Best universities for life sciences degrees 2018

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

November 8 2017
Looking through a microscope

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.

Older prestigious schools take the top spots, including Harvard University in first place, with the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford and Stanford University following closely behind.

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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

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Best universities for life sciences 2018

Click each institution to view its World University Rankings 2018 profile

Life Sciences Rank 2018 University Country
1 Harvard University United States
2 University of Cambridge United Kingdom
3 University of Oxford United Kingdom
4 Stanford University United States
5 Massachusetts Institute of Technology United States
6 Johns Hopkins University United States
7 Princeton University United States
8 California Institute of Technology United States
9 Yale University United States
10 Imperial College London United Kingdom
11 University of Chicago United States
12 University of California, San Diego United States
13 ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich Switzerland
14 Cornell University United States
15 Columbia University United States
16 Duke University United States
17 University of Pennsylvania United States
18 University of California, Berkeley United States
19 University of California, Los Angeles United States
20 Wageningen University & Research Netherlands
21 University of British Columbia Canada
22 University of Toronto Canada
=23 University of Edinburgh United Kingdom
=23 Peking University China
25 Karolinska Institute Sweden
26 National University of Singapore Singapore
27 University of Michigan United States
28 University of California, Davis United States
29 Washington University in St Louis United States
30 King’s College London United Kingdom
31 McGill University Canada
32 University of Melbourne Australia
33 École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne Switzerland
=34 Heidelberg University Germany
=34 University of Queensland Australia
36 University of Tokyo Japan
37 Kyoto University Japan
38 Uppsala University Sweden
39 LMU Munich Germany
40 University of Wisconsin-Madison United States
41 University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
42 Northwestern University United States
43 Technical University of Munich Germany
44 Ghent University Belgium
45 Australian National University Australia
46 Lund University Sweden
47 University of Sydney Australia
48 Emory University United States
49 University of Glasgow United Kingdom
50 Humboldt University of Berlin Germany
=51 University of Manchester United Kingdom
=51 University of Minnesota United States
53 Pierre and Marie Curie University France
54 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill United States
=55 University of Dundee United Kingdom
=55 University of Texas at Austin United States
57 University of California, Santa Barbara United States
58 Osaka University Japan
59 Utrecht University Netherlands
60 University of Göttingen Germany
61 University of Geneva Switzerland
62 KU Leuven Belgium
63 University of Helsinki Finland
64 University of Tübingen Germany
65 Stockholm University Sweden
66 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign United States
67 University of Lausanne Switzerland
68 University of Zurich Switzerland
69 University of Western Australia Australia
70 University of Freiburg Germany
71 University of Colorado Boulder United States
72 University of St Andrews United Kingdom
73 Pennsylvania State University United States
74 Michigan State University United States
75 Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris France
76 University of Bristol United Kingdom
77 Trinity College Dublin Republic of Ireland
78 University of Groningen Netherlands
79 University of Aberdeen United Kingdom
80 Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) South Korea
81 University of Bonn Germany
=82 University of Exeter United Kingdom
=82 Vanderbilt University United States
84 University of Science and Technology of China China
85 Aarhus University Denmark
86 Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Hong Kong
87 University of Maryland, College Park United States
88 Free University of Berlin Germany
=89 University of East Anglia United Kingdom
=89 University of Leeds United Kingdom
91 University of Basel Switzerland
92 Newcastle University United Kingdom
=93 University of New South Wales Australia
=93 University of York United Kingdom
95 University of Vienna Austria
96 University of California, Riverside United States
=97 Arizona State University United States
=97 Monash University Australia
99 University of Florida United States
100 Brown University United States

Click here to view all top 500 universities for life sciences degrees

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


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