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Relative to the tiny size of its student population, CalTech has an impressive number of successful graduates and affiliates, including 39 Nobel laureates, six Turing Award winners and four Fields Medallists.
There are approximately 2,000 students at CalTech, and the primary campus in Pasadena, near Los Angeles, covers 124 acres. Almost all undergraduates live on campus.
Across the six faculties there is a focus on science and engineering.
In addition to Nobel laureates and top researchers, the CalTech graduate community includes a number of politicians and public advisers, particularly in the areas of science, technology and energy.
All first-year students belong to one of four houses as part of the university’s alternative model to fraternities and sororities. A number of house traditions and events are associated with each house.
The university has the highest proportion of students who continue on to pursue a PhD, and the figure of the CalTech postgraduate has filtered into popular culture; all the main characters in the TV comedy The Big Bang Theory work or study at CalTech.
Based in Palo Alto, right beside Silicon Valley, Stanford has had a prominent role in encouraging the region’s tech industry to develop.
Many faculty members, students and alumni have founded successful technology companies and start-ups, including Google, Snapchat and Hewlett-Packard.
In total, companies founded by Stanford alumni make $2.7 trillion (£2.2 trillion) each year.
The university is often referred to as “the Farm” because the campus was built on the site of the Stanford family’s Palo Alto Stock Farm. The campus covers 8,180 acres, but more than half of the land is not yet developed.
With its distinctive sand-coloured, red-roofed buildings, Stanford’s campus is thought to be one of the most beautiful in the world. It contains a number of sculpture gardens and art museums, and a public meditation centre.
As might be expected from one of the best universities in the world, Stanford is highly competitive. The admission rate currently stands at just over 5 per cent.
Of the 15,000 students – most of whom live on campus – 22 per cent are international.
MIT also cultivates a strong entrepreneurial culture, which has seen many alumni found notable companies such as Intel and Dropbox.
Unusually, the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes at MIT are not wholly separate; many courses can be taken at either level.
The undergraduate programme is one of the country’s most selective, admitting only 8 per cent of applicants. Engineering and computer science programmes are the most popular among undergraduates.
Thirty-three per cent of the 11,000 students are international, hailing from 154 countries.
Famous alumni include astronaut Buzz Aldrin, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and physicist Richard Feynman.
Like Harvard, Princeton is a prestigious Ivy League university with a history stretching back more than 200 years.
Princeton’s distinctive social environment includes private “eating clubs”, which function as both social houses and dining halls. Many of the clubs are selective and competitive, but others simply require undergraduates to sign up.
Fewer than 8,000 students are enrolled at Princeton, and just over a quarter are international.
Princeton’s campuses, in New Jersey, are located about an hour away from both New York City and Philadelphia.
Degree courses have strict requirements. All students are required to do independent research as part of their degrees, and some must take a foreign language course.
The application process is highly selective. Unlike most US universities, Princeton does not offer an early decision application route.
Renowned Princeton alumni include US presidents, astronauts, businesspeople and Olympians. This includes former first lady Michelle Obama, author F. Scott Fitzgerald and mathematician Alan Turing.
Harvard is probably the best-known university in the world, topping the Times Higher Education reputation rankings most years.
Founded in 1636, it is the oldest higher education institution in the US.
Approximately 20,000 students are enrolled, a quarter of whom are international. Although the cost of tuition is expensive, Harvard’s financial endowment allows for plenty of financial aid for students.
The Harvard Library system is made up of 79 libraries and counts as the largest academic library in the world.
Among many famous alumni, Harvard can count eight US presidents, 158 Nobel laureates, 14 Turing Award winners and 62 living billionaires.
Unlike some other universities at the top of the list, Harvard is at least equally reputed for arts and humanities as it is for science and technology, if not more so.
Compare US universities with other regions
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Best universities in the UK
Top universities in the United States 2020
Click each institution to view its full World University Rankings 2020 results
|US Rank 2020||World University Rank 2020||University||City||State|
|1||2||California Institute of Technology||Pasadena||California|
|3||5||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||Cambridge||Massachusetts|
|4||6||Princeton University||Princeton||New Jersey|
|6||8||Yale University||New Haven||Connecticut|
|7||9||University of Chicago||Chicago||Illinois|
|8||11||University of Pennsylvania||Philadelphia||Pennsylvania|
|9||12||Johns Hopkins University||Baltimore||Maryland|
|10||=13||University of California, Berkeley||Berkeley||California|
|11||16||Columbia University||New York City||New York|
|12||17||University of California, Los Angeles||Los Angeles||California|
|13||19||Cornell University||Ithaca||New York|
|14||20||Duke University||Durham||North Carolina|
|15||21||University of Michigan-Ann Arbor||Ann Arbor||Michigan|
|17||26||University of Washington||Seattle||Washington|
|18||=27||Carnegie Mellon University||Pittsburgh||Pennsylvania|
|19||29||New York University||New York City||New York|
|20||31||University of California, San Diego||San Diego||California|
|=21||=38||Georgia Institute of Technology||Atlanta||Georgia|
|=21||=38||University of Texas at Austin||Austin||Texas|
|23||=48||University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign||Champaign||Illinois|
|24||51||University of Wisconsin-Madison||Madison||Wisconsin|
|25||52||Washington University in St Louis||St. Louis||Missouri|
|26||53||Brown University||Providence||Rhode Island|
|27||54||University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||Chapel Hill||North Carolina|
|28||=55||University of California, Davis||Davis||California|
|29||=57||University of California, Santa Barbara||Santa Barbara||California|
|31||=62||University of Southern California||Los Angeles||California|
|32||70||Ohio State University (Main campus)||Columbus||Ohio|
|33||78||Penn State (Main campus)||State College||Pennsylvania|
|34||79||University of Minnesota||Minneapolis||Minnesota|
|36||84||Michigan State University||East Lansing||Michigan|
|37||88||Purdue University West Lafayette||West Lafayette||Indiana|
|38||=91||University of Maryland, College Park||College Park||Maryland|
|39||=94||Dartmouth College||Hanover||New Hampshire|
|40||=96||University of California, Irvine||Irvine||California|
|41||=102||Georgetown University||Washington D.C|
|42||104||University of Arizona||Tucson||Arizona|
|44||=107||University of Virginia (Main campus)||Charlottesville||Virginia|
|45||=113||University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh campus||Pittsburgh||Pennsylvania|
|47||119||Case Western Reserve University||Cleveland||Ohio|
|48||124||University of Colorado Boulder||Boulder||Colorado|
|51||=155||Arizona State University||Tempe||Arizona|
|52||=157||University of Notre Dame||Notre Dame||Indiana|
|53||=168||Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey||New Brunswick||New Jersey|
|54||172||University of Alabama at Birmingham||Birmingham||Alabama|
|=55||=173||University of Rochester||Rochester (NY)||New York|
|57||=175||University of Florida||Gainesville||Florida|
|58||178||Texas A&M University||College Station||Texas|
|59||=179||University of California, Santa Cruz||Santa Cruz||California|
|60||=198||George Washington University||Washington D.C|
|=61||201–250||University of Hawai’i at Mānoa||Honolulu||Hawai’i|
|=61||201–250||Howard University||Washington D.C|
|=61||201–250||University of Iowa||Iowa City||Iowa|
|=61||201–250||University of Massachusetts||Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell, Worcester||Massachusetts|
|=61||201–250||University of Miami||Coral Gables||Florida|
|=61||201–250||University of South Florida (Tampa)||Tampa||Florida|
|=61||201–250||University of Utah||Salt Lake City||Utah|
|=61||201–250||Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University||Blacksburg||Virginia|
|=61||201–250||Wake Forest University||Winston-Salem||North Carolina|
|=61||201–250||William & Mary||Williamsburg||Virginia|
|=72||251–300||University at Buffalo||Buffalo||New York|
|=72||251–300||University of California, Riverside||Riverside||California|
|=72||251–300||University of Cincinnati||Cincinnati||Ohio|
|=72||251–300||University of Delaware||Newark (DE)||Delaware|
|=72||251–300||Florida State University||Tallahassee||Florida|
|=72||251–300||George Mason University||Fairfax||Virginia|
|=72||251–300||University of Illinois at Chicago||Chicago||Illinois|
|=72||251–300||University of Oregon||Eugene||Oregon|
|=72||251–300||Oregon Health and Science University||Portland||Oregon|
|=72||251–300||Syracuse University||Syracuse||New York|
|=82||301–350||Colorado School of Mines||Golden||Colorado|
|=82||301–350||University of New Mexico (Main campus)||Albuquerque||New Mexico|
|=82||301–350||North Carolina State University||Raleigh||North Carolina|
|=82||301–350||Nova Southeastern University||Davie||Florida|
|=82||301–350||Stony Brook University||Stony Brook||New York|
|=82||301–350||The University of Tennessee-Knoxville||Knoxville||Texas|
|=82||301–350||University of Texas at Dallas||Richardson||Texas|
|=82||301–350||Tulane University||New Orleans||Louisiana|
|=93||351–400||University of Alaska Fairbanks||Fairbanks||Alaska|
|=93||351–400||University of California, Merced||Merced||California|
|=93||351–400||University of Connecticut||Mansfield||Connecticut|
|=93||351–400||University of Denver||Denver||Colorado|
|=93||351–400||Hofstra University||Hempstead||New York|
|=93||351–400||Iowa State University||Ames||Iowa|
|=93||351–400||Oregon State University||Corvallis||Oregon|
|=93||351–400||State University of New York Albany||Albany||New York|
|=93||351–400||Washington State University||Pullman||Washington|
|=93||351–400||Wayne State University||Detroit||Michigan|
|=104||401–500||University of Alabama||Tuscaloosa||Alabama|
|=104||401–500||American University||Washington D.C|
|=104||401–500||Colorado State University, Fort Collins||Fort Collins||Colorado|
|=104||401–500||University of Georgia||Athens||Georgia|
|=104||401–500||Georgia State University||Atlanta||Georgia|
|=104||401–500||University of Houston||Houston||Texas|
|=104||401–500||University of Kansas||Lawrence||Kansas|
|=104||401–500||University of Kentucky||Lexington||Kentucky|
|=104||401–500||University of Missouri-Columbia||Columbia||Missouri|
|=104||401–500||University of Missouri-St Louis||St. Louis||Missouri|
|=104||401–500||University of Nebraska-Lincoln||Lincoln||Nebraska|
|=104||401–500||New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology||Socorro||New Mexico|
|=104||401–500||Oklahoma State University||Stillwater||Oklahoma|
|=104||401–500||Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute||Troy||New York|
|=104||401–500||University of South Carolina-Columbia||Columbia||South Carolina|
|=104||401–500||University of Texas at San Antonio||San Antonio||Texas|
|=104||401–500||University of Tulsa||Tulsa||Oklahoma|
|=122||501–600||University of Alabama in Huntsville||Huntsville||Alabama|
|=122||501–600||Binghamton University, State University of New York||Binghamton||New York|
|=122||501–600||Florida International University||Miami||Florida|
|=122||501–600||University of Idaho||Moscow||Idaho|
|=122||501–600||Louisiana State University||Baton Rouge||Louisiana|
|=122||501–600||Missouri University of Science and Technology||Rolla||Missouri|
|=122||501–600||University of Nebraska Medical Center||Omaha||Nebraska|
|=122||501–600||New Jersey Institute of Technology||Newark (NJ)||New Jersey|
|=122||501–600||Northern Arizona University||Flagstaff||Arizona|
|=122||501–600||University of Rhode Island||South Kingstown||Rhode Island|
|=122||501–600||San Diego State University||San Diego||California|
|=122||501–600||University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee||Milwaukee||Wisconsin|
|=134||601–800||University of Arkansas||Fayateville||Arkansas|
|=134||601–800||University of Central Florida||Orlando||Florida|
|=134||601–800||Clemson University||Clemson||South Carolina|
|=134||601–800||Kansas State University||Manhattan||Kansas|
|=134||601–800||Kent State University||Kent||Ohio|
|=134||601–800||University of Maryland, Baltimore County||Baltimore||Maryland|
|=134||601–800||Montana State University||Bozeman||Montana|
|=134||601–800||University of Nevada, Las Vegas||Las Vegas||Nevada|
|=134||601–800||New Mexico State University (Main campus)||Las Cruces||New Mexico|
|=134||601–800||University of North Carolina at Greensboro||Greensboro||North Carolina|
|=134||601–800||Ohio University (Main campus)||Athens||Ohio|
|=134||601–800||Old Dominion University||Norfolk||Virginia|
|=134||601–800||Portland State University||Portland||Oregon|
|=134||601–800||University of South Dakota||Vermillion||South Dakota|
|=134||601–800||Stevens Institute of Technology||Hoboken||New Jersey|
|=134||601–800||University of Texas at Arlington||Arlington||Texas|
|=134||601–800||Texas Tech University||Lubbock||Texas|
|=134||601–800||University of Toledo||Toledo||Ohio|
|=134||601–800||Western Washington University||Bellingham||Washington|
|=134||601–800||West Virginia University||Morgantown||West Virginia|
|=134||601–800||Worcester Polytechnic Institute||Worcester||Massachusetts|
|=159||801–1000||Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University||Daytona Beach||Florida|
|=159||801–1000||Florida Atlantic University||Boca Raton||Florida|
|=159||801–1000||Florida Institute of Technology||Melbourne||Florida|
|=159||801–1000||Louisiana Tech University||Ruston||Louisiana|
|=159||801–1000||Mississippi State Univ|