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

Updated December 13, 2022

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 ... is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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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:

#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.

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