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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Compare US universities with other regions
Best universities in Europe
Compare top Canadian universities
Top universities in South America
The best universities in Asia
Best universities in Africa
Best universities in Australia
Best universities in the UK
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|
|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|
|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|
|=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||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|
|=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|
|=131||47||University of Colorado Boulder||Boulder||Colorado|
|=133||48||University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh campus||Pittsburgh||Pennsylvania|
|=147||50||University of Rochester||Rochester (NY)||New York|
|=152||51||University of Florida||Gainesville||Florida|
|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|
|=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||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||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||Stony Brook University||Stony Brook||New York|
|301–350||=82||Syracuse University||Syracuse||New York|
|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||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||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||University of Central Florida||Orlando||Florida|
|601–800||=130||Clemson University||Clemson||South Carolina|
|601–800||=130||University of Idaho||Moscow||Idaho|
|601–800||=130||Kansas State University||Manhattan||Kansas|
|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||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||University of Memphis||Memphis||Tennessee|
|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||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|
|2||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||Cambridge||Massachusetts|
|3||Yale University||New Haven||Connecticut|
|=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|