The 20 Most Influential Colleges (So Far)

What colleges have the most influence in the U.S.? There are a variety of potential indicators by which to decide this question. As a result, selecting the most influential institutions is more art than science. By considering college rankings, research output and other factors, however, it is possible to determine some of the nation's most influential schools. Here are 20 major players in the higher ed landscape, in no particular order.

By Douglas Fehlen

harvard university influential colleges ivy leagues top schools

Harvard University

High on the list of most influential colleges has to be Harvard University. With its vaunted traditions and top-notch academics, the school stands in the popular consciousness as the embodiment of what an elite institution should be. Even the school's ivy-covered brick buildings have come to represent prestige.

Columbia University

Columbia University's elite status is in part the result of being named the top American research university by the Center for Measuring University Performance. Top-tier academic programs and alumni that include President Barack Obama certainly don't hurt the institution's reputation.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Appearing in the top five of the National University Rankings from U.S. News & World Report, MIT is a nationally recognized powerhouse in science and technology fields. The school's brainy reputation is helped by its location in Cambridge, Massachusetts, home to more than a dozen higher ed institutions.

Princeton University

Sharing the distinction of top school in the National University Rankings from U.S. News & World Report (with Harvard), Princeton University gains its influence by being a top-tier research institution. High-quality liberal arts programming also helps to set the school apart.

Stanford University

Often it is East Coast schools - gilt with Ivy League prestige - that are cited as institutions with the most intellectual firepower. Stanford University, located in the Bay Area, features plenty of academic credibility of its own. It's known for providing a multidisciplinary approach to the college experience.

University of Pennsylvania

Perennially appearing near the top of college best-of lists, the University of Pennsylvania features stout academic programs and an impressive heritage that make it among the highest profile U.S. schools. Benjamin Franklin founded the Philadelphia institution more than two and a half centuries ago.

Yale University

Yale University enjoys a level of national prominence not matched by many other institutions. Located in New Haven, Connecticut, the Ivy League school has produced illustrious graduates who have dramatically affected U.S. history, including presidents, senators and other luminaries.

New York University (NYU)

Located in Manhattan, New York University is a high-profile school that ranks among the largest private postsecondary institutions in the U.S. NYU features impressive academic programs and a cool factor that comes with being located in the nation's most populous city.

University of Chicago

The University of Chicago is a widely renowned private institution situated on the shores of Lake Michigan. Elite programs in disciplines that include business, law, economics and medicine are taught by no fewer than eight Nobel Prize winners.

University of California - Berkeley

Also known as Cal, the flagship institution of the University of California system is widely regarded to be among the best public higher education institutions in the U.S. Excellent academics and a tradition of social activism help make its reputation.

University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA)

Another jewel in the University of California system, UCLA is a nationally regarded public research institution. The school is also known for its extensive cultural offerings, a result of being located in the second largest city in the U.S.

The University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

When it comes to public universities in the Midwest with national cache, the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor ranks at or near the top. Strong research programs and stout academics make the school a top option among students.

University of Wisconsin - Madison

The University of Wisconsin at Madison is often referred to as a 'Public Ivy,' a designation reserved for publicly funded institutions thought to provide an Ivy-League level education. The school is known as a top research university.

University of Washington

The University of Washington, located in Seattle, is an acclaimed public research institution. One of the oldest universities on the West Coast, the school features highly regarded programs in such areas as business, engineering and medicine.

University of Notre Dame

When it comes to schools with a storied tradition, the University of Notre Dame ranks very highly. Since its foundation in 1842, the Catholic institution has been a significant influence in the academic, civic and political life of the United States.

Georgetown University

Located in Washington, D.C., Georgetown University is attractive to many students interested in working in government. Among the institution's powerful alumni are Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Senator Patrick Leahy.

University of Texas - Austin

The University of Texas at Austin, among the nation's largest postsecondary institutions, features renowned programs in such disciplines as education, engineering, nursing, social work and business. It is an excellent research university.

University of Southern California (USC)

The University of Southern California is a private institution located in Los Angeles. Featuring rigorous academic problems across disciplines, USC regularly ranks highly on lists of the best schools in the United States.

Washington University in St. Louis

This private institution perennially shows well in best-of lists such as the 'National University Rankings' compiled by U.S. News & World Report. Among the school's offerings are acclaimed programs in business, law, medicine and engineering.

Johns Hopkins University

Located in Baltimore, Maryland, Johns Hopkins University offers many highly touted programs. This private institution is known for top-tier academics in public policy, education, engineering and medicine, among other disciplines.

Still looking for the right school? Learn about 20 colleges that that have a strong reputation for making student needs a top priority.

Next: View Schools

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?