Best universities in the United States

Find the best universities in the United States through Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings data

Best universities in
Rankings for Students
September 2 2020
Stanford University, Best universities in the United States 2016


Thinking about studying in the US can be overwhelming because there are so many options.

We thought you might like to know the top universities in the US based on the highly respected Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021.

There are 181 US universities and colleges among the world’s best and so wherever you want to study in the US, a top university will not be far away. Almost all states and about 130 cities are represented in the best US universities list.

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California is the most represented state among the best US universities, with 15 institutions, followed by 13 universities in New York, 12 universities in Texas and 10 universities in Massachusetts. 

The universities at the very top of the ranking are concentrated in these popular destinations, which are well known for their higher education opportunities; the top five are based in California and Massachusetts.

It’s important to note that we also produce a separate US College Rankings in partnership with the Wall Street Journal designed with students in mind. At the heart of the US College Rankings is a student survey, taken by more than 170,000 students across the US and capturing the things that are most important to prospective students, such as teaching quality, learning environment, resources, diversity on campus and whether a student would recommend their institution. 

You can see the full US College Rankings here, or scroll all the way down to see the top 10. 

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Top 5 universities in the US

1. Stanford University

Based in Palo Alto, right beside Silicon Valley, Stanford University has had a prominent role in encouraging the region’s tech industry to develop.

Many faculty members, students and alumni have founded successful technology companies and start-ups, including Google, Snapchat and Hewlett-Packard.

In total, companies founded by Stanford alumni make $2.7 trillion (£2.2 trillion) each year.

The university is often referred to as “the Farm” because the campus was built on the site of the Stanford family’s Palo Alto stock farm. The campus covers 8,180 acres, but more than half of the land is not yet developed.

With its distinctive sand-coloured, red-roofed buildings, Stanford’s campus is thought to be one of the most beautiful in the world. It contains a number of sculpture gardens and art museums, and a public meditation centre.

As might be expected from one of the best universities in the world, Stanford is highly competitive. The admission rate stands at just over 5 per cent.

Of the 16,000 students – most of whom live on campus – 22 per cent are international.

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2. Harvard University

Harvard is probably the best known university in the world, topping the Times Higher Education reputation rankings most years.

Founded in 1636, it is the oldest higher education institution in the US.

About 21,000 students are enrolled, a quarter of whom are international. Although tuition is expensive, Harvard’s financial endowment allows for plenty of financial aid for students.

The Harvard Library system is made up of 79 libraries and counts as the largest academic library in the world.

Among many famous alumni, Harvard can count eight US presidents, 158 Nobel laureates, 14 Turing Award winners and 62 living billionaires.

Unlike some other universities at the top of the list, Harvard is at least equally reputed for arts and humanities as it is for science and technology, if not more so. 

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3. California Institute of Technology (CalTech)

Relative to the tiny size of its student population, CalTech has an impressive number of successful graduates and affiliates, including 39 Nobel laureates, six Turing Award winners and four Fields Medallists.

There are about 2,200 students at CalTech, and the primary campus in Pasadena, near Los Angeles, covers 124 acres. Almost all undergraduates live on campus.

Across the six faculties, there is a focus on science and engineering.

In addition to Nobel laureates and top researchers, the CalTech graduate community includes a number of politicians and public advisers, particularly in the areas of science, technology and energy.

All first-year students belong to one of four houses as part of the university’s alternative model to fraternities and sororities. A number of house traditions and events are associated with each house.

The university has the highest proportion of students who continue on to pursue a PhD, and the figure of the CalTech postgraduate has filtered into popular culture; all the main characters in the TV comedy The Big Bang Theory work or study at CalTech.

Caltech: ‘uniquely difficult but a wonderful place to study’

4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

MIT also cultivates a strong entrepreneurial culture, which has seen many alumni found notable companies such as Intel and Dropbox.

Unusually, the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes at MIT are not wholly separate; many courses can be taken at either level.

The undergraduate programme is one of the country’s most selective, admitting only 8 per cent of applicants. Engineering and computer science programmes are the most popular among undergraduates.

Thirty-three per cent of the 11,000 students are international, hailing from 154 countries.

Famous alumni include astronaut Buzz Aldrin, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and physicist Richard Feynman. 

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5. University of California, Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley is a public research university located in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. 

It is part of the University of California system, and is in fact the oldest campus within the system, having been founded in 1868.

Berkeley has an impressive catalogue of achievements counting 107 Nobel laureates, 25 Turing Award winners, 14 Fields Medallists, 28 Wolf Prize winners, 103 MacArthur Fellows, 25 Pulitzer Prize winners, 19 Academy Award winners and 207 Olympic Medals. Many politicians have also studied at the university.

The university’s official colours are blue and gold: where blue represents the California sky and ocean and gold the “Golden State” of California. 

There are more than 1,000 student groups at the university covering interests and activities such as sports, politics and arts and crafts. 

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Top universities in the United States 2021 

Click each institution to view its full World University Rankings 2021 results.

World University Rank 2021  US Rank 2021 University City State
 2  1 Stanford University Stanford California
 3  2 Harvard University Cambridge Massachusetts
 4  3 California Institute of Technology Pasadena California
 5  4 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge Massachusetts
 7  5 University of California, Berkeley Berkeley California
 8  6 Yale University New Haven Connecticut
 9  7 Princeton University Princeton New Jersey
 10  8 University of Chicago Chicago Illinois
 12  9 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore Maryland
 13  10 University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia Pennsylvania
 15  11 University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles California
 17  12 Columbia University New York City New York
 19  13 Cornell University Ithaca New York
 =20  14 Duke University Durham North Carolina
 22  15 University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Ann Arbor Michigan
 24  16 Northwestern University Evanston Illinois
 26  17 New York University New York City New York
 28  18 Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
 29  19 University of Washington Seattle Washington
 33  20 University of California, San Diego San Diego California
 38  21 Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta Georgia
 44  22 University of Texas at Austin Austin Texas
 48  23 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign Illinois
 49  24 University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison Wisconsin
 50  25 Washington University in St Louis St. Louis Missouri
 53  26 University of Southern California Los Angeles California
 =54  27 Boston University Boston Massachusetts
 =56  28 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill North Carolina
 61  29 Brown University Providence Rhode Island
 =64  30 University of California, Davis Davis California
 68  31 University of California, Santa Barbara Santa Barbara California
 =80  32 Ohio State University (Main campus) Columbus Ohio
 =85  =33 Emory University Atlanta Georgia
 =85  =33 University of Minnesota Minneapolis Minnesota
 90  35 University of Maryland, College Park College Park Maryland
 =94  36 Purdue University West Lafayette West Lafayette Indiana
 =98  37 University of California, Irvine Irvine California
 =101  38 Dartmouth College Hanover New Hampshire
 105  39 Michigan State University East Lansing Michigan
 =111  40 Vanderbilt University Nashville Tennessee
 =114  41 Penn State (Main campus) State College Pennsylvania
 117  42 University of Virginia (Main campus) Charlottesville Virginia
 120  43 Georgetown University   Washington D.C
 =121  44 Case Western Reserve University Cleveland Ohio
 =124  45 University of Arizona Tucson Arizona
 =124  =45 Rice University Houston Texas
 =131  47 University of Colorado Boulder Boulder Colorado
 =133  48 University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh campus Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
 =140  49 Indiana University Bloomington Indiana
 =147  50 University of Rochester Rochester (NY) New York
 =152  51 University of Florida Gainesville Florida
 =155  52 Tufts University Medford Massachusetts
 166  53 Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey New Brunswick New Jersey
 169  54 University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham Alabama
 =170  55 University of Notre Dame Notre Dame Indiana
 =176  56 Northeastern University Boston Massachusetts
 =184  57 Arizona State University (Tempe) Tempe Arizona
 =187  58 George Washington University   Washington D.C
 197  59 Texas A&M University College Station Texas
 201–250  =60 Brandeis University Waltham Massachusetts
 201–250  =60 University of California, Santa Cruz Santa Cruz California
 201–250  =60 University of Hawai’i at Mānoa Honolulu Hawai'i
 201–250  =60 Howard University   Washington D.C
 201–250  =60 University of Iowa Iowa City Iowa
 201–250  =60 University of Massachusetts Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell, Worcester Massachusetts
 201–250  =60 University of Miami Coral Gables Florida
 201–250  =60 University of South Florida (Tampa) Tampa Florida
 201–250  =60 University of Utah Salt Lake City Utah
 201–250  =60 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksberg Virginia
 251–300  =70 University at Buffalo Buffalo New York
 251–300  =70 University of California, Riverside Riverside California
 251–300  =70 University of Cincinnati Cincinnati Ohio
 251–300  =70 Florida State University Tallahassee Florida
 251–300  =70 George Mason University Fairfax Virginia
 251–300  =70 University of Illinois at Chicago Chicago Illinois
 251–300  =70 University of New Mexico (Main campus) Albuquerque New Mexico
 251–300  =70 Nova Southeastern University Davie Florida
 251–300  =70 Oregon Health and Science University Portland Oregon
 251–300  =70 State University of New York Albany Albany New York
 251–300  =70 Wake Forest University Winston-Salem North Carolina
 251–300  =70 William & Mary Williamsburg Virginia
 301–350  =82 Boston College Boston  Massachusetts
 301–350  =82 University of California, Merced Merced California
 301–350  =82 University of Colorado Denver Denver Colorado
 301–350  =82 University of Delaware Newark (DE) Delaware
 301–350  =82 Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago Illinois
 301–350  =82 North Carolina State University Raleigh North Carolina
 301–350  =82 University of Oregon Eugene Oregon
 301–350  =82 Rush University Chicago Illinois
 301–350  =82 Stony Brook University Stony Brook New York
 301–350  =82 Syracuse University Syracuse New York
 301–350  =82 Temple University Philadelphia Pennsylvania
 301–350  =82 The University of Tennessee-Knoxville Knoxville Texas
 301–350  =82 University of Texas at Dallas Richardson Texas
 301–350  =82 Tulane University New Orleans Louisiana
 301–350  =82 Washington State University Pullman Washington
 351–400  =97 Drexel University Philadelphia Pennsylvania
 351–400  =97 University of Kansas Lawrence Kansas
 351–400  =97 Wayne State University Detroit Michigan
 401–500  =97 University of Alaska Fairbanks Fairbanks Alaska
 401–500  =97 American University   Washington D.C
 401–500  =97 Clark University Worcester Massachusetts
 401–500  =97 Colorado School of Mines Golden Colorado
 401–500  =97 Colorado State University, Fort Collins Fort Collins Colorado
 401–500  =97 University of Connecticut Mansfield Connecticut
 401–500  =97 University of Denver Denver Colorado
 401–500  =97 Florida International University Miami Florida
 401–500  =97 University of Georgia Athens Georgia
 401–500  =97 Georgia State University Atlanta Georgia
 401–500  =97 Iowa State University Ames Iowa
 401–500  =97 University of Kentucky Lexington Kentucky
 401–500  =97 University of Missouri-Columbia Columbia Missouri
 401–500  =97 Missouri University of Science and Technology Rolla Missouri
 401–500  =97 University of Nebraska-Lincoln Lincoln Nebraska
 401–500  =97 Oklahoma State University Stillwater Oklahoma
 401–500  =97 Oregon State University Corvallis Oregon
 401–500  =97 University of South Carolina-Columbia Columbia South Carolina
 401–500  =97 University of Tulsa Tulsa Oklahoma
 501–600  =119 Binghamton University, State University of New York Binghamton New York
 501–600  =119 Hofstra University Hempstead New York
 501–600  =119 University of Houston Houston Texas
 501–600  =119 Louisiana State University Baton Rouge Louisiana
 501–600  =119 University of Montana Missoula Montana
 501–600  =119 University of Nebraska Medical Center Omaha Nebraska
 501–600  =119 New Jersey Institute of Technology Newark (NJ) New Jersey
 501–600  =119 Northern Arizona University Flagstaff Arizona
 501–600  =119 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Troy New York
 501–600  =119 Stevens Institute of Technology Hoboken New Jersey
 501–600  =119 University of Texas at San Antonio San Antonio Texas
 601–800  =130 University of Alabama Tuscaloosa Alabama
 601–800  =130 University of Alabama in Huntsville Huntsville Alabama
 601–800  =130 University of Arkansas Fayateville Arkansas
 601–800  =130 Auburn University Auburn Alabama
 601–800  =130 University of Central Florida Orlando Florida
 601–800  =130 Chapman University Orange California
 601–800  =130 Clemson University Clemson South Carolina
 601–800  =130 Creighton University Omaha Nebraska
 601–800  =130 University of Idaho Moscow Idaho
 601–800  =130 Kansas State University Manhattan Kansas
 601–800  =130 Lehigh University Bethlehem Pennsylvania
 601–800  =130 University of Maryland, Baltimore County Baltimore Maryland
 601–800  =130 University of Missouri-St Louis St. Louis Missouri
 601–800  =130 Montana State University Bozeman Montana
 601–800  =130 University of Nevada, Las Vegas Las Vegas Nevada
 601–800  =130 New Mexico State University (Main campus) Las Cruces New Mexico
 601–800  =130 University of North Carolina at Greensboro Greensboro North Carolina
 601–800  =130 Ohio University (Main campus) Athens Ohio
 601–800  =130 University of Rhode Island South Kingstown Rhode Island
 601–800  =130 San Diego State University San Diego California
 601–800  =130 University of Texas at Arlington Arlington Texas
 601–800  =130 Texas Tech University Lubbock Texas
 601–800  =130 University of Toledo Toledo Ohio
 601–800  =130 Western Washington University Bellingham Washington
 601–800  =130 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Milwaukee Wisconsin
 601–800  =130 Worcester Polytechnic Institute Worcester Massachusetts
 801–1000  =156 Baylor University Waco Texas
 801–1000  =156 Bowling Green State University Bowling Green Ohio
 801–1000  =156 Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Tallahassee Florida
 801–1000  =156 Florida Atlantic University Boca Raton Florida
 801–1000  =156 Florida Institute of Technology Melbourne Florida
 801–1000  =156 Kent State University Kent Ohio
 801–1000  =156 Louisiana Tech University Ruston Louisiana
 801–1000  =156 Marquette University Milwaukee Wisconsin
 801–1000  =156 University of Memphis Memphis Tennessee
 801–1000  =156 Miami University Oxford Ohio
 801–1000  =156 Mississippi State University Starkville Mississippi
 801–1000  =156 The New School New York City New York
 801–1000  =156 Old Dominion University Norfolk Virginia
 801–1000  =156 Portland State University Portland Oregon
 801–1000  =156 Rochester Institute of Technology Rochester (NY) New York
 801–1000  =156 University of South Dakota Vermillion South Dakota
 801–1000  =156 Southern Illinois University Carbondale Carbondale Illinois
 801–1000  =156 University of Texas at El Paso El Paso Texas
 1001+  =174 California State University, Long Beach Long Beach California
 1001+  =174 East Carolina University Greenville North Carolina
 1001+  =174 James Madison University Harrisonburg Virginia
 1001+  =174 Morgan State University Baltimore Maryland
 1001+  =174 University of North Carolina Wilmington Wilmington North Carolina
 1001+  =174 Oakland University Rochester  Michigan
 1001+  =174 Texas State University San Marcos Texas
 1001+  =174 Western Michigan University Kalamazoo Michigan

Top 10 universities in the US (THE/WSJ US College Ranking 2021)

WSJ/THE US College Rank 2021 University City State
1 Harvard University Cambridge Massachusetts
2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge Massachusetts
3 Yale University New Haven Connecticut
Stanford University Stanford California
=5 Brown University Providence Rhode Island
=5 Duke University Durham  North Carolina
=7 California Institute of Technology Pasadena California
=7 Princeton University Princeton New Jersey
9 Cornell University Ithaca New York
10 Northwestern University Evanston  Illinois

Read more: Best universities in the world 

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