If you’re choosing where to study pharmacy, biochemistry, zoology or other related subjects, Times Higher Education 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 150 out of the 500 universities in the Times Higher Education ranking for life sciences are in one of these two countries.
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Life sciences include a range of subjects, from forestry to biotechnology. A full list of degrees and what you can do with them appears below the rankings table.
Graduates of life science degrees go on to work in various 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 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 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 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 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 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.
4. 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 significantly contribute 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.
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Many academic 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 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.
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 2018
Click each institution to view its World University Rankings 2018 profile
What can you do with a life sciences degree?