Thinking about studying in the US can be overwhelming, especially since there are so many options of where to study.
Our own bespoke US college ranking launches later this year. However, we thought you might like to know which are the top universities in the US based on the highly respected Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2016-2017.
The best universities and colleges in the US number almost 150, and wherever you want to study in America, a top university will not be far away. Almost all the states are represented in the best US universities list. In total, 128 different cities appear in the ranking.
Resources: US university rankings
- Best universities in New York
- US universities with the most international students
- Universities in the United States promoting social mobility
- Explore the best universities in Canada
- Further afield: Best universities in Europe
California and New York are the two most represented states among the best American universities with 12 universities each in the ranking, followed by Texas and Massachusetts with nine universities each.
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.
Resources: applying to the United States
Top 5 universities in the US
Scroll down to view the full table of the best American universities
Relative to the tiny size of the student population, CalTech has an impressive number of successful graduates and affiliates, including 34 Nobel prizewinners, six Turing Award winners, five Fields Medalists and a number of national awards.
There are only 2,243 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; the university appears in the top 5 for engineering and technology (#2), physical sciences (#1), and life sciences (#5) rankings in 2016.
In addition to Nobel laureates and top researchers, the CalTech alumni community also includes a number of politicians and public advisers, particularly in positions that deal with science, technology and energy.
All first-year students belong to one of four houses as part of the university’s alternative model to fraternities. There are a number of house traditions and events associated with each house.
The university has the highest proportion of students who continue on to pursue a PhD, and the trope 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.
Based right next to Silicon Valley – or Palo Alto – Stanford has had a prominent role in encouraging the high-tech industry to develop in the area.
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 each year.
The university is often referred to as “the Farm”, as 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 the land is not yet developed.
With 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 in addition to faculty buildings 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 15,596 students – most of whom live on campus – 22 per cent are international.
A long-standing rival of 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 different countries around the world.
Famous alumni include astronaut Buzz Aldrin, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and physicist Richard Feynman. Graduates are prevalent throughout science, politics, economics, business and media.
Harvard University is probably the best-known university in the world, coming top in the reputation rankings most years.
It was founded in 1636, and is the oldest higher education institution in the US.
There are currently 20,152 students 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 different libraries and counts as the largest academic library in the world.
Among many famous alumni, Harvard can count eight US presidents, about 150 Nobel laureates, 13 Turing Award winners and 62 living billionaires.
Unlike some other universities at the top of the list, Harvard is at least equally as reputed for arts and humanities as it is for science and technology, if not more so. In the 2016 arts and humanities ranking, Harvard takes the second position, and secures top 10 positions for physical sciences, social sciences and engineering and technology.
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.
There are fewer than 8,000 students 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 strictly specified 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 now offer an early decision application route.
Renowned Princeton alumni include US presidents, astronauts, businessmen, Olympians and numerous award-winners. Physicist Richard Feynman attended as a graduate student, as did mathematicians John Nash and Alan Turing.
Compare US universities with other regions:
- Best universities in Europe 2016
- Compare top Canadian universities
- Where do graduates face the most debt?
- Where are international postgraduates most satisfied?
- European universities competing with US in humanities
- Top universities in South America
Top universities in the United States 2017
Click each institution to view its full World University Rankings 2016-2017 results
|USA Rank 2017||World University Rank 2017||University||State||City|
|1||2||California Institute of Technology||California||Pasadena|
|3||5||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||Massachusetts||Cambridge|
|5||7||Princeton University||New Jersey||Princeton|
|=6||=10||University of California, Berkeley||California||Berkeley|
|=6||=10||University of Chicago||Illinois||Chicago|
|8||12||Yale University||Connecticut||New Haven|
|9||13||University of Pennsylvania||Pennsylvania||Philadelphia|
|10||14||University of California, Los Angeles||California||Los Angeles|
|11||16||Columbia University||New York State||New York City|
|12||17||Johns Hopkins University||Maryland||Baltimore|
|13||18||Duke University||North Carolina||Durham|
|14||19||Cornell University||New York State||Ithaca|
|16||21||University of Michigan||Michigan||Ann Arbor|
|17||23||Carnegie Mellon University||Pennsylvania||Pittsburgh|
|18||=25||University of Washington||Washington||Seattle|
|19||32||New York University||New York State||New York City|
|20||=33||Georgia Institute of Technology||Georgia||Atlanta|
|21||=36||University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign||Illinois||Champaign|
|22||41||University of California, San Diego||California||San Diego|
|23||45||[!University of Wisconsin!]-Madison||Wisconsin||Madison|
|24||48||University of California, Santa Barbara||California||Santa Barbara|
|25||50||University of Texas at Austin||Texas||Austin|
|=26||=51||Brown University||Rhode Island||Providence|
|=26||=51||University of California, Davis||California||Davis|
|28||53||University of Minnesota||Minnesota||Minneapolis|
|29||56||University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||North Carolina||Chapel Hill|
|30||=57||Washington University in St Louis||Missouri||St. Louis|
|31||=60||University of Southern California||California||Los Angeles|
|33||67||[!University of Mary!]land, College Park||Maryland||College Park|
|34||68||Pennsylvania State University||Pennsylvania||State College|
|35||70||Purdue University||Indiana||West Lafayette|
|36||=72||Ohio State University||Ohio||Columbus|
|37||=80||University of Pittsburgh||Pennsylvania||Pittsburgh|
|=38||=82||Dartmouth College||New Hampshire||Hanover|
|41||=98||University of California, Irvine||California||Irvine|
|42||101||Michigan State University||Michigan||East Lansing|
|43||=104||Georgetown University||-||Washington D.C.|
|45||=116||University of Colorado Boulder||Colorado||Boulder|
|46||=121||University of Virginia||Virginia||Charlottesville|
|47||=126||Case Western Reserve University||Ohio||Cleveland|
|48||131||Arizona State University||Arizona||Tempe|
|49||134||University of Florida||Florida||Gainesville|
|51||141||Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey||New Jersey||New Brunswick|
|52||143||University of Notre Dame||Indiana||Notre Dame|
|53||146||University of California, Santa Cruz||California||Santa Cruz|
|55||=151||University of Rochester||New York State||Rochester (NY)|
|56||=156||University of Arizona||Arizona||Tuscon|
|=57||=165||University of California, Riverside||California||Riverside|
|=57||=165||University of Massachusetts||Massachusetts||Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell, Worcester|
|59||169||Texas A&M University||Texas||College Station|
|=60||=182||University of Miami||Florida||Coral Gables|
|63||200||University of Illinois at Chicago||Illinois||Chicago|
|=64||201-250||Florida State University||Florida||Tallahassee|
|=64||201-250||George Washington University||-||Washington D.C.|
|=64||201-250||North Carolina State University||North Carolina||Raleigh|
|=64||201-250||Stony Brook University||New York State||Stony Brook|
|=64||201-250||University of Cincinnati||Ohio||Cincinnati|
|=64||201-250||University of Delaware||Delaware||Newark (DE)|
|=64||201-250||University of Hawai’i at Mānoa||Hawaii||Honolulu|
|=64||201-250||University of Iowa||Iowa||Iowa City|
|=64||201-250||University of South Florida||Florida||Tampa|
|=64||201-250||University of Texas at Dallas||Texas||Richardson|
|=64||201-250||University of Utah||Utah||Salt Lake City|
|=64||201-250||Wake Forest University||North Carolina||Winston-Salem|
|=77||251-300||Colorado School of Mines||Colorado||Golden|
|=77||251-300||Oregon Health and Science University||Oregon||Portland|
|=77||251-300||Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute||New York State||Troy|
|=77||251-300||Syracuse University||New York State||Syracuse|
|=77||251-300||University at Buffalo||New York State||Buffalo|
|=77||251-300||University of Tennessee, Knoxville||Tennesee||Knoxville|
|=77||251-300||Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University||Virginia||Blacksburg|
|=77||251-300||William & Mary||Virginia||Williamsburg|
|=86||301-350||Colorado State University||Colorado||Fort Collins|
|=86||301-350||George Mason University||Virginia||Fairfax|
|=86||301-350||Oregon State University||Oregon||Corvallis|
|=86||301-350||Saint Louis University||Missouri||St. Louis|
|=86||301-350||University of Alaska Fairbanks||Alaska||Fairbanks|
|=86||301-350||University of Connecticut||Connecticut||Mansfield|
|=86||301-350||University of Denver||Colorado||Denver|
|=86||301-350||University of Georgia||Georgia||Athens|
|=86||301-350||University of Nebraska-Lincoln||Nebraska||Lincoln|
|=86||301-350||University of Oregon||Oregon||Eugene|
|=98||351-400||Binghamton University, State University of New York||New York State||Binghamton|
|=98||351-400||Iowa State University||Iowa||Ames|
|=98||351-400||Tulane University||Louisiana||New Orleans|
|=98||351-400||University of Houston||Texas||Houston|
|=98||351-400||University of Kansas||Kansas||Lawrence|
|=98||351-400||University of Kentucky||Kentucky||Lexington|
|=98||351-400||University of Missouri||Missouri||Columbia (MO)|
|=98||351-400||University of Oklahoma||Oklahoma||Norman|
|=98||351-400||University of Texas at San Antonio||Texas||San Antonio|
|=98||351-400||Washington State University||Washington||Pullman|
|=98||351-400||Wayne State University||Michigan||Detroit|
|=110||401-500||American University||-||Washington D.C.|
|=110||401-500||Florida International University||Florida||Miami|
|=110||401-500||Georgia State University||Georgia||Atlanta|
|=110||401-500||Kent State University||Ohio||Kent|
|=110||401-500||New Mexico State University||New Mexico||Las Cruces|
|=110||401-500||Northern Arizona University||Arizona||Flagstaff|
|=110||401-500||San Diego State University||California||San Diego|
|=110||401-500||Stevens Institute of Technology||New Jersey||Hoboken|
|=110||401-500||University of Maryland, Baltimore County||Maryland||Baltimore|
|=110||401-500||University of Montana||Montana||Missoula|
|=121||501-600||Kansas State University||Kansas||Manhattan|
|=121||501-600||Louisiana State University||Louisiana||Baton Rouge|
|=121||501-600||Missouri University of Science and Technology||Missouri||Rolla|
|=121||501-600||Montana State University||Montana||Bozeman|
|=121||501-600||New Jersey Institute of Technology||New Jersey||Newark (NJ)|
|=121||501-600||Oklahoma State University||Oklahoma||Stillwater|
|=121||501-600||Old Dominion University||Virginia||Norfolk|
|=121||501-600||State University of New York Albany||New York State||Albany|
|=121||501-600||University of Arkansas||Arkansas||Fayetteville|
|=121||501-600||University of Nebraska Medical Center||Nebraska||Omaha|
|=121||501-600||University of Texas at Arlington||Texas||Arlington|
|=121||501-600||University of Toledo||Ohio||Toledo|
|=121||501-600||University of Tulsa||Oklahoma||Tulsa|
|=121||501-600||University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee||Wisconsin||Milwaukee|
|=136||601-800||Clemson University||South Carolina||Clemson|
|=136||601-800||Florida Institute of Technology||Florida||Melbourne|
|=136||601-800||Hofstra University||New York State||Hempstead|
|=136||601-800||Oakland University||Michigan||Rochester (MI)|
|=136||601-800||Rochester Institute of Technology||New York State||Rochester (NY)|
|=136||601-800||Texas Tech University||Texas||Lubbock|
|=136||601-800||University of North Carolina at Greensboro||North Carolina||Greensboro|
|=136||601-800||University of Texas at El Paso||Texas||El Paso|
|=147||801+||Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University||Florida||Daytona Beach|
|=147||801+||University of Southern Mississippi||Mississippi||Hattiesburg|