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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Best universities for education degrees
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.
Best universities worldwide
Top 5 universities for life sciences degrees
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.
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.
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?
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.
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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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 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|
|11||18||University of California, Berkeley||United States|
|13||12||University of California, San Diego||United States|
|=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|
|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|
|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|
|36||30||King’s College London||United Kingdom|
|37||32||University of Melbourne||Australia|
|39||36||The University of Tokyo||Japan|
|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|
|47||45||Australian National University||Australia|
|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||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||74||Michigan State University||United States|
|=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|
|74||66||University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign||United States|
|75||79||University of Aberdeen||United Kingdom|
|77||NR||University of Southern California||United States|
|=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||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||86||Hong Kong University of Science and Technology||Hong Kong|
|90||76||University of Bristol||United Kingdom|
|=91||=82||Vanderbilt University||United States|
|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||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||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||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||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||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||126–150||Iowa State University||United States|
|151–175||151–175||Université Catholique de Louvain||Belgium|
|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||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||NR||Tokyo Metropolitan University||Japan|
|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.