15 Oldest Universities in the United States


Going to college after high school wasn’t always the norm. Centuries ago, there weren’t many schools to attend, and the only places of learning were religious. However, education has come a long way thanks to the few schools that started back then. They laid the foundation of the US education system we know today and educated the early American leaders who developed the nation.

Salem College – Established in 1772

Location – Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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This university was created in 1772 by Sister Elisabeth Oesterlein of the Moravian community of Salem. It started as a boarding school and was the first educational institution to provide education for only girls and women. The college began offering degrees in 1890 and celebrated its 251st anniversary in 2023.

College of Charleston – 1770

Location – Charleston, South Carolina

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The College of Charleston, a public liberal arts and sciences university, is the oldest institution of higher learning in South Carolina. However, when the school opened, only wealthy people, especially merchants, could afford to educate their sons. It started admission in 1790 with just eight students. Later, early Charleston graduates became doctors, lawyers, and businessmen who helped to shape the city’s growth and prosperity.

Dartmouth College – Established in 1769

Location: Hanover, New Hampshire

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This prestigious institution is one of the nine colonial colleges chartered before the American Revolution. When Dartmouth College was founded in 1769 by Eleazar Wheelock, it admitted Native American youths; however, the focus shifted towards young men from English colonies due to funding issues.

Rutgers University – Established in 1766

Location: New Brunswick, New Jersey

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RU is a collection of four campuses across the state, with New Brunswick being the largest and most well-known. The Dutch Reformed Church established the school only for male students, but it was called Queen’s College. In 1825, the administration changed its name to honor Revolutionary War hero and philanthropist Colonel Henry Rutgers. Decades later, in 1945, The New Jersey State Legislature designated Rutgers as the official State University.

Brown University – Established in 1764

Location – Providence, Rhode Island


Formerly called the College of Rhode Island, this is the first college in the country to reject religious affiliation as a requirement for admission. Also, women were allowed to enroll for learning in 1891, but it officially became coeducational in 1971 after merging with Pembroke College, the affiliated women’s institution. The university’s name honors Nicholas Brown, a Providence businessman and alumnus who donated large sums to the institution.

Columbia University – Established in 1754

Location – New York City, New York


This institution was first known as King’s College after a royal charter from King George II, the monarch of Great Britain at the time. It shut its doors during the American Revolution, as it was a common target due to its association with the British crown. Thankfully, it reopened in 1784 and was named after Christopher Columbus to detach from its colonial roots. Initially an all-male institution, it embraced coeducation in 1983 to reflect the changing societal climate.

Washington and Lee University – Established in 1749

Location – Lexington, Virginia


Founded as Augusta Academy, this university’s name honored two prominent figures in American history. Its first name was Washington College, after George Washington, who donated a substantial $50,000 to develop the school. Then Lee was added to honor Robert E. Lee, the seventh president of Washington College, who revived the school after the war.

Princeton University – Established in 1746

Location – Princeton, New Jersey

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Princeton started in 1746 as the College of New Jersey in Elizabeth. A decade later, the school relocated to its current location in Princeton, where it flourished. The centerpiece of the campus, Nassau Hall, was built in 1756 and served as the temporary seat of the United States Congress in 1783. It officially became Princeton University in 1896. It has a long and distinguished history, which makes it a member of the esteemed Ivy League. 

University of Delaware – Established in 1743

Location – Newark, Delaware

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Surprisingly, the university’s story started outside Delaware. 1743 Presbyterian minister Francis Alison established a “Free School” in his New London, Pennsylvania home. In 1914, the school created a separate women’s college, the Women’s College of Delaware. However, it merged with the men’s college in 1921 to officially form the University of Delaware.

Moravian College – Established in 1742

Location – Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

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The Moravian community is an educational pioneer in several areas, championing the importance of education for all, regardless of gender. In 1742, they established the Bethlehem Female Seminary, the first all-female boarding school in the US, and soon after created the boys’ version. Years later, the men’s and women’s schools merged in 1954 to form Moravian College.

University of Pennsylvania – Established in 1740

Location – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Penn was founded in 1749 and is a cornerstone of American higher education. Thanks to financial support from Benjamin Franklin in its early years, it evolved from a humble charity school to a prestigious Ivy League research university. In 1765, it established a College of Medicine, the first medical school in colonial America. It also created the Wharton School in 1881, the world’s first collegiate business school. 

Yale University – Established in 1701

Location – New Haven, Connecticut

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Yale is a beacon of academic excellence and a cornerstone of the Ivy League. It was founded in 1701 by a group of Puritan clergymen with the establishment of the Collegiate School in Killingworth. The college received a charter and was renamed Yale in honor of Elihu Yale, a wealthy British merchant who made a hefty donation. It became a university after males and females merged.

St. John’s College – Established in 1696

Location – Annapolis, Maryland

St. John’s College/Facebook

In Maryland’s historic capital city, Annapolis, this university started in 1696 as King William’s School, a colonial preparatory institution. After the American Revolution, the Maryland state legislature chartered St. John’s College in 1784, thanks to George Washington’s influence. It has The McDowell Hall, one of the oldest academic buildings in America.

College of William & Mary – Established in 1693

Location – Williamsburg, Virginia


Although the founders planned for William & Mary to open in 1618, the school was officially established in 1693 after King William III and Queen Mary II issued a royal charter. It has produced many Founding Fathers, including George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Marshall. These individuals left their mark on the college and the nation.

Harvard University – Established in 1636

Location – Cambridge, Massachusetts


You can trace the roots of the oldest university in America as far back as 1636, when the Massachusetts Bay Colony established a college to educate the clergy. It was initially named Harvard College after a benefactor, John Harvard, who donated a library and substantial funds to the school. The college received a collegiate charter in 1813 and officially became Harvard University.


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