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The 12 Best Colleges in the Northeast

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Many of the nation’s top schools—from large public research universities to small private liberal arts colleges—are located in the Northeast. With rich histories, beautiful campuses, and rigorous academic programs, Northeastern schools have so much to offer to prospective college students.


Of course, the region prides itself on being home to the nation’s eight Ivy League schools (learn more about the Ivies and their rankings), but Northeastern states are also a hot spot for small and prestigious liberal arts schools. Notably, New England is home to the NESCAC—The New England Small College Athletic Conference


In this article, we will walk through the twelve best non-Ivy schools in the Northeast. Learning about the selectivity of different Northeastern schools’ admissions and what each school is known for will prove immensely valuable when you are creating your college list.


The 12 Best Colleges in the Northeast


1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Acceptance Rate: 7%

Middle 50% SAT: 1500-1570

Middle 50% ACT: 34-36

Undergraduate Enrollment: 4,600


What’s special about MIT?


MIT is known as the world’s best university for technical education due to its renowned engineering and physical sciences program. Since its founding in 1861, the school has spurred rapid advancement via top-notch academics that facilitate revolutionary innovations. MIT culture prides itself on creative nerdiness, as students put their technical skills to use in unique ways. For example, students at MIT bond through practical jokes involving hacking and making liquid nitrogen ice cream in the residential courtyards. In addition to its outstanding professors and fun college community, MIT accelerates success for students after graduation because holding a diploma from such a recognized institution is appealing to most employers. Learn more about MIT and what it takes to get accepted.


2. Johns Hopkins University

Location: Baltimore, Maryland

Acceptance Rate: 11%

Middle 50% SAT: 1505

Middle 50% ACT: 34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,000


What’s special about Johns Hopkins?


Johns Hopkins is a selective private research university that is particularly well known for its medical opportunities and its important role in medical research. While JHU students in all fields are successful, a large portion of the student body pursues the pre-med track, and pre-med graduates show an 80% medical school acceptance rate. A second prestigious program at JHU is the biomedical engineering program, which often ranks #1 in the nation. Having an undergraduate degree from JHU will prove valuable when searching for a job or applying for graduate school. Learn more about Johns Hopkins and what it takes to get accepted.


3. Williams College

Location: Williamstown, Massachusetts

Acceptance Rate: 13%

Middle 50% SAT: 1410-1550

Middle 50% ACT: 32-35

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,000


What’s special about Williams?


Williams College was founded as a men’s college but became coeducational in the 1960s. The private liberal arts school boasts small class sizes, individualized attention from professors, and a tight-knit community. The school uniquely operates on a 4-1-4 schedule, where students take 4 classes in the fall and 4 classes in the spring, as well as an additional 1 class (taken pass/fail) during January. Williams is a school that meets 100% of a student’s demonstrated need for all four undergraduate years. Learn more about Williams and what it takes to get accepted.


4. Amherst College

Location: Amherst, Massachusetts

Acceptance Rate: 13%

Middle 50% SAT: 1390-1540

Middle 50% ACT: 31-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,800


What’s special about Amherst?


Amherst College, a small liberal arts school in the Connecticut River valley, is Massachusetts’ third oldest higher education institution. Amherst itself is a small college town, but the Boston and New York areas are accessible via train. The college is part of the Five College Consortium with Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and UMass Amherst, which gives students access to courses and resources offered at four other outstanding universities. With high-achieving students and brilliant professors, Amherst is renowned for its academic programs. Learn more about Amherst and what it takes to get accepted.


5. Swarthmore College

Location: Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

Acceptance Rate: 9%

Middle 50% SAT: 1390-1530

Middle 50% ACT: 31-35

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,500


What’s special about Swarthmore?


Swarthmore was originally founded by the Quakers but lost its religious affiliation over a century ago. The private liberal arts college is known for its quirky and engaged student population, and because Swarthmore’s student body is small, the college fosters a tight-knit community. Students at Swarthmore have the unique opportunity to design their own majors and course plans if they so choose. Another unique opportunity offered to students is participating in the Tri-College and Quaker Consortium. Through the Consortium, Swarthmore students can take classes at Haverford College, Bryn Mawr College, and the University of Pennsylvania. Learn more about Swarthmore and what it takes to get accepted.


6. Georgetown University

Location: Washington, Washington DC

Acceptance Rate: 15%

Middle 50% SAT: 1370-1530

Middle 50% ACT: 31-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 7,400


What’s special about Georgetown?

Georgetown is a research institution in a quaint neighborhood of Washington D.C. The university has a reputation for exceptional academics and notable school pride. Georgetown students—known as Hoyas—have numerous traditions that create a cohesive spirit on campus. In addition to academic rigor, students are presented with great opportunities due to the university’s location in the D.C. area. The school’s alumni are known for being strongly involved in undergraduate mentorship and the university sponsors speakers series so that students are exposed to key players in world affairs. Though you don’t have to be Catholic to attend Georgetown, following its Jesuit roots, Georgetown boasts a strong Catholic community and promotes values like integrating learning, faith, and service. Learn more about Georgetown and what it takes to get accepted.


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7. Carnegie Mellon University

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Acceptance Rate: 17%

Middle 50% SAT: 1460-1560

Middle 50% ACT: 33-35

Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,500


What’s special about Carnegie Mellon?


Carnegie Mellon is simultaneously an impressive school in technical fields like engineering and computer science and creative fields like drama and architecture. Because of the school’s multifaceted academic success, it is characterized by a diverse student body—both with regards to race and ethnicity and student backgrounds, personalities, and programs of study. That being said, common traits amongst all CMU students include passion and drive. CMU has name recognition with employers in most industries and graduates typically have great opportunities after obtaining their CMU degree. Learn more about Carnegie Mellon and what it takes to get accepted.


8. Bowdoin College

Location: Brunswick, Maine

Acceptance Rate: 10%

Middle 50% SAT: 1300-1510

Middle 50% ACT: 30-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,800


What’s special about Bowdoin?


Bowdoin is a private liberal arts college in Maine, consistently ranked as one of the top 10 liberal arts colleges in the nation. Because the college is small, there is a strong sense of community between students, staff, and professors. Bowdoin is a college built on history—chartered in 1794—that emphasizes its foundational value pursuing “The Common Good.” Students are encouraged by their professors and peers to use their talents in a way that benefits their community. Learn more about Bowdoin and what it takes to get accepted.


9. Tufts University

Location: Medford, Massachusetts

Acceptance Rate: 15%

Middle 50% SAT: 1380-1530

Middle 50% ACT: 31-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 5,600


What’s special about Tufts?


Tufts is a research university with outstanding liberal arts and pre-med programs. The pre-med program at Tufts is known for being academically rigorous and for having renowned professors. Overall, the university is known for providing the personalized attention of a liberal arts college with the resources of a research institution. The student-to-professor ratio at Tufts is 9:1 and students feel valued within the student body. Though Tufts is not in Boston, it is a short 5 miles away, and students can access great research opportunities and job opportunities in the city. Many students describe Tufts as not too big, but not too small and not too urban, but not too suburban. Learn more about Tufts and what it takes to get accepted.


10. Wellesley College

Location: Wellesley, Massachusetts

Acceptance Rate: 20%

Middle 50% SAT: 1330-1540

Middle 50% ACT: 30-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,500


What’s special about Wellesley?


Wellesley, a private women’s college, is a prestigious school that ranks amongst the nation’s top 5 liberal arts colleges. The school prides itself on its female roots—its buildings are named after women, a majority of the faculty are women, and all past and present students are women. Wellesley’s alumni network is a unique and important resource for students as they find it easy to connect with graduates and obtain opportunities through those connections. Wellesley is extremely diverse and the college meets 100% of admitted students’ calculated financial needs. Learn more about Wellesley and what it takes to get accepted.


11. Middlebury College

Location: Middlebury, Vermont

Acceptance Rate: 17%

Middle 50% SAT: 1330-1500

Middle 50% ACT: 31-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,500


What’s special about Middlebury?


Middlebury was founded in 1800 as the first operating college in Vermont and the school’s campus is thought of as one of the most beautiful college campuses, particularly during autumn. Middlebury is an innovative school with a global/international focus. The liberal arts college is known for its emphasis on language instruction, travel programs, and experiential learning. Students at Middlebury are thought of as happy and friendly, competing with themselves rather than competing with their peers. Learn more about Middlebury and what it takes to get accepted.


12. Hamilton College

Location: Clinton, New York

Acceptance Rate: 21%

Middle 50% SAT: 1350-1510

Middle 50% ACT: 31-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,000


What’s special about Hamilton?


Hamilton is an academically rigorous school that boasts an open curriculum. The people at the school—students, staff, and faculty—are generally thought of as kind and accommodating. Hamilton’s liberal arts curriculum highlights the importance of critical conversations, meaningful discussions, and advanced writing skills. Hamilton has numerous traditions, including the Class & Charter Day when afternoon classes are canceled on the last day of the semester so students can celebrate their successes throughout the year. Learn more about Hamilton and what it takes to get accepted.


What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?


To find more information on New England’s outstanding liberal arts schools, you may want to look at CollegeVine’s breakdown of the Top 10 Liberal Arts Colleges in New England.


In addition to being in the top twelve colleges in the Northeast, Wellesley and Carnegie Mellon are included on CollegeVine’s list of the Top 10 Most Underrated East Coast Colleges. Check out this breakdown to learn about eight other underrated East Coast colleges.


While each of these colleges has a different average acceptance rate, they are all selective. It is great to be interested in selective schools, but it is also important to remember to create a balanced college list. If possible, a student should apply to 8-10 schools, with about 25% being safety schools, 40% target schools, and 35% reach schools. These categories—safety, target, and reach—are determined by your chances of acceptance at the schools you are applying to.


Because your personal chances of acceptance at these schools may differ from the average acceptance rate, w e’ve made it easy to figure out which schools fall into which categories with our free Admissions Chances Calculator. By taking into account your grades, test scores, and extracurriculars, we’ll estimate your odds of acceptance at different schools and give you tips on improving your profile.



Brooke Elkjer
Blog Writer

Short Bio
Brooke is a film and television production assistant, originally from Dallas, Texas. She holds Bachelor’s degrees in English and Neuroscience from the University of Southern California. At USC, Brooke was a producer for the intersectional feminist production company on campus, a Resident Assistant (RA), and a student worker for the Thematic Option Honors GE Program. In her free time, Brooke enjoys reading, writing, and watching Gilmore Girls.