Best universities in the United States 2020

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

September 11 2019
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 2020.

There are 172 US universities and colleges among the world’s best, and wherever you want to study in the US, a top university will not be far away. Almost all states and approximately 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 14 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 that are well known for their higher education opportunities; the top five are based in California, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

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 capturing the most important things 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. 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 approximately 2,000 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.

Best universities in California

2. Stanford University

Based in Palo Alto, right beside Silicon Valley, Stanford 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 currently stands at just over 5 per cent.

Of the 15,000 students – most of whom live on campus – 22 per cent are international.

The 10 most beautiful universities in the US 

3. 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. 

Women in STEM: stories from MIT students

4. Princeton University

Like Harvard, Princeton is a prestigious Ivy League university with a history stretching back more than 200 years.

Princeton’s distinctive social environment includes private “eating clubs”, which function as both social houses and dining halls. Many of the clubs are selective and competitive, but others simply require undergraduates to sign up.

Fewer than 8,000 students are enrolled at Princeton, and just over a quarter are international.

Princeton’s campuses, in New Jersey, are located about an hour away from both New York City and Philadelphia.

Degree courses have strict requirements. All students are required to do independent research as part of their degrees, and some must take a foreign language course.

The application process is highly selective. Unlike most US universities, Princeton does not offer an early decision application route.

Renowned Princeton alumni include US presidents, astronauts, businesspeople and Olympians. This includes former first lady Michelle Obama, author F. Scott Fitzgerald and mathematician Alan Turing. 

Studying at Princeton University

5. 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.

Approximately 20,000 students are enrolled, a quarter of whom are international. Although the cost of 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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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 2020 

Click each institution to view its full World University Rankings 2020 results

US Rank 2020 World University Rank 2020  University City State
1  2  California Institute of Technology Pasadena California
2  4  Stanford University Stanford California
3  5  Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge Massachusetts
4  6  Princeton University Princeton New Jersey
5  7  Harvard University Cambridge Massachusetts
6  8  Yale University New Haven Connecticut
7  9  University of Chicago Chicago Illinois
8  11  University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia Pennsylvania
9  12  Johns Hopkins University Baltimore Maryland
10  =13  University of California, Berkeley Berkeley California
11  16  Columbia University New York City New York
12  17  University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles California
13  19  Cornell University Ithaca New York
14  20  Duke University Durham North Carolina
15  21  University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Ann Arbor Michigan
16  22  Northwestern University Evanston Illinois
17  26  University of Washington Seattle Washington
18  =27  Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
19  29  New York University New York City New York
20  31  University of California, San Diego San Diego California
=21  =38  Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta Georgia
=21  =38  University of Texas at Austin Austin Texas
23  =48  University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign Illinois
24  51  University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison Wisconsin
25  52  Washington University in St Louis St. Louis Missouri
26  53  Brown University Providence Rhode Island
27  54  University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill North Carolina
28  =55  University of California, Davis Davis California
29  =57  University of California, Santa Barbara Santa Barbara California
30  61  Boston University Boston Massachusetts
31  =62  University of Southern California Los Angeles California
32  70  Ohio State University (Main campus) Columbus Ohio
33  78  Penn State (Main campus) State College Pennsylvania
34  79  University of Minnesota Minneapolis Minnesota
35  =80  Emory University Atlanta Georgia
36  84  Michigan State University East Lansing Michigan
37  88  Purdue University West Lafayette West Lafayette Indiana
38  =91  University of Maryland, College Park College Park Maryland
39  =94  Dartmouth College Hanover New Hampshire
40  =96  University of California, Irvine Irvine California
41  =102  Georgetown University   Washington D.C
42  104  University of Arizona Tucson Arizona
43  =105  Rice University Houston Texas
44  =107  University of Virginia (Main campus) Charlottesville Virginia
45  =113  University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh campus Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
46  116  Vanderbilt University Nashville Tennessee
47  119  Case Western Reserve University Cleveland Ohio
48  124  University of Colorado Boulder Boulder Colorado
49  =134  Indiana University Bloomington Indiana
50  =139  Tufts University Medford Massachusetts
51  =155  Arizona State University Tempe Arizona
52  =157  University of Notre Dame Notre Dame Indiana
53  =168  Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey New Brunswick New Jersey
54  172  University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham Alabama
=55  =173  Northeastern University Boston Massachusetts
=55  =173  University of Rochester Rochester (NY) New York
57  =175  University of Florida Gainesville Florida
58  178  Texas A&M University College Station Texas
59  =179  University of California, Santa Cruz Santa Cruz California
60  =198  George Washington University   Washington D.C
=61  201–250  Brandeis University Waltham Massachusetts
=61  201–250  University of Hawai’i at Mānoa Honolulu Hawai'i
=61  201–250  Howard University   Washington D.C
=61  201–250  University of Iowa Iowa City Iowa
=61  201–250  University of Massachusetts Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell, Worcester Massachusetts
=61  201–250  University of Miami Coral Gables Florida
=61  201–250  University of South Florida (Tampa) Tampa Florida
=61  201–250  University of Utah Salt Lake City Utah
=61  201–250  Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg Virginia
=61  201–250  Wake Forest University Winston-Salem North Carolina
=61  201–250  William & Mary Williamsburg Virginia
=72  251–300  University at Buffalo Buffalo New York
=72  251–300  University of California, Riverside Riverside California
=72  251–300  University of Cincinnati Cincinnati Ohio
=72  251–300  University of Delaware Newark (DE) Delaware
=72  251–300  Florida State University Tallahassee Florida
=72  251–300  George Mason University Fairfax Virginia
=72  251–300  University of Illinois at Chicago Chicago Illinois
=72  251–300  University of Oregon Eugene Oregon
=72  251–300  Oregon Health and Science University Portland Oregon
=72  251–300  Syracuse University Syracuse New York
=82  301–350  Boston College Boston Massachusetts
=82  301–350  Colorado School of Mines Golden Colorado
=82  301–350  University of New Mexico (Main campus) Albuquerque New Mexico
=82  301–350  North Carolina State University Raleigh North Carolina
=82  301–350  Nova Southeastern University Davie Florida
=82  301–350  Rush University Chicago Illinois
=82  301–350  Stony Brook University Stony Brook  New York
=82  301–350  Temple University Philadelphia Pennsylvania
=82  301–350  The University of Tennessee-Knoxville Knoxville Texas
=82  301–350  University of Texas at Dallas Richardson Texas
=82  301–350  Tulane University New Orleans Louisiana
=93  351–400  University of Alaska Fairbanks Fairbanks Alaska
=93  351–400  University of California, Merced Merced California
=93  351–400  Clark University Worcester Massachusetts
=93  351–400  University of Connecticut Mansfield Connecticut
=93  351–400  University of Denver Denver Colorado
=93  351–400  Hofstra University Hempstead  New York
=93  351–400  Iowa State University Ames Iowa
=93  351–400  Oregon State University Corvallis Oregon
=93  351–400  State University of New York Albany Albany New York
=93  351–400  Washington State University Pullman Washington
=93  351–400  Wayne State University Detroit Michigan
=104  401–500  University of Alabama Tuscaloosa Alabama
=104  401–500  American University   Washington D.C
=104  401–500  Colorado State University, Fort Collins Fort Collins Colorado
=104  401–500  Drexel University Philadelphia Pennsylvania
=104  401–500  University of Georgia Athens Georgia
=104  401–500  Georgia State University Atlanta Georgia
=104  401–500  University of Houston Houston Texas
=104  401–500  University of Kansas Lawrence Kansas
=104  401–500  University of Kentucky Lexington Kentucky
=104  401–500  University of Missouri-Columbia Columbia Missouri
=104  401–500  University of Missouri-St Louis St. Louis Missouri
=104  401–500  University of Nebraska-Lincoln Lincoln Nebraska
=104  401–500  New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology Socorro New Mexico
=104  401–500  Oklahoma State University Stillwater Oklahoma
=104  401–500  Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Troy New York
=104  401–500  University of South Carolina-Columbia Columbia South Carolina
=104  401–500  University of Texas at San Antonio San Antonio Texas
=104  401–500  University of Tulsa Tulsa Oklahoma
=122  501–600  University of Alabama in Huntsville Huntsville Alabama
=122  501–600  Binghamton University, State University of New York Binghamton New York
=122  501–600  Florida International University Miami Florida
=122  501–600  University of Idaho Moscow Idaho
=122  501–600  Louisiana State University Baton Rouge Louisiana
=122  501–600  Missouri University of Science and Technology Rolla Missouri
=122  501–600  University of Nebraska Medical Center Omaha Nebraska
=122  501–600  New Jersey Institute of Technology Newark (NJ) New Jersey
=122  501–600  Northern Arizona University Flagstaff Arizona
=122  501–600  University of Rhode Island South Kingstown Rhode Island
=122  501–600  San Diego State University San Diego California
=122  501–600  University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Milwaukee Wisconsin
=134  601–800  University of Arkansas Fayateville Arkansas
=134  601–800  Auburn University Auburn Alabama
=134  601–800  Baylor University Waco Texas
=134  601–800  University of Central Florida Orlando Florida
=134  601–800  Clemson University Clemson South Carolina
=134  601–800  Creighton University Omaha Nebraska
=134  601–800  Kansas State University Manhattan Kansas
=134  601–800  Kent State University Kent Ohio
=134  601–800  Lehigh University Bethlehem Pennsylvania
=134  601–800  University of Maryland, Baltimore County Baltimore Maryland
=134  601–800  Montana State University Bozeman Montana
=134  601–800  University of Nevada, Las Vegas Las Vegas Nevada
=134  601–800  New Mexico State University (Main campus) Las Cruces New Mexico
=134  601–800  University of North Carolina at Greensboro Greensboro North Carolina
=134  601–800  Ohio University (Main campus) Athens Ohio
=134  601–800  Old Dominion University Norfolk Virginia
=134  601–800  Portland State University Portland Oregon
=134  601–800  University of South Dakota Vermillion South Dakota
=134  601–800  Stevens Institute of Technology Hoboken New Jersey
=134  601–800  University of Texas at Arlington Arlington Texas
=134  601–800  Texas Tech University Lubbock Texas
=134  601–800  University of Toledo Toledo Ohio
=134  601–800  Western Washington University Bellingham Washington
=134  601–800  West Virginia University Morgantown West Virginia
=134  601–800  Worcester Polytechnic Institute Worcester Massachusetts
=159  801–1000  Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Daytona Beach Florida
=159  801–1000  Florida Atlantic University Boca Raton Florida
=159  801–1000  Florida Institute of Technology Melbourne Florida
=159  801–1000  Louisiana Tech University Ruston Louisiana
=159  801–1000  Marquette University Milwaukee Wisconsin
=159  801–1000  Mississippi State University Starkville Mississippi
=159  801–1000  The New School New York City New York
=159  801–1000  Rochester Institute of Technology Rochester (NY) New York
=159  801–1000  University of Texas at El Paso El Paso Texas
=168  1001+  California State University, Long Beach Long Beach California
=168  1001+  University of North Carolina Wilmington Wilmington North Carolina
=168  1001+  University of North Florida Jacksonville Florida
=168  1001+  Oakland University Rochester  Michigan
=168  1001+  Texas State University San Marcos  Texas

Top 10 universities in the US (THE/WSJ US College Ranking 2020)

WSJ/THE US College Rank 2020 University City State
1 Harvard University Cambridge Massachusetts
2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge Massachusetts
3 Yale University New Haven Connecticut
4 University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia Pennsylvania
=5 California Institute of Technology Pasadena California
=5 Princeton University Princeton  New Jersey
=7 Brown University Providence Rhode Island
=7 Stanford University Stanford California
9 Cornell University Ithaca New York
10 Duke University Durham  North Carolina

Read more: Best universities in the world 

Reader's comments (4)

California Institute of Technology has filed a lawsuit against Apple. Like this way, many universities generate more revenue. Microsoft once gave $521 M, Apple last year gave $256 M and so on. No doubt, they are pioneer universities of the world and found a new way to make money. I found an article which I want to share with you about universities specially Technical one. Here is the link, must read it.
Hard to believe that THE ranks UC Berkeley (10th out of 980) international institutions while US News ranks UC Berkeley (20th out of 310) USA institutions.
Sir hello ... I want to say that I join USA university to continue my study in mass communication because I like to do master in it but my financial problem does not give me permission to do it so I hope and optimism that the uni of USA will take me serious and know about my problem I am from Pakistan live in Lahore but my parents can't take my admission in uni of Punjab because of many reasons
Sorry to hear about your problems, but I have never heard of a prospective student addressing American universities en masse (as a group). At least, I'm assuming this is what you intend by the terms "USA university" and "uni of USA". If there is an actual university by those names, then it's news to me. Have you considered addressing the admissions office at specific universities? I won't mention any names, but you might discover that some universities are much more open to accomodating foreign students than others. I've noticed that many universities like to brag about having students from X number of nations. In fact, I have seen several instances where state colleges charge a higher tuition to American students from out-of-state, than they do to students from out-of-country (i.e. foreign students)! Also, your English is not bad (assuming it is not your native language) and this reflects a significant amount of study on your part, which is good. However, I'm thinking that your proficiency in written English may be slightly less than that which is expected by most American universities. I would add that with some additional improvement you could soon reach an acceptable level for college studies. Please understand that mine is not a "professional" opinion on your English ability, and I could certainly be wrong about this. But I did attend and graduate with honors from an American university. In any case, this advice is intended to be helpful and not hurtful. Good luck to you!

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