Top 5 universities in the US

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1. California Institute of Technology 

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.

Best universities in California

2. Stanford University

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.

The 10 most beautiful universities in the US 

3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

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. 

Women in STEM: stories from MIT students

4. Princeton University

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. 

Studying at Princeton University

5. Harvard University

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. 

Vlogging a day at Harvard University


Compare US universities with other regions

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Top universities in the United States 2020 

Click each institution to view its full World University Rankings 2020 results

US Rank 2020World University Rank 2020 UniversityCityState
1 2 California Institute of TechnologyPasadenaCalifornia
2 4 Stanford UniversityStanfordCalifornia
3 5 Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeMassachusetts
4 6 Princeton UniversityPrincetonNew Jersey
5 7 Harvard UniversityCambridgeMassachusetts
6 8 Yale UniversityNew HavenConnecticut
7 9 University of ChicagoChicagoIllinois
8 11 University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaPennsylvania
9 12 Johns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreMaryland
10 =13 University of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyCalifornia
11 16 Columbia UniversityNew York CityNew York
12 17 University of California, Los AngelesLos AngelesCalifornia
13 19 Cornell UniversityIthacaNew York
14 20 Duke UniversityDurhamNorth Carolina
15 21 University of Michigan-Ann ArborAnn ArborMichigan
16 22 Northwestern UniversityEvanstonIllinois
17 26 University of WashingtonSeattleWashington
18 =27 Carnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghPennsylvania
19 29 New York UniversityNew York CityNew York
20 31 University of California, San DiegoSan DiegoCalifornia
=21 =38 Georgia Institute of TechnologyAtlantaGeorgia
=21 =38 University of Texas at AustinAustinTexas
23 =48 University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignIllinois
24 51 University of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonWisconsin
25 52 Washington University in St LouisSt. LouisMissouri
26 53 Brown UniversityProvidenceRhode Island
27 54 University of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillNorth Carolina
28 =55 University of California, DavisDavisCalifornia
29 =57 University of California, Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraCalifornia
30 61 Boston UniversityBostonMassachusetts
31 =62 University of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesCalifornia
32 70 Ohio State University (Main campus)ColumbusOhio
33 78 Penn State (Main campus)State CollegePennsylvania
34 79 University of MinnesotaMinneapolisMinnesota
35 =80 Emory UniversityAtlantaGeorgia
36 84 Michigan State UniversityEast LansingMichigan
37 88 Purdue University West LafayetteWest LafayetteIndiana
38 =91 University of Maryland, College ParkCollege ParkMaryland
39 =94 Dartmouth CollegeHanoverNew Hampshire
40 =96 University of California, IrvineIrvineCalifornia
41 =102 Georgetown University Washington D.C
42 104 University of ArizonaTucsonArizona
43 =105 Rice UniversityHoustonTexas
44 =107 University of Virginia (Main campus)CharlottesvilleVirginia
45 =113 University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh campusPittsburghPennsylvania
46 116 Vanderbilt UniversityNashvilleTennessee
47 119 Case Western Reserve UniversityClevelandOhio
48 124 University of Colorado BoulderBoulderColorado
49 =134 Indiana UniversityBloomingtonIndiana
50 =139 Tufts UniversityMedfordMassachusetts
51 =155 Arizona State UniversityTempeArizona
52 =157 University of Notre DameNotre DameIndiana
53 =168 Rutgers, the State University of New JerseyNew BrunswickNew Jersey
54 172 University of Alabama at BirminghamBirminghamAlabama
=55 =173 Northeastern UniversityBostonMassachusetts
=55 =173 University of RochesterRochester (NY)New York
57 =175 University of FloridaGainesvilleFlorida
58 178 Texas A&M UniversityCollege StationTexas
59 =179 University of California, Santa CruzSanta CruzCalifornia
60 =198 George Washington University Washington D.C
=61 201–250 Brandeis UniversityWalthamMassachusetts
=61 201–250 University of Hawai’i at MānoaHonoluluHawai’i
=61 201–250 Howard University Washington D.C
=61 201–250 University of IowaIowa CityIowa
=61 201–250 University of MassachusettsAmherst, Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell, WorcesterMassachusetts
=61 201–250 University of MiamiCoral GablesFlorida
=61 201–250 University of South Florida (Tampa)TampaFlorida
=61 201–250 University of UtahSalt Lake CityUtah
=61 201–250 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State UniversityBlacksburgVirginia
=61 201–250 Wake Forest UniversityWinston-SalemNorth Carolina
=61 201–250 William & MaryWilliamsburgVirginia
=72 251–300 University at BuffaloBuffaloNew York
=72 251–300 University of California, RiversideRiversideCalifornia
=72 251–300 University of CincinnatiCincinnatiOhio
=72 251–300 University of DelawareNewark (DE)Delaware
=72 251–300 Florida State UniversityTallahasseeFlorida
=72 251–300 George Mason UniversityFairfaxVirginia
=72 251–300 University of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoIllinois
=72 251–300 University of OregonEugeneOregon
=72 251–300 Oregon Health and Science UniversityPortlandOregon
=72 251–300 Syracuse UniversitySyracuseNew York
=82 301–350 Boston CollegeBostonMassachusetts
=82 301–350 Colorado School of MinesGoldenColorado
=82 301–350 University of New Mexico (Main campus)AlbuquerqueNew Mexico
=82 301–350 North Carolina State UniversityRaleighNorth Carolina
=82 301–350 Nova Southeastern UniversityDavieFlorida
=82 301–350 Rush UniversityChicagoIllinois
=82 301–350 Stony Brook UniversityStony Brook New York
=82 301–350 Temple UniversityPhiladelphiaPennsylvania
=82 301–350 The University of Tennessee-KnoxvilleKnoxvilleTexas
=82 301–350 University of Texas at DallasRichardsonTexas
=82 301–350 Tulane UniversityNew OrleansLouisiana
=93 351–400 University of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksAlaska
=93 351–400 University of California, MercedMercedCalifornia
=93 351–400 Clark UniversityWorcesterMassachusetts
=93 351–400 University of ConnecticutMansfieldConnecticut
=93 351–400 University of DenverDenverColorado
=93 351–400 Hofstra UniversityHempstead New York
=93 351–400 Iowa State UniversityAmesIowa
=93 351–400 Oregon State UniversityCorvallisOregon
=93 351–400 State University of New York AlbanyAlbanyNew York
=93 351–400 Washington State UniversityPullmanWashington
=93 351–400 Wayne State UniversityDetroitMichigan
=104 401–500 University of AlabamaTuscaloosaAlabama
=104 401–500 American University Washington D.C
=104 401–500 Colorado State University, Fort CollinsFort CollinsColorado
=104 401–500 Drexel UniversityPhiladelphiaPennsylvania
=104 401–500 University of GeorgiaAthensGeorgia
=104 401–500 Georgia State UniversityAtlantaGeorgia
=104 401–500 University of HoustonHoustonTexas
=104 401–500 University of KansasLawrenceKansas
=104 401–500 University of KentuckyLexingtonKentucky
=104 401–500 University of Missouri-ColumbiaColumbiaMissouri
=104 401–500 University of Missouri-St LouisSt. LouisMissouri
=104 401–500 University of Nebraska-LincolnLincolnNebraska
=104 401–500 New Mexico Institute of Mining and TechnologySocorroNew Mexico
=104 401–500 Oklahoma State UniversityStillwaterOklahoma
=104 401–500 Rensselaer Polytechnic InstituteTroyNew York
=104 401–500 University of South Carolina-ColumbiaColumbiaSouth Carolina
=104 401–500 University of Texas at San AntonioSan AntonioTexas
=104 401–500 University of TulsaTulsaOklahoma
=122 501–600 University of Alabama in HuntsvilleHuntsvilleAlabama
=122 501–600 Binghamton University, State University of New YorkBinghamtonNew York
=122 501–600 Florida International UniversityMiamiFlorida
=122 501–600 University of IdahoMoscowIdaho
=122 501–600 Louisiana State UniversityBaton RougeLouisiana
=122 501–600 Missouri University of Science and TechnologyRollaMissouri
=122 501–600 University of Nebraska Medical CenterOmahaNebraska
=122 501–600 New Jersey Institute of TechnologyNewark (NJ)New Jersey
=122 501–600 Northern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffArizona
=122 501–600 University of Rhode IslandSouth KingstownRhode Island
=122 501–600 San Diego State UniversitySan DiegoCalifornia
=122 501–600 University of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeMilwaukeeWisconsin
=134 601–800 University of ArkansasFayatevilleArkansas
=134 601–800 Auburn UniversityAuburnAlabama
=134 601–800 Baylor UniversityWacoTexas
=134 601–800 University of Central FloridaOrlandoFlorida
=134 601–800 Clemson UniversityClemsonSouth Carolina
=134 601–800 Creighton UniversityOmahaNebraska
=134 601–800 Kansas State UniversityManhattanKansas
=134 601–800 Kent State UniversityKentOhio
=134 601–800 Lehigh UniversityBethlehemPennsylvania
=134 601–800 University of Maryland, Baltimore CountyBaltimoreMaryland
=134 601–800 Montana State UniversityBozemanMontana
=134 601–800 University of Nevada, Las VegasLas VegasNevada
=134 601–800 New Mexico State University (Main campus)Las CrucesNew Mexico
=134 601–800 University of North Carolina at GreensboroGreensboroNorth Carolina
=134 601–800 Ohio University (Main campus)AthensOhio
=134 601–800 Old Dominion UniversityNorfolkVirginia
=134 601–800 Portland State UniversityPortlandOregon
=134 601–800 University of South DakotaVermillionSouth Dakota
=134 601–800 Stevens Institute of TechnologyHobokenNew Jersey
=134 601–800 University of Texas at ArlingtonArlingtonTexas
=134 601–800 Texas Tech UniversityLubbockTexas
=134 601–800 University of ToledoToledoOhio
=134 601–800 Western Washington UniversityBellinghamWashington
=134 601–800 West Virginia UniversityMorgantownWest Virginia
=134 601–800 Worcester Polytechnic InstituteWorcesterMassachusetts
=159 801–1000 Embry-Riddle Aeronautical UniversityDaytona BeachFlorida
=159 801–1000 Florida Atlantic UniversityBoca RatonFlorida
=159 801–1000 Florida Institute of TechnologyMelbourneFlorida
=159 801–1000 Louisiana Tech UniversityRustonLouisiana
=159 801–1000 Marquette UniversityMilwaukeeWisconsin
=159 801–1000 Mississippi State Univ