The 50 smartest colleges in America

Caltech studentsInstagram/@caltecheduCaltech once again tops the list of the smartest colleges in America this year.

We recently ranked the 50 best colleges in America based on how well they prepare students for success after graduation. Next, we wanted to find out which schools enroll the smartest students.

Jonathan Wai, a Duke University Talent Identification Program research scientist, created a ranking exclusively for Business Insider of the smartest US colleges and universities based on the schools’ average standardised test scores. Research shows that both the SAT and ACT are good measures of general cognitive ability, since they measure one’s ability to reason.

We updated last year’s ranking by including the 1,338 schools in the national university, liberal arts college, regional university, and regional college lists that reported SAT or ACT scores in the latest US News & World Report ranking. ACT scores were converted to SAT scores (maths + verbal) using this concordance table so all schools could be compared on one metric. Then, an average of the 25th and 75th percentile was computed (see more detail on methods and limitations here).

Once again, the Pasadena-based California Institute of Technology takes the top spot on the list, and the University of Chicago, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton round out the top five schools.

Keep scrolling to see the 50 smartest colleges in America.

50. Macalester College

St. Paul, Minnesota

Average SAT score: 1368

Macalester ranks sixth in the nation, according to US News, for best undergraduate teaching, and 23rd overall for best liberal-arts colleges. Macalester is proud of its 'cutting-edge courses' that bring out-of-the-box perspectives to today's global issues. Previous classes include 'inside the animal mind,' 'constructions of a female killer,' and 'the automobile and the American environment.'

47 (TIE). Case Western Reserve University

Cleveland, Ohio

Average SAT score: 1370

Case Western is known for its top-rated engineering and science programs: Nearly 30% of students major in an engineering field, and another 13% major in biology. Students are exposed to an endless number of research opportunities at a school that's consistently ranked in the top 20 private research institutes in the country.

47 (TIE). College of William and Mary

Williamsburg, Virginia

Average SAT score: 1370

William and Mary calls itself a 'public Ivy' for its high-quality research program and academic rigour at a public-school price. The school is the second-oldest college in the US -- chartered in 1693 -- and attracts some of the smartest students in the nation: 81% of new students this year ranked within the top 10% of their high school classes.

47 (TIE). Emory University

Atlanta, Georgia

Average SAT score: 1370

Emory is known for its top nursing and business programs. Alumni have gone on to become high-ranking leaders and executives, including former speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich and former New York Stock Exchange CEO Duncan Niederauer.

44 (TIE). Cooper Union


New York, New York

Average SAT score: 1375

Cooper Union was ranked the No. 1 best-value school and second-best overall undergraduate school in the north by US News. With a 15% admission rate, it's one of the most selective schools in the country, highly lauded for its excellent architecture, fine arts, and engineering programs.

44 (TIE). Reed College


Portland, Oregon

Average SAT score: 1375

Reed is often considered one of the most intellectual colleges in America, regarded for its 'high standards of scholarly practice, creative thinking, and engaged citizenship.' The liberal-arts school has small classes -- the student-to-faculty ratio is 9:1 -- and conference-style seminars that enable deeper thought and discussion during lessons.

44 (TIE). Colgate University


Hamilton, New York

Average SAT score: 1375

Colgate has an impressive track record of sending grads to top graduate schools (Columbia, NYU, Harvard, Cornell, and UPenn rank in the top five) as well as top employment positions. Many alumni go into the fields of education, entrepreneurship, sales, and finance. 'We consider the success of our alumni, young and old, to be one of our most prominent distinctions,' the Colgate website says.

42 (TIE). University of Michigan at Ann Arbor


Ann Arbor, Michigan

Average SAT score: 1380

Second only to Harvard, Michigan students received more Fulbright grants than anywhere else in the country last year. The university counts Google cofounder Larry Page, actor James Earl Jones, and President Gerald Ford among its many high-profile alumni.

40 (TIE). Wesleyan University


Middletown, Connecticut

Average SAT score: 1385

Wesleyan University offers over 1,000 unique classes across 45 areas of study. The most popular majors for the class of 2013 included psychology, English language and literature, and economics. Students also take advantage of opportunities off-campus, with more than 300 studying or completing internships abroad.

40 (TIE). Wellesley College


Wellesley, Massachusetts

Average SAT score: 1385

This women's college was ranked the fourth-best liberal-arts school in the country by US News. Notable alumni include presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and former secretary of state Madeleine Albright. Wellesley believes that a top-notch education has a lasting effect on its young women, who accomplish incredible things when they graduate; the school calls this 'the Wellesley effect.'

37 (TIE). Washington and Lee University

Lexington, Virginia

Average SAT score: 1390

Undergraduate students can choose from 37 majors and 29 minors, as well as a number of interdisciplinary programs. The school's unique calendar -- divided into two 12-week periods followed by a four-week one -- allows students to pursue a focused course of study during the end of spring. Students can also use this time to fit in studying abroad.

37 (TIE). Hamilton College

Facebook/Hamilton College

Clinton, New York

Average SAT score: 1390

The small, liberal-arts college takes only top talent -- 75% of the class of 2018 were in the top 10% of their graduating high school classes, and 94% were in the top 20%. Hamilton grads have a great track record of earning prestigious awards; 92 were granted Fulbright Scholarships and 18 took Goldwater Scholarships in the last 15 years.

37 (TIE). University of California at Berkeley

Berkeley, California

Average SAT score: 1390

Ranked the No. 1 public university in the country by US News, Berkeley is super-competitive. As an in-state applicant, your chance of admittance is 19%; as an out-of-state applicant, it's just 17%. Students can choose between 170 departments and programs across 12 colleges, and even at a big school 73% of undergraduate classes seat 30 students or fewer.

36. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Troy, New York

Average SAT score: 1395

Fifty-three per cent of students at this technical school opt for an engineering-related major, while another 10% major in computer and information sciences. As the oldest technological research university in the country, RPI gives students the ability, both in classes and in labs, to put 'the application of science to the common purposes of life.'

34 (TIE). Grinnell College

Grinnell, Iowa

Average SAT score: 1400

Ten years after graduation, 51% of Grinnellians hold advanced degrees from institutions like Harvard, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, and the London School of Economics. Other students find employment with prestigious companies like Amazon, Facebook, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Monetary Fund.

34 (TIE). Georgia Institute of Technology

Atlanta, Georgia

Average SAT score: 1400

Georgia Tech is considered the smartest public college in America, and the seventh-best public school in America overall. A number of Georgia Tech's courses of study are ranked within the top 10 in the US as well, including its industrial engineering program (No. 1), its aerospace and mechanical engineering programs (No. 2), and its quantitative analysis program (No. 5).

33. Vassar College


Poughkeepsie, New York

Average SAT score: 1405

Originally a women's college, Vassar now provides both men and women with a top-notch liberal-arts education, and is ranked the No. 11 best liberal-arts college in the country by US News. In addition to internships and study abroad programs, more than 500 students participate in a semester of field work, typically in the Poughkeepsie area, where they are placed in community and human-services organisations, nonprofits, and government agencies.

32. Haverford College

Haverford, Pennsylvania

Average SAT score: 1410

Haverford is proud of its rigorous academic program, which 'focuses on individual growth, intellectual exploration, and pushing the boundaries of each discipline.' A small student body makes it possible for students to receive individualized attention from professors and fellow classmates.

31. Carleton College

Northfield, Minnesota

Average SAT score: 1415

Carleton's main focus is to give students a true liberal-arts education by teaching them to be lifelong learners. In this quest, the school offers courses across 37 departments, including everything from linguistics to sociology to economics. US News also named Carleton the No. 8 best liberal-arts college in the US.

28 (TIE). Northeastern University

Boston, Massachusetts

Average SAT score: 1420

Experiential learning opportunities ensure that Northeastern students are exposed to real-world work, research, and study opportunities that will further them in their chosen fields far beyond life at school. Students work with academic advisors to chart their own four- or five-year degrees to create flexible programs that will take them exactly where they want to go in their careers.

28 (TIE). Georgetown University

Washington, D.C.

Average SAT score: 1420

Georgetown integrates its Catholic and Jesuit heritage into an academic program that educates 'the whole person' in and out of the classroom. The school puts a lot of weight on studying abroad so that students gain a global perspective on life and learning before they graduate.

28 (TIE). Cornell University

Cornell University/Facebook

Ithaca, New York

Average SAT score: 1420

Cornell has three land-grant colleges -- agriculture and life sciences, human ecology, and industrial and labour relations -- that push students to engage with the world around them in a way that will improve existing conditions and innovate for the future. The school offers nearly 80 fields of study; the most popular majors include business, engineering, and agriculture.

27. Claremont McKenna College

Claremont, California

Average SAT score: 1435

Part of the Claremont Colleges consortium, Claremont McKenna shares athletic, academic, health, and dining resources with the seven other colleges in the consortium. CMC's curriculum leans heavily on social sciences, providing students with real-world work experience and the opportunity to participate in student-led enterprises and organisations on campus.

24 (TIE). Tufts University

Medford, Massachusetts

Average SAT score: 1440

Tufts blends liberal arts and research, giving students access to the best of both worlds. The student-centered school offers research opportunities to students both while in school and after they finish their degrees through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Opportunities are available on campus and online.

24 (TIE). Carnegie Mellon University

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Average SAT score: 1440

Grads from the class of 2014 earned an average starting salary of $US77,063 and landed jobs at elite companies like Google, Deloitte, and ExxonMobil. The university has just a 15.9% acceptance rate across all its schools of study; the school of computer science is particularly selective, with a 5% acceptance rate.

22 (TIE). Bowdoin College


Brunswick, Maine

Average SAT score: 1445

Bowdoin keeps its classes small so students can immerse themselves in a close-knit learning environment with peers and professors. The school gives students the opportunity to get out into Brunswick and other parts of the country for 'community-based learning' that serves as the basis for real-world experience.

22 (TIE). Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, Maryland

Average SAT score: 1445

With nine schools and over 240 different programs, Johns Hopkins offers students unbeatable variety when it comes to choosing a field of study. Undergraduates can major in anything from biophysics to music composition, though JHU's biomedical and environmental engineering programs are exceptionally notable.

20 (TIE). Swarthmore College


Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

Average SAT score: 1450

Swarthmore offers more than 600 undergraduate courses, and a challenging honours program reserved for a select group of top students. Swarthmore students are so devoted to education that nearly 20% of graduates go on to complete a doctorate degree -- the third-highest in the nation.

20 (TIE). Amherst College


Amherst, Massachusetts

Average SAT score: 1450

Amherst is part of the Five College Consortium, a community of colleges in the area that allows students to take classes at any of the schools. This gives students a broader access to different kinds of classes and learning styles, and the ability to meet and network with different kinds of students. Amherst offers more than 850 courses, but through the Consortium students have access to another 6,000.

17 (TIE). Williams College

Williamstown, Massachusetts

Average SAT score: 1455

Often considered one of the best liberal-arts colleges in the country (and, this year, ranked as the second-best overall college in America by Forbes), Williams considers its education more than a four-year program. The school takes 'an approach to living and learning that prepares students for the 'real world' and instills lifelong connections with each other and with Williams,' the website says.

17 (TIE). Dartmouth College

Hanover, New Hampshire

Average SAT score: 1455

At Dartmouth, students learn from the best -- the school is ranked No. 4 on US News' list of colleges with the best undergraduate teaching. Dartmouth also offers a flexible academic calendar that allows students to easily fit in time for internships, work experience, and studying abroad.

17 (TIE). University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Average SAT score: 1455

UPenn offers admission to just over 10% of applicants, 93% of whom fall within the top 10% of their graduating high school classes. Penn has awarded more than 100 different degrees across its four undergraduate schools: The Wharton School of Business, the School of Nursing, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the College of Arts and Sciences.

15 (TIE). Pomona College

Claremont, California

Average SAT score: 1460

Named the overall No. 1 school in the country by Forbes and the No. 5 liberal-arts college by US News, Pomona offers small class sizes, 47 areas of study, and numerous opportunities to participate in faculty-led research. Another school in the Claremont Colleges consortium, Pomona also allows students to take classes at any of its fellow Claremont schools.

15 (TIE). Duke University

Durham, North Carolina

Average SAT score: 1460

Half of all Duke undergraduates participate in a faculty research project. Students also receive ample opportunities to study abroad and shape their courses of study. Students can take a liberal-arts route or study within the Pratt School of Engineering, but 83% go above and beyond to earn at least one additional major, minor, or certificate.

12 (TIE). University of Notre Dame

South Bend, Indiana

Average SAT score: 1465

Within six months of graduation, 86% of Notre Dame's class of 2013 were either enrolled in graduate school or employed full-time, working at top companies like NBC Universal, Ernst & Young, and Deloitte. Notre Dame's graduation rate is 96% -- a number exceeded by only Harvard and Yale.

12 (TIE). Washington University in St. Louis

St. Louis, Missouri

Average SAT score: 1465

Ranked the seventh-most selective university by US News, WashU says more than 90% of its students rank in the top 10% of their graduating high-school classes. WashU makes it a priority to help students succeed not only as employees, but as employers, giving them a substantial background in entrepreneurial studies and executive education.

12 (TIE). Vanderbilt University

Nashville, Tennessee

Average SAT score: 1465

The majority of the students at Vanderbilt are enrolled in the College of Arts and Science, where they receive a liberal arts-style education in a big university setting. Vanderbilt students come ready to learn -- nearly 91% of the class of students entering in the fall of 2014 ranked in the top 10% of their high school classes -- and graduate eager to continue learning: 31% of the class of 2013 went on to a graduate or professional school.

11. Rice University

Houston, Texas

Average SAT score: 1470

Rice is a research university with the feel of a small college. A median class size of 14 students and a 6:1 student-to-faculty ratio means a focus on individualized learning. The majority of students in the class of 2015 completed majors in the social sciences, with engineering coming in a close second.

9 (TIE). Northwestern University

Chicago, Illinois

Average SAT score: 1475

Northwestern doesn't just focus on students' time during college, it helps them look to the future as well: Within six months of graduation 81% of the class was either employed or in graduate school full-time. The school offers nearly 100 different majors to choose from, and more than 85 additional minor and certificate courses.

9 (TIE). Stanford University

Linda Cicero via Facebook/stanford

Palo Alto, California

Average SAT score: 1475

Last year, Stanford accepted just 5.1% of applicants and implemented several expansions to their undergraduate curriculum, including a CS+X joint major program, which integrates studies in computer science and another discipline of the students' choice in humanities.

8. Columbia University

New York, New York

Average SAT score: 1480

Columbia was ranked the No. 3 best school in the country by high school guidance counselors, according to US News, and the No. 4 best college in the US overall. Columbia counts 82 Nobel Laureates and two US presidents among its esteemed alumni and faculty.

7. Harvey Mudd College


Claremont, California

Average SAT score: 1494

The third Claremont Colleges school on our list, Harvey Mudd is best known for its engineering and computer-science programs, but it's also a liberal-arts college. HMC makes sure its students learn in all areas with a solid core curriculum that incorporates humanities and social sciences in with maths and science.

3 (TIE). Yale University

New Haven, Connecticut

Average SAT score: 1505

Yale's undergraduate curriculum aims to provide a comprehensive liberal arts education, and allows students to choose from more than 65 different areas of study -- everything from anthropology to chemistry to modern Middle East studies. In order to ensure that students get the most out of their four years, Yale 'does not prescribe a set program of study, in the belief that students who select their own courses are inevitably more engaged with them.'

3 (TIE). Harvard University


Cambridge, Massachusetts

Average SAT score: 1505

has produced 47 Nobel Laureates and 48 Pulitzer Prize winners. While Harvard accepts less than 6% of applicants, the school wants to give any intelligent student the opportunity to study at the Crimson school, and offers a non-profit, online learning curriculum known as HarvardX that has reached more than 1 million students around the world.

2. University of Chicago

Chicago, Illinois

Average SAT score: 1510

While the University of Chicago ranks highly in terms of quality and prestige -- US News ranked it No. 4 in the nation -- it ranks even higher in terms of the intelligence of its students. In addition to high SAT scores, 50% of students from the class of 2016 scored between 31 and 34 on the ACT. Seventy-one per cent of graduates from the class of 2014 report being employed full-time or in graduate school by graduation.

1. California Institute of Technology

Pasadena, California

Average SAT score: 1550

Caltech, a school known for its prestigious STEM programming, has the smartest students in the country. An astounding 98% of students place within the top 10% of their high school classes, and 79% of alumni ultimately go on to pursue a grad degree. Students also have access to some of the most high-tech facilities in the US, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Seismological Laboratory, at which they can put their smarts to good use.

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