Many foreign visitors to the United States of America, especially those with pre-college-age children thinking about studying abroad, are interested in touring its famous universities and colleges. This article is a short overview of university tourism in the U.S., focused on the nation's most prestigious research and educational institutions as well as the most notable and historic campuses.
For more detailed information about visiting the individual schools here, you will find extensive information for visitors on their own websites, which should be considered the most up-to-date source of information, as well as the linked Wikivoyage city articles.
The Ivy League, which you will often hear Americans discussing, refers to a group of 8 prestigious private universities on the East Coast: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Penn and Yale. While officially a sports confederation, all members are also considered academically to be among the most prestigious universities in the world. However, not all prestigious universities in the United States are members of the Ivy League, and there are non-Ivy League universities like MIT and Stanford which rank alongside them.
The top American liberal arts colleges, including Amherst, Swarthmore, Pomona, Wellesley, and Williams, are smaller than the Ivies and cater exclusively to undergraduates. They are not as well-known, but don't be fooled — they're just as hard to get into and equally respected among American elites, and many experts believe they offer a better, more intimate educational experience. Additionally, there are some specialized schools, such as Curtis and Juilliard for music, that are considered the premier choice within their domain but are not covered here.
There are also some graduate-only institutions that do not admit undergraduates. These often specialize in specific fields; examples include the University of California, San Francisco, CUNY Graduate Center, Rockefeller University and Baylor College of Medicine.
- See also: Studying in the United States
New England and the Mid-Atlantic are home to the densest cluster of the top American universities, and therefore a good place to start the tour—you can cover a lot of institutions without having to spend too much time in transit.
- 1 Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts. One of America's top small liberal arts colleges, with a charming campus. Part of the Five College consortium.
- 2 Brown University, East Side of Providence, Rhode Island. A more liberal member of the Ivies. The neighborhood is also called College Hill. Brown is within walking distance of downtown Providence.
- 3 Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine. One of America's top small liberal arts colleges, and also one of the oldest (founded 1794). It is located in a charming coastal town 30 minutes from Portland, Maine (by car), and a 2-hour drive from Boston.
- 4 Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire. An Ivy League member founded in 1769, it bears the name "college" due to its focus on undergraduate studies, but is a university with highly respected graduate schools in Arts & Sciences, Medicine, Engineering (Thayer) and Business (Tuck). Dartmouth can be reached by bus from Boston or by Amtrak's Vermonter line to nearby White River Junction, Vermont. From Boston by car (about 2.5 hours), take Interstate 93 to Interstate 89 to Rt. 120. Hanover is about a five-hour drive from New York City.
- 5 Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts.). The oldest university in the United States and the one whose name is most synonymous with prestige. Its landmark location is Harvard Yard, the heart of Harvard College (its undergraduate arm) and the home of the College's freshman dormitories, the mammoth Widener Library, and the statue of John Harvard (a favorite with tourists). The Yard is directly adjacent to the Harvard Red Line station. Across Massachusetts Avenue from the train station is the Harvard Coop, a three-building university store housing a cafe, a bookstore, and mountains of Harvard paraphernalia. Harvard Square has a profusion of bookstores and coffee shops.
- 6 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Massachusetts (On the MBTA Red Line). Focused on STEM fields, MIT is renowned for its intense academics and nerdy culture (including a pranking tradition). Arriving by train from the south will bring you to South Station, which connects directly to MIT and Harvard on the Red Line subway. Arrival by plane will bring you to Logan Airport, from which Cambridge can be reached by car, or by train by taking the Red Line to Harvard or Kendall/MIT.
- 7 Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Squeezed into a rural corner of Massachusetts, Williams is one of America's top small liberal arts colleges, and also one of the oldest (founded 1793).
- 8 Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts. Generally considered the most prestigious women's college in the U.S., and boasting alumni like Hillary Clinton. A member of the Seven Sisters.
- 9 Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. Travelers looking to avoid expensive Amtrak fares are in luck if they are traveling from New York City; New Haven is the last stop on the New Haven line of the Metro-North commuter railroad. A one-way ticket will cost up to $18, depending on time of travel. Travelers can walk to campus (about 20–30 minutes, somewhat conservatively speaking), take a taxi, which should be under $10, or call the Yale shuttle if they have friends who are Yale students. A recognizable destination for taxis should be "Phelps Gate," which is a gate that opens onto the east end, roughly speaking, of Old Campus, a major open space on campus.
- 10 Barnard College, Morningside Heights, Manhattan, New York City. An elite women's college affiliated with and right across Broadway from Columbia. A member of the Seven Sisters.
- 11 Columbia University, Morningside Heights, Manhattan, New York City (Take the 1 train or the M60, M104, M4, and M11 buses). Founded in 1754 as King's College, Columbia moved to its present campus in 1897. An Ivy League school, and the most elite large university in the city.
- 12 Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. Founded in 1865 by Ezra Cornell, the university is situated on a hill that overlooks the scenic Finger Lakes region of New York State. It also has a separate medical school campus in New York City on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
- 13 Georgetown University, Georgetown, Washington, D.C.. The oldest Jesuit university in America, founded in 1789, Georgetown is renowned as a training ground for the political elite. The university's campus is a combination of Gothic revival and Georgian styles. The highlight of the campus is Healy Hall which contains Gaston Hall, a richly decorated auditorium where world leaders often come to speak.
- 14 Howard University, Shaw, Washington, D.C.. Perhaps the best known of the historically black colleges and universities. It counts among its alumni many pre-eminent figures in the African-American community.
- 15 Johns Hopkins University, North Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland. The park-like main campus of Johns Hopkins, Homewood, is set on 140 acres. The architecture was modeled after the Georgian-inspired Federalist style of historic Homewood House (now a museum). Hopkins was a model for most large research universities in the U.S. Besides the main Homewood Campus, there is also a separate East Baltimore Campus comprising of the hospital and famed medical school, as well as the Downtown Baltimore Campus, which is home to the Peabody Institute, the university's music conservatory, and its beautiful George Peabody Library, as well as the university's business school.
- 16 Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey (Can be reached by car or train from nearby New York City in about an hour, depending on traffic or train frequency). An Ivy League school noted for its Collegiate Gothic style campus as well as the colonial-era Nassau Hall that once served as the temporary capitol of the U.S.
- 17 Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. A top liberal arts college outside Philadelphia with Quaker roots, Swarthmore has a beautiful campus and is known for its academic culture. It is a member of the Tri-College Consortium alongside nearby Bryn Mawr and Haverford.
- 18 United States Military Academy (West Point), West Point, New York. Established in 1802, a four-year undergraduate federal service academy approximately 50 miles north of New York City on the bank of the Hudson River. The academy has produced countless American military and governmental leaders, and its historic and scenic neogothic granite campus can be toured only by guide which can be arranged at the visitor's center for a fee.
- 19 , Annapolis, Maryland. An undergraduate college that educates and commissions officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps. Founded in 1845, its impressive campus on the Chesapeake Bay is steeped in history, monuments, and military tradition. Its alumni include numerous individuals that have impacted United States. Tours are available year round during regular visiting hours (9AM to 5PM daily), but access to the campus requires a valid picture ID for those over the age of 16.
- 20 University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), Western region of Philadelphia. A member of the Ivy League known for its Wharton Business School. The Penn campus is accessible by Amtrak and very close Amtrak's 30th Street Station. Penn is integrated into Philadelphia's urban transport grid, making it easily accessible by bus, subway, and car. Penn spans from 40th St to 32nd St, with the core of the campus between Walnut and Spruce streets.
Nearly all of the East Coast universities are easily reachable by the Boston-Washington Amtrak Northeast Corridor rail line, although it is much faster to fly between far-flung cities on the Corridor (Boston to Washington is a 90-minute flight versus an eight-hour train ride on the Northeast Regional or a seven-hour ride on the more expensive Acela Express). Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. and cities between are also served by commercial bus lines, the cheapest of which are Chinatown bus services, which travel between the Chinatowns in the four major cities (as well as midtown in New York City; Chinatown in NYC is downtown, and so the buses serve both locations). Road travel, whether by bus or by car, may not be the best option for the farthest-flung points. Car travel can be a nightmare in tangled cities like Boston and New York. Renting or driving, however, does afford one the most freedom of movement.
- 21 California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, California (By air, fly in to Burbank Airport and take one of several shuttle buses (about $15) to campus). The West Coast analogue to MIT, with the culture and reputation to match.
- 22 Stanford University, Palo Alto, California. A cradle of innovation and entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley, Stanford is reachable from the San Francisco airport, either by airport shuttle bus (SuperShuttle) or by car, or by a transfer from BART to the rail line Caltrain at the Millbrae stop, then continuing on to Palo Alto on Caltrain. The "Marguerite" shuttle travels throughout Palo Alto serving the Stanford campus. An alternative is the smaller San Jose airport, which is closer to the Stanford campus than SFO. The university operates a free art museum on campus with a large collection of works by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin.
- 23 Pomona College, Claremont, California, 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles (Fly in to Ontario Airport, or take the San Bernardino train line from L.A. Union Station). The top liberal arts college in the West, and arguably the hardest to get into of any in the U.S. Its verdant campus features Spanish Colonial and Mission Revival architecture. Pomona is the founding member of the Claremont Colleges, an elite consortium of five undergraduate and two graduate schools with mostly adjacent campuses.
- 24 University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), Berkeley, California. The flagship campus of the University of California system, and arguably the most prestigious public university in the United States. It is reachable from the San Francisco airport as well as the Oakland airport. From San Francisco International Airport (SFO IATA), take the BART train to the Downtown Berkeley stop. From Oakland International Airport, drive or take a shuttle ($2 USD) to the Oakland Coliseum/Airport BART stop, which you can then take to the Downtown Berkeley stop.
- 25 University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California. The second oldest campus in the University of California system after UC Berkeley, and also widely regarded as the second most prestigious public university in the country.
- 26 University of Washington (UW or U-Dub), Seattle, Washington. The flagship institution of Washington state's public university system, and one of the country's foremost institutions in the biological sciences. The campus is best known for the cherry trees in the main quad that are very beautiful when they blossom in the spring. The Suzzallo Library, the university's main library, is one of the most impressive historic buildings on the campus.
Travel to the West Coast can occur through a variety of routes, but most will fly into San Francisco or Los Angeles. For cheaper rates, consider flying into Sacramento or Ontario (California), and renting a car for travel. Most of the more famous universities on the West Coast are difficult to reach with public transportation and are in some of the heaviest auto traffic areas in the United States. Ask locals about "rush hour" times (the busiest traffic). The fastest route to travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles is taking Interstate 80 out of San Francisco, changing to Interstate 580 in Oakland and merging onto Interstate 5 in the Central Valley; US Highway 101 is more direct and offers gorgeous coastal views but is a slower and longer drive; expect traffic bottlenecks south of San Jose and west of Thousand Oaks.
- 27 Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota. One of America's top small liberal arts colleges.
- 28 Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois (just north of Chicago), with its medical and law schools next to the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago. Evanston is easily accessible from Chicago using public transport, with the Foster and Noyes stations on the Purple Line of the Chicago 'L' being at walking distance from Northwestern's main campus. The closest station to the medical and law schools is Chicago station on the Red Line.
- 29 University of Chicago (UChicago), Hyde Park, Chicago. A private university founded in 1890 by oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, the University of Chicago, renowned as an intensely academic research institution. The world's first nuclear reactor, which would later lead to the development of the first nuclear bomb, was developed here by Enrico Fermi in 1942. The neo-gothic campus is bisected by the Midway Plaisance, which is a remnant of the 1893 World's Fair. The university's Oriental Institute is one of the world's foremost authorities in Ancient Near East history and archaeology, and operates a free museum where you can view many of the artifacts they have excavated.
- 30 University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, near Metro Detroit.
- 31 University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana. A Catholic university founded in 1842 by the French priest Fr. Edward Sorin. Renowned for a picturesque campus. Popular attractions include the Oxford-inspired South Dining Hall, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the Lakes of St. Mary and St. Joseph, University of Notre Dame Stadium (the House that Rockne Built), the Grotto, the Main Building with its namesake Golden Dome, and the Hesburgh Library, famous for its colossal "Word of Life" mosaic commonly referred to as "Touchdown Jesus".
- 32 United States Air Force Academy, outside Colorado Springs, Colorado. The national service academy for the U.S. Air Force.
The Midwest is in general a very car-dependent region of the U.S., so renting or bringing your car is for the most part the best way to get around. The Chicago metropolitan area is fairly accessible by public transport, and Northwestern University is accessible on the Chicago "L". The University of Chicago is surrounded by rough neighborhoods, so care should be taken traveling to the campus.
- 33 College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. The second-oldest university in the country. The campus is noted for the Sir Christopher Wren Building, which is the oldest college building in the United States and a National Historic Landmark.
- 34 Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. One of the South's most prestigious universities, and particularly known for its medical school. The Gothic-inspired Duke Chapel is the tallest building on campus and is the university's most notable landmark. Just south of the Chapel on Chapel Drive is the Undergraduate Admissions Office, where tours of the university are offered on a daily basis. Duke's campus can be reached off exits from the 15-501 freeway.
- 35 Rice University, Houston, Texas. One of the most noted schools in Texas. Its campus is designed primarily in the Byzantine architectural style and it is noted for the Lowrey Arboretum which is spread throughout the grounds.
- 36 Texas A&M University, College Station in east-central Texas. Founded as a military school and still home to over 2,000 military cadets, A&M has a very large campus of over 5,500 acres (22 square kilometers), over 70,000 students, and enough distinctive traditions to fill books. See this page for just a few of them.
- 37 University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. UVA was founded by Thomas Jefferson, author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States. Much of Jefferson's original design for the central Grounds (what would be called a "campus" at most other schools) survives, and UVA is the only university in the U.S. designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. He considered the University so important a legacy that he directed that his gravestone include his status as founder of the University, to the exclusion of his U.S. Presidency.
- 38 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill, or just UNC), Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The first state-supported university in the U.S. to admit and graduate students as a public institution. The Duke and UNC campuses can easily be visited in a single trip, or even a single day, as they are only 8 miles/13 km apart.
The southern United States is a large geographic area with an excellent network of interstate highways connecting major metropolitan areas. Nashville, Tennessee is a centrally located city in the South and may be accessed by Nashville International Airport. In some cases, however, driving in between Southern cities may take a prohibitive amount of time and flying to certain locations (e.g., Texas) from other parts of the South may be more efficient.
Canada's universities are also extremely popular with foreign students, but there isn't nearly the same variation between them as in the United States. Unlike in the U.S., Canadian schools are almost all funded by the government and fees are capped in most programs (for Canadians, anyway), so there isn't the same cutthroat competition for wealthy students and donors on the basis of reputation. Nevertheless, the oldest and largest schools do have a certain cachet. The biggest schools are all part the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities.