Best universities for life science degrees in the US

Explore the top universities in the US for life sciences using data from the Times Higher Education World University Rankings

Best universities in
February 12 2021
Which US universities are best for life sciences?


The life sciences include agriculture and forestry, biological sciences, veterinary science and sport science.

Degrees in these subjects provide a great foundation for becoming a scientist in a specialist field, for example as a vet, biotechnology researcher or conservation expert.

However, the skills you’ll pick up through such courses, like problem-solving, data analysis and research, are equally transferable to jobs that don’t require a lab coat. Non-science career paths include consultancy, teaching, political policy and law.

If you’re interested in a life sciences degree that offers flexibility and breadth, the US could be a good fit. You can choose to study across a range of courses in the life sciences and then home in on your interests in the third and fourth years.

Most veterinary medicine courses in the US are offered at the postgraduate level, and you will be expected to have completed an undergraduate degree already.

Famous US scientists include biologist Lynn Margulis, who transformed our understanding of evolution through her work on symbiosis, and Barbara McClintock, who was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1983 for her discovery of genetic transposition. 

These are the best universities in the US for a life sciences degree.

 1. Harvard University

Founded in 1636, Harvard University is the oldest university in the US and a member of the prestigious Ivy League.

At undergraduate level, the university offers a four-year liberal arts and sciences programme. You can study a range of courses and only need to declare your major or concentration in your second year.

Concentrations in the life sciences include biomedical engineering, human developmental and regenerative biology, human evolutionary biology, integrative biology and molecular and cellular biology among others. 

The university also offers a Master of Science in a number of areas, including biostatistics, immunology and biophysics. The Harvard Integrated Life Sciences programme covers 14 different PhD programmes, which offers students the flexibility to conduct research in the areas they are most interested in. 

Harvard University has one of the largest endowments of any university in the world and is well known for its generous financial aid programme.  

2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Founded in 1861, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is an independent, co-educational, private research university based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

At MIT you can choose between eight interdisciplinary undergraduate life science programmes, including chemistry and biology, molecular biology, and humanities and science. Within these programmes you can take an array of classes in the life sciences, covering everything from human physiology to experimental biology and biostatistics. MIT even offers a new class on understanding Covid-19, run by leading experts in host cell biology, immunity and vaccine development.

There are also many options for a minor, and a range of graduate programmes specialising in the life sciences.

Among its 89 Nobel winners is current MIT professor H. Robert Horvitz, known for his research analysing the role of genes in animal development, and how this could be useful in tackling human disease.

Scientific discoveries and technological advances accredited to MIT also include the first chemical synthesis of penicillin and the development of radar.

3. Stanford University

Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, Stanford University was founded in 1885, and has one of the largest college campuses in the US, with 18 interdisciplinary research institutes and seven schools on a single site.

Stanford’s curriculum offers considerable flexibility through its liberal arts approach. All undergraduate students are required to take classes in writing, ways of thinking and a foreign language, alongside a major or joint major.

Within this structure, you can take courses across a range of life sciences disciplines, including kinesiology, marine biology, human biology, physiology, ecology and many more. Undergraduate students pursuing a biology major are encouraged to undertake research, either by working in a research lab on campus or taking part in the Biology Summer Undergraduate Research Programme.

The coterminal master’s programme is designed for undergraduates who want to participate in graduate-level programmes and refine their research skills. 

Stanford University is also home to many leading research institutes in the life sciences, including Bio-X, a pioneering interdisciplinary biosciences research centre, the Baxter Laboratory in Stem Cell Biology, and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.  

What can you do with an agriculture degree?
What can you do with a biology degree?
What can you do with a sports science degree?
What can you do with a veterinary science degree?

4. Yale University

 Yale University is a private Ivy League research university in New Haven, Connecticut. It’s the third oldest higher education institution in the US, with a history tracing back to 1701. In 1861, it became the first US university to award a PhD. 

Yale undergraduates follow a liberal arts and science curriculum with departmental majors. Majors in the life sciences include biomedical engineering, ecology and evolutionary biology, and molecular biophysics and biochemistry. You do not need to know your major when you apply.

Yale students also receive instruction in writing skills, quantitative reasoning and foreign languages.

About one in five Yale students are international, and more than half of all undergraduates receive scholarships or grants from the college.  

The university also has a collegiate system. Modelled on the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, students are organised into colleges that each have their own dining halls, accommodation, sports teams and sense of community.

5.  California Institute of Technology

Founded in 1891, California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is a private research university in Pasadena, California. 

The division of biology and biological engineering, one of six divisions that make up the college, offers a range of majors – or options as they’re known at Caltech – in the life sciences, as well as an array of graduate programmes. These include bioengineering, computation and neural systems, neurobiology, and biophysics. You can then choose to minor in courses from the institute’s other divisions.

Alumni and faculty of Caltech have been awarded 39 Nobel Prizes, including current professor David Baltimore, who is known for his research in immunology, cancer research and biotechnology. Scientific discoveries at Caltech include antimatter, the nature of the chemical bond, quarks, and the foundations of molecular biology.

Caltech has a high research output alongside many high-quality facilities, both on campus and globally. These include the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Caltech Seismological Laboratory and the International Observatory Network.

Top universities in the US for the life sciences 2021

US Life Sciences Rank 2021 WUR Life Sciences Rank 2021  University State
1  1  Harvard University Massachusetts
2  4  Massachusetts Institute of Technology Massachusetts
3  5  Stanford University California
4  6  Yale University Connecticut
5  7  California Institute of Technology California
6  8  University of California, Berkeley California
7  9  Johns Hopkins University Maryland
8  10  Princeton University New Jersey
9  11  The University of Chicago Illinois
=10  =15  University of California, San Diego California
=10  =15  Cornell University New York
12  19  University of California, Los Angeles California
13  20  Columbia University New York
14  22  University of Pennsylvania Pennsylvania
15  23  Duke University North Carolina
16  27  University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Michigan
17  =28  University of California, Davis California
18  =30  Washington University in St Louis Missouri
19  34  New York University New York
20  43  University of Wisconsin -Madison Wisconsin
21  45  Northwestern University Illinois
22  =58  Boston University Massachusetts
23  =63  University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill North Carolina
24  65  University of Texas at Austin Texas
25  67  Michigan State University Michigan
26  68  University of Minnesota Minnesota
27  73  University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Illinois
28  80  University of Florida Florida
29  81  University of California, Santa Barbara California
30  82  Vanderbilt University Tennessee
31  =83  University of Southern California California
32  97  University of Massachusetts Massachusetts
=33  =98  Georgia Institute of Technology Georgia
=33  =98  Penn State (Main campus) Pennsylvania
=35  101–125  Brown University Rhode Island
=35  101–125  University of California, Irvine California
=35  101–125  University of California, Riverside California
=35  101–125  University of Colorado Boulder Colorado
=35  101–125  Emory University Georgia
=35  101–125  University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh campus Pennsylvania
=35  101–125  Rice University Texas
=41  126–150  University of California, Santa Cruz California
=41  126–150  University of Maryland, College Park Maryland
=41  126–150  North Carolina State University North Carolina
=41  126–150  Ohio State University (Main campus) Ohio
=41  126–150  Oregon State University Oregon
=41  126–150  Tufts University Massachusetts
=47  151–175  University of Arizona Arizona
=47  151–175  Arizona State University (Tempe) Arizona
=47  151–175  Dartmouth College New Hampshire
=47  151–175  University of Delaware Delaware
=47  151–175  Florida State University Florida
=47  151–175  Indiana University Indiana
=47  151–175  University of Notre Dame Indiana
=47  151–175  Stony Brook University New York
=47  151–175  Texas A&M University Texas
=47  151–175  University of Virginia (Main campus) Virginia
=57  176–200  Colorado State University, Fort Collins Colorado
=57  176–200  Iowa State University Iowa
=57  176–200  Northeastern University Massachusetts
=60  201–250  George Washington University Washington D.C
=60  201–250  University of Georgia Georgia
=60  201–250  University of Hawai’i at Mānoa Hawai'i
=60  201–250  University of Oregon Oregon
=60  201–250  University of Rochester New York
=60  201–250  Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey New Jersey
=60  201–250  University of Utah Utah
=67  251–300  University of California, Merced California
=67  251–300  Case Western Reserve University Ohio
=67  251–300  Georgetown University Washington D.C
=67  251–300  University of Iowa Iowa
=67  251–300  University of Miami Florida
=67  251–300  University of Montana Montana
=67  251–300  University of Nebraska-Lincoln Nebraska
=67  251–300  Northern Arizona University Arizona
=67  251–300  Temple University Pennsylvania
=67  251–300  Washington State University Washington
=77  301–400  University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska
=77  301–400  Brandeis University Massachusetts
=77  301–400  University of Cincinnati Ohio
=77  301–400  University of Connecticut Connecticut
=77  301–400  Florida International University Florida
=77  301–400  George Mason University Virginia
=77  301–400  University of Illinois at Chicago Illinois
=77  301–400  University of Kansas Kansas
=77  301–400  Kansas State University Kansaa
=77  301–400  University of Maryland, Baltimore County Maryland
=77  301–400  Mizzou - University of Missouri Missouri
=77  301–400  University of Nebraska Medical Center Nebraska
=77  301–400  San Diego State University California
=77  301–400  Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Virginia
=77  301–400  Wake Forest University North Carolina
=92  401–500  University of Alabama Alabama
=92  401–500  Auburn University Alabama
=92  401–500  University at Buffalo New York
=92  401–500  Georgia State University Georgia
=92  401–500  University of Idaho Idaho
=92  401–500  University of Kentucky Kentucky
=92  401–500  Louisiana State University Louisiana
=92  401–500  Montana State University Montana
=92  401–500  University of North Carolina at  Greensboro North Carolina
=92  401–500  University of Rhode Island Rhode Island
=92  401–500  University of South Carolina-Columbia South Carolina
=92  401–500  The University of Tennessee-Knoxville Tennessee
=92  401–500  University of Texas at El Paso Texas
=92  401–500  William & Mary Virginia
=106  501–600  University of Arkansas Arkansas
=106  501–600  University of Central Florida Florida
=106  501–600  East Carolina University North Carolina
=106  501–600  University of Houston Texas
=106  501–600  Howard University Washington D.C
=106  501–600  University of Memphis Tennessee
=106  501–600  University of Nevada, Las Vegas Nevada
=106  501–600  New Mexico State University (Main campus) New Mexico
=106  501–600  Nova Southeastern University Florida
=106  501–600  Ohio University (Main campus) Ohio
=106  501–600  Oklahoma State University Oklahoma
=106  501–600  The University of Texas at San Antonio Texas
=106  501–600  Texas Tech University Texas
=106  501–600  University of Toledo Ohio
=106  501–600  Wayne State University Michigan
=121  601–800  Clemson University South Carolina
=121  601–800  Creighton University Nebraska
=121  601–800  Florida Atlantic University Florida
=121  601–800  Miami University Florida
=121  601–800  Mississippi State University Mississippi
=121  601–800  University of North Carolina Wilmington North Carolina
=121  601–800  University of South Dakota South Dakota
=121  601–800  Southern Illinois University Carbondale Illinois
=121  601–800  State University of New York Albany New York
=121  601–800  Syracuse University New York
=121  601–800  University of Texas at Arlington Texas
=121  601–800  Texas State University Texas


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