Top 25+ Oldest American Colleges and Universities

Top 25+ Oldest American Colleges and Universities

The following list ranks the top ten most aesthetically pleasing college campuses in the United States with respect to both their historical architectural significance and …

Many universities in the United States date back to the 17th century. All universities with a long history in the United States date back to before the American Revolution began in 1765.

So far, none of the colleges and universities listed below can claim to be the oldest university in the U.S. All schools with a long history are trying to combine their rich historical heritage with a commitment to continuous growth and innovation.

Established in 1636 (chartered in 1650)

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Harvard is widely regarded as the most prestigious school in the nation for a variety of reasons, but to start, it was the first recognized college in the country. It was given the name Harvard after John Harvard, who gave the school a sizable financial gift as well as a sizable book collection.

Massachusetts-based Harvard University was formerly known as New College. Later, the institution’s name was changed to Harvard College in recognition of its first benefactor, John Harvard, who left the university his 320-volume scholar’s library as well as half of his financial estate in his will.

Harvard University is not only the oldest in the United States but also one of the most well-known universities in the world, coming in at number three in the most recent QS World University Rankings®. It is ranked first in the world for the general subject area of life sciences and medicine and second for arts and humanities in the QS World University Rankings by Subject.

Established in 1693

Location: Williamsburg, Virginia

The original plans for W&M, the second-oldest college in America, date all the way back to 1618, but they were never carried out due to a “Indian uprising.” King William III of England and Queen Mary II of England signed the charter for the institution that would later become William & Mary in 1693.

The College of William and Mary is the oldest university in the American South and the first institution of higher learning in the US to implement an honor code of conduct for students. It is named after the British co-monarchs who were in power at the time and granted the university its royal charter, the first for any university in the US.

The college, which is ranked 601-650 globally, is also among the top 450 institutions in the world for the arts and humanities. Three US presidents, including Thomas Jefferson, received an education there.

Established in 1696

Location: Annapolis, Maryland

St. John’s College was established as a grammar and prep school in 1696 as King William’s School. Before it was established as St. John’s College, it took a century.

A private liberal arts college, St. John’s College (SJC) was first established as King William’s School, the Maryland colony’s first “free” school—by “free,” we mean to set people free through education.

With two campuses now—one in Maryland’s state capital of Annapolis and another in New Mexico’s state capital of Santa Fe—it received its current name in 1784. The college was listed among the top 100 liberal arts colleges in the US by U.S. News & World Report, despite not appearing in the QS World University Rankings.

With its small class sizes and lack of a religious affiliation, St. John’s College is renowned for providing students with more individualized attention.

Established in 1701

Location: New Haven, Connecticut

Yale dates back to the 1640s, when colonial clergymen wanted to found a college to uphold the tradition of European liberal education in what would later become America, even though it was founded in 1701. After receiving a charter in 1701, Yale College was established there in 1718.

Next on our list of the oldest universities in the US is Yale University, which was founded as a “Collegiate School” and is currently ranked 17th globally. In honor of a gift from Elihu Yale, a governor of the British East India Company, it was renamed Yale in 1718. Additionally in that year, Yale relocated from its previous locations in Clinton, Saybrook, and Wethersfield to its current address in New Haven, Connecticut.

Yale was initially founded to educate ministers in theology and sacred languages, but by 1777 the curriculum had expanded to include humanities and sciences. Yale was also the first university in the US to grant a PhD in 1861. In terms of law studies, it is currently ranked fourth in the world, and sixth in terms of arts and humanities.

Established in 1740

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Ben Franklin founded the University of Pennsylvania, also known as Penn, which was the first university in the US to offer both undergraduate and graduate programs. In addition, Penn was one of the first academic institutions in the nation to offer multidisciplinary instruction across various faculties, and it established the nation’s first medical school in 1765.

Currently holding the fifth-best overall ranking in the world for business and management, Penn University is well known for its law and management programs. The university has a solid reputation for conducting extensive research.

Established in 1742

Location: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

The tiny Moravian College is the following oldest institution of higher learning in the US. The college, which is located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, dates back to 1742 when Countess Benigna von Zinzendorf, then 16 years old, founded it as Bethlehem Female Seminary, the country’s first boarding school for girls. George Washington personally requested the admission of two of his great-nieces after learning of the school’s illustrious reputation.

The Moravian Female Seminary, as the institution came to be known, was established in 1863 to award baccalaureate degrees. In 1913, it changed its name to Moravian Seminary and College for Women, and in 1954, the two colleges merged to create a coeducational institution.

Established in 1743

Location: Newark, Delaware

The University of Delaware (UD), which is based in Newark, was first established as a “Free School” and has undergone numerous name changes. The university was denied a charter in order to avoid competition with the University of Pennsylvania because Delaware was a colony of Pennsylvania until 1776.

UD has an impressively long history of excellent teaching and is currently ranked joint 491st in the overall QS World University Rankings, despite the fact that it is not considered a colonial college as it was not officially chartered as a higher education institution until 1833, after the American Revolution.

Established in 1746

Location: Princeton, New Jersey

Princeton University, which was first established as the College of New Jersey by New Light Presbyterians to educate ministers, still boasts a number of historical landmarks, including its oldest structure, Nassau Hall, which was constructed in 1756. In theory, Nassau Hall served as the interim capital of the US for four months in 1783 while the Continental Congress was in session.

In terms of overall rankings, Princeton is currently ranked thirteenth, seventh in the arts and humanities, and fourth in mathematics.

Established in 1749

Location: Lexington, Virginia

Lexington, Virginia is home to the private liberal arts college Washington and Lee University. George Washington was the academy’s first significant benefactor; in 1796, he endowed it with $20,000, the largest gift ever made to a US educational institution.

The university was formerly known as Augusta Academy and Liberty Hall, the latter name being derived from the American Revolution. The remaining part of the university’s current name comes from General Robert E. Lee, who presided over it from 1865 until his death in 1870.

Established in 1754

Location: New York City, New York

Columbia University, which is based in New York City, was established in 1754 as King’s College by royal charter issued by George II of Britain. Following the US’s independence, Columbia College was renamed Columbia University in 1784.

Its colonial roots are echoed by the fact that five of the United States’ Founding Fathers are among its alumni. This year, it is ranked joint 18th in the world.

Another of the most esteemed research universities in the US, Columbia awards the famed Pulitzer Prize each year, is currently ranked sixth for anatomy and physiology, and performs particularly well in the arts and humanities (ninth in the world).

Established in 1764

Location: Providence, Rhode Island

The first college in the United States to accept students regardless of their religious background was Brown, which did so in 1764. Women were first admitted to the school in 1891. It was also one of the universities that awarded doctoral degrees in the nation.

Established in 1766

Location: New Brunswick, New Jersey

When it was first chartered in 1766, Rutgers was an institution reserved exclusively for male students and was given the name Queen’s College. In 1825, the institution was rechristened Rutgers in honor of Colonel Henry Rutgers, a veteran of the Revolutionary War.

Established in 1769

Location: Hanover, New Hampshire

When it was founded in 1769, Dartmouth had the intention of being a school that educated Native Americans in Christian theology and the English way of life. Today, Dartmouth is a private Ivy League university, but back then, it was intended to serve that purpose. It eventually developed into what is now considered to be one of the nation’s most prestigious educational institutions.

Established in 1770

Location: Charleston, South Carolina

At a time when only affluent families could afford to send their sons to college, the College of Charleston became the first educational institution south of Virginia. Today, it is known as the oldest educational institution south of Virginia. Additionally, it holds the title of being South Carolina’s oldest college.

Established in 1772

Location: Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Salem College is the nation’s first and oldest college specifically for the education of women and girls. It opened its doors in 1772 as a boarding school and was established by Sister Elisabeth Oesterlein. It was rechristened the Salem Female Academy in 1866, and it started conferring college degrees the following decade, in 1890.

Established in 1773

Location: Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Dickinson College was initially established in 1773 and chartered in 1783, which was only six days after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. In its early years, the college was known as the Carlisle Grammar School. As a result of this, Dickinson was the first college in the newly formed United States to be granted its charter.

Established in 1775

Location: Hampden Sydney, Virginia

It was the last American college to be established in British Colonial America, and it was also the last college to be established before the signing of the American Declaration of Independence. Hampden-Sydney College is a men-only liberal arts institution. It is now one of only three liberal arts colleges in the United States that are exclusive to men.

Established in 1780

Location: Lexington, Kentucky

Although it is fondly referred to as Transy, this institution was actually the first university in the state of Kentucky. However, it was founded in a region that was formerly a part of Virginia. The school can claim two former Presidents of the United States as alumni.

Established in 1781

Location: Washington, Pennsylvania

In 1781, not long after the conclusion of the American Revolution, the founding of W&J College took place. Three one-room log cabin schools eventually merged to form what is now known as W&J. In 1865, W&J merged with Jefferson College to form what is now known as Washington & Jefferson. One of the most recognizable structures on campus is the Old Main building, which can be seen here.

Established in 1785

Location: Athens, Georgia

The University of Georgia is one of the oldest public universities in the United States because Georgia was the first state to charter a state-supported institution in 1785. Government officials, Emmy and Grammy winners, writers, scholars, poets, and other notable alumni have all walked these halls.

Established in 1787

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The University of Pittsburgh was first established as Pittsburgh Academy in 1787, when it served as a prep school in a real log cabin. It undoubtedly grew over the years and is now a research university with ties to the state.

Established in 1787

Location: Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Benjamin Franklin made a generous financial contribution to the establishment of Franklin & Marshall College in 1787. It was also the first coeducational college in the United States, allowing both men and women to enroll (this practice was eventually discontinued for 182 years). Classes were taught in both English and German.

Established in 1787

Location: Castleton, Vermont

A small university in Vermont called Castleton focuses on professional and liberal arts undergraduate studies and also provides graduate programs. They have a growing international population and are renowned for their small classes and diversity.

Established in 1789

Location: Washington, D.C.

The oldest Catholic and Jesuit college in the United States is Georgetown, which was founded in 1789. This esteemed educational establishment has produced a number of notable individuals, including former Presidents of the United States, Justices of the Supreme Court, and other high-ranking government officials.

Established in 1789

Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Even though the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill did not begin accepting students until the year 1795, it is still considered to be one of the oldest public universities in the United States. The university was attended by a great number of future members of government, including both the President and Vice President of the United States.

Established in 1791

Location: Burlington, Vermont

The University of Vermont was the first institution of higher education to publicly support freedom of religion, making it the fifth-oldest university in New England overall. The University of Vermont is also the fifth-oldest university in the United States. In addition to this, it was the first university to admit both women and people of African-American descent into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.

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