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Best universities in the US for physical science degrees 2024

Explore the best universities for physical science degrees in the US, using data from the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2024

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October 31 2023
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Top 10 universities in the US for physical science degrees 2024

Scroll down for the full list of best universities in the US for physical science degrees

US physical science rank 2024  Physical science rank 2024  University State
1  1  California Institute of Technology California
2  2  Harvard University Massachusetts
3  3  Stanford University California
4  4  Massachusetts Institute of Technology Massachusetts
=5  =6  University of California, Berkeley California
=5  =6  Princeton University New Jersey
7  10  Yale University Connecticut
8  =12  Columbia University New York
9  16  The University of Chicago Illinois
10  17  University of California, Los Angeles California

The physical sciences include mathematics, statistics, physics, astronomy, chemistry, geology, environmental sciences and Earth and marine sciences. Courses in the physical sciences differ across universities and countries, but the core focus is on the understanding and application of mathematics in the natural world through practical and lab work.

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In the US, studying physical sciences at the undergraduate level usually takes the form of a four-year course, beginning with a foundation in calculus, physics and chemistry. After the first year, students can choose more specialised areas of study, and through the country’s major-minor system a number of scientific disciplines can often be explored simultaneously. Students are also encouraged to engage in research projects throughout their studies.

Postgraduate courses are focused on more specific subject areas, where students undertake research in their chosen area of interest or join a research group within their institution. 

These are the best universities in the US for physical science degrees 2024. 

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=5. Princeton University

Princeton University offers a range of natural sciences programmes that include mathematics, astrophysics, chemistry, geosciences, physics, and sustainable energy.

Princeton’s astrophysical sciences department offers a range of courses including general relativity and cosmology, while the maths department’s offerings include combinatorial optimisation and dynamic meteorology. 

In the department of chemistry, undergraduates are taught in small classes and progress to an independent senior thesis project. 

Graduate studies in mathematics focus on independent research from the beginning of the programme, unlike many other doctoral courses in the US. 

=5. University of California, Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley was founded in 1868.

Undergraduate physical sciences courses include applied mathematics, astrophysics, Earth science, geology, geophysics, mathematics, physical science, physics and statistics. 

Earth and planetary science students can choose from six majors and eight minors covering a range of topics, including marine science, geology and atmospheric science. 

The mathematics department is home to one of the largest mathematics libraries in the US. Maths-related organisations that students can get involved in include the mathematics undergraduate student association and the women in math group.

The astronomy department is known for its research on the discovery and computation of comets, orbits and minor planets. Undergraduates can take a variety of courses, from modern cosmology to radio astronomy, and develop skills in Python coding. The department also offers research funding, meaning many astrophysics majors have had work published in scientific journals before graduating.

Physical sciences students also participate in a range of extracurricular academic, sporting, theatrical and philanthropic groups, including the space exploration society and the women in the physical sciences group. 

Students are encouraged to take part in research projects during their course.

4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The physics undergraduate programme at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers two tracks: Flexible and Focus. 

Postgraduate students in physics take a range of core classes such as classical mechanics and quantum mechanics. 

The Flexible track is selected by most physics majors and allows students to choose from a range of fundamental physics topics. The Focus track requires students to take more specific required courses, including two terms of experimental physics, and to write a research thesis.

There are three different undergraduate programmes in maths: applied mathematics, pure mathematics and general mathematics. There are also two postgraduate programmes in pure mathematics and applied mathematics. 

The university lays claim to 85 Nobel Laureates, 58 National Medal of Science winners, 29 National Medal of Technology and Innovation winners and 45 MacArthur Fellows. Among its impressive alumni is Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations.

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3. Stanford University

At Stanford University half of all undergraduates take at least one physics course as part of their studies. 

Undergraduates can also major or minor in physics, choosing to specialise further. 

Elective modules across the physical science fields allow for specialisation later down the line and cover everything from aeronautics, astronautics and astronomy to chemical engineering, geological sciences, mathematical and computational science and statistics.

There is a specific chemical physics track for students with a strong aptitude for physics and maths. Students can major or minor in maths, and they have the opportunity to participate in an annual maths contest with cash prizes for excellent scores and for outstanding performances by women.

An undergraduate research programme over the summer gives students the opportunity to join a physics research group to gain research experience.

There are many streams for graduates studying physical sciences, from applied physics to biophysical chemistry. 

2. Harvard University

Undergraduate students at Harvard University can choose from a range of physical science concentrations including astrophysics, chemistry, physics, Earth and planetary sciences and statistics. 

Students can study either with interdisciplinary courses in the physical sciences sequence or with foundational courses in one of the relevant departments. As students continue their degrees, the course can become more focused based on areas of interest. 

The Harvard­-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is one of the best in the world for research in astrophysics, with over 350 scientists and astronomical observatories in Arizona, Chile, Hawaii, and in space. Undergraduate students are able to join the centre to take part in term-time or summer research. 

The mathematics department hosts a range of events for students including math table talks and colloquiums. 

1. California Institute of Technology

The California Institute of Technology, also known as Caltech, is a science and engineering institute founded in 1891.

Caltech’s Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy offers undergraduate and postgraduate courses in a range of subjects across the physical sciences. 

The physics undergraduate courses offered at Caltech include classical mechanics and electromagnetism, the science of music and frontiers in physics. All undergraduates must complete three terms of introductory physics. Students are encouraged to get involved in research, for which they can receive academic credit.

The four-year mathematics undergraduate programme at Caltech provides a foundation in calculus, combinatorics, geometry and analysis in the first year. There are then a range of elective mathematics modules, from abstract algebra and classical analysis to homological algebra and Riemannian geometry. Seniors are encouraged to do a bachelor’s thesis in an advanced topic.

The university manages the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for Nasa as well as operating the Seismological Laboratory. 

The astronomy department has four observatories available for students to use: Ovro, Palomar, W.M. Keck, and Ligo.

Best universities for physical sciences degrees in the United States 2024

Click each institution to view its full World University Rankings 2024 profile

US physical science rank 2024  Physical science rank 2024  University State
1  1  California Institute of Technology California
2  2  Harvard University Massachusetts
3  3  Stanford University California
4  4  Massachusetts Institute of Technology Massachusetts
=5  =6  University of California, Berkeley California
=5  =6  Princeton University New Jersey
7  10  Yale University Connecticut
8  =12  Columbia University New York
9  16  The University of Chicago Illinois
10  17  University of California, Los Angeles California
11  18  Cornell University New York
12  21  University of Washington Washington
13  23  University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Michigan
14  28  University of Pennsylvania Pennsylvania
15  31  Johns Hopkins University Maryland
16  34  Northwestern University Illinois
17  37  University of California, Santa Barbara California
18  38  University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Illinois
19  39  University of California, San Diego California
20  43  University of Texas at Austin Texas
21  45  Georgia Institute of Technology Georgia
22  46  New York University New York
23  48  Duke University North Carolina
24  50  University of Wisconsin-Madison Wisconsin
25  53  University of Colorado Boulder Colorado
=26  =56  Brown University Rhode Island
=26  =56  Carnegie Mellon University Pennsylvania
28  64  Penn State (Main campus) Pennsylvania
=29  =65  University of Arizona Arizona
=29  =65  University of Maryland, College Park Maryland
31  70  Rice University Texas
32  71  University of California, Irvine California
33  79  University of Minnesota Minnesota
34  =82  Texas A&M University Texas
35  85  University of California, Davis California
36  95  University of Massachusetts Massachusetts
=37  =99  Michigan State University Michigan
=37  =99  Ohio State University (Main campus) Ohio
=39  101–125  Boston University Massachusetts
=39  101–125  University of California, Santa Cruz California
=39  101–125  Purdue University West Lafayette Indiana
=39  101–125  Stony Brook University New York
=43  126–150  Arizona State University (Tempe) Arizona
=43  126–150  University of Hawai’i at Mānoa Hawai'i
=43  126–150  University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill North Carolina
=43  126–150  University of Southern California California
=47  151–175  University of California, Riverside California
=47  151–175  University of Florida Florida
=47  151–175  University of Rochester New York
=47  151–175  Washington University in St Louis Missouri
=51  176–200  Colorado State University, Fort Collins Colorado
=51  176–200  North Carolina State University North Carolina
=51  176–200  University of Notre Dame Indiana
=51  176–200  The University of Tennessee-Knoxville Tennessee
=55  201–250  Brandeis University Massachusetts
=55  201–250  Dartmouth College New Hampshire
=55  201–250  Florida State University Florida
=55  201–250  Indiana University Indiana
=55  201–250  University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh campus Pennsylvania
=55  201–250  Rutgers University – New Brunswick New Jersey
=55  201–250  Tufts University Massachusetts
=55  201–250  Vanderbilt University Tennessee
=55  201–250  University of Virginia (Main campus) Virginia
=55  201–250  Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Virginia
=65  251–300  University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska
=65  251–300  Case Western Reserve University Ohio
=65  251–300  University of Delaware Delaware
=65  251–300  Drexel University Pennsylvania
=65  251–300  Emory University Georgia
=65  251–300  University of Illinois Chicago Illinois
=65  251–300  University of Iowa Iowa
=65  251–300  University of Nebraska-Lincoln Nebraska
=65  251–300  Northeastern University, US Illinois
=65  251–300  University of South Florida Florida
=65  251–300  Syracuse University New York
=65  251–300  University of Utah Utah
=65  251–300  Washington State University Washington
=78  301–400  Boston College Massachusetts
=78  301–400  University at Buffalo New York
=78  301–400  University of Central Florida Florida
=78  301–400  University of Connecticut Connecticut
=78  301–400  George Washington University Washington DC
=78  301–400  University of Houston Texas
=78  301–400  Iowa State University Iowa
=78  301–400  Kansas State University Kansas
=78  301–400  University of Maryland, Baltimore County Maryland
=78  301–400  University of Miami Florida
=78  301–400  Missouri University of Science and Technology Missouri
=78  301–400  Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute New York
=78  301–400  University of South Carolina-Columbia South Carolina
=78  301–400  Temple University Pennsylvania
=78  301–400  University of Texas at Arlington Texas
=78  301–400  University of Texas at Dallas Texas
=94  401–500  Auburn University Alabama
=94  401–500  University of California, Merced California
=94  401–500  The Catholic University of America Washington DC
=94  401–500  Florida International University Florida
=94  401–500  University of Kansas Kansas
=94  401–500  University of Kentucky Kentucky
=94  401–500  Louisiana State University Louisiana
=94  401–500  Mizzou - University of Missouri Missouri
=94  401–500  Northern Illinois University Illinois
=94  401–500  Oklahoma State University Oklahoma
=94  401–500  University of Oregon Oregon
=94  401–500  Texas Tech University Texas
=94  401–500  Wayne State University Michigan
=94  401–500  William & Mary Virginia
=94  401–500  University of Wyoming Wyoming
=109  501–600  University of Alabama Alabama
=109  501–600  Clark University Massachusetts
=109  501–600  Clarkson University New York
=109  501–600  Florida Atlantic University Florida
=109  501–600  Florida Institute of Technology Florida
=109  501–600  George Mason University Virginia
=109  501–600  University of Georgia Georgia
=109  501–600  Lehigh University Pennsylvania
=109  501–600  Mississippi State University Mississippi
=109  501–600  New Jersey Institute of Technology New Jersey
=109  501–600  New Mexico State University (Main campus) New Mexico
=109  501–600  Ohio University (Main campus) Ohio
=109  501–600  Old Dominion University Virginia
=109  501–600  Rochester Institute of Technology New York
=109  501–600  Stevens Institute of Technology New Jersey
=109  501–600  The University of Texas at San Antonio Texas
=109  501–600  University of Toledo Ohio
=109  501–600  The University of Tulsa Oklahoma
=109  501–600  Worcester Polytechnic Institute Massachusetts
=128  601–800  American University Washington DC
=128  601–800  University of Arkansas Arkansas
=128  601–800  Baylor University Texas
=128  601–800  University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus Colorado
=128  601–800  University of Denver Colorado
=128  601–800  Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Florida
=128  601–800  Georgia State University Georgia
=128  601–800  Illinois Institute of Technology Illinois
=128  601–800  Marquette University Wisconsin
=128  601–800  Montana State University Montana
=128  601–800  University of Nevada, Las Vegas Nevada
=128  601–800  University of Rhode Island Rhode Island
=128  601–800  San Diego State University California
=128  601–800  University of South Dakota South Dakota
=128  601–800  SUNY Binghamton University New York
=128  601–800  Tulane University Louisiana
=128  601–800  Virginia Commonwealth University Virginia
=128  601–800  Wake Forest University North Carolina
=128  601–800  Western Michigan University Michigan
=147  801–1000  Central Michigan University Michigan
=147  801–1000  Chapman University California
=147  801–1000  Georgetown University Washington DC
=147  801–1000  Howard University Washington DC
=147  801–1000  University of Memphis Tennessee
=147  801–1000  University of North Carolina at Charlotte North Carolina
=147  801–1000  Oakland University Michigan
=147  801–1000  Portland State University Ohio
=147  801–1000  Rowan University New Jersey
=147  801–1000  Saint Louis University Missouri
=147  801–1000  University of Texas at El Paso Texas
=147  801–1000  University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Texas
=147  801–1000  Texas State University Texas
=160  1001+  Bowling Green State University Ohio
=160  1001+  College of Charleston South Carolina
=160  1001+  Georgia Southern University Georgia
=160  1001+  Morgan State University Maryland

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Best universities in the United States 2024

Find the best universities in the United States 2024 through Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings data

September 27 2023
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