Interested in attending a Jesuit college? You’ve probably come across a few in your college search and didn’t even know it. Jesuit colleges are private colleges affiliated with the Jesuit order (a form of Catholicism). However, you don’t need to be a Jesuit or a Catholic in order to attend one of these schools—or to get the most out of your experience at one.
If you’re strongly considering going to a Jesuit college, you're probably wondering just how good these colleges really are, academically speaking. In this guide, we introduce our picks for the top nine Jesuit colleges in the US. We then offer some tips on whether you should attend one or not.
Before we go over our list of Jesuit colleges, though, let's briefly go over what a Jesuit college is.
What Is a Jesuit College?
Jesuit colleges are private colleges and universities with a Jesuit affiliation in addition to a history of strong Jesuit influence. All Jesuit schools are affiliated with the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.
So what is a Jesuit? A Jesuit is a member of the Society of Jesus, an order of Roman Catholic priests founded in Spain in the 16th century. In other words, all Jesuit colleges are Catholic, but not all Catholic colleges are Jesuit.
Jesuit colleges are known for being welcoming to students of all faiths and strive to instill values of meaning and empathy in students. That being said, these schools typically offer a particularly wide array of resources and opportunities for students of the Catholic faith. These can include activities such as religious retreats, mission trips, and community service projects.
Jesuit colleges stress key Jesuit principles, such as ethics, leadership, and community service. Students must usually take core courses in several disciplines in order to provide them with a well-rounded intellectual foundation. Many Jesuit colleges also encourage students to participate in volunteering projects outside of school.
Here’s how the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities describes its network of schools and their academic principles:
"A Jesuit education is grounded in the liberal arts tradition with a focus on quality teaching, critical thinking, and rigorous academic standards and scholarship. … Jesuit higher education is guided by a spirituality that seeks justice. Inspired by the tenets of Catholic social teaching and its intellectual and social justice traditions, a Jesuit education places great emphasis on forming 'women and men for others.' Students are engaged in a process of exploring the distinctive and constructive ways in which their knowledge and talents will best serve society."
In total, there are 27 Jesuit colleges in the US. Primarily situated along the coasts, these schools range from small liberal arts colleges to large research universities. All of them are members of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities:
- Boston College
- Canisius College
- College of the Holy Cross
- Creighton University
- Fairfield University
- Fordham University
- Georgetown University
- Gonzaga University
- John Carroll University
- Le Moyne College
- Loyola Marymount University
- Loyola University Chicago
- Loyola University Maryland
- Loyola University New Orleans
- Marquette University
- Regis University
- Rockhurst University
- Saint Joseph’s University
- Saint Louis University
- Saint Peter’s University
- Santa Clara University
- Seattle University
- Spring Hill College
- University of Detroit Mercy
- University of San Francisco
- University of Scranton
- Xavier University
Generally, Jesuit colleges place a high emphasis on living on-campus, volunteering, and assuming social responsibility.
Finally, Jesuit schools don’t appear all that different from other private schools in the US. Many students enjoy Jesuit colleges' unique focus on making positive contributions to society as well as their lack of an overtly religious atmosphere.
Seattle University's got a fountain ... and dogs! (SaintIggy/Wikimedia Commons)
The Methodology Behind Our Ranking of Jesuit Colleges
To determine which schools belong on our list of Jesuit colleges, we developed a methodology that took into consideration several key factors. For each factor, the school was assigned a point value on a range of 1-5 (1 = worst, 5 = best). These points were totaled to get a final score out of 40 for each school. So the closer a school was to 40, the higher it ranked on our list.
Overall, we used eight criteria to create our list:
- National college ranking lists: We looked at the most recent college lists on US News, Forbes, and Niche (whose rankings are strongly based on student satisfaction). Each Jesuit school was then assigned a point range from 1 to 5 based on the average of its rankings from these lists.
- Acceptance rate: The lower the acceptance rate, the better the school did on our list, as this shows selectivity and competitiveness.
- Freshman retention rate: This is a percentage that indicates what percent of freshmen stay on for the next year. Though it can be used as a general indicator of student satisfaction, it is important to note that many factors, such as students' financial situations, can influence this rate.
- Four-year graduation rate: Schools with high graduation rates earned more points (again, up to 5) than those with lower rates.
- Student/faculty ratio: Lower student/faculty ratios mean there are fewer students per teacher and thus more individualized instruction. Schools with lower ratios than others scored more points.
- Variety of majors: Schools offering a lot of majors and academic programs for students scored higher than those with a more limited array of options.
- Number of clubs and student organizations: Extracurriculars can play a key role in student satisfaction and school spirit; thus, Jesuit colleges with more clubs received more points.
- Median salary upon graduation: US News reports the median salary upon graduation for each school on its best colleges/universities lists. Schools whose recent graduates typically earned higher incomes were ranked higher.
The 9 Best Jesuit Colleges for Undergraduates
Below, we reveal our picks for the top nine Jesuit colleges in the US. Each school includes a ranking (remember that these are still somewhat subjective), information about the school, and links to the school’s official website and our PrepScholar admissions page for it.
#1 (Tie): Boston College
A well-known liberal arts college, Boston College ranks highly on several best colleges lists and offers a vast array of more than 60 undergraduate majors.
Boston College maintains strong ties to its Jesuit roots and strives to share tenets of Catholicism with students of all faiths and backgrounds. The school offers a daily Catholic Mass service and regular talks and symposia on Catholicism. It also provides more than 200 options for student organizations.
The freshman retention rate at Boston College is particularly high at 95%.
- Location: Chestnut Hill, MA
- Acceptance Rate: 28%
- Popular Majors: Economics, biology, psychology
- Boston College Admission Requirements
The very majestic-looking Georgetown University (Flapane/Wikimedia Commons)
#1 (Tie): Georgetown University
Ranked among the top 25 schools nationwide on several rankings lists, Georgetown is one of the most well-known and competitive Jesuit colleges in the US. Each year, more than 20,000 applicants vie for spots in Georgetown’s freshman class—and less than 20% are successful.
In addition to being a highly prestigious research university, Georgetown is the oldest Jesuit college in the country. The school takes immense pride in its rich history and Jesuit roots.
Students can choose from more than 200 clubs, from religious and cultural groups to academic and social organizations. More than 60% of classes have fewer than 20 students, ensuring that all students receive ample individual attention and assistance.
Lastly, the school has a 96% freshman retention rate—one of the highest among Jesuit colleges.
- Location: Washington, DC
- Acceptance Rate: 15%
- Popular Majors: Social sciences, business, marketing
- Georgetown Admission Requirements
#3 (Tie): College of the Holy Cross
College of the Holy Cross is a small college located in the vibrant college town of Worcester (about 45 minutes from Boston). With more than a dozen schools in the area, Worcester offers Holy Cross students tons of dining, nightlife, and recreational options. Even on campus, students have access to numerous activities, including more than 100 student clubs.
Holy Cross has a predominantly Catholic student body, though students of all faiths are welcome. Every year, the school presents opportunities to participate in spiritual retreats and other religious events.
Holy Cross is also the only Jesuit school that caters specifically to undergraduates (meaning that there are no graduate programs). So if you’re looking for a college that focuses on undergraduate education, this could be a great choice for you.
Its student/faculty ratio is 10:1—one of the best ratios of Jesuit colleges. Around 60% of all Holy Cross classes have fewer than 20 students, so you can rest assured you'll get ample attention and guidance in your studies.
Holy Cross currently has an extremely impressive freshman retention rate of 96%.
- Location: Worcester, MA
- Acceptance Rate: 38%
- Popular Majors: Foreign languages, English, psychology
- College of the Holy Cross Admission Requirements
#3 (Tie): Saint Louis University
Saint Louis University was founded in 1818 and is the second-oldest Jesuit college in the US. Open to students of all faiths, SLU offers approximately 90 majors and academic programs—more than most Jesuit colleges do—as well as tons of extracurricular opportunities, including more than 150 clubs and 20 sororities and fraternities. SLU’s Campus Ministry organizes multiple mission trips and retreats throughout the school year as well.
As a Jesuit college, SLU is committed to aiding the community. Each year, SLU students contribute more than one million hours of community service. The school also has an overseas campus in Madrid, where students can study for all four years or just a semester.
Of all Jesuit colleges, SLU offers the lowest student/faculty ratio at 9:1, and around 47% of its classes contain fewer than 20 students. SLU has a high freshman retention rate of 90%.
- Location: St. Louis, MO
- Acceptance Rate: 58%
- Popular Majors: Health; business; parks, recreation, leisure, and fitness studies
- Saint Louis University Admission Requirements
DuBourg Hall at Saint Louis University
Based an hour outside of San Francisco in Silicon Valley, Santa Clara University has a very high 95% freshman retention rate and more than 50 undergraduate majors.
Founded in 1851 by the Society of Jesus, SCU closely follows the traditional Jesuit principles of ethics and social justice, and offers a Jesuit School of Theology. Additionally, the college strongly emphasizes sustainability and was named a top Green College in 2018 by The Princeton Review.
Many of SCU’s 500+ professors are renowned Fulbright scholars, famous authors and poets, and successful scientists. What is perhaps most impressive about SCU, however, is that its graduates hold the honor of having the highest median salary of any Jesuit college: $65,200.
- Location: Santa Clara, CA
- Acceptance Rate: 50%
- Popular Majors: Business, engineering, communication
- Santa Clara University Admission Requirements
The biggest Catholic university on the West Coast, Loyola Marymount University houses more than 6,500 undergraduates, as well as seven schools that specialize in fields such as education, law, and business administration.
With about 150 student organizations, including almost 15 Greek chapters, LMU provides easy access to recreational and employment opportunities in Los Angeles, where regional offices for companies such as YouTube, Buzzfeed, and Google are based.
LMU is proud of its diversity; its student body contains not only representatives from almost every US state but also international students from numerous countries, such as Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. LMU has a student/faculty ratio of 10:1, with more than 50% of its classes containing fewer than 20 students.
The freshman retention rate is fairly high at 90%. What's more, 99% of graduates are currently employed, volunteering, or attending graduate school.
- Location: Los Angeles, CA
- Acceptance Rate: 47%
- Popular Majors: Visual and performing arts, marketing, journalism
- Loyola Marymount University Admission Requirements
Located less than half a mile from downtown Spokane, Gonzaga University is an absolute haven for those interested in outdoor activities and sports. More than 60% of its students participate in intramural sports clubs, and its successful men’s basketball team is one of the university’s most highly valued sports teams. Moreover, students can run or walk on the 37-mile-long Spokane River Centennial Trail or enjoy a leisurely day at the 100-acre Riverfront Park.
Gonzaga offers more than 60 undergraduate majors. Its School of Law is one of three law schools in Washington State and has produced several state Supreme Court justices.
The college adheres to Jesuit traditions by working together with Bishop White Seminary to provide theology courses to students interested in becoming priests. Its freshman retention rate is very high at 94%.
- Location: Spokane, WA
- Acceptance Rate: 66%
- Popular Majors: Business, engineering, psychology
- Gonzaga University Admission Requirements
The main entrance of Gonzaga University (SCUMATT/Wikimedia Commons)
Based in the vibrant and urban New York City, Fordham University offers a ton of extracurricular, intellectual, and spiritual opportunities for students across three campuses: Rose Hill, Lincoln Center, and Westchester.
Fordham espouses traditional Jesuit principles, including the promotion of ethics, excellence in teaching, and student care. It has more than 70 undergraduate majors and is well known for its highly ranked School of Law. Students may also use the esteemed Louis Calder Center to conduct environmental and biological research.
Although Fordham doesn’t have a Greek system, it offers more than 180 student clubs at its Rose Hill and Lincoln Center campuses. The freshman retention rate is very high at 91%.
- Location: New York City, NY
- Acceptance Rate: 46%
- Popular Majors: Economics, business administration and management, finance
- Fordham University Admission Requirements
One of the biggest Jesuit colleges in the US, Loyola University Chicago currently houses nearly 12,000 undergraduates and 11 colleges. In total, it offers undergraduates more than 80 majors to choose from, with several of these focusing on interdisciplinary coursework.
Outside of classes, Loyola Chicago participates in more than a dozen NCAA Division I sports. It also provides students with more than 250 clubs—one of the largest arrays of any Jesuit college.
Based in Chicago, Loyola Chicago gives ample chances for internships, careers, entertainment, and volunteering. As a Jesuit institution, it also encourages all students to participate in service projects and events. Students can even earn academic credit for certain volunteer efforts.
The freshman retention rate is high at 84%.
- Location: Chicago, IL
- Acceptance Rate: 68%
- Popular Majors: Health, marketing, social sciences
- Loyola University Chicago Admission Requirements
Should You Attend a Jesuit College?
We now know what the nine best Jesuit colleges are. But is a Jesuit school right for you? Let’s go over some of the key factors to consider before you decide whether you should apply to a Jesuit college.
#1: Do You Like the School Overall?
First off, think about what you really like about the school and what draws you to it. What will you likely enjoy as a student there? What kind of atmosphere, location, or classes are you looking for?
Here are some good questions to ask yourself before you apply:
- Do you plan to participate in any organizations or clubs? If so, consider looking for Jesuit colleges that offer a wide variety (100+) of on-campus clubs. Similarly, if you want the chance to join a sorority or fraternity, make sure it's got a Greek system.
- Do you like the area? There’s a big difference between urban and suburban environments. It’s important to make sure you like what the area around the school has to offer as well. For example, are there ample job opportunities for recent graduates? What about internships?
- Does the school offer good financial support? If money is a big concern for you (as it is for most students!), spend time looking up how much financial aid the Jesuit college you want to apply to usually provides incoming freshmen with.
#2: Do You Agree With the Jesuit Principles?
Another factor to consider is how strongly your own values align with those of Jesuit colleges. In other words, do you enjoy these schools’ emphasis on ethics? Are you excited about the idea of doing community service? Are you looking forward to gaining a broad foundation of knowledge in a variety of fields? If you answered yes to these questions, a Jesuit college might be good for you.
Furthermore, if you are Catholic and would prefer a school with lots of Catholic-oriented activities, such as retreats and mission trips, you'd likely enjoy the offerings available at a Jesuit college.
#3: Do the Classes and Majors Sound Interesting to You?
Even if you're not sure what you want to study or major in (most high school students don't have everything figured out so soon!), it's important to make sure that the school you're interested in has classes and academic programs that sound appealing to you.
For example, maybe you like the idea of studying a few foreign languages. In this case, Santa Clara University might be a good fit for you since it offers an extensive modern languages program with languages such as Arabic, Chinese, French, and Japanese.
Key Takeaways: The Best Jesuit Colleges
There are 27 Jesuit colleges in the US, all of which belong to the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. Jesuit colleges are private institutions that range from small liberal arts colleges to large research universities.
While Jesuit colleges are open to students of all religious backgrounds, they typically make a strong effort to abide by traditional Jesuit principles through their emphasis on ethics and core classes, and their ongoing commitment to community service.
For the list of Jesuit colleges above, we analyzed multiple factors for each school, from its freshman retention rate to its student/faculty ratio, in order to offer a more well-rounded look at which Jesuit colleges are better than others.
Ultimately, through our findings, we came up with a list of nine top Jesuit colleges:
- #1 (Tie): Boston College
- #1 (Tie): Georgetown University
- #3 (Tie): College of the Holy Cross
- #3 (Tie): Saint Louis University
- #5: Santa Clara University
- #6: Loyola Marymount University
- #7: Gonzaga University
- #8: Fordham University
- #9: Loyola University Chicago
If you're not sure whether you should attend a Jesuit school, make sure to ask yourself these three questions:
- Do you like the school overall (including its location, atmosphere, etc.)?
- Do you agree with the Jesuit principles of ethics, knowledge, and community service?
- Do the school's classes and majors sound interesting to you?
If you've decided to apply to a Jesuit college, be sure you know what the most common college application deadlines are as well as what to expect during the college application process.
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Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.