Best universities for life sciences degrees 2019

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

November 7 2018
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 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 170 of the 751 universities in the Times Higher Education ranking for life sciences are in one of these two countries.

Older prestigious institutions take the top spots, including Harvard University in first place, with the University of Cambridge, 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 science 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 science 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.


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Top 5 universities for life sciences degrees

1. 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 best-known university around the world; it regularly takes the top spot in global reputation surveys. It was founded in 1636, and it 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 made it through the competitive application process.

2. University of Cambridge

The University of 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 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.

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 of them all, 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 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 just 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 outside college 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 science topics, to contribute towards either a major or a 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 attracts both undergraduates and postgraduates for 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 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.

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 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 the more than 15,000 students, more than 20 per cent are international.


Student experience of life sciences

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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 2019

Click each institution to view its World University Rankings 2019 profile

Life Sciences Rank 2019  Life Sciences Rank 2018 University Country/Region
 1  1 Harvard University United States
 2  2 University of Cambridge United Kingdom
 3  3 University of Oxford United Kingdom
 4  5 Massachusetts Institute of Technology United States
 5  4 Stanford University United States
 =6  6 Johns Hopkins University United States
 =6  9 Yale University United States
 8  8 California Institute of Technology United States
 9  7 Princeton University United States
 10  NR Tsinghua University China
 11  18 University of California, Berkeley United States
 12  NR UCL United Kingdom
 13  12 University of California, San Diego United States
 =14  13 ETH Zurich Switzerland
 =14  10 Imperial College London United Kingdom
 16  11 University of Chicago United States
 17  14 Cornell University United States
 18  15 Columbia University United States
 19  =23 Peking University China
 20  16 Duke University United States
 21  17 University of Pennsylvania United States
 22  19 University of California, Los Angeles United States
 23  20 Wageningen University & Research Netherlands
 24  22 University of Toronto Canada
 25  =23 University of Edinburgh United Kingdom
 26  21 University of British Columbia Canada
 27  26 National University of Singapore Singapore
 28  NR New York University United States
 29  25 Karolinska Institute Sweden
 30  29 Washington University in St Louis United States
 31  28 University of California, Davis United States
 32  27 University of Michigan United States
 33  33 École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne Switzerland
 34  39 LMU Munich Germany
 35  38 Uppsala University Sweden
 36  30 King’s College London United Kingdom
 37  32 University of Melbourne Australia
 38  =34 Heidelberg University Germany
 39  36 The University of Tokyo Japan
 40  37 Kyoto University Japan
 41  31 McGill University Canada
 42  41 University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
 43  =34 University of Queensland Australia
 44  75 Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris France
 45  40 University of Wisconsin-Madison United States
 46  NR Sorbonne University France
 47  45 Australian National University Australia
 48  44 Ghent University Belgium
 49  42 Northwestern University United States
 50  54 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill United States
 51  47 University of Sydney Australia
 52  84 University of Science and Technology of China China
 53  =55 University of Texas at Austin United States
 =54  80 Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) South Korea
 =54  =51 University of Manchester United Kingdom
 =56  62 KU Leuven Belgium
 =56  43 Technical University of Munich Germany
 58  60 University of Göttingen Germany
 59  70 University of Freiburg Germany
 =60  61 University of Geneva Switzerland
 =60  =51 University of Minnesota Twin Cities United States
 =60  NR Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Singapore
 =63  46 Lund University Sweden
 =63  74 Michigan State University United States
 65  59 Utrecht University Netherlands
 =66  NR Boston University United States
 =66  68 University of Zurich Switzerland
 =68  57 University of California, Santa Barbara United States
 =68  50 Humboldt University of Berlin Germany
 =70  63 University of Helsinki Finland
 =70  64 University of Tübingen Germany
 =72  49 University of Glasgow United Kingdom
 =72  65 Stockholm University Sweden
 74  66 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign United States
 75  79 University of Aberdeen United Kingdom
 76  58 Osaka University Japan
 77  NR University of Southern California United States
 78  =97 Monash University Australia
 =79  =89 University of Leeds United Kingdom
 =79  69 University of Western Australia Australia
 81  48 Emory University United States
 82  =55 University of Dundee United Kingdom
 =83  85 Aarhus University Denmark
 =83  101–125 Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Sweden
 85  =93 University of New South Wales Australia
 86  78 University of Groningen Netherlands
 87  101–125 Seoul National University South Korea
 88  71 University of Colorado Boulder United States
 89  176–200 Montpellier University France
 89   86 Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Hong Kong
 90  76 University of Bristol United Kingdom
 =91  =82 Vanderbilt University United States
 =91  126–150 Zhejiang University China
 93  67 University of Lausanne Switzerland
 94  101–125 Technical University of Denmark Denmark
 =95  =82 University of Exeter United Kingdom
 =95  73 Pennsylvania State University United States
 =95  95 University of Vienna Austria
 =98  =97 Arizona State University United States
 =98  =89 University of East Anglia United Kingdom
 101–125  151–175 University of Arizona United States
 101–125  91 University of Basel Switzerland
 101–125  100 Brown University United States
 101–125  96 University of California, Riverside United States
 101–125  101–125 University of California, Santa Cruz United States
 101–125  101–125 University of Cologne Germany
 101–125  99 University of Florida United States
 101–125  88 Free University of Berlin Germany
 101–125  101–125 Fudan University China
 101–125  101–125 James Cook University Australia
 101–125  126–150 University of Konstanz Germany
 101–125  87 University of Maryland, College Park United States
 101–125  101–125 McMaster University Canada
 101–125  101–125 University of Montreal Canada
 101–125  92 Newcastle University United Kingdom
 101–125  101–125 Oregon State University United States
 101–125  NR University of Pittsburgh United States
 101–125  101–125 Pohang University of Science and Technology South Korea
 101–125  126–150 Radboud University Nijmegen Netherlands
 101–125  101–125 University of Sheffield United Kingdom
 101–125  NR University of Southampton United Kingdom
 101–125  72 University of St Andrews United Kingdom
 101–125  77 Trinity College Dublin Republic of Ireland
 101–125  101–125 University of Würzburg Germany
 101–125  =93 University of York United Kingdom
 126–150  101–125 University of Adelaide Australia
 126–150  NR University of Amsterdam Netherlands
 126–150  101–125 University of Birmingham United Kingdom
 126–150  126–150 Cardiff University United Kingdom
 126–150  201–250 Colorado State University United States
 126–150  176–200 Delft University of Technology Netherlands
 126–150  101–125 École Polytechnique France
 126–150  126–150 University of Iceland Iceland
 126–150  126–150 King Abdulaziz University Saudi Arabia
 126–150  101–125 Lomonosov Moscow State University Russian Federation
 126–150  101–125 Maastricht University Netherlands
 126–150  176–200 Macquarie University Australia
 126–150  126–150 University of Massachusetts United States
 126–150  101–125 University of Nottingham United Kingdom
 126–150  101–125 Ohio State University United States
 126–150  126–150 University of Oslo Norway
 126–150  126–150 Queen Mary University of London United Kingdom
 126–150  151–175 Queen’s University Belfast United Kingdom
 126–150  126–150 University of Reading United Kingdom
 126–150  101–125 Rice University United States
 126–150  126–150 University of Tartu Estonia
 126–150  176–200 Texas A&M University United States
 126–150  101–125 TU Dresden Germany
 126–150  126–150 Umeå University Sweden
 126–150  126–150 University of Warwick United Kingdom
 126–150  NR Chinese University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
 151–175  101–125 University of Alberta Canada
 151–175  126–150 University of Barcelona Spain
 151–175  151–175 University of Bergen Norway
 151–175  151–175 University of Bern Switzerland
 151–175  101–125 University of California, Irvine United States
 151–175  126–150 University of Cape Town South Africa
 151–175  151–175 University of Delaware United States
 151–175  126–150 Hebrew University of Jerusalem Israel
 151–175  176–200 Hokkaido University Japan
 151–175  126–150 Iowa State University United States
 151–175  151–175 Université Catholique de Louvain Belgium
 151–175  126–150 Nagoya University Japan
 151–175  151–175 Nanjing University China
 151–175  101–125 Paris-Sud University France
 151–175  126–150 Royal Holloway, University of London United Kingdom
 151–175  126–150 University of São Paulo Brazil
 151–175  151–175 Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna Italy
 151–175  126–150 Stony Brook University United States
 151–175  176–200 Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) South Korea
 151–175  126–150 University of Tasmania Australia
 151–175  176–200 Tufts University United States
 151–175  NR Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology South Korea
 151–175  176–200 University College Dublin Republic of Ireland
 151–175  151–175 University of Utah United States
 151–175  126–150 Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam Netherlands
 176–200  126–150 Aberystwyth University United Kingdom
 176–200  151–175 University of Bremen Germany
 176–200  NR University of Côte d’Azur France
 176–200  126–150 Dartmouth College United States
 176–200  151–175 École Normale Supérieure de Lyon France
 176–200  151–175 Goethe University Frankfurt Germany
 176–200  176–200 University of Gothenburg Sweden
 176–200  176–200 University of Hamburg Germany
 176–200  NR Jacobs University Germany
 176–200  151–175 Lancaster University United Kingdom
 176–200  151–175 University of Liverpool United Kingdom
 176–200  201–250 National Taiwan University Taiwan
 176–200  176–200 North Carolina State University United States
 176–200  NR Northeastern University United States
 176–200  201–250 University of Padua Italy
 176–200  176–200 University of Potsdam Germany
 176–200  176–200 Queensland University of Technology Australia
 176–200  151–175 Royal Veterinary College United Kingdom
 176–200  151–175 Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey United States
 176–200  201–250 University of Sussex United Kingdom
 176–200  151–175 Tohoku University Japan
 176–200  NR Tokyo Metropolitan University Japan
 176–200  151–175 Ulm University Germany
 176–200  151–175 University College Cork Republic of Ireland

Editor's note: This page was updated on 22 November 2018 to reflect minor changes in the positions of a small number of universities. More information can be found here.


Click here to view all top 751 universities for life sciences degrees

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

 

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