What Is the Oldest University in the US?

Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Numerous universities have claimed to be the oldest in the United States of America. These claims are based on different criteria, so without a single criterion, it becomes challenging to declare one university as the oldest. Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and the College of William and Mary have all made claims as the oldest university in the United States. Georgia University also claims to be the first public university that was given an official charter, but this claim is only for the oldest public university. Ultimately, there is no definitive answer to which is oldest. However, many historians consider Harvard to be the oldest American university.


Most historians agree that Harvard is the oldest center of higher learning in the United States of America. Although it is debatable whether it was the first to have attained the status of a university, it is undoubtedly clear that Harvard is the oldest institution in the United States to offer higher education to its students. The university was established in 1636, and named Harvard College after John Harvard, the first benefactor of the institution. It was initially inclined towards religious education and regularly trained clergy of Unitarian churches. However, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the university's curriculum, teaching style and general academic environment went through a process of gradual diversification. This made Harvard a secular center of learning that catered for all subjects and disciplines.

Harvard: The Beginnings of an Elite Research Institute

Charles W. Eliot served as president of Harvard University from 1869 until, and during this time, the school went through a phase of rapid transformation. As a result, it emerged as an elite research institute which quickly rose to the top of the list of the most prestigious universities in the world. After the Second World War, the university began to further liberalize its curriculum and the university became coeducational in 1977.

Modern Harvard University

Harvard University is currently divided into 11 units, ten catering for different disciples of education, and the eleventh is the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The actual university is based around its main campus, located about five kilometers north of Boston. Due to a lack of space, the faculties of business, athletics, and medicine have several separate facilities located nearby. The university has the world's most extensive private library. It is divided into seventy-nine libraries that house a combined total of more than eighteen million volumes.

Harvard has been noted for educating some of the world's brightest minds. Its faculty, alumni and staff include one hundred and thirty Nobel Prize winners, eighteen Fields Medal winners, thirteen Turing Award winners, eight presidents of the United States of America, more than a dozen foreign heads of state, three hundred and fifty-nine Rhodes Scholars, and about two hundred and forty Marshall Scholars.


More in Society