The oldest universities in the United States that spearheaded the educational renaissance in the United States will be listed in this article. It is critical to study the history of university education in the United States by tracing it back to its beginnings to understand the present and future of the educational system in the United States. Education is viewed as a force for social change, social mobility, and broader democratization in the United States. Benjamin Franklin, one of the United States’ founding fathers, emphasized the importance of having a central location to educate the country’s youth in 1749.
Even before that, the colonists recognized the importance of education in the advancement of the country; the country’s first institution of higher education opened its doors in the 1600s. To be included on our list of America’s oldest universities, schools must still be teaching students today. The countdown has begun!
20 Old Universities In The US
The year of establishment and operational status were used to compile this list of the oldest universities in the United States.
1. University of Georgia
The University of Georgia is the first state-chartered university in the United States and one of the country’s oldest. The University of Georgia, founded in 1785 by the state of Georgia, is America’s birthplace of public higher education, ushering in our country’s long tradition of world-class public education. The university’s 17 colleges and schools enroll more than 38,000 students and have produced more than 332,000 alumni who live all over the world. The land-grant and sea-grant missions of the University of Georgia are realized through initiatives that span the globe and touch every corner of the state.
Through global research, hands-on learning, and extensive outreach, the University of Georgia inspires the next generation to become stronger. Furthermore, the university attracts students from all over the world. The acceptance rate for the University of Georgia can be found here.
2. Washington & Jefferson College
After the American Revolution, three log cabin schools merged to form Washington College, founded in 1782. In Washington, Pennsylvania, the school merged with Jefferson College during the Civil War to form Washington & Jefferson College, a small liberal arts college with over 1,400 students. Washington & Jefferson College is a residential four-year college dedicated to fostering our students’ personal and professional success through interconnectedness, hands-on learning opportunities, and individualized academic programs.
W&J College has a long history of ethical leadership and provides a nurturing environment for students with talent and passion. Students at W&J discover their unique talents and interests while benefiting from a personalized educational experience tailored to each student’s specific needs. Their students frequently graduate with multiple majors, and many take advantage of the opportunity to design their own major.
3. Transylvania University
Transylvania University, founded in 1780, is one of the oldest universities in the United States and the oldest university west of the Allegheny Mountains. They’ve paved the way for generations of students to see education as the foundation for success in their chosen fields. The first classes are held in the cabin of the first chairman of the Board of Trustees, Reverend David Rice, founder of the First Presbyterian Church west of the Alleghenies, near Danville, Kentucky (in Danville).
Transylvania University, a renowned private liberal arts college located in the heart of downtown Lexington, Kentucky, offers a community-driven, personalized liberal arts education through its 46 majors. More than just what happens on campus makes up a complete college experience. Internships and jobs, community service, arts and culture, interaction with a diverse population, and various other opportunities are available to students here, all of which will prepare you for a career or graduate school.
4. Hampden-Sydney College
Hampden-Sydney College was founded in 1775 and is one of the oldest colleges in the United States. It was also the last college established in British Colonial America. The central portion of the 1,300-acre campus in Virginia’s beautiful Southside has been designated a National Historic Preservation Zone. Cushing Hall (1822-1833), formerly New College, and Venable Hall (1825-1830), formerly Union Theological Seminary, are among the buildings. Hampden-Sydney College is one of the few remaining private colleges in the United States dedicated to the education and development of young men.
Every student at Hampden-Sydney has the opportunity to grow as a leader. They provide numerous avenues for you to explore and hone your skills. Regardless of which path you take, you will improve your ability to collaborate effectively with others and make a difference in your community, workplace, and global community. Small classes and a supportive community foster the kind of learning environment that young men thrive in. At Hampden-Sydney, the student-to-faculty ratio is 10:1, which means that students receive excellent guidance from professors in a small, collaborative setting.
5. Dickinson College
Dickinson was the first college established in the new United States of America, founded in 1783 by Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a prominent Philadelphia physician. Students are challenged to think differently and act boldly here, and they are encouraged to be actively engaged with the wider world. A core set of tenets guides Dickinsonians: they must be decisive, useful, curious, and unafraid to take risks.
Dickinson College graduates are critical thinkers who see the interconnectedness of everything. Graduates who are always ready to make an impact. With over 2,345 full-time students from 38 states in the United States and 49 countries around the world, Dickinson College provides a useful, innovative, and interdisciplinary liberal arts and sciences education to prepare students for rich and fulfilling lives as engaged global citizens working for the common good.
6. Salem College
Salem College dates back to April 1772, when Salem, North Carolina, the Moravian community established a girls’ school and named Sister Elisabeth Oesterlein as the first teacher. Salem Academy and College, America’s oldest educational institution for girls and women, has a proud history of encouraging women’s independence. Salem College, a women’s liberal arts college, values its students as individuals, nurtures their unique potential, and prepares them to make a difference in the world. Nearly 150 years after its founding, Salem College is still a single-gender institution.
However, the Martha H. Fleer Center for Adult Education admits men 23 years and older to the school’s graduate degree programs and Continuing Education programs. In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Salem College was a pioneer in early American civil rights. Students can obtain bachelor’s degrees in various fields and industries, as well as master’s degrees in teaching and education at Salem.
7. College of Charleston
The College of Charleston is a nationally recognized public liberal arts and sciences university located in the heart of historic Charleston, South Carolina. The College, which was founded in 1770, is one of the oldest universities in the United States. It also ranks first among the nation’s best universities in terms of educational quality, student life, and affordability. Students come from all over the United States and the world to study on its beautiful and historic campus, which is combined with modern facilities, cutting-edge programs, and accessible faculty. The College of Charleston appears to be a national university that is redefining liberal arts education through innovation.
The College of Charleston is one of the nation’s great public universities, offering 63 majors, 81 minors, 22 master’s degree programs, nine graduate-level certificate programs, a stellar location, vibrant student life, and dedicated faculty. The College is ranked No. 5 among southern public colleges, No. 3 among southern institutions for veterans, No. 8 the most innovative school in the region, No. 8 best college for undergraduate teaching in the south, and the best value regional college by U.S. News & World Report.
8. Dartmouth College
Dartmouth was founded in 1769 by Puritan minister Eleazar Wheelock as a men’s college, but in 1972, after much controversy, it began to admit women as full-time students and undergraduate degree candidates. Dartmouth College is a member of the Ivy League and consistently ranks among the best universities in the world. Dartmouth has shaped the education landscape and prepared leaders through its inspirational learning experience, which includes a celebrated liberal arts curriculum and pioneering professional schools.
The College has developed a distinct identity by combining its deep commitment to excellent undergraduate and graduate liberal arts and graduate education with distinguished research and scholarship in the Arts and Sciences, as well as its three leading professional schools—the Geisel School of Medicine, Thayer School of Engineering, and Tuck School of Business. U.S. News & World Report has ranked me first in undergraduate teaching for the past four years.
Dartmouth College, named a “research university with very high research activity” by News & World Report and recognized by the Carnegie Foundation as a “research university with very high research activity,” combines elite academics with thriving research and scholarship.
9. Rutgers University
Rutgers University, officially known as The State University of New Jersey, was founded in 1766 as the all-male Queen’s College, named after King George III’s Queen consort, Charlotte of Mecklenburg. In 1825, the school changed its name to Rutgers College in honor of Revolutionary War veteran Colonel Henry Rutgers and then to Rutgers University 100 years later. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is one of the best-known and most diverse public research universities in the United States. Rutgers University offers something for everyone, with hundreds of degree programs, locations throughout New Jersey, and over 71,000 students.
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is one of the nation’s leading comprehensive public research universities, serving the educational needs of New Jersey residents through undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education programs. Rutgers University is one of the nation’s largest universities, with three campuses in New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden and nearly 70,000 undergraduate and graduate students. According to the United States Department of State, Rutgers University is ranked as the best public university in New Jersey by U.S. News and World Report.
10. Brown University
Brown has a worldwide reputation for its innovative undergraduate and graduates educational programs based on the Open Curriculum, which is flexible and academically rigorous. Brown University, founded in 1764, is a leading research university with world-renowned faculty and an innovative educational institution where students’ curiosity, creativity, and intellectual joy drive academic excellence. Brown’s academic success is based on a student-centered learning model.
The Open Curriculum is a flexible but rigorous educational approach that encourages students to think creatively, take intellectual risks, and solve problems entrepreneurially. Their undergraduate and graduate programs provide students with intensive learning and research opportunities that help each scholar develop their interests and ideas within their chosen specialty. Whatever path students take after Brown, they will be prepared to succeed as independent, innovative leaders.
11. College of William & Mary
Since it was scheduled to open in 1618, the College of William & Mary should have been able to claim the title of “oldest American college.” However, plans were thrown into disarray when an Indian uprising occurred, and the school’s founders were forced to wait until 1693 for the first royal charter. W&M was an important part of the American Revolution, with George Washington, then 17 years old, earning a surveyor’s license from the school.
King William III and Queen Mary II of England signed the charter for the Virginia Colony’s “perpetual College of Divinity, Philosophy, Languages, and other good Arts and Sciences” on February 8, 1693. And thus, William and Mary were born. William & Mary is dedicated to providing a welcoming environment for all students. The organization aspires to be a place where equity and inclusion are central to everything they do. William & Mary attracts students who want to go beyond the textbook to learn more about a subject.
12. Columbia University
By the royal charter of King George II of England, Columbia University was founded in 1754 as King’s College. It is the oldest college in the state of New York and one of the oldest colleges in the United States. The university relocated from Forty-ninth Street and Madison Avenue, where it had been for forty years, to its current location at 116th Street and Broadway in Morningside Heights in 1897. At the time of the move, Seth Low, the University’s president, wanted to create an academic village in a more spacious setting.
Columbia University is one of the world’s most prestigious research institutions and a unique and distinguished learning environment for undergraduate and graduate students in various academic and professional fields. The University offers a diverse and outstanding range of academic programs. Three undergraduate schools, thirteen graduate and professional schools, a world-renowned medical center, four affiliated colleges and seminaries, twenty-five libraries, and over one hundred research centers and institutes are among the institutions.
13. Washington and Lee University
Washington and Lee University, located in Lexington, Virginia, is a small, private liberal arts university with a national ranking nestled in the mountains of western Virginia. They value intellectually curious students, eager to engage with their communities, inclined to critical thinking, and prepared to lead lives of consequence as one of the oldest universities in the United States. Augusta Academy, founded in 1749 and located in Augusta County, Virginia, was originally known as Augusta Academy.
Augusta Academy was operating in Timber Ridge, about 10 miles from Lexington when it was renamed Liberty Hall Academy in 1776 in response to the patriotic fervor that swept the Colonies at the time. The academy relocated to a small frame building on the outskirts of what is now the W&L campus in 1782. Students at W&L benefit from small classes, close relationships with professors, and a remarkable range of majors and minors, courses, and in-depth study opportunities typically only available at large universities.
14. Princeton University
Princeton is the ninth oldest college in the United States, having been founded in 1746. From colonial times to the twenty-first century, the University has been led by 20 presidents. Princeton’s mission as a liberal arts university places a premium on service. It fuels our students’, faculty’s, staff’s, and alumni’s passions and pursuits, and it’s critical to how Princetonians serve the public good. Between 2001 and 2018, Princeton was ranked first or second among national universities in the United States by U.S. News & World Report. News & World Report has topped the rankings for 16 of the last 18 years.
Princeton’s Bendheim Center for Finance, School of Architecture, School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs offer undergraduate and graduate programs in engineering, natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, as well as professional degrees. Princeton University has a strong commitment to humanitarian service.
15. University of Delaware
The University of Delaware, one of the oldest universities in the United States, dates back to 1743 when the Presbytery of Lewes issued a petition expressing the need for an educated clergy, prompting the Rev. Dr. Francis Alison to establish a school in New London, Pennsylvania. Alison’s school moved to Newark in 1765. In 1834, Newark College became a degree-granting institution, and in 1843, it was renamed Delaware College. The college was designated as one of the country’s historic Land Grant colleges in 1867. In 1914, a women’s college opened with 58 students, and the two colleges merged in 1921 to form the University of Delaware.
The University has a long history of distinguished scholarship, as evidenced by its research and creative activities, teaching, and service, all of which are aligned with its mission of increasing and disseminating scientific, humanistic, artistic, and social knowledge for the benefit of society. Graduates of UD are prepared to contribute to a global and diverse society that requires leaders who are innovative, ethical, and committed to serving others.
16. Moravian College
Moravian College was founded in 1742 on the principle that education is important for everyone, regardless of gender or social status. We didn’t let the fact that it was a revolutionary idea deter us. In fact, Moravian thrives on new and innovative ideas, which it has embraced since its inception. Moravian College, the 7th oldest university in the United States, offers more than 55 majors and minors students. The key is double or triple major. Alternatively, be a little revolutionary and design your own one-of-a-kind major.
Moravian College is a historically significant and history-making institution known for its promise of global experiences for all, commitment to career development and services, and emphasis on leadership skills. In the fall of 2019, Moravian had a total enrollment of 2,595, which included both full-time and part-time students in undergraduate and graduate programs. Thirteen states and seven countries are represented among the students. Biological sciences, psychology, sociology, business, and health sciences are the most popular majors at the school.
17. University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania is the country’s sixth-oldest university. Upenn was founded in 1740 and is located in West Philadelphia. UPenn was originally known as the Publick Academy of Philadelphia, and it changed its name several times before becoming the University of Pennsylvania in 1791. Based on his efforts to establish a post-secondary institution in the area, primarily for the purpose of training leaders in public service, government, and commerce, similar to a modern liberal arts curriculum, Benjamin Franklin is credited as the school’s founder.
Penn’s academics benefit from the university’s unique culture and innovation ecosystem. If it’s cutting-edge, you can bet the University’s faculty—and students—have a hand in it. Penn offers students an unparalleled education informed by inclusivity, intellectual rigor, research, and the impetus to create new knowledge for the benefit of individuals and communities around the world. Penn is grounded in the liberal arts and sciences and enriched by the integrated resources of four undergraduate and 12 graduate schools.
18. Washington College
Washington College was founded in 1723 as the Kent County Free School and remained in Chestertown, Maryland’s Eastern Shore, until it was chartered in 1782. Like many other colleges of the time, Washington College was named after General George Washington, who served on the school’s board until his election as the first President of the United States in 1789. George H.W. Bush was the most recent of five US presidents to visit the school. In 1891, the school became coeducational. The college now has 1,450 students from 35 different states and 23 different countries. William Paca and Samuel Chase, both signers of the Declaration of Independence, are notable alumni.
19. Yale University
The university dates back to the 1640s when colonial clergymen spearheaded an effort to establish a local college in the European liberal arts tradition. Connecticut’s legislature passed a charter “to Erect a Collegiate School” in 1701. In 1718, the school was renamed Yale College after Welsh merchant Elihu Yale, who had donated the proceeds from the sale of nine bales of goods and 417 books, and a portrait of King George I. Yale is known for being the first American institution to grant a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1861 and being a member of the Ivy League and one of the nine Colonial Colleges chartered before the American Revolution.
20. St. John’s College
The third oldest college in the United States is St. John’s College (reportedly behind Harvard, established in 1636, and College of William and Mary in 1693). Students at St. John’s College study the works of history’s most influential thinkers. A liberal arts curriculum, conceived as a coherent program of study, is at the heart of St. John’s, immersing students in great books and lively, unmediated conversation with one another. St. John’s had a history as a military school from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, and it was home to the country’s first college-level department of naval science.
While we focus on new academic innovations and institutions in the United States, we should not forget about the older universities.
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