21 Oldest Universities In USA

In this article, we’ll list the oldest universities in USA that spearheaded the educational renaissance in the United States.

To understand the present and future of the United States educational system, it is imperative to study the history of university education in the U.S. by tracing it back to its beginnings.

In the United States, education is seen as a force for social change, social mobility, and broader democratization.

In 1749, one of the founding fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin stressed the importance of having a central location to teach the country’s youth. Even before then, the colonists knew that education was a critical part of furthering the nation; the first institution of higher education in the country opened its doors back in the 1600s. 

To qualify to be on our list of oldest universities in America, the schools must still be educating students today. Let the countdown begin!

21 Oldest Universities In The USA

This list of oldest universities in USA was selected on the basis of the year of establishment and its operational status.

#21 University of Georgia

Year Founded: 1785                                                                       


Operational Status: Active

The University of Georgia is the United States’ first state-chartered university and also one of the oldest universities in USA.

Chartered by the state of Georgia in 1785, the University of Georgia is the birthplace of public higher education in America — launching our nation’s great tradition of world-class public education. 

With its comprehensive reach, the university’s 17 colleges and schools enroll more than 38,000 students and have produced over 332,000 alumni living worldwide. The University of Georgia’s initiatives extend globally while touching every corner of the state, realizing the university’s land- and sea-grant missions. 

The University of Georgia inspires the next generation to grow stronger through global research, hands-on learning, and extensive outreach. Additionally, the university attracts students nationally and internationally. 

Click here to see University of Georgia’s acceptance rate.

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#20 Washington & Jefferson College

Year Founded: 1781


Operational Status: Active

Washington College formed in 1782 after the American Revolution due to the merging of three log cabin schools. During the Civil War, the school, situated in Washington, Pennsylvania, merged with Jefferson College to become Washington & Jefferson College, a small liberal arts institution with more than 1,400 students. 

Washington & Jefferson College is a four-year, residential college committed to fostering the personal and professional success of our students through interconnectedness, hands-on learning experiences, and individualized academic programs. With a long legacy of ethical leadership, W&J College gives students of talent and passion a place to thrive.

W&J students discover their unique gifts and interests while profiting from a personalized educational experience intended to meet the needs of each individual. Their students often graduate with more than one major, and many take advantage of the opportunity to create a customized major of their own.

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SEE ALSO: 20 Best Colleges In Washington State | Rankings

#19 Transylvania University

Year Founded: 1780

Founder: Approved by Governor Thomas Jefferson   

Operational Status: Active

Established in 1780, Transylvania is one of the oldest university in USA and the oldest university in west of the Allegheny Mountains. They’ve set generations of students on a path where education is seen as the bedrock to excel in their fields.

The first classes are held near Danville, Ky, in the cabin of the first chairman of the Board of Trustees, the Reverend David Rice, founder of the First Presbyterian Church west of the Alleghenies (in Danville).

Transylvania University, located in the heart of downtown Lexington, Kentucky, is a renowned private liberal arts college featuring a community-driven, personalized approach to a liberal arts education through its 46 majors.

A complete college experience is more than what happens on campus. Here, students gain access to internships and jobs, community service, arts and culture, interaction with a diverse population and numerous other opportunities that will make you career and grad school ready.

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YOU MAY WANT TO SEE: Transylvania University Tuition, Scholarships and Cost of Living

#18 Hampden-Sydney College

Year Founded: 1775


Operational Status: Active

Hampden-Sydney, one of the oldest colleges in the United States, established in 1775. It also the last American college founded in British Colonial America.

Located on a 1,300-acre campus in Virginia’s beautiful Southside, the campus’s central portion has been designated a National Historic Preservation Zone. It includes Cushing Hall (1822-1833), originally called New College, and Venable Hall (1825-1830), originally Union Theological Seminary.

Hampden-Sydney College is one of the country’s few remaining private colleges that specializes in educating and developing young men.

At Hampden-Sydney, every student has the opportunity to develop the ability to lead. they offer many paths to explore and sharpen your skills. No matter which path you choose, you will strengthen your ability to work effectively with others and to make a difference in your community, your workplace, and the world.

Small classes and an engaged community create the kind of environment where young men learn best. The student-to-faculty ratio at Hampden-Sydney is 10:1, which means that students have tremendous guidance from professors in an intimate and collaborative environment.

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MUST READ: Effective Life Skills Curriculum For College Students | SAMPLES

#17 Dickinson College

Year Founded: 1773

Founder: Benjamin Rush                                        

Operational Status: Active

Chartered in 1783 by Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a prominent Philadelphia physician, Dickinson was the first college established in the new United States of America.

Here, students are encouraged to be actively engaged with the wider world and challenged to think differently and act boldly. Dickinsonians are guided by a core set of tenets—to be decisive, useful, curious, and unafraid to take risks.

Dickinson College produces critical thinkers who see how everything is connected. Graduates forever ready to make a difference.

With over 2,345 full-time students from across 38 U.S. states and 49 countries in the world, Dickinson College provides a useful, innovative and interdisciplinary education in the liberal arts and sciences to prepare students to lead rich and fulfilling lives of engaged global citizenship, working for the common good.

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#16 Salem College

Year Founded: 1772

Founder: Moravian community of Salem                 

Operational Status: Active

Salem College traces its history to April 1772, when the Moravian community of Salem, North Carolina, founded a school for girls and appointed Sister Elisabeth Oesterlein as its first teacher. 

As the oldest educational institution for girls and women in America, Salem Academy, and College has a proud history of fostering independence in women.

Salem College, a liberal arts college for women, values its students as individuals, develops their unique potential, and prepares them to change the world.

Salem College operates as a single-gender institution nearly 150 years after its founding. However, men 23 years of age and older are admitted into the school’s graduate degree programs and its Continuing Education program through the Martha H. Fleer Center for Adult Education. Located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Salem College was a trailblazer in early American civil rights.

At Salem, students can earn bachelor’s degrees in a number of fields and industries as well as master’s degrees in both teaching and education.

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#15 College of Charleston

Year Founded: 1770

Founder: Lieutenant Governor William Bull              

Operational Status: Active

Located in the heart of historic Charleston, South Carolina, the College of Charleston is a nationally recognized public liberal arts and sciences university. Founded in 1770, the College is among our list of oldest universities in USA. It also tops the chart as the nation’s top universities for quality education, student life, and affordability. Its beautiful and historic campus, combined with contemporary facilities, cutting-edge programs, and accessible faculty attracts students from across the U.S. and around the world.

College of Charleston looks to be a transformative national university redefining liberal arts education through innovation.

With its stellar location, vibrant student life, and devoted faculty, the College of Charleston is truly one of the nation’s great public universities offering 63 majors, 81 minors, 22 master’s degree programs, and 9 graduate-level certificate programs.

U.S. News & World Report ranks the College a No. 5 top public colleges in the south, the No. 3 ranked college for veterans among southern institutions, the No. 8 most innovative school in the region, the No. 8 best colleges for undergraduate teaching in the south and the best value regional college.

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SEE ALSO: 20 Historically Black Colleges in the World

#14 Dartmouth College

Year Founded: 1769

Founder: Eleazar Wheelock

Operational Status: Active

The 14th oldest university in USA on our list is Dartmouth University.

Established in 1769 by Eleazar Wheelock, a Puritan minister, Dartmouth began as a men’s college but started to admit women as full-time students and undergraduate degree candidates in 1972 amid much controversy. 

Dartmouth is a member of the Ivy League and consistently ranks among the world’s greatest academic institutions. Home to a celebrated liberal arts curriculum and pioneering professional schools, Dartmouth has shaped the education landscape and prepared leaders through its inspirational learning experience.

The College has forged a singular identity, combining its deep commitment to outstanding undergraduate liberal arts and graduate education with distinguished research and scholarship in the Arts & Sciences and its three leading professional schools—the Geisel School of Medicine, Thayer School of Engineering, and the Tuck School of Business.

Ranked No. 1 in undergraduate teaching for the last four consecutive years by U.S. News & World Report and recognized by the Carnegie Foundation as a “research university with very high research activity,” Dartmouth combines elite academics with thriving research and scholarship.

Dartmouth is home to about 4,200 undergraduates in the liberal arts and 1,900 graduate students in more than 25 advanced degree programs in the Arts & Sciences and at Dartmouth’s professional schools: the Geisel School of Medicine, the nation’s fourth-oldest medical school; Thayer School of Engineering, one of the nation’s first professional schools of engineering; and the Tuck School of Business, the world’s first graduate school of management.

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#13 Rutgers University

Year Founded: 1766


Operational Status: Active

Officially known as Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Rutgers University was first chartered in 1766 as the all-male Queen’s College, named in honor of King George III’s Queen consort, Charlotte of Mecklenburg. To pay tribute to Revolutionary War veteran Colonel Henry Rutgers, the school changed its name to Rutgers College in 1825 and then again to Rutgers University 100 years later.

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, stands among America’s highest-ranked, most diverse public research universities. 

With hundreds of degree programs, locations across New Jersey, and 71,000-plus students, Rutgers delivers something for everyone.

As one of the leading comprehensive public research universities in the nation, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, provides for the instructional needs of New Jersey’s residents through its undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education programs.

With three campuses located in New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden and an enrollment reaching nearly 70,000 undergraduate and graduate students, Rutgers is one of the largest universities in the nation.

According to U.S. News and World Report, Rutgers University stands out as the best public university in New Jersey. 

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#12 Brown University

Year Founded: 1764


Operational Status: Active

Brown has earned a global reputation for its innovative undergraduate and graduate educational experience, rooted in its flexible yet academically rigorous Open Curriculum.

Founded in 1764, Brown is one of the oldest universities in USA and a leading research university home to world-renowned faculty, and also an innovative educational institution where the curiosity, creativity, and intellectual joy of students drives academic excellence.

Brown’s academic excellence is rooted in a student-centered model of learning. The Open Curriculum is a flexible but rigorous approach to education that pushes students to be creative thinkers, intellectual risk-takers, and entrepreneurial problem-solvers. Their undergraduate and graduate programs offer students intensive learning and research experiences, that help develop each scholar’s interest and idea within their intended specialty.

Students leave Brown prepared to thrive as independent, innovative leaders, no matter what path they choose.

With over 7,043 undergraduate students and 2,629 graduate students, the school is now comprised of an undergraduate school known as The College as well as the Graduate School, the School of Professional Studies, the School of Public Health, the School of Engineering, and the Alpert Medical School. 

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#11 Columbia University

Year Founded: 1754

Founder: King George II of England

Operational Status: Active

Columbia University was founded in 1754 as King’s College by the royal charter of King George II of England. It is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York and one of the oldest colleges in US.

In 1897, the university moved from Forty-ninth Street and Madison Avenue, where it had stood for forty years, to its present location on Morningside Heights at 116th Street and Broadway. Seth Low, the president of the University at the time of the move, sought to create an academic village in a more spacious setting.

Columbia University is one of the world’s most important centers of research and at the same time a distinctive and distinguished learning environment for undergraduates and graduate students in many scholarly and professional fields. 

The University offers an outstanding and comprehensive array of academic programs. These include three undergraduate schools, thirteen graduate and professional schools, a world-renowned medical center, four affiliated colleges and seminaries, twenty-five libraries, and more than one hundred research centers and institutes.

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SEE ALSO: Columbia University Acceptance Rate

#10 Washington and Lee University

Year Founded: 1749

Founder: George Wahington & General Robert E. Lee 

Operational Status: Active

Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, is a nationally ranked, small, private, liberal arts university nestled in the mountains of western Virginia.  

As one of the oldest universities in USA, they believe in the education of the whole person, and value students who are intellectually curious, eager to engage with their communities, inclined to critical thinking, and prepared to lead lives of consequence.

Founded in 1749, the tiny school was initially known as Augusta Academy and was located in Augusta County, Virginia. After relocating a number of times during the ensuing decades, 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 then sweeping the Colonies. In 1782 the academy moved into a small frame building on the edge of what is now the W&L campus.

At W&L, students enjoy small classes and close relationships with professors, while choosing from a remarkable variety of majors and minors, courses, and in-depth study opportunities — usually found only at large institutions.

At W&L you have the flexibility to combine interests and pursue different passions.  

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#9 Princeton University

Year Founded: 1746


Operational Status: Active

Chartered in 1746, Princeton is the ninth oldest college in the United States. The University has been led by 20 presidents, spanning colonial times to the 21st century.

The value of service is central to the mission of Princeton as a liberal arts university. It infuses the passions and pursuits of our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and is essential to how Princetonians serve the public good.

Princeton provides undergraduate and graduates instruction in engineering, natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, and it offers professional degrees through the Bendheim Center for Finance, the School of Architecture, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Between 2001 and 2018, Princeton ranked either first or second among national universities by U.S. News & World Report, holding the top spot for 16 of those 18 years.

Princeton University has an outstanding commitment to service to humanity. 

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RELATED POST: Princeton University: Admission, Tuition, Scholarships, Courses, Ranking

#8 University of Delaware

Year Founded: 1743

Founder: Rev. Dr. Francis Alison

Operational Status: Active

One of the oldest universities in USA, the University of Delaware traces its roots to 1743 when a petition by the Presbytery of Lewes expressing the need for an educated clergy led the Rev. Dr. Francis Alison to open a school in New London, Pennsylvania.

By 1765, Alison’s school relocated to Newark. Newark College opened as a degree-granting institution in 1834 and was renamed Delaware College in 1843. In 1867, the college was designated one of the nation’s historic Land Grant colleges.

A women’s college opened in 1914 with 58 students, and in 1921, the two colleges joined to become the University of Delaware.

The University has a strong tradition of distinguished scholarship, which is manifested in its research and creative activities, teaching, and service, in line with its commitment to increasing and disseminating scientific, humanistic, artistic, and social knowledge for the benefit of the larger society.

UD graduates are prepared to contribute to a global and diverse society that requires leaders with creativity, integrity, and a dedication to service. 

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#7 Moravian College

Year Founded: 1742

Founder: Countess Benigna von Zinzendorf

Operational Status: Active

Moravian College was founded in 1742 on a belief that education is essential for all, without regard for gender or social standing. It was a revolutionary idea at the time, but that didn’t stop us. In fact, Moravian thrives on new and innovative ideas and has been embracing them ever since.

As the 7th oldest university in the U.S., Moravian College offers students more than 55 majors and minors. Double or triple major. Or be a little revolutionary and create your own one-of-a-kind, self-designed major.

Moravian College is a historic and history-making college known for its promise of global experiences for all, commitment to career development and services, and focus on leadership competencies.  

Moravian’s total enrollment for fall 2019 was 2,595, including both full- and part-time students in undergraduate and graduate programs. The student population represents 13 states and 7countries. 

The school’s most popular majors are biological sciences, psychology, sociology, business, and health sciences.

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#6 University of Pennsylvania

Year Founded: 1723

Founder: Benjamin Franklin

Operational Status: Active

University of Pennsylvania is the sixth oldest university in the US. Situated in West Philadelphia, Upenn was established in 1740. 

Originally, UPenn was supposed to be called the Publick Academy of Philadelphia, and it went through several name changes before becoming the University of Pennsylvania in 1791. Benjamin Franklin is credited as the school’s founder based on his efforts to begin a post-secondary institution in the area, mainly for the purpose of training leaders in public service, government, and commerce, similar to a modern liberal arts curriculum.

Penn’s academics are boosted by its inherent culture and ecosystem of innovation. You name it, if it’s cutting-edge, the University’s faculty—and students—have their hands in it. Grounded in the liberal arts and sciences and enriched by the integrated resources of four undergraduate and 12 graduate schools, Penn offers students an unparalleled education informed by inclusivity, intellectual rigor, research, and the impetus to create new knowledge to the benefit of individuals and communities around the world.

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#5 Washington College


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Year Founded: 1723


Operational Status: Active

Established in 1723 as Kent County Free School until it was chartered in 1782, Washington College has lived in Chestertown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Like many colleges of its day, Washington College was named after General George Washington, who served on the school’s board until 1789 when he was elected to be the first President of the United States. Five other U.S. presidents have visited the school, with the latest being George H.W. Bush.

The school became coeducational in 1891. Today, the college serves 1,450 students from 23 different countries and 35 states. Notable alumni include William Paca and Samuel Chase, two signers of the Declaration of Independence.

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#4 Yale University

Year Founded: 1701

Founder: Colonial Clergymen

Operational Status: Active

The university traces its roots to the 1640s when colonial clergymen led an effort to create a local college in the tradition of European liberal education. In 1701, the Connecticut legislature adopted a charter “to Erect a Collegiate School.”

The school officially became Yale College in 1718, when it was renamed in honor of Welsh merchant Elihu Yale, who had donated the proceeds from the sale of nine bales of goods together with 417 books and a portrait of King George I.

Besides being a member of the Ivy League and one of the nine Colonial Colleges chartered before the American Revolution, Yale is also known for being the first American institution to grant a Doctor of Philosophy degree in the nation in 1861. Yale has continuously nurtured students who grow to become leaders in all sectors of society.

Today, Yale University enrolls more than 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students across 14 constituent schools, including 12 professional schools, the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the original undergraduate college. 

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#3 St. John’s College

Year Founded: 1696

Founders: Maryland colony

Operational Status: Active

St. John’s College is the third oldest college in the United States (reportedly behind Harvard, established in 1636, and College of William and Mary in 1693).

St. John’s College is a place where students study the works of history’s greatest thinkers.

At the heart of St. John’s is a liberal arts curriculum that is conceived as a coherent program of study, which immerses students in reading great books and in lively and unmediated conversation with one another. 

Between the late 19th century to the early 20th century, St. John’s had a history of being a military school, and it operated the first college-level department of naval science in the country.

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#2 College of William & Mary

Year Founded: 1693

Founders: King William III and Queen Mary II of England

Operational Status: Active

The College of William & Mary should have claimed the title of “oldest American college” since it was due to open in 1618. However, an Indian uprising threw plans into a frenzy, and the school’s founders were forced to wait until 1693 with the very first royal charter. W&M played a critical role in the American Revolution, with 17-year-old George Washington earning a surveyor’s license from the school. 

On February 8, 1693, King William III and Queen Mary II of England signed the charter for a “perpetual College of Divinity, Philosophy, Languages, and other good Arts and Sciences” to be founded in the Virginia Colony. And William & Mary was born.

William & Mary is committed to inclusive excellence. The institution strives to be a place where equity and inclusion are integral parts of all that they do.

William & Mary attracts the type of student who’s itching to explore a topic beyond the textbook. We’ve found that W&M undergrads are ready — from day one — to work closely with our experienced faculty on research projects of real academic consequence.

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#1 Harvard University

Year Founded: 1636

Founder: Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony

Operational status: Active

Located in Massachusetts, Harvard University was initially called New College. The name was subsequently changed to Harvard College in honor of its first benefactor, John Harvard, who bequeathed half of his monetary estate and his 320-volume scholar’s library to the university in his will.

Harvard is the oldest College in US, established in 1636 by a vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Harvard University is devoted to excellence in teaching, learning, and research, and to developing leaders in many disciplines who make a difference globally. The University, which is based in Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts, has an enrollment of over 20,000-degree candidates, including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Harvard has more than 360,000 alumni around the world.

As well as being the oldest university in the US, Harvard is also one of the world’s most prominent, currently ranked third in the QS World University Rankings. In the QS World University Rankings by Subject, it’s placed first in the world for the broad subject area of life sciences and medicine, and second for arts and humanities.

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While we draw stories around new academic innovations and institutions in the United States, it’s also worthwhile to acknowledge the older boys.


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