It’s the first “big” life decision many young people make: which college or university to attend. Should it be large or small? Rural, suburban or urban? Public or private? And, if private, should it be Catholic or not?  

If they decide to attend a Catholic school, they have plenty of choices. There are 228 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States, with five more in outlying areas such as Puerto Rico. In total, they educate more than three-quarters of a million students.  

While going the Catholic route narrows the field some, colleges and universities affiliated with the Church are anything but a homogenous group in terms of size, faith life or religious congregation affiliation. You can pick an urban campus right in the heart of the nation’s capital (The Catholic University of America), a small school situated in a suburban setting (Seton Hill University) or a tiny campus in “God’s country” (Wyoming Catholic College), and just about everything in between.  

To help students and parents with this important decision, the staff at Our Sunday Visitor, with the assistance of Matthew Bunson, editor of the Catholic Almanac, sorted through rankings and lists to see where Catholic schools stacked up in various areas, including most selective and most expensive. In addition, we offer interesting statistical tidbits about these colleges and universities.  

A caveat: While rankings can help guide the college search, choice of a school that is the right fit involves a whole host of other factors. A school that makes an outside survey’s “best” list isn’t necessarily the best for everyone. Choosing the right school is a personal decision, that involves research, a visit to the campus and prayer to discern what’s right for you.

Did you know?

The first Catholic college in the United States was Georgetown Academy (later Georgetown University) in 1789. At its founding, Bishop Carroll said, “On this academy is built all my hope of permanency and success to our holy religion in the United States.” 

The first Catholic college to grant academic degrees to women was College of Notre Dame in Maryland in 1899.  

The right of private schools to exist and operate in the United States was confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1925 when the tribunal ruled ( Pierce v. Society of Sisters ) that an Oregon state law requiring all children to attend public schools was unconstitutional.  

Catholic colleges and universities educate more than half of all the students enrolled in faith-based institutions of higher education in the United States.  

In the 1990s, Catholic college and university enrollment increased by nearly 19 percent; that was nearly three times the national average over the same time period (7 percent).  

Most Catholic colleges and universities are sponsored by their founding religious congregations or orders, such as the Jesuits or Sisters of Mercy. The Catholic University of America in Washington is the only institution sponsored and partially funded directly by the bishops.  

35 percent of students at Catholic colleges and universities are non-Catholic.  

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the average annual tuition at four-year Catholic colleges and universities in 1980 was $2,738, and in 2006 it was $19,376.

More than 10 percent of all Catholic colleges and universities in the United States — 28 — are affiliated with the Society of Jesus.  

Most Selective: Catholic schools with the lowest acceptance rates (based on fall 2008) 

Georgetown University: 18.8 percent  

Boston College: 26.2 percent  

University of Notre Dame: 26.7 percent  

College of the Holy Cross: 33.8 percent

Highest Graduation Rates: Catholic schools with highest rates of students who complete their degrees in four years

College of the Holy Cross: 92%  

University of Notre Dame: 91%  

Georgetown University: 90%  

Boston College: 88%  

Villanova University: 84%  

Loyola University Maryland: 81%  

College of St. Benedict, Stonehill College: 79%  

Santa Clara University: 78%  

St. Michael’s College: 7 7%

Up and coming schools

Alverno College  

Bellarmine University  

Creighton University  

Gannon University  

Loyola University Maryland  

Saint Edward’s University  

Santa Clara University  

Xavier University (Cincinnati)

Cardinal Newman Society Picks: Schools recommended by the society’s “The Newman Guide to choosing a Catholic College” for their strong Catholic identity

Aquinas College (Nashville)  

Ave Maria University  

Belmont Abbey College  

Benedictine College  

Catholic Distance University  

The Catholic University of America  

Christendom College  

The College of Saint Thomas More  

DeSales University  

Franciscan University of Steubenville  

Holy Apostles College & Seminary  

John Paul the Great Catholic University  

Magdalen College  

Mount St. Mary’s University  

Providence College  

St. Gregory’s University  

Thomas Aquinas College  

The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts  

University of Dallas  

University of St. Thomas  

Wyoming Catholic College

Jesuit Colleges: More than 10% of all Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. (28) are affiliated with the Society of Jesus

Boston College (1863)  

Canisius College (1870)  

College of the Holy Cross (1843)  

Creighton University (1878)  

University of Detroit Mercy (1877)  

Fairfield University (1942)  

Fordham University (1841)  

Georgetown University (1789)  

Gonzaga University (1887)  

John Carroll University (1886)  

Le Moyne College (1946)  

Loyola University Maryland (1852)  

Loyola Marymount University (1911)  

Loyola University Chicago (1870)  

Loyola University New Orleans (1912)  

Marquette University (1881)  

Regis University (1877)  

Rockhurst University (1910)  

Santa Clara University (1851)  

St. Joseph’s University (1851)  

St. Louis University (1818)  

St. Peter’s College (1872)  

University of San Francisco (1855)  

University of Scranton (1888)  

Seattle University (1891)  

Spring Hill College (1830)  

Wheeling Jesuit University (1954)  

Xavier University (Cincinnati) (1831)

Most Students

DePaul University (28,521)  

St. Leo University (24,980)  

St. John’s University, New York (22,443)  

Fordham University (18,129)  

Loyola University Chicago (17,569)  

St. Louis University (17,358)  

Georgetown University (16,604)  

Boston College (16,590)  

Regis University (15,713)  

Seton Hall University (12,643)

Most Expensive Tuition

College of the Holy Cross $38,722  

Loyola College $37,610  

Georgetown University $37,536  

Boston College $37,410  

Fairfield University $36,900  

Loyola University $36,510  

Notre Dame, University of $36,340  

Santa Clara University $36,000  

Villanova University $35,950  

San Diego, University of $35.870  

San Francisco, University of $34,430  

Fordham University $34,200  

St. Joseph’s University $34,090  

College of St. Mary’s $33,910  

St. Martin’s College $33,100  

University of Scranton $32,824  

Loyola Marymount University $33,901  

Providence College $33,120  

St. Michael’s College $32,940  

La Salle University $32,700  

The Catholic University of America $31,740  

University of Portland $31,060  

St. Louis University $30,330  

St. John’s University, New York $30,040  

Loyola University Chicago $29,850

Oldest

Georgetown University (1789)  

Mount St. Mary’s College (1808)  

Spalding University (1814)  

St. Louis University (1818)  

Spring Hill College (1830)  

Xavier University (1831)  

Manhattan College (1835)  

Loras College (1839)  

St. Mary-of-the-Woods College (1840)  

Fordham University (1841)  

Villanova University (1842)  

Notre Dame, University of (1842)  

Clarke College (1843)  

Holy Cross, College of the (1843)  

St. Mary’s College (1844)  

St. Vincent College (1846)  

Mount St. Vincent, College of (1847)  

St. Francis University (1847)  

St. Xavier University (1847)  

Dayton, University of (1850)  

Marian College (1851)  

Notre Dame de Namur University (1851)  

St. Joseph’s University (1851)  

Santa Clara University (1851)  

St. Mary’s University of San Antonio (1852)  

San Francisco, University of (1855)  

Niagara University (1856)  

Seton Hall University (1856)  

St. John’s University (1857)  

St. Bonaventure University (1858)  

Benedictine College (1859)  

St. Meinrad School of Theology (1861)

Best Undergraduate Teaching

University of Scranton: No. 3 in North  

Villanova University: No. 4 in North  

Loyola University Maryland: No. 6 in North  

John Carroll University: No. 3 in Midwest  

St. Catherine University: No. 6 in Midwest (tie)  

Xavier University (Cincinnati): No. 6 in Midwest  

Santa Clara University: No. 2 in West  

Seattle University: No. 6 in West

Sources:Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, The Cardinal Newman Society, Catholic Almanac, The Princeton Review, U. S. Conference of College Bishops , U.S. News & World Report Ultimate College Guide.