. News & World Report ranks Cornell in the top 15 national universities, while many publications recognize Cornell as one of the best in the world.
In addition to being one of three private land-grant universities, Cornell is one of only two with a full suite of federal grants – land, sea, space, and sun (Oregon State University is the other). That makes Cornell a national leader in nearly every modern discipline, from engineering (including a major role in unmanned Mars exploration) to agriculture (maintaining New York’s cooperative extension centers for farming education). Cornell was a pioneer in computing, nuclear energy, and crash testing, but STEM is not all – Cornell created the first specialized hospitality management program in the world with the School of Hotel Administration. No matter the discipline, Cornell University has been central to building American leadership for over a century and a half.
The oldest of the legendary Seven Sisters schools – the group of elite women’s colleges that served as the corollary to the Ivy League before coeducation – Vassar College was founded in 1861, making it the first women’s college in the United States (older women’s schools were founded as boarding schools or seminaries, not colleges). Throughout its history, Vassar has been a sister institution to Yale University, even contemplating a merger as both schools began considering coed admissions; instead, Vassar began admitting male students on its own in 1969, retaining its independence and historical identity. Vassar has always been considered highly elite and highly selective, and ranks the #12 liberal arts college in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report.
As a traditional liberal arts college, Vassar’s curriculum is rooted in the humanities; students take part in study abroad, the Self-Instructional Language Program, and other classical learning. In recent years, Vassar has also put a greater emphasis on STEM, building a new $90 million laboratory building. Vassar is not only recognized for its academic excellence, but for its value; it is a top college for veterans, and has been named one of the best values in the US by Kiplinger’s, thanks to its generous financial aid. Among its peers, Vassar also has the highest level of economic and racial diversity, with a high proportion of low-income students receiving grant and scholarship aid, and more than a third of students claiming a minority background. With MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellows on the faculty, one of the world’s leading art museums, and a tradition of excellence, Vassar College is one of New York’s best colleges.
Union College (NY)
New York’s first college founded after the American Revolution, in 1795, Union College was intended as a sign of unity and strength, and built as the first non-denominational college in the United States by a coordinated effort of 13 different religious denominations. Union College has long been recognized for its elite academic quality, and as part of the Little Ivies – a grouping of smaller, highly selective colleges considered the little siblings of the Ivy League – Union has a reputation as one of the most rigorous and successful colleges in New York. U.S. News & World Report ranks Union College among the 40 best liberal arts colleges nationally, a competitive field that includes some of the most world-renowned institutions in the US.
Union College is a traditional liberal arts college, focusing on interdisciplinary studies in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences as the foundation for future professional or graduate schooling. Undergraduate research is highly encouraged, as is study abroad, with Union representing one of the largest participants in the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, and more than two-thirds of students taking part in study abroad opportunities. Union is also known as the Mother of Fraternities, as the birthplace of several national Greek organizations, and a third of all students enter fraternities and sororities. Union defines the small liberal arts college, and stands firm as one of the top colleges in New York.
SUNY College at Geneseo
The State University of New York at Geneseo is a public liberal arts college in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Founded in 1871 as a normal school – then the standard for public teacher’s education, in which new teachers trained for two years in a real classroom – SUNY Geneseo became part of the SUNY system in 1948. As New York’s premier public liberal arts college, Geneseo commonly competes with some of the most elite colleges in the state for students, holding its own against the likes of Vassar and Union. Geneseo is regularly ranked among the best liberal arts colleges in the nation by the Princeton Review, as well as a best value by Kiplinger’s.
As a public liberal arts college, SUNY Geneseo’s curriculum is based in the traditional liberal arts; nearly 50 majors and two dozen interdisciplinary minors are available to students, as well as a handful of master’s programs. Geneseo is also well-known for student support, with one of the highest graduation rates and highest freshman retention rates in the nation. U.S. News & World Report ranks Geneseo as the #1 institution for undergraduate teaching, and the #2 public regional institution in the North overall. With reasonable tuition rates and a high degree of student support, SUNY Geneseo is a model for public higher education and one of the best colleges in New York.
Named in honor of the Colgate family, one of the largest benefactors of the college, Colgate University is a prestigious liberal arts college in central Upstate New York. Founded in 1819, Colgate was originally a Baptist seminary and theological college, growing into a university by 1846. Though the school nearly moved to Rochester (leading to the founding of the University of Rochester by some of Colgate’s faculty and alumni), Colgate has remained in its pristine rural campus since 1826, establishing deep ties throughout the region (and earning accolades as one of the most beautiful colleges in the nation). Colgate is ranked in the top 12 liberal arts college nationally by U.S. News & World Report.
With a reputation that has earned recognition as a “Hidden Ivy” and a “New Ivy,” Colgate is known for its elite status, but it is also a highly diverse, highly effective educator for minority and low-income students. Colgate has been named one of Forbes’ Top Colleges for Getting Rich – the only non-Ivy League institution at the top – and has earned accolades for their commitment to social mobility and the high proportion of African-American graduates. As a liberal arts college, Colgate has more than 50 traditional majors, as well as a Master’s in Teaching program, but is primarily known as one of the nation’s best undergraduate institutions, with graduates going on to the most elite graduate and professional schools in the world.
The only remaining women’s college in New York, Barnard College was founded in 1889 as a sister institution to Columbia University, which at the time was all-male. As one of the Seven Sisters (like Vassar College, #3 above), Barnard College developed a deep cooperative relationship with its partner in the Ivy League, including a shared athletic program and academic privileges, even after Columbia began admitting women. Barnard has been one of the most successful women’s colleges in the nation, particularly in sending women to PhD programs at some of the world’s most prestigious institutions, and though Barnard does not participate actively in rankings, the college is still ranked one of the best national liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report.
With its historic location in Manhattan, Barnard College has always had success in giving graduates entry into the world’s top job market. Barnard is also known for the most selective acceptance rate of any women’s college. Barnard maintains a traditional liberal arts curriculum, named The Nine Ways of Knowing, which focuses on interdisciplinary approaches to learning and knowledge, but Barnard’s unique relationship with Columbia University also gives students the opportunity to take advantage of courses and resources from that institution as well. Barnard also has deep ties to other New York schools, including Juilliard, expanding Barnard’s offerings considerably. For the very best experience among women’s colleges in the US, Barnard College has been the leading choice for well over a century, and continues to dominate in the 21st.
Founded in 1793 as a school for Oneida Indian and white children, Hamilton College is a private, coed liberal arts college in the foothills of the Adirondacks, one of the nation’s most picturesque regions. Chartered in 1812, the college was named after one of its first trustees, Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. The college became coed after merging with a sister college in 1978; today, the student body is made up of students from 49 countries and 49 states and is 49% male. Hamilton was the third college founded after the American Revolution, and its historic traditions have made it one of the most trusted names in New York.
Hamilton College is ranked among the top 18 national liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report (elite company includes Vassar and Colgate). Further, Hamilton has been ranked a best value by Kiplinger’s and Princeton Review, (aided by one of the largest endowments of any American college). Hamilton’s curriculum offers 56 areas of study and is based in the traditional liberal arts. Through agreements with Columbia University and Dartmouth College, students also have access to a dual-degree engineering program. With an open curriculum and writing-centered courses, Hamilton students are able to shape their own schedules and develop the skills that define the best liberal arts colleges in New York. The college maintains a need-blind admission policy and meets full need.
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
While its full name – The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art – is rarely used, Cooper Union is a household name in the United States. Founded in 1859 by industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper, Cooper Union was designed on the French polytechnic model, a then-revolutionary concept built around hands-on, experiential education in technology and engineering. From the beginning, Cooper Union formed its reputation around accepting the best students regardless of race, class, or gender, and ensuring that every student accepted received a free education. Ranked the #2 best regional college in the North by U.S. News & World Report, the Cooper Union is a model of excellence and accessibility.
The Cooper Union has been named the most desirable small school in the nation; its guaranteed tuition and global reputation results in a high number of applicants, and the school typically can only accept less than 10% – even lower for its highly respected art and architecture programs. Cooper Union is composed of three schools: the School of Art, the Chanin School of Architecture, and the Nerken School of Engineering, all linked by the faculty of humanities and social sciences to provide a liberal arts foundation throughout the curriculum. In addition, Cooper Union is a cultural center for art, lectures, and performance, making the Cooper Union one of New York’s all-around best universities.
Founded in 1903 as the Young Women’s Industrial Club, by philanthropist Lucy Skidmore Scribner, Skidmore College was a unique institution dedicated to professional and technical education for women, in contrast to the liberal arts education typical of other women’s schools. From that beginning, Skidmore has maintained a dedication to innovation and nontraditional methods. Located in upstate New York, in an area regularly cited as one of the best places to live in the US, Skidmore is ranked among the 40 best national liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report, and has a reputation for creativity and close-knit community that makes it the envy of other colleges.
Skidmore emphasizes multidisciplinary, exploratory learning, with nearly half of all students taking double majors or including an interdisciplinary minor in their curriculum. In addition to a traditional liberal arts base, known as the First-Year Experience, and the interdisciplinary freshman Scribner Seminar, Skidmore prioritizes undergraduate research; the Collaborative Research Program has been going strong for nearly 30 years, with students working side-by-side with faculty members and co-authoring papers in some of the most current research in the world. Two-thirds of students study abroad, enhancing Skidmore’s global commitment. In a state rich in exceptional liberal arts colleges, Skidmore College stands out as one of New York’s top colleges.