Best universities for life sciences degrees 2020

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

November 19 2019
Looking through a microscope

If you’re choosing where to study pharmacy, biochemistry, zoology or other related subjects, Times Higher Education’s ranking for life sciences can help you 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 186 of the 821 universities in the Times Higher Education ranking for life sciences are in these two countries.

Older prestigious institutions take the top spots, including the University of Cambridge in first place, with Harvard University, the University of Oxford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology following closely behind.


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Life sciences takes in a range of subjects, from forestry to biotechnology. A full list of degrees and what you can do with them appears below.

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

The life sciences ranking assesses universities using 13 indicators of excellence that evaluate teaching, research, research influence, innovation and international outlook. The full methodology can be found here.


Best universities worldwide

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Top 5 universities for life sciences degrees

1. University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge, in the UK, is one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious higher education institutions, and follows a collegiate system.

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

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

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

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

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

2. Harvard University

As is the case at many US colleges, undergraduates at Harvard University have the opportunity to take a variety of different 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 or scientific research. Other graduates have recently pursued careers in business, consulting and environmental advocacy.

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

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 made it through the competitive application process.

3. University of Oxford

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

Oxford is one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious universities. It lies an hour west of London and is renowned for its 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-group tutorials with teachers. Postgraduate students are more likely to live off campus and will not necessarily be taught within their college.

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


What can you do with a life sciences degree?

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4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Many academic departments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology offer courses in life sciences subjects, to contribute towards a major or minor degree subject.

Courses range from biological engineering – a pioneering new discipline that combines 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 offers undergraduate and postgraduate life sciences degrees. Although an undergraduate major in a life science subject is excellent preparation for many jobs, further study in health sciences or engineering is a common post-graduation option.

Many life sciences graduates will continue on 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 admission is accordingly very selective; only 8 per cent of applicants win a place, although life sciences 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.

5. Stanford University

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

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

Stanford’s department of biology leads the way for life sciences 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 accolades, 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 the more than 15,000 students, more than 20 per cent are international.


Student experience of life sciences

Trading America for Australia: my mother sent me to study 9,000 miles away!
Women in STEM: undertaking PhD research in cancer
Pursuing a PhD in neuroscience
Why I chose to study at Osaka City University
Why I chose to study at the National University of Singapore
Attending a small agricultural university


Best universities for life sciences 2020

Click each institution to view its World University Rankings 2020 profile

Life Sciences Rank 2020  Life Sciences Rank 2019  University Country/region
 1   2  University of Cambridge United Kingdom
 2   1  Harvard University United States
 3   3  University of Oxford United Kingdom
 4   4  Massachusetts Institute of Technology United States
 5   5  Stanford University United States
 6   8  California Institute of Technology United States
 7   =6  Johns Hopkins University United States
 8   9  Princeton University United States
 9   =6  Yale University United States
 10   12  UCL United Kingdom
 =11   13  University of California, San Diego United States
 =11   =14  ETH Zurich Switzerland
 13   16  University of Chicago United States
 14   11  University of California, Berkeley United States
 15   10  Tsinghua University China
 16   =14  Imperial College London United Kingdom
 17   17  Cornell University United States
 18   18  Columbia University United States
 19   21  University of Pennsylvania United States
 20   23  Wageningen University & Research Netherlands
 21   19  Peking University China
 22   22  University of California, Los Angeles United States
 23   20  Duke University United States
 24   24  University of Toronto Canada
 25   29  Karolinska Institute Sweden
 26   25  University of Edinburgh United Kingdom
 =27   26  University of British Columbia Canada
 =27   31  University of California, Davis United States
 29   27  National University of Singapore Singapore
 30   32  University of Michigan-Ann Arbor United States
 31   34  LMU Munich Germany
 32   28  New York University United States
 =33   33  École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne Switzerland
 =33   30  Washington University in St Louis United States
 35   36  King’s College London United Kingdom
 36   35  Uppsala University Sweden
 37   38  Heidelberg University Germany
 38   39  The University of Tokyo Japan
 39   40  Kyoto University Japan
 40   45  University of Wisconsin-Madison United States
 41   37  University of Melbourne Australia
 42   43  University of Queensland Australia
 43   41  McGill University Canada
 44   44  Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris France
 45   46  Sorbonne University France
 46   42  University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
 47   47  Australian National University Australia
 48   49  Northwestern University United States
 49   65  Utrecht University Netherlands
 50   =60  Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Singapore
 51   48  Ghent University Belgium
 =52   =56  KU Leuven Belgium
 =52   52  University of Science and Technology of China China
 54   50  University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill United States
 55   78  Monash University Australia
 56   58  University of Göttingen Germany
 =57   51  University of Sydney Australia
 =57   53  University of Texas at Austin United States
 =59   =56  Technical University of Munich Germany
 =59   =66  University of Zurich Switzerland
 61   59  University of Freiburg Germany
 62   =63  Michigan State University United States
 63   =54  University of Manchester United Kingdom
 64   =63  Lund University Sweden
 65   =60  University of Geneva Switzerland
 66   =60  University of Minnesota United States
 =67   75  University of Aberdeen United Kingdom
 =67   =70  University of Tübingen Germany
 69   89  Montpellier University France
 70   94  Technical University of Denmark Denmark
 =71   =70  University of Helsinki Finland
 =71   74  University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign United States
 =71   101–125  Trinity College Dublin Republic of Ireland
 74   =68  University of California, Santa Barbara United States
 75   =66  Boston University United States
 76   =72  University of Glasgow United Kingdom
 77   87  Seoul National University South Korea
 78   =79  University of Western Australia Australia
 79   =72  Stockholm University Sweden
 =80   =95  Penn State (Main campus) United States
 =80   =83  Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Sweden
 =80   85  UNSW Sydney Australia
 83   =68  Humboldt University of Berlin Germany
 =84   86  University of Groningen Netherlands
 =84   =95  University of Vienna Austria
 =86   =83  Aarhus University Denmark
 =86   NR  University of Bonn Germany
 =86   101–125  Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) South Korea
 =86   =91  Zhejiang University China
 90   77  University of Southern California United States
 91   89  The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Hong Kong
 =92   101–125  University of Basel Switzerland
 =92   76  Osaka University Japan
 94   =91  Vanderbilt University United States
 95   =95  University of Exeter United Kingdom
 96   81  Emory University United States
 97   =79  University of Leeds United Kingdom
 =98   101–125  University of Arizona United States
 =98   101–125  University of Würzburg Germany
 =100   101–125  Brown University United States
 =100   101–125  Fudan University China
 101–125   126–150  University of Birmingham United Kingdom
 101–125   90  University of Bristol United Kingdom
 101–125   101–125  University of California, Riverside United States
 101–125   101–125  University of California, Santa Cruz United States
 101–125   NR  Carnegie Mellon University United States
 101–125   101–125  University of Cologne Germany
 101–125   88  University of Colorado Boulder United States
 101–125   82  University of Dundee United Kingdom
 101–125   =98  University of East Anglia United Kingdom
 101–125   126–150  École Polytechnique France
 101–125   101–125  University of Florida United States
 101–125   101–125  Free University of Berlin Germany
 101–125   93  University of Lausanne Switzerland
 101–125   101–125  University of Maryland, College Park United States
 101–125   126–150  University of Massachusetts United States
 101–125   101–125  McMaster University Canada
 101–125   126–150  University of Nottingham United Kingdom
 101–125   126–150  Ohio State University (Main campus) United States
 101–125   101–125  Oregon State University United States
 101–125   101–125  University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh campus United States
 101–125   101–125  Radboud University Nijmegen Netherlands
 101–125   126–150  Rice University United States
 101–125   151–175  Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies – Pisa Italy
 101–125   101–125  University of St Andrews United Kingdom
 126–150   126–150  University of Adelaide Australia
 126–150   151–175  University of Alberta Canada
 126–150   =98  Arizona State University (Tempe) United States
 126–150   151–175  University of California, Irvine United States
 126–150   126–150  Cardiff University United Kingdom
 126–150   126–150  Chinese University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
 126–150   126–150  Colorado State University, Fort Collins United States
 126–150   176–200  Dartmouth College United States
 126–150   126–150  University of Iceland Iceland
 126–150   101–125  James Cook University Australia
 126–150   101–125  University of Konstanz Germany
 126–150   176–200  Lancaster University United Kingdom
 126–150   126–150  Macquarie University Australia
 126–150   151–175  Nanjing University China
 126–150   101–125  Newcastle University United Kingdom
 126–150   176–200  North Carolina State University United States
 126–150   NR  University of Paris France
 126–150   126–150  Queen’s University Belfast United Kingdom
 126–150   101–125  University of Sheffield United Kingdom
 126–150   101–125  University of Southampton United Kingdom
 126–150   151–175  Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) South Korea
 126–150   151–175  University of Tasmania Australia
 126–150   126–150  Texas A&M University United States
 126–150   151–175  Tufts University United States
 126–150   101–125  University of York United Kingdom
 151–175   126–150  University of Amsterdam Netherlands
 151–175   201–250  University of Auckland New Zealand
 151–175   151–175  University of Cape Town South Africa
 151–175   126–150  Delft University of Technology Netherlands
 151–175   176–200  École Normale Supérieure de Lyon France
 151–175   NR  University of Erlangen-Nuremberg Germany
 151–175   151–175  Hokkaido University Japan
 151–175   201–250  Indiana University United States
 151–175   176–200  University of Liverpool United Kingdom
 151–175   126–150  Lomonosov Moscow State University Russian Federation
 151–175   151–175  Université Catholique de Louvain Belgium
 151–175   101–125  University of Montreal Canada
 151–175   151–175  Nagoya University Japan
 151–175   176–200  National Taiwan University Taiwan
 151–175   126–150  University of Oslo Norway
 151–175   126–150  Queen Mary University of London United Kingdom
 151–175   126–150  University of Reading United Kingdom
 151–175   151–175  Royal Holloway, University of London United Kingdom
 151–175   176–200  Royal Veterinary College United Kingdom
 151–175   151–175  Stony Brook University United States
 151–175   176–200  University of Sussex United Kingdom
 151–175   126–150  TU Dresden Germany
 151–175   151–175  Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) South Korea
 151–175   151–175  Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam Netherlands
 151–175   126–150  University of Warwick United Kingdom
 176–200   151–175  University of Bern Switzerland
 176–200   176–200  University of Bremen Germany
 176–200   NR  City University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
 176–200   201–250  University of Georgia United States
 176–200   176–200  University of Gothenburg Sweden
 176–200   176–200  University of Hamburg Germany
 176–200   151–175  Hebrew University of Jerusalem Israel
 176–200   151–175  Iowa State University United States
 176–200   201–250  University of Kent United Kingdom
 176–200   126–150  King Abdulaziz University Saudi Arabia
 176–200   201–250  National Tsing Hua University Taiwan
 176–200   151–175  Paris-Sud University France
 176–200   176–200  University of Potsdam Germany
 176–200   176–200  Queensland University of Technology Australia
 176–200   176–200  Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey United States
 176–200   151–175  University of São Paulo Brazil
 176–200   NR  Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) China
 176–200   126–150  University of Tartu Estonia
 176–200   176–200  Tohoku University Japan
 176–200   176–200  Tokyo Metropolitan University Japan
 176–200   126–150  Umeå University Sweden
 176–200   176–200  University College Cork Republic of Ireland
 176–200   151–175  University College Dublin Republic of Ireland
 176–200   151–175  University of Utah United States
 176–200   201–250  University of Virginia (Main campus) United States

Click here to view the full life sciences ranking 

Read more: The most detailed subject guide you will ever see to help you pick your degree

 

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