Every state in the union has its share of “college towns,” cities that house one or more universities and work them into their cultural identity.
It’s not hard to see why so many schools want the designation.
When people think of a college town, they not only imagine a host of institutions to train the best and brightest of the area. College towns are filled with cultural offerings, such as concerts and art installations, visits from intellectuals and politicians, and often economic growth.
But while many American cities can be considered college towns, none embody that term better than Boston, Massachusetts.
Once the cultural and intellectual capital of the United States, Boston has roots that go back to the nation’s founding.
Rather than rest on their laurels, the people of Boston have continued to improve the city’s institutions, adding more schools and increasing the influence of those already in place.
Because of that work, most people are aware of the most famous Boston schools, MIT and Harvard. But the list goes much, much deeper.
To help future students choose the best schools in one of America’s oldest cities, we’ve put together this list of the top ten colleges in the greater Boston area.
Each school here is ranked based on its position in the US News best national universities list at the time of this writing.
So if you’re ready to go to the ultimate college town, read on and make your choice.
10. Lesley University (Cambridge, MA)
Few schools have experienced quite the rise in fortunes enjoyed by Lesley University. When the school was established in 1909 as the Lesley Normal School, classes were held inside the home of founder Edith Lesley.
Lesley built her school around the principle that each human was unique. That belief drives the school even today, as it devotes itself to the human arts.
All of Lesley University’s programs are built around the intersection of the visual arts, education, and counseling. In fact, the school trains more teachers and counselors than any other institution in New England.
With an endowment of $194.1 million, Lesley works to create innovative and exciting programs that emphasize the human element of the arts and professional fields.
We see evidence of that commitment not only in Lesley’s degree offerings, which range from expected programs in business management to unique and necessary degrees, including expressive therapies. Every degree offered at Lesley emphasizes individuality and creativity, giving students plenty of space to plan and pursue their own interests.
Lesley also puts humanity first in its expansion initiatives. Thanks to partnerships with local companies and smart planning, Lesley has been able to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of its campus by nearly 90%.
Whether it’s giving students the tools to become caring and empathetic therapists or helping the next generation of writers find their voices, Lesley lives up to its goal of making education a human endeavor.
Not bad for a school that started in a Cambridge house.
9. UMass Boston (Boston, MA)
Not only is the University of Massachusetts’s Boston campus the third-largest of the system’s five schools, but it is also the third most-diverse school in the United States.
UMass Boston didn’t earn that rank by accident. Rather, it’s the result of active decisions on the part of University leaders.
The school takes as a given that diversity matters, not just for the sake of serving the community of Boston, but for the education of its students.
By exposing them to different types of people, UMass Boston gives its students more opportunities to grow and learn.
To that end, the school features an active Office of Global Programs, which both recruits students across the world and supports them in their endeavors.
Thanks to their desire to create global citizens, participants in a worldwide community, Umass Boston has become home to students and faculty from 136 countries.
With this strong community in place, Umass Boston students are well suited to develop their critical thinking skills. The school supports that learning with a wide range of engaging degree programs.
At the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, students gain the experience and knowledge they need to be players on the world stage. Students in McCormack study government policy and research movements affecting all nations.
Its Conflict Resolution Graduate program was one of the first in the nation, and the Gender, Leadership, and Public Policy program continues to win awards for innovation.
8. Simmons University (Boston, MA)
As a private women’s school, Simmons University has trained barrier-breaking women in a range of fields. Simmons alumni include NBC News correspondent Rehema Ellis, prisoner’s rights activist Barbara Margolis, and noted political journalist Gwen Ifill.
Such a proud tradition of excellence stems directly from Simmons’s efforts to create strong leadership training supported by a liberal arts foundation.
Boasting a faculty consisting of 72% women, Simmons offers small class sizes. With an average student-to-teacher ratio of 8:1 and an average class size of only 15 students, everyone attending Simmons benefits from access and attention from faculty.
Teachers are more than just educators; they are mentors.
As mentors, the faculty at Simmons works to integrate its students into the larger population of Boston. Taking advantage of its central location, the school offers numerous field trips and research expeditions to the city’s historical sites.
Furthermore, the school collaborates with other institutions in the area, allowing them to form cross-disciplinary relationships.
With connections to the Boston Public Library, the John F. Kennedy Library, and the Massachusetts Historical Society, Simmons expands its already impressive offerings.
Likewise, the school’s partnerships with institutions such as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Museum of Fine Arts allow them to secure internships at these and other esteemed centers of learning.
With these systems in place, Simmons can graduate the next generation of inspirational women.
One such woman is Terri Bright, who has gone on to become the Director of Behavior Services at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – Angell Animal Medical Center (MSPCA Angell).
7. Northeastern University (Boston, MA)
A tier-one university renowned for its high caliber of research, Northeastern University is one of the most selective schools in Boston. Only 18% of those who apply to Northeastern are granted acceptance to study at the university.
Thanks to a remarkable endowment worth over $1 billion, Northeastern is a leader in a number of research fields. Several research centers make their home at Northeastern, particularly in the STEM subjects.
The Institute for Experiential Robotics advances the study and creation of artificial intelligence. Students and researchers in the IER study human behavior and machine learning to bridge the gap between robot and person.
The Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security works alongside the research and development teams of companies across the world. Thanks to the resources available from Northeastern, companies can find ways to protect their investments and projects from threats across the world.
As impressive as these initiatives may be, they do not make up the whole of Northeastern’s aims. The university is also famed for its cooperative education program.
Working alongside over 3,000 partners in every continent, the co-op program provides students with experiential learning.
More than a mere internship, the co-op programs not only allow students to apply their learning in real-world situations, everything from local charities to Fortune 500 businesses, but also the chance to form their own co-ops. The program lets students take the lead in their education and training.
6. Brandeis University (Waltham, MA)
Established in 1948 by the Jewish community in Boston, Brandeis University is one of the younger schools on this list. But make no mistake, the university has wasted no time establishing itself as one of the best in the area.
With a strong focus on the liberal arts, Brandeis has established itself as the home of a number of impressive artists and academics.
Over the years, the school has been associated with everyone from former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to Adam Cheyer, creator of the Siri software used on Apple phones and computers.
In fact, alumni and teachers include winners of major awards, such as the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes, as well as MacArthur Fellows and heads of state.
Brandeis can partially attribute this success to the work of its many research centers.
Famous for its work on social and health policies, the Heller School for Social Policy and Management gives grad students and researchers support to develop new ways of addressing issues such as substance abuse, mental health, and family challenges.
In the field of finance programs, the university sits near the top of most rankings, thanks to the work of the Brandeis International Business School. With programs on management, economic policy, microcredit lending, and more, the IBS has moved to the forefront of financial education.
With these and other programs at their disposal, Brandeis has used its first 75 years to make a name for itself. And as their research shows, the university will only grow in esteem over the next 75 years.
5. Boston University (Boston, MA)
Many of the schools on this list pride themselves on their engagement with social issues. But few can beat out Boston University, which established the Martin Luther King Chair of Social Ethics back in the 1960s.
However, that and other similar programs came directly from the action of students, whose protests and activism have established a history of positive change on the campus.
Today, Boston University remains focused on empowering its students and on engaging with the community. With a body of over 34,000 students, BU is committed to helping students pursue their passions and enjoy new experiences.
It’s that commitment that allows for unique art installations at Boston University. In August of 2021, MFA lighting design candidate Kayleigha Zawacki staged “Panthera Tigris,” an exploration of wildlife conservation using lighting, sound, projected animation, and scenery.
The commitment to helping students expand their horizons also drives the school’s scientific endeavors. Working in coordination with financial firm Mass Mutual, BU recently secured $1 million to develop a new Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences position.
With that endowment, BU will secure a role for a faculty member with practical experience to bridge the gap between technology and everyday concerns.
As these many initiatives demonstrate, Boston University continues the school’s history of empowering students to make a real difference in their lives and the lives of others.
4. Boston College (Chestnut Hill, MA)
Founded in 1863 by the Jesuits, Boston College exists to fulfill the mission of the Catholic Order by encouraging faith and service through liberal arts education. BC trains students to be problem-solvers, working to address some of the most pressing issues of our age and to improve the world for everyone. Following its religious tradition, BC encourages the pursuit of truth.
Although Boston College is a tier-one institution with high research activity, it refuses to refer to itself as a university. To the administrators at BC, the word “college” better reflects the school’s small-town feel and tight-knit community.
To that end, the BC campus has everything you’d expect within a small community, including a vibrant information system.
Several student-run newspapers are published at BC, including the progressive magazine The Gavel, the Catholic paper The Torch, and the satirical outlet The New England Classic.
Additionally, broadcast networks such as the student-run radio station WZBC and the cable television station BCTV.
Apropos of the school’s religious affiliation, the BC community includes 112 Jesuits living on campus, one of the largest such groups in the world.
Jesuits serve not only as students and faculty members, but also as advisors and support services.
Because of this solid Catholic tradition, many chapels are housed on BC’s campus.
But the school’s primary church is the Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, located off-campus. In addition to providing St. Ignatius with tech services and other support, several BC students teach in the church’s religious education program.
3. Tufts University (Medford, MA)
Originally a small New England liberal arts school, Tufts University has grown to become one of the most important institutions in the nation.
Not only does it feature all of the excellent programs and scholarly initiatives one would expect of a tier-one research institution, but Tufts focuses all of its offerings around an ethos of active citizenship and public service.
That commitment to service and citizenship is most apparent in Tufts’s international affairs graduate school, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
One of the oldest such schools in the United States, the Fletcher School prepares students to navigate the complex waters of international affairs. The school’s alumni operate in over 150 countries, serving as diplomats, ambassadors, corporate executives, and more.
Likewise, the Tufts Medical Center is a state-of-the-art teaching hospital for medical students. The Center features a renowned emergency department and a level one trauma center, designed to give students hands-on training in the most high-stakes situations.
Students can also participate in the Medical Center’s research programs, which focus on issues such as cardiac health and obesity.
Although it doesn’t deal with public policy, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University serves the public by demonstrating forms of human expression.
Operating in cooperation with Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the school offers undergraduate and graduate courses, as well as numerous installations, showings, and workshops.
2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA)
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is not just one of the top schools in the city of Boston.
It’s one of the best in the entire world.
MIT is inextricably associated with cutting-edge technology and the latest in scientific research.
Since the school’s founding in 1861, it has been associated with leaders in every STEM discipline as well as winners of every major award.
The school’s alumni, faculty, and research fellows include 8 Fields Medalists, 26 winners of the Turing Award, and 97 Nobel laureates. Its graduates go on to lead the world’s most innovative and influential think tanks, research labs, and companies.
Students go on to such auspicious achievements thanks to MIT’s unparalleled resources. The school’s faculty is comprised of distinguished researchers and teachers, including 67 Guggenheim Fellows, 6 Fulbright Scholars, and 22 MacArthur Fellows.
Current faculty members include economist Peter Diamond. In addition to winning the Nobel Prize for economics in 2010, Diamond has been a key architect of American social security policy.
Professor of computer science Regina Barzilay won a MacArthur Fellowship for her work on artificial intelligence. She serves as the faculty lead for AI projects at the Jameel Clinic.
Thanks to the work of these remarkable faculty members, MIT has a reputation for important research.
The school receives most of its research funding from the U.S. government, including nearly $256 million from the Department of Health and Human Services, $97.5 million from the Department of Defense, and $27.4 million from NASA.
1. Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)
It should come as no surprise that Harvard University tops this list. Few schools in the world can match Harvard in terms of teaching, research, and academic influence. As the flagship Ivy League institution, Harvard is one of the most selective and reputable schools in the United States.
Founded in 1636, Harvard is also the oldest university in the United States. Its faculty, researchers, and alumni have won every notable award, including 161 Nobel laureates, 18 Fields Medalists, 375 Rhodes Scholars, and 255 Marshall Scholars. Amazingly, 188 billionaires graduated from Harvard, more than any other university.
Part of that success comes from the remarkable support Harvard enjoys. With an endowment of approximately $41.9 billion, Harvard is among the wealthiest schools in the world.
As one would expect, Harvard puts that money to excellent use, with many record-breaking research centers and institutions at its disposal, including Harvard Medical School, the Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and more.
That funding also goes toward operating the school’s museums and libraries. The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library serves as the center of the university’s library system. Widener holds approximately 3.5 million books, including a complete original Gutenberg Bible.
A collection of three museums – the Fogg Museum, the Busch-Reisinger Museum, and the Sackler Museum – the Harvard art museums feature some of the most important works in the west.
Holdings include paintings from Dutch Masters Rembrandt and Steen, works of the German Expressionists, and more.
As demonstrated by this very brief list, just the tip of the university’s offerings, it’s no wonder why Harvard is the best school in the ultimate college town of Boston.
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