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: 195 of the 895 universities in the Times Higher Education ranking for life sciences are in 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 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
Top five 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 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.
Best universities for life sciences by country
Best universities for life sciences degrees in Canada
Best universities for life sciences degrees in the UK
Best universities for life sciences degrees in Australia
Best universities for life sciences degrees in the US
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.
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?
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.
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 2021
Click each institution to view its World University Rankings 2021 profile
|Life sciences rank 2021||Life sciences rank 2020||University||Country/region|
|1||2||Harvard University||United States|
|2||1||University of Cambridge||United Kingdom|
|3||3||University of Oxford||United Kingdom|
|4||4||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||United States|
|5||5||Stanford University||United States|
|6||9||Yale University||United States|
|7||6||California Institute of Technology||United States|
|8||14||University of California, Berkeley||United States|
|9||7||Johns Hopkins University||United States|
|10||8||Princeton University||United States|
|11||13||The University of Chicago||United States|
|=15||=11||University of California, San Diego||United States|
|=15||17||Cornell University||United States|
|17||16||Imperial College London||United Kingdom|
|18||20||Wageningen University & Research||Netherlands|
|19||22||University of California, Los Angeles||United States|
|20||18||Columbia University||United States|
|22||19||University of Pennsylvania||United States|
|23||23||Duke University||United States|
|=25||29||National University of Singapore||Singapore|
|=25||24||University of Toronto||Canada|
|27||30||University of Michigan-Ann Arbor||United States|
|=28||=27||University of California, Davis||United States|
|=28||26||University of Edinburgh||United Kingdom|
|=30||=27||University of British Columbia||Canada|
|=30||=33||Washington University in St Louis||United States|
|33||=33||École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne||Switzerland|
|34||32||New York University||United States|
|36||35||King’s College London||United Kingdom|
|37||41||University of Melbourne||Australia|
|=40||42||The University of Queensland||Australia|
|=40||38||The University of Tokyo||Japan|
|42||44||Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris||France|
|43||40||University of Wisconsin-Madison||United States|
|45||48||Northwestern University||United States|
|46||=59||Technical University of Munich||Germany|
|48||46||University of Hong Kong||Hong Kong|
|50||61||University of Freiburg||Germany|
|52||=57||University of Sydney||Australia|
|53||=59||University of Zurich||Switzerland|
|=56||47||Australian National University||Australia|
|=58||75||Boston University||United States|
|=58||50||Nanyang Technological University, Singapore||Singapore|
|60||63||University of Manchester||United Kingdom|
|61||=67||University of Tübingen||Germany|
|62||56||University of Göttingen||Germany|
|=63||54||University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||United States|
|65||=57||University of Texas at Austin||United States|
|66||65||University of Geneva||Switzerland|
|67||62||Michigan State University||United States|
|68||66||University of Minnesota||United States|
|69||70||Technical University of Denmark||Denmark|
|=70||=71||Trinity College Dublin||Republic of Ireland|
|72||=52||University of Science and Technology of China||China|
|73||=71||University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign||United States|
|74||=71||University of Helsinki||Finland|
|76||83||Humboldt University of Berlin||Germany|
|77||=84||University of Groningen||Netherlands|
|78||=67||University of Aberdeen||United Kingdom|
|80||101–125||University of Florida||United States|
|81||74||University of California, Santa Barbara||United States|
|82||94||Vanderbilt University||United States|
|=83||77||Seoul National University||South Korea|
|=83||90||University of Southern California||United States|
|=83||78||The University of Western Australia||Australia|
|86||=86||University of Bonn||Germany|
|=87||=86||Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH)||South Korea|
|=89||=98||University of Würzburg||Germany|
|=91||76||University of Glasgow||United Kingdom|
|=91||91||The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology||Hong Kong|
|=91||=84||University of Vienna||Austria|
|=94||=92||University of Basel||Switzerland|
|=94||101–125||University of East Anglia||United Kingdom|
|97||101–125||University of Massachusetts||United States|
|=98||101–125||University of Cologne||Germany|
|=98||NR||Georgia Institute of Technology||United States|
|=98||=80||Penn State (Main campus)||United States|
|101–125||126–150||University of Alberta||Canada|
|101–125||151–175||University of Amsterdam||Netherlands|
|101–125||101–125||University of Birmingham||United Kingdom|
|101–125||=100||Brown University||United States|
|101–125||126–150||University of California, Irvine||United States|
|101–125||101–125||University of California, Riverside||United States|
|101–125||126–150||Chinese University of Hong Kong||Hong Kong|
|101–125||101–125||University of Colorado Boulder||United States|
|101–125||101–125||University of Dundee||United Kingdom|
|101–125||96||Emory University||United States|
|101–125||95||University of Exeter||United Kingdom|
|101–125||101–125||Free University of Berlin||Germany|
|101–125||126–150||James Cook University||Australia|
|101–125||101–125||University of Lausanne||Switzerland|
|101–125||97||University of Leeds||United Kingdom|
|101–125||NR||University of Luxembourg||Luxembourg|
|101–125||151–175||National Taiwan University (NTU)||Taiwan|
|101–125||126–150||University of Paris||France|
|101–125||101–125||University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh campus||United States|
|101–125||101–125||Radboud University Nijmegen||Netherlands|
|101–125||101–125||Rice University||United States|
|101–125||101–125||University of St Andrews||United Kingdom|
|101–125||=80||Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences||Sweden|
|126–150||126–150||University of Adelaide||Australia|
|126–150||101–125||University of Bristol||United Kingdom|
|126–150||101–125||University of California, Santa Cruz||United States|
|126–150||301–400||East China Normal University||China|
|126–150||151–175||École Normale Supérieure de Lyon||France|
|126–150||176–200||University of Hamburg||Germany|
|126–150||126–150||Lancaster University||United Kingdom|
|126–150||101–125||University of Maryland, College Park||United States|
|126–150||151–175||University of Montreal||Canada|
|126–150||126–150||Newcastle University||United Kingdom|
|126–150||126–150||North Carolina State University||United States|
|126–150||101–125||University of Nottingham||United Kingdom|
|126–150||101–125||Ohio State University (Main campus)||United States|
|126–150||101–125||Oregon State University||United States|
|126–150||151–175||University of Oslo||Norway|
|126–150||151–175||Queen Mary University of London||United Kingdom|
|126–150||126–150||Queen’s University Belfast||United Kingdom|
|126–150||101–125||Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies – Pisa||Italy|
|126–150||201–250||Shanghai Jiao Tong University||China|
|126–150||126–150||University of Sheffield||United Kingdom|
|126–150||126–150||University of Southampton||United Kingdom|
|126–150||126–150||Tufts University||United States|
|151–175||=98||University of Arizona||United States|
|151–175||126–150||Arizona State University (Tempe)||United States|
|151–175||151–175||University of Auckland||New Zealand|
|151–175||126–150||Cardiff University||United Kingdom|
|151–175||126–150||Dartmouth College||United States|
|151–175||201–250||University of Delaware||United States|
|151–175||201–250||Florida State University||United States|
|151–175||126–150||University of Iceland||Iceland|
|151–175||151–175||Indiana University||United States|
|151–175||126–150||University of Konstanz||Germany|
|151–175||151–175||Lomonosov Moscow State University||Russian Federation|
|151–175||151–175||Université Catholique de Louvain||Belgium|
|151–175||NR||University of Notre Dame||United States|
|151–175||151–175||University of Reading||United Kingdom|
|151–175||151–175||Stony Brook University||United States|
|151–175||126–150||Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)||South Korea|
|151–175||151–175||University of Sussex||United Kingdom|
|151–175||176–200||University of Tartu||Estonia|
|151–175||126–150||University of Tasmania||Australia|
|151–175||126–150||Texas A&M University||United States|
|151–175||151–175||Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST)||South Korea|
|151–175||176–200||University of Virginia (Main campus)||United States|
|151–175||151–175||Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam||Netherlands|
|151–175||126–150||University of York||United Kingdom|
|176–200||201–250||University of Antwerp||Belgium|
|176–200||201–250||University of Barcelona||Spain|
|176–200||201–250||University of Bergen||Norway|
|176–200||176–200||University of Bern||Switzerland|
|176–200||151–175||University of Cape Town||South Africa|
|176–200||126–150||Colorado State University, Fort Collins||United States|
|176–200||151–175||Delft University of Technology||Netherlands|
|176–200||151–175||University of Erlangen-Nuremberg||Germany|
|176–200||201–250||Goethe University Frankfurt||Germany|
|176–200||176–200||University of Gothenburg||Sweden|
|176–200||176–200||Iowa State University||United States|
|176–200||176–200||University of Kent||United Kingdom|
|176–200||176–200||King Abdulaziz University||Saudi Arabia|
|176–200||201–250||La Trobe University||Australia|
|176–200||NR||Université libre de Bruxelles||Belgium|
|176–200||151–175||University of Liverpool||United Kingdom|
|176–200||201–250||Northeastern University||United States|
|176–200||176–200||University of São Paulo||Brazil|
|176–200||176–200||Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech)||China|
|176–200||201–250||University of Stirling||United Kingdom|
|176–200||176–200||University College Cork||Republic of Ireland|
|176–200||201–250||Vrije Universiteit Brussel||Belgium|
|176–200||151–175||University of Warwick||United Kingdom|