While most colleges around the country can boast of at least a few famous alumni, certain institutions hold a monopoly on greatness and celebrity. In general, the cycle seems self-perpetuating: a college produces well-known alumni who raise its national profile, which in turn attracts more brilliant students who further elevate the school's reputation. These institutions also attract the best and brightest faculty, who by their very presence attract the best and brightest students.
Some schools, such as Harvard and Yale, maintain a tradition of elitism and selectivity that dates back hundreds of years, producing famous graduates before the United States even became a country. Others, such as the California Institute of the Arts, have existed less than a century, amassing prestige through a unique academic focus that attracts high-performing students. While some colleges—particularly the Ivy League elite—boast successful alumni in most academic and professional fields, other schools mold alumni that match their unique temperament (Washington D.C.'s Georgetown, for example, favors politicians). Whatever their roots, these schools all have one thing in common: their graduates succeed in just about every field imaginable.
|1||Harvard University Cambridge, MA||
Synonymous with prestige, influence, and general elitism, Harvard ranks among the most famous colleges in the world, with a list of esteemed alumni that is unrivaled. Founded in 1636 in in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the school's elegant campus hosts world class facilities for research, education, and athletics, and Harvard boasts top alumni in nearly all professional fields.
Eight former U.S. presidents attended the college, including John F. Kennedy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Barack Obama, and Harvard frequently produces foreign leaders as well. Outside of politics and business, some of Harvard's best-known alumni include entertainers and artists, such as late-night host Conan O'Brien, writer Susan Sontag, comedian Amy Poehler, and director Terrence Malick. Harvard also boasts two of the most successful college dropouts of all time: Microsoft's Bill Gates and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, who created the social network in his dorm room.
|2||Yale University New Haven, CT||
Yale ranks among the most prestigious colleges in the world, and its student body represents the country's best and brightest. Like its other Ivy League counterparts, Yale produces notable alumni in most academic, professional, and artistic fields. Former presidents William Howard Taft, Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford, and both George H.W. and George W. Bush claim Yale as their alma mater, as do several U.S. Supreme Court Justices and Secretaries of State.
The school also boasts a strong artistic legacy, with alumni including sculptor Eva Hesse, writer Tom Wolfe, and filmmaker Oliver Stone. Yale's prestigious alumni network encompasses genuine Hollywood celebrities such as Meryl Streep, Jodie Foster, Edward Norton, and Claire Danes, and graduates also demonstrate a strong entrepreneurial spirit, founding major corporations such as FedEx, Boeing, United Airlines, and Electronic Arts.
|3||Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, MA||
The other world-famous college in Cambridge, MIT, emerged in 1861 as industrialization began to reshape the United States. Focusing on math, science, engineering, economics, and a variety of other quantitative pursuits, the school consistently ranks among the top institutions in the world, with an alumni list that includes 27 Nobel Prize winners and nearly 50 Rhodes Scholars. Many of the school's alumni operate out of the public eye, but modern developments such as radar and machine learning -- along with companies like Intel, Hewlett-Packard, and Dropbox -- wouldn't exist without MIT. Other notable graduates include astronaut Buzz Aldrin, economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, and UN Secretary General Kofi Anan. The school has produced at least one rock star: Boston guitarist and bandleader Tom Scholz, responsible for the band's inescapable hit "More Than a Feeling."
|4||Stanford University Stanford, CA||
Located near California's Silicon Valley, Stanford serves as a pipeline for innovation in the region, producing technology wizards and entrepreneurs at an alarming rate. A quick survey of the college's alumni list reveals many of the tech industry's most influential figures, including Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Instagram's Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom, Hewlett-Packard's William Hewlett and David Packard, Yahoo!'s David Filo and Jerry Yang, and Netflix CEO and cofounder Reed Hastings. But Stanford's prestigious alumni network contains far more than tech moguls; the college hosts some of the top scientific research facilities in the world, and Stanford counts more than 20 astronauts among its graduates, including Eileen Collins and Sally Ride. Outside of the hard sciences, the school also hosts many prestigious arts and humanities programs, producing alumni as diverse as Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon, feminist author bell hooks, and MSNBC news anchor Rachel Maddow.
|5||Columbia University in the City of New York New York, NY||
The only member of the Ivy League based in New York City, Columbia's illustrious history dates back to 1754, and early on, the school graduated five of the Founding Fathers of the United States, including Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. Columbia doesn't quite boast the level of U.S. presidential production as its counterparts Harvard and Yale, but the school does count three former presidents among its past students: Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Barack Obama. Columbia has produced other famous political figures, including former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan. Columbia boasts top programs in literature and the arts, with literary alumni including influential Beat writers Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, The Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger, and science fiction pioneer Isaac Asimov.
|6||New York University New York, NY||
As far as genuine celebrities go, few colleges in the world can match NYU. The illustrious private school's New York City campus draws students from around the world, and the renowned Tisch School of Arts serves as a training ground for top actors and filmmakers. NYU counts dozens of Academy Award winners among its alumni, from major directors like Joel Coen, Oliver Stone, and Martin Scorsese to actors Whoopi Goldberg, Anne Hathaway, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. New York City's status as a cultural mecca draws an assortment of other artists to NYU, and the school counts comedian Aziz Ansari, pop star Lady Gaga, and young adult writer Judy Blume among its former students. Aside from legitimate celebrities, NYU's prestige also comes from its rigorous academic programs, and the college's graduates have won no fewer than a dozen Nobel prizes in fields as diverse as medicine, chemistry, peace, and physics.
|7||University of California-Berkeley Berkeley, CA||
The flagship school of the University of California System, UC Berkeley serves a student body of more than 40,000, maintaining a reputation as one of the top colleges in the world. Like Stanford, Berkeley's strong computer science program and proximity to Silicon Valley produce many technology leaders, and Berkley graduates played a major role in the tech boom of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Some of the school's most famous alumni in the tech world include Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, and former Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. Many other Berkeley alumni have developed crucial technologies such as the computer mouse, the Unix operating system, word processing, and ethernet. While science and technology put Berkeley on the map, the school's alumni also excel in fields such as entertainment, literature, and politics, from Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Robert Penn Warren to California Governor Jerry Brown.
|8||Georgetown University Washington, DC||
As one of the top colleges in Washington, D.C., Georgetown has educated an assortment of notable political figures, including President Bill Clinton and former CIA Director George Tenet. Founded in 1789, Georgetown ranks among the oldest Catholic and Jesuit colleges in the country, and while Jesuits still take part in academic and campus life, the school shed much of its regions affiliations long ago in favor of political pedigree. The school boasts a strong international profile, and throughout its more than 200-year history, Georgetown has graduated more than a dozen foreign heads of state, including King Abdullah II of Jordan, Felipe VI of Spain, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and Laura Chinchilla, the first female President of Costa Rica. On the domestic front, Georgetown counts more than two dozen U.S. governors among its alumni, along with an assortment of CEOs and CFOs.
|9||Princeton University Princeton, NJ||
Founded in 1746, Princeton ranks among the oldest institutions of higher learning in the country, and the school's rich history contains generations of talented alumni. The school also boasts the largest endowment relative to its enrollment, ensuring that all students receive maximum support. Like many Ivy League institutions, Princeton counts multiple presidents among its alumni: both James Madison and Woodrow Wilson attended the college, along with former First Lady Michelle Obama. The school also serves as a training ground for future Supreme Court Justices, and Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Samuel Alito all attended Princeton for undergraduate studies. Outside of politics, the school also educates some of the world's top business leaders, such as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and former Google Chairman Eric Schmidt. However, Princeton's alumni network doesn't just comprise financial and political leaders: brainy Hollywood actors David Duchovny and Brooke Shields both studied literature at the college.
|10||University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA||
Another member of the prestigious Ivy League, Penn occupies a sprawling campus in West Philadelphia, where it trains many of the country's future leaders. Penn's Wharton School of business counts some of the world's most prominent business figures among its alumni, including Donald Trump, Elon Musk, and Warren Buffet, the world's third-wealthiest man. Penn encourages a strong entrepreneurial spirit among its students, and many graduates have founded some of the country's largest businesses, such as Comcast, H&R Block, and Cisco Systems. Penn alumni also head up major companies such as Showtime, Warner Music, Nabisco, and Fuji Xerox. In the realm of entertainment, prominent Penn alumni include actor Elizabeth Banks, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter John Legend, and Law & Order creator Dick Wolf. The school also graduates its fair share of literary stars, including Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jennifer Egan and legendary modernist poets Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams.
|11||University of California-Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA||
One of the most prestigious public colleges in the country, UCLA boasts an international reputation thanks to its strong academic programs and an assortment of notable alumni. Unsurprisingly, the school's proximity to Hollywood creates strong links to the entertainment industry. Famed director Francis Ford Coppola (best known for The Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now) attended UCLA, as did John Williams, composer for many of Hollywood's most famous movie scores (including Star Wars and Jurassic Park). Actors such as James Franco, Will Forte, Ben Stiller, and Mariska Hargitay all graduated from the school as well. Los Angeles' status as a musical hub attracts many prominent musicians to UCLA, and members of The Doors, Maroon 5, Linkin Park, and Bad Religion all attended the college at different times. UCLA doesn't just traffic in Hollywood glamor; the school counts seven Nobel laureates among its alumni, awarded for chemistry, economics, medicine, and peace.
|12||University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA||
A major private research school in Los Angeles, USC ranks among the top colleges in California both for its academic rigor and star-studded alumni list. Many of the school's best-known graduates come from the world of entertainment, including comedian Will Ferrell, actor Forest Whitaker, and Saturday Night Live cast member Kyle Mooney. Behind the camera, producer/director Judd Apatow, director George Lucas, and filmmaker Robert Zemeckis all attended USC. Legendary western stars Clint Eastwood and John Wayne also attended, though Wayne dropped out after losing a football scholarship due to injury. Several notable musicians come from USC, including jazz musician and A&M Records co-founder Herb Alpert, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, and Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Macy Gray. Outside of the entertainment industry, some of USC's most famous alumni include astronaut Neil Armstrong, architect Frank Gehry, and former NFL star and current football analyst Marcus Allen.
|13||Brown University Providence, RI||
Founded in 1764 in Providence, Rhode Island, Brown ranks among the oldest and most prestigious colleges in the country. Like all Ivy League schools, Brown attracts its fair share of prominent families, such as the Rockefellers and the Kennedys: financier John D. Rockefeller Jr. and magazine editor John F. Kennedy Jr. both count Brown as their alma mater. Some of the college's many notable graduates in the worlds of business and politics include Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, CNN founder Ted Turner, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. Brown also maintains a reputation as one of the more bohemian members of the Ivy League set, and the school's alumni include many famed actors, musicians, writers, and artists. Some of the college's most notable graduates in the arts include This American Life host Ira Glass, novelist Edwidge Danticat, actress Emma Watson, and electronic music pioneer Wendy Carlos.
|14||Dartmouth College Hanover, NH||
With around 6,500 students, Dartmouth ranks as the smallest of the Ivy League colleges, but the school's academic excellence and superb funding ensure an alumni list on par with other elite institutions. Dartmouth holds a reputation for business prestige, and The Wall Street Journal reports that the school's graduates earn a higher median salary than other Ivy League graduates. Some of Dartmouth's best-known alumni in the business world include former eBay CEO John Donahoe, former Hallmark CEO Donald J. Hall, former General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, and current Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner. Outside of business, the college also educates its fair share of pop culture figures, and some of Dartmouth's best-known alumni in the entertainment industry include comedian Rachel Dratch, actress/writer Mindy Kaling, and Fred Rogers, better known as children's television host Mr. Rogers. Other prominent graduates include CNN anchor Jeff Tapper, poet Robert Frost, and music critic Robert Christgau.
|15||Duke University Durham, NC||
Commonly ranked among the most prestigious colleges in the world, Duke serves over 14,000 students from a massive 8,600-acre campus in Durham, North Carolina, where faculty and students conduct some of the most extensive research operations in the country. Duke also ranks as one of the wealthiest private colleges in the U.S, and its extensive funding and history of academic prestige draw many of the country's brightest students. Duke holds a sterling reputation for producing business leaders, and the school's alumni include Apple CEO Tim Cook, former General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner, Procter & Gamble CEO David S. Taylor, and Melinda Gates, cofounder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Aside from business, the school also boasts a strong athletic program, particularly in basketball, with many students finding success in the NBA, including Kyrie Irving, J.J. Redick, Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, and Carlos Boozer.
|16||California Institute of the Arts Valencia, CA||
Founded in 1961 by a group of artists that included Walt Disney, CalArts is the country's oldest college dedicated specifically to education in visual and performing arts. Growing to encompass film, music, and critical studies, CalArts boasts an impressive alumni list that belies its small size (around 1,500 students). Perhaps most notably, the school's film and video department has produced many famous filmmakers, including Sofia Coppola and Tim Burton (who was a member of one of CalArts' earliest graduating classes). In the field of animation, CalArts counts Ratatouille director Brad Bird, Powerpuff Girls creator Craig McCracken, Hotel Transylvania director Genndy Tartakovsky, and many Pixar associates among its graduates. CalArts' School of Theater Arts has also trained dozens of notable actors, including Don Cheadle, David Hasselhoff, Ed Harris, and Michael Richards. Finally, CalArts counts many successful musicians among its alumni, including jazz saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and arty rock groups like Liars and Ariel Pink.
|17||University of Chicago Chicago, IL||
Ranked among the top colleges both nationally and internationally, UChicago maintains an illustrious profile for its role in major developments in economics, business, science, and the arts, many courtesy of its brilliant alumni. In the world of business, some of the school's most esteemed graduates include Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Several notable scientists hail from UChicago, including physicist Enrico Fermi (often called "the father of the atomic bomb"), astronomer and cosmologist Carl Sagan, and James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. The school boasts an enviably rich history of literary graduates, including novelist Philip Roth, Nobel Prize-winner Saul Bellow, critic Susan Sontag, nonfiction writer Studs Terkel, and satirist Kurt Vonnegut. UChicago also counts several other notable creatives among its alumni, including minimalist composer Philip Glass, film critic Roger Ebert, and writer/director Philip Kaufman.
|18||The University of Texas at Austin Austin, TX||
The flagship school of the massive University of Texas System, UT serves more than 50,000 students from its sprawling Austin campus, with noted graduates in many fields. In politics, UT graduates populate both the U.S Senate and the House of Representatives, and the school also counts former First Ladies Laura Bush and Lady Bird Johnson among its alumni. Several Hollywood actors come from UT, including Farrah Fawcett, Renée Zellweger, and Matthew McConaughey (who has even taught filmmaking classes at the college). Writer/director Wes Anderson and actor Owen Wilson also met at UT, where they worked together on Anderson's debut film Bottle Rocket. The college maintains a national reputation for its athletic programs, and several alumni rank among the greatest athletes of all time, including MLB pitcher Roger Clemens, NBA champion Kevin Durant, and Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton. In the realm of literature and journalism, UT alumni include news anchor Walter Cronkite, Nobel Prize-winning novelist J.M. Coetzee, and avant-garde cartoonist Chris Ware.
|19||University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, MI||
One of the largest colleges in the country, UM also hosts one of the largest alumni networks in the world, with more than 540,000 living alumni as of 2015. Former President Gerald Ford earned his bachelor's from UM, and the school also counts 40 U.S. senators and over 200 U.S congressional representatives among its former students. More than 20 current billionaires have graduated from the school, including Google cofounder Larry Page, who studied computer engineering as an undergraduate in the 1990s. The school also claims many Hollywood stars, including Lucy Liu, James Earl Jones, Gilda Radner, and David Alan Grier. UM boasts a strong tradition of literary success among its alumni, and several graduates rank among the most respected authors of their time, including playwright Arthur Miller, poet Theodore Roethke, and two-time National Book Award-winning novelist winner Jesmyn Ward. In the world of popular music, both Madonna and Iggy Pop attended UM, but in the tradition of many rock stars, neither actually graduated.
|20||Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN||
Based in Nashville, Tennessee, Vanderbilt takes its name from shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, who provided the college with its initial $1 million endowment in 1873. That endowment now stands at more than $4 billion, making Vanderbilt one of the wealthiest colleges in the South. The school enrolls more than 12,000 students from around the country, with superb facilities and academics that attract top students and teachers in most major academic fields. Vanderbilt counts many prominent politicians among its former students, including 12 state governors, 21 U.S. Congress members, and two Vice Presidents: Al Gore and John Nance Garner. Vanderbilt alumni also head up many prominent corporations, including Time Inc., American Airlines, Snapchat, and Hilton Hotels. In arts and letters, the college served as a center of the Southern literature revival in the 1920s and 30s, graduating prominent writers including Robert Penn Warren, Randall Jarrell, and Allen Tate.