The Top 30 American Colleges With The Most Innovative Teaching Approaches: These Colleges Do Things Differently

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The Top 30 American Colleges With The Most Innovative Teaching Approaches: These Colleges Do Things Differently

Any college professor can talk about a subject with their students. But it takes a true innovator to teach a well known or emerging discipline in a way that inspires and leads to success. There is no one way to teach a subject. And while there are tried and tested practices that are proven to help with learning, many colleges in America are also implementing new and exciting approaches. US students are incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to pick from a range of colleges that do things differently. However, many do not realize the true breadth of opportunities out there. This article will correct that. Below, we reveal the colleges that teach their subjects in the most interesting, different and useful ways.

One of the problems with choosing a college, from a prospective student’s point of view, is that it can be hard for different institutions to stand out. When you’ve got two or more seemingly very similar college options in front of you, how can you identify the best one? The answer is to look at the ways in which the colleges teach. Different people learn in different ways. Therefore, some students benefit from formal classroom settings, while others get the most from being in the field. Most need a mix of approaches. And the colleges that are finding new ways to mix and invigorate these teaching methods are serving their students the best.

If you’re the sort of person that wants to reach the top of their career but needs a non-traditional way of learning it, then you’re in the right place. There are many articles online that list a range of different innovative colleges in America. But this is the first article that highlights the top 30 while showing you what it is that each one is doing differently.

Perhaps there isn’t a college below that suits you personally, and that’s ok. This list can still be incredibly useful, as it will teach you just what it is that you need to look for in your own choices. We’ve included summaries of each innovative entry, which will show you what the colleges are doing for their students. Just read below and ask yourself, “Do my college options teach in any way like this?”


For innovation to remain innovative, it needs to constantly change. That means that there are many colleges across America starting new things all the time. So we’ve compiled the most up to date reports on the colleges that do things differently. We’ve also looked at older reports and done research to see how the featured colleges have updated their practices in the years since publication. And for all entries on the list, we’ve also performed extensive research into the claims within the articles. This ensures that the information presented below is up to date and accurate.

Our sources are as follows:

Reuters, Reuters Top 100: The World’s Most Innovative Universities – 2017:

Forbes, The 10 Most Innovative Business School Courses:

US News, Most Innovative Schools, National Universities:

US News, Most Innovative Schools, National Liberal Arts Colleges:

College Xpress, The Most Innovative College Academic Programs:

Business Insider, 10 Innovative US Colleges That Are Finding A Way To Do Everything Better:

Mashable, 10 College Courses That Didn’t Exist 20 Years Ago:

What this list does is quantify and aggregate the sources above. That means that this list is in many ways the indisputable list of lists. We’ve ranked colleges based on their placements on the sources and through evidence of their innovation having an impact. To see what these respectable publications agree to be the most innovative colleges in America, read below.

Our results, from 30 to one, are here:

Rank School Location
1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, MA
2 Stanford University Stanford, CA
3 Harvard University Cambridge, MA
4 University of California-San Diego La Jolla, CA
5 Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, PA
6 University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, MI
7 Duke University Durham, NC
8 University of California-Berkeley Berkeley, CA
9 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
10 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD
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  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    Cambridge, MA

    Each methodology list that features Massachusetts Institute of Technology places the college in its top five. Reuters names it the second most innovative college in the entire world. Business Insider and US News both consider it to be the third most innovative college in America. And Mashable considers its Technology and Imagination class to be the third most original course worldwide. In later years, this course has evolved into a whole laboratory for imagination, computation, and expression. This laboratory uses technology to further the human understanding of a range of worldwide issues. One example is Grayscale, an online game that reflects upon tales of workplace sexism.

  2. Stanford University

    Stanford, CA

    Reuters considers Stanford University to be the world's most innovative college. Business Insider names it the second best college for doing everything better. Lastly, US News considers it to be the fifth most innovative school. It's hard to pin down just how Stanford is doing things differently because it can be seen in just about every course and facet of its existence. People can take a virtual reality tour of its campus. Students work among actual robots developed by the college. And professors constantly show how students can take the things they learn and apply it to the real working world. Stanford's reputation is well earned, and the college will continue to innovate for years to come!

  3. Harvard University

    Cambridge, MA

    Mashable considers Harvard's Science Fiction & Fact class, which makes students read and watch sci-fi books and movies, to be the fourth most innovative in the world. What makes it innovative, however, is its context. If this course were part of a media studies degree, then it would not be unusual. But it is actually taught as part of the History of Science. In addition to Mashable, Reuters considers Harvard to be the world's third most innovative college. Business Insider places it at ninth. And US News places it at 14th. One of the reasons why the other lists feature Harvard is The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. This center is intended to develop novel teaching techniques and hosts in-class experimentation events.

  4. University of California-San Diego

    La Jolla, CA

    Reuters's ranking places the entire University of California system as the 12th most innovative college in the world. Other lists highlight University of California, San Diego individually. US News considers it to be the 45th most innovative national university in America. Forbes raves about how the college's management school allows students to conduct analyses of local companies. Lastly, College Xpress notes how the structure of the college allows it to combine a liberal arts college feel with the facilities of a large university. At present, the University of California, San Diego is focused on allowing its students to innovate society in a meaningful way. For instance, Gillie Agmon had the opportunity to develop a diagnostic device for HIV therapy in developing countries.

  5. Carnegie Mellon University

    Pittsburgh, PA

    This college makes the top 10 on three methodology lists but only just makes the top 100 of a fourth. Reuters names it the world's 98th most innovative college. US News names it the seventh most innovative national university in the USA. Business Insider names it the fifth best college for doing things differently. Lastly, Mashable praises the college's Technology Entrepreneurship program for allowing business-minded students to gain a technologist's perspective. In recent years, this program has evolved into a range of master's degrees that focus on innovation in products and services, technology ventures and more.

  6. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

    Ann Arbor, MI

    Business Insider praises the amount of entrepreneurial innovation focused student organizations at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and names it the eighth best college for doing things differently. Reuters also names it eighth most innovative college in the world. US News places it at 12th among national universities in America. And the college's groundbreaking research is one of the reasons why many of its courses are leading. For instance, the college recently discovered that two-minute exercise breaks in classes can help children stay a healthy weight without disrupting education. This and similar research is sure to be incorporated into its education degrees in the near future.

  7. Duke University

    Durham, NC

    This college makes the top 20 of three methodology lists. US News considers Duke to be the 16th most innovative national university in America. Reuters names it the 11th most innovative school in the world. And Business Insider places it at joint 10th for being the best at doing things differently. This final source also notes that the college has recently gained almost $4 billion in funding for solving global challenges. One of the ways that this funding is being used is to run numerous events aimed at making students react in unique ways to problem-solving.

  8. University of California-Berkeley

    Berkeley, CA

    Of the three methodology sources that feature the University of California, Berkeley, US News is the least generous, placing it at 24th. Reuter's groups the college with the entire University of California System and ranks it at 12th. Lastly, Mashable names the college's The Beauty and Joy of Computing course as the second most innovative college course in the world. This program is going strong in the present day. It is intended for non-computer science majors at the high school and undergraduate freshman level. It teaches participating students the skills needed for computer programming and also introduces them to the social implications of computing, such as video game violence's effects.

  9. University of Southern California

    Los Angeles, CA

    Mashable names the University of Southern California as having the most innovative college course in the world, which is Level Design & Development for Video Games. In the years since publication, the games department at USC has advanced considerably. It runs a yearly games expo and has four distinct degree programs in gaming. These include a Bachelor of Arts in Interactive Media & Games and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science with an Emphasis in Games. All games students work with one another and have created a range of incredible gaming content. The University of Southern California is also US News's 28th most innovative college in America and Reuters' 20th most innovative college in the world.

  10. Johns Hopkins University

    Baltimore, MD

    US News and Reuter's rank Johns Hopkins University in similar places on their lists. US News considers the college to be the 18th most innovative national university in America. Reuters names it the 22nd most innovative college in the world. Forbes is impressed with a program that the college has been running since 2010, named Innovation for Humanity. As the title suggests, the program takes students to another country, "to solve real-world challenges - like public health, deteriorating infrastructure, and social welfare." This program has, to date, taken students to Rwanda, India, Ecuador, and Peru.

  11. University of Washington-Seattle Campus

    Seattle, WA

    This college polarizes the methodology lists. Both Reuters and Forbes rave about it. Reuters even considers the college to be the seventh most innovative college worldwide. Forbes praises the college's encouragement of women and ability to make students consider their long-term careers. However, the only other list to feature it is US News, which names the college the joint 37th most innovative national university in America. The University of Washington encourages all of its students to share ideas, "by providing the space and opportunity from all backgrounds - the humanities and the sciences, the poetic and the pragmatics - to connect, imagine and discover."

  12. New York University

    New York, NY

    Mashable and College Xpress cite vastly different departments at New York University as evidence of innovation. Mashable is impressed with the college's Data Journalism and Investigative Reporting course. This course is still running in the present day and teaches students indispensable research and data extraction skills that give them an edge in the news reporting world. College Xpress, on the other hand, notes that NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized study is as a premier destination for students that want to learn in a unique way. This school allows students to create their own program which combines a range of specialisms to make a study experience completely catered to an individual. Students embarking on this have to have two advisers throughout their study, a faculty adviser and a class adviser, to ensure they succeed. NYU is also US News's joint 37th most innovative college.

  13. North Carolina State University at Raleigh

    Raleigh, NC

    North Carolina State University belongs to the University of North Carolina System. Therefore, Reuters ranks this, and the other colleges in the System, as the 35th most innovative university in the world. US News has a very similar estimation of North Carolina State University as a single college, placing it at 37th in its most innovative national universities list. Lastly, Forbes praises the college for the way it makes students create product solutions for real-world companies. This product development initiative is completely in line with the college's focus on high-impact education. This philosophy means that most of the students engage with cooperative education, entrepreneurship coaching, and study abroad programs.

  14. Case Western Reserve University

    Cleveland, OH

    Ranking at 72nd on Reuters and 32nd on US News's innovation lists is Case Western Reserve University. Forbes also features the college's sustainable value and social entrepreneurship institute on its unnumbered list. But in the years since the Forbes list was published, the college has created even more facilities that encourage, "students, faculty, alumni, and members of the community - to tinker and creatively invent." The most successful of these spaces is called Think[box], and for two years running, students have stated that it is the best facility on campus in college surveys.

  15. Arizona State University-Tempe

    Tempe, AZ

    This college gets two first-place methodology rankings. But apart from Business Insider and US News, it does not appear on any other lists. Arizona State University, Tempe itself puts its success in innovation down to the way that students are able to create their own graduation timeframe. This is supported through the college eAdvisor system, which helps students see their progress and envision optimum graduation times. On top of this, students are able to gain real-world experience throughout their years of study.

  16. Bard College

    Annandale-On-Hudson, NY

    College Xpress notes that each year of Bard College's experience has a different focus. For example, intellectual exploration is the emphasis of the first year. US News is more taken with the college's campus, noting that its 1,000 acre home resembles a sprawling idyllic village and names it the fourth most innovative liberal arts college in America. And the innovation at Bard College shines through into every event that it hosts. For instance, many colleges hold film screenings, but Bard College holds film screenings with music from a live orchestra.

  17. Georgia State University

    Atlanta, GA

    Georgia State University uses big data to improve the career prospects of its students. This approach has led two methodology sources to place it in the top five of their most innovative colleges lists. Business Insider ranks it at fourth, and US News ranks it at second for innovative national universities. Future versions of the other methodology lists are sure to feature Georgia State University, as it's a rapidly changing college. For instance, in five years it has increased its research funding awards from $59 million to over $100 million, which has created a range of exciting new ventures and opportunities for students.

  18. University of Maryland-Baltimore County

    Baltimore, MD

    US News names the University of Maryland, Baltimore County as its ninth most innovative national university. In fact, the college holds a significantly higher spot on the innovation list than on US News's general, "best national universities ranking," where it places at 165th. This shows that the college has put the ability to do things differently right at the forefront of its mission. Business Insider backs up this statement, noting that it has a focus on hands-on experience. It also places the college at seventh on its list. The most recent pioneering education that University of Maryland, Baltimore County has introduced is a summer project called the Interdisciplinary CoLab program, which brings nine students of different disciplines together to research and redefine subject matter. One example includes an online exhibit of essays and videos about old science fiction fanzines.

  19. University of Pennsylvania

    Philadelphia, PA

    Reuters considers the University of Pennsylvania to be the fourth most innovative college in the world. However, US News is less generous and named it as the 32nd most innovative national university in America. In many ways, this college is at its most creative with its Online Learning Initiative. Unlike some renowned colleges, University of Pennsylvania considers online learning to be, "a vital part of our mission to increase access - around the world - to the educational resources that can change people's lives."

  20. Northeastern University

    Boston, MA

    Both US News and Business Insider place Northeastern University in the top 10 on their most innovative colleges lists. US News places it at eighth, and Business Insider places it at sixth. And the sources are wowed by the college's professional work experience focused degrees. Every single subject at Northeastern has a strong aim to integrate the classroom with the professional world. This includes co-ops with employers, where 50% of participating students receive full-time job offers from their employer once the experience is completed.

  21. Grinnell College

    Grinnell, IA

    This college ensures that its students, "ask hard questions and question easy answers." This approach has resulted in US News naming it the joint sixth most innovative liberal arts college in America. Additionally, College Xpress commends Grinnell in creating a highly customizable curriculum. This means that as a student, you only need to study in areas that you consider to be necessary for your life goals. If you're someone that craves freedom and responsibility in your college years and wants to study in a liberal arts college environment, then Grinnell could be perfect!

  22. The University of Texas at Austin

    Austin, TX

    When grouped into the entire University of Texas System, this college makes the top 10 of one methodology list. The System is ninth place on Reuters' most innovative global colleges list. Additionally, University of Texas, Austin is US News's joint 16th most innovative national university in America. This college is heavily focused on its home state, and people who want to contribute to Texas's growing economy will benefit the most from this college's original teaching methods. For example, one of the college's biggest projects right now is Planet Texas 2050, which aims to provide solutions to Texas's predicted influx in population and exposure to increasingly severe weather over the next 30 years.

  23. Amherst College

    Amherset, MA

    College Xpress notes that all freshman students at Amherst College have to take a seminar that encourages critical thinking and active learning. The ways that students implement these skills across their years of study have led US News to name it the eighth most innovative liberal arts college in the USA. And the college has over 850 courses for students to choose from. Amherst won't stop any student from taking a course. As long as it interests the individual, then the student can take it during study. Due to this openness, many students choose to take two majors during their course of study.

  24. University of Notre Dame

    Notre Dame, IN

    US News names the University of Notre Dame as the 27th most innovative national university in America. Additionally, Forbes raves about the college's business school's practical methods of teaching. The source notes that the college even sends students out into war zones as part of its study. Perhaps the most original way that the University of Notre Dame helps students is through its first-year openness. Students beginning college are free to, "explore the wealth of exciting opportunities Notre Dame holds." This means that for the entire first year, the students do not need to pick a major or even a specific school. And the college's faculty and staff provide strong levels of support in helping these first-year students pick their permanent focus for the sophomore year. This approach has led to a 96% graduation rate.

  25. Purdue University-Main Campus

    West Lafayette, IN

    Ranking at sixth on US News's national universities list and 32nd on Reuters's Global Colleges list is Purdue University, West Lafayette. The college's educational approach has created innovators for over 150 years. Some of the college's most successful people include Charles Alton Ellis, who was one of the pioneering engineers of the Golden Gate Bridge; Adel Halasa, who developed a new form of rubber tire tread polymers; Brian Lamb, who founded the TV network C-SPAN; and Robert C. Barker, who invented chicken nuggets. The college is also showcasing many of its incredible student and faculty achievements and looking to the future at its Ideas Festival, which is running from 2018 to 2019.

  26. Vassar College

    Poughkeepsie, NY

    During the course of study at Vassar College, the line between students and faculty begins to blur. College Xpress notes that this is because of the Ford Scholars Program, where teachers and learners work together to advance sciences and humanities. The work that students and faculty produce is diverse and important. For instance, in 2018, ongoing projects include creating learning techniques for autistic people outside of school spaces, understanding the relationship between global climate change and global racism and reframing drug crime to reduce mass incarceration. US News considers the institution to be the eighth most innovative liberal arts college in America.

  27. Portland State University

    Portland, OR

    The exciting activities of this college have led US News to name it the joint 32nd most innovative national university in America. Even better, Business Insider names it the joint 10th best college for doing things differently. And the students at Portland State University are immersed in the real world impact of their future careers from the very start. Like the college itself says, "At Portland State, students don't wait to change the world. Community-based learning forms the backbone of education here." This holds true for all courses and departments.

  28. Vanderbilt University

    Nashville, TN

    This Nashville based college ranks at 37th on US News's list and 10th on Reuters's list. It's fitting that the place that invented country music continues to be an incredibly innovative area. The college powers this innovation in a number of ways. One of the most effective of these is its Trans-Institutional Programs. These programs are, "designed to support new ideas, cutting-edge research and the development of infrastructure." It does this by facilitating research and teaching collaborations between a wide range of subjects. The uptick of this for students is that their professors will provide more broad and useful subject material as a result of participating in the programs.

  29. Emory University

    Atlanta, GA

    Reuters names Emory University as the world's 54th most innovative college. Mashable is more specific and states that the college's Social Media & Virtual Communities course is the seventh most innovative college program worldwide. Since the publication of the Mashable list, social media has only become more popular. Emory has followed this trend by offering even more original social media courses. For instance, students can now enroll in programs focused on social media analytics, social media for business, and digital & social media strategy.

  30. Georgetown University

    Washington, DC

    This college offers possibly the most original political degree options on the planet. US News places the college at joint 32nd on its most innovative American colleges list. And Forbes commends the way the college teaches its students about the global impacts of international laws. It does this through debates and interviews with government figures. In fact, Georgetown University has an even wider-ranging innovation initiative. It's named Designing the Future(s) and actively supports projects that break established educational rules. Many of its programs count towards students' course completion and overall grade.

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