Best universities for life sciences degrees 2017

Find the best universities for life sciences using Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings data
September 28 2016

If you’re choosing where to study pharmacy, biochemistry, zoology or other related subjects, the life sciences university ranking can help you to find the best universities in the world for your degree.

The top colleges for life sciences are concentrated in the US and the UK; more than half the 100 universities in a Times Higher Education ranking for life sciences are in one of these two countries.

Old prestigious schools take the top spots, including Harvard University in first place and Cambridge, Oxford and Stanford following close behind.


Best universities by discipline

- Best universities for arts and humanities
- Best universities for business and economics
- Best universities for clinical, pre-clinical and health

- Best universities for computer science
- Best universities for engineering and technology
- Best universities for physical sciences

- Best universities for social sciences


Life sciences include a range of subjects, from forestry to biotechnology. A full list of degrees covered by the ranking appears below the table.

Graduates of life science degrees go on to work in various different fields. Many jobs directly use life science research and knowledge, such as roles in pharmaceutical companies, environmental work and even forensic science.

The life science ranking assesses universities using 13 indicators of excellence that evaluate teaching, research, research influence, innovation and international outlook.

Some 100 universities are ranked in total, and the methodology is the same as for the Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings, with more weight given to research influence to reflect the priorities of the discipline.


Best universities in English-speaking countries

Best universities in the UK
Best universities in the United States
Best universities in Canada
- Best universities in Australia


Top five universities for life sciences degrees

1. Harvard University

As is the case at many American colleges, undergraduates at Harvard have the opportunity to take various courses before declaring a major subject.

Within life sciences there are many interdisciplinary foundational courses grouped in nine concentrations to help students “explore the diversity of living systems”. The majors include biomedical engineering, neurobiology and human evolutionary biology.

Students are encouraged to do their own original research and many courses are hands-on.

According to the university, life science graduates often go on to postgraduate work, including medical school or science research. Other students have recently pursued careers in business, consulting and environmental advocacy.

Harvard is perhaps the best-known university around the world; it regularly takes the top spot in global reputation surveys. It was founded in 1636, and has built its reputation, wealth and influence over more than 300 years.

Although tuition is expensive, students from low-income families are fully supported by university grants. For the class of 2019, only 5.3 per cent of applicants were accepted in the competitive application process.

2. University of Cambridge

Cambridge, in the UK, is one of the world’s most prestigious and oldest universities, and follows a collegiate system.

Its School of Biological Sciences contains nine different departments and various research centres, including the department of biochemistry, the department of pharmacology and the department of zoology.

There is also a Graduate School of Life Sciences that is responsible for master’s degrees and doctorates.

Only three major undergraduate programmes in life sciences are offered: biological sciences as a natural science specialism, a pre-clinical veterinary science programme and a newly created psychological and behavioural sciences programme.

Students have close interaction with teachers through the tutorial system and are automatically members of their college community, where they can eat meals, live in college-owned buildings and attend recreational activities.

Charles Darwin, perhaps the most famous life scientist throughout history, was an alumnus of Christ’s College in Cambridge, and many other prominent biologists have studied or taught at the university.

3. University of Oxford

Life science degrees at Oxford are spread across a number of specialised departments within both the science and clinical divisions of the university.

Oxford is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world. It lies just an hour west of London and is renowned for architecturally impressive colleges dotted around the centre of the small town.

Many world-leading academics work at the university. Richard Dawkins, the famous evolutionary biologist, is affiliated to the university and can often be seen around town or at public events.

Oxford students belong to a college where they live, eat and attend small tutorials with teachers. Postgraduates are more likely to live outside college and will not necessarily be taught within their college.

In general, Oxford alumni go on to high-profile careers, and many prominent politicians, cultural figures and award-winning scientists are associated with the university.

4. Stanford University

With one of the largest and most beautiful campuses in the US, Stanford is a popular destination for US and international students.

It is particularly renowned for science and innovation, and university researchers, students and alumni significantly contribute to technological development in Silicon Valley, located right by the university.

Stanford’s department of biology leads the way for life science research, while the bioengineering department creates a fusion of engineering and life sciences by inventing new technologies.

The biology department offers courses in biochemistry, biophysics, computational biology, conservational biology and many other subdisciplines.

Many Stanford alumni have won prestigious awards, such as Nobel Prizes, Rhodes Scholarships and Turing Awards.

Almost 90 per cent of undergraduate students live on campus, and all first-years are required to live on campus.

Of more than 15,000 students in total, more than 20 per cent are international.

5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Many different departments at MIT offer courses in life science topics, to contribute towards either a major or a minor degree subject.

Courses range from biological engineering – a pioneering new discipline combining principles of engineering and biological systems – to "Science, Technology and Society" which offers a more comprehensive overview of life sciences and its applications.

The university attracts both undergraduates and postgraduates for life sciences degrees. Even though an undergraduate major in a life science subject is excellent preparation for many different jobs, further study in health sciences or engineering is a common post-graduation option.

Many life sciences graduates will continue to medical school. Other career paths suggested by the school of life sciences are finance, intellectual property law and forensics.

Across all science and technology disciplines, MIT has an excellent reputation, and admissions are accordingly very selective; only 8 per cent of applicants win a place, although life science programmes are not quite as competitive as computer science and engineering courses.

More than 80 affiliates of the university have won Nobel Prizes, and many more have achieved recognition through other awards.


Best universities by region

- Best universities in South America
Best universities in France
Best universities in Germany
Best universities in the Netherlands
- Best universities in Asia


Best universities for life sciences 2016 - 2017

Click each institution to view its profile

Rank 2016-2017 University Country
1 Harvard University United States
2 University of Cambridge United Kingdom
3 University of Oxford United Kingdom
4 Stanford University United States
5 Massachusetts Institute of Technology United States
6 California Institute of Technology United States
7 Yale University United States
8 Princeton University United States
9 Imperial College London United Kingdom
10 University of California Berkeley United States
11 Johns Hopkins University United States
12 University College London United Kingdom
13 University of Chicago United States
14 ETH Zürich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich Switzerland
15 Columbia University United States
16 Wageningen University and Research Center Netherlands
17 Cornell University United States
=18 Duke University United States
=18 University of California, Los Angeles United States
20 University of Pennsylvania United States
21 University of Edinburgh United Kingdom
22 University of Toronto Canada
23 Karolinska Institute Sweden
24 University of California, San Diego United States
25 University of British Columbia Canada
26 Peking University China
27 University of California, Davis United States
28 University of Michigan United States
29 National University of Singapore Singapore
30 Universität Heidelberg Germany
31 King’s College London United Kingdom
32 University of Queensland Australia
=33 McGill University Canada
=33 University of Wisconsin-Madison United States
35 École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) Switzerland
36 LMU Munich Germany
37 University of Melbourne Australia
38 The University of Tokyo Japan
39 Australian National University Australia
40 Uppsala University Sweden
41 Utrecht University Netherlands
42 Lund University Sweden
43 Kyoto University Japan
44 Technische Universität München (TUM) Germany
=45 Boston University United States
=45 Ghent University Belgium
=47 Michigan State University United States
=47 Katholieke Universiteit Leuven Belgium
49 Stockholm University Sweden
50 Northwestern University United States
51 University of Göttingen Germany
52 Humboldt University of Berlin Germany
=53 Pennsylvania State University United States
=53 University of Manchester United Kingdom
55 University of Geneva Switzerland
=56 University of California, Santa Barbara United States
=56 University of Minnesota United States
58 University of Helsinki Finland
59 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill United States
60 University of Sydney Australia
61 University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
=62 University of Dundee United Kingdom
=62 University of Lausanne Switzerland
=62 University of Glasgow United Kingdom
65 University of Zurich Switzerland
66 University of Bristol United Kingdom
67 The University of Western Australia Australia
68 University of Amsterdam Netherlands
=69 Pierre and Marie Curie University France
=69 Emory University United States
71 University of Bonn Germany
72 University of Colorado Boulder United States
73 University of Groningen Netherlands
74 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign United States
75 Osaka University Japan
76 The University of Texas at Austin United States
77 University of Tübingen Germany
78 University of St Andrews United Kingdom
=79 University of Maryland, College Park United States
=79 Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin Republic of Ireland
=79 University of York United Kingdom
=82 University of Aberdeen United Kingdom
=82 Purdue University United States
84 University of Freiburg Germany
85 University of East Anglia United Kingdom
86 Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Sweden
87 University of California, Riverside United States
=88 Brown University United States
=88 University of New South Wales Australia
=90 University of Exeter United Kingdom
=90 University of California, Santa Cruz United States
=90 École Normale Supérieure France
=93 University of Reading United Kingdom
=93 Arizona State University United States
95 James Cook University Australia
=96 University of Florida United States
=96 University of Vienna Austria
98 Aarhus University Denmark
99 Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) South Korea
100 Pohang University of Science and Technology South Korea

Life sciences degrees:

  • Agriculture, fisheries and food
  • Anatomy and morphology
  • Biology, biochemistry and biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Ecology, evolution and environment
  • Entomology
  • Forestry              
  • Genetics and heredity
  • Immunology
  • Mycology
  • Palaeontology
  • Parasitology
  • Physiology
  • Plant sciences
  • Sports Science
  • Toxicology
  • Veterinary sciences
  • Virology
  • Zoology
  • Life sciences – other topics 

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