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Discover Top Universities Across the Globe
The best universities in the world have a long track record of educating students and preparing alumni for influential and competitive careers.
What qualities define the best college in the world? The top-ranked institutions on our list offer diverse programs with award-winning faculty. These nationally recognized universities conduct groundbreaking research while educating future leaders in business, healthcare, and government. Attending an international university helps students pursue specialized programs and make connections abroad.
This page ranks the best colleges in the world. Prospective applicants can use this list to learn more about renowned universities.
Common Questions About the Best Colleges in the World
What Is the #1 College in the U.S.?
Harvard ranks at the top of our list of the best colleges in the world. Other top-ranking U.S. colleges include Columbia, Yale, Stanford, and University of Chicago.
Is Harvard Expensive?
Harvard charges over $51,000 per year in undergraduate tuition. However, the university meets 100% of the demonstrated need for students.
What Is the Hardest School to Get Into?
The colleges with the lowest acceptance rates include Stanford, Columbia, and Harvard. In 2021, these selective schools reported an acceptance rate of 4-5% of applicants.
100 Best Universities in the World Today
We partnered with Academic Influence to determine the best universities across the globe. Our data-driven approach uses machine learning and search algorithms to identify institutions with the most influential faculty, administrators, and alumni across departments and degree programs. Our methodology examines each university’s research output and impact on society to determine the most influential — and important — institutions in the world today.
1. Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
Harvard University is the standard by which all other research universities are measured. No school in recent history has challenged its position as the world’s premier academic institution. It is the oldest school in the world’s richest nation, and has capitalized on the benefits this grants. Under financial guru Jack Meyer’s management, the school’s endowment grew from $4.6 billion to $25.8 in 15 years. Today, the school possesses over $35.7 billion and its fortune is still growing. But there is more to Harvard than massive wealth. The school has produced 49 Nobel laureates, 32 heads of state, and 48 Pulitzer Prize winners. It boasts the largest academic library in the world, leading medical, law, and business schools, and an alumni network integrated across the globe. Not only is Harvard dominant across a broad spectrum of fields, it is also ideally situated to work alongside a variety of other schools. The most obvious example is MIT, situated at the opposite end of Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge; however, the greater Boston area is also home to Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern University, Tufts University, and Brandeis University — some 60 institutions of higher learning, all in all. This equips both students and faculty with endless opportunities for collaborative research.
2. University of Cambridge
Cambridge, England, U.K.
As the seventh-oldest university in the world, Cambridge is an ancient school steeped in tradition dating back to 1209. It is but small exaggeration to say the history of Western science is built on a cornerstone called Cambridge. The long list of great scientists, mathematicians, and logicians who either studied or taught there (or both) includes Isaac Newton, Augustus De Morgan, Charles Darwin, Charles Babbage, James Clerk Maxwell, J.J. Thomson, Ernest Rutherford, Bertrand Russell, Alfred North Whitehead, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, G.H. Hardy, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Alan Turing, Francis Crick, James D. Watson, Rosalind Franklin, and Stephen Hawking, among many others. Whether in fundamental physics, mathematical logic, number theory, astrophysics, the theory of computation, or structural chemistry and biology, Cambridge has been at the forefront of humanity’s quest for truth longer than most nations have existed. Nevertheless, its great achievements have not been restricted to the sciences. Numerous towering intellects in the humanities such as Erasmus of Rotterdam, William Tyndale, Francis Bacon, John Milton, Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Maynard Keynes, C.S. Lewis, Sylvia Plath, and Ted Hughes all studied or taught here. But despite the many memories that tread past its imposing Gothic architecture, Cambridge does not live in the past. Cambridge remains one of the world’s elite research institutions, with only Oxford to rival it in the U.K. and only a handful of American schools able to do so from overseas. Its over 18,000 students represent more than 135 countries and its faculty have earned over 80 Nobel Prizes.
3. Columbia University
New York City, New York, U.S.
As the fifth-oldest school in the United States and one of the colonial colleges, Columbia has a lot of history. That history has created an internationally recognized, elite university with a $10 billion endowment and a library with nearly 13 million volumes. This school, which once produced America’s first MD, now graduates nearly 1,400 doctors per year from one of the world’s most well-connected medical schools. Columbia is spread across five distinct campuses in the New York metropolitan area. As the leading school in New York City, its students have numerous unique opportunities that only proximity to Wall Street, Broadway, the United Nations, and other epicenters of business, culture, and politics can bring. Columbia’s ideal location simultaneously gives its students the chance to interact with various other respected institutions such as New York University. Ninety-six Columbians have won a Nobel Prize, making it third in the world in that coveted category (after Harvard and Cambridge University in the U.K.). It has also produced 29 heads of state, including three US Presidents. Columbia also administers the Pulitzer Prize.
4. University of Oxford
Oxford, England, U.K.
Oxford University traces its origins back to the thirteenth century. Like the other great medieval universities, it was founded by Catholic clerics who espoused a philosophy that combined Christian teachings with the doctrines of Plato, Aristotle, and other ancient and medieval thinkers, which came to be known as the “philosophy of the Schools”, or “Scholasticism.” However, Oxford evolved with the times, surviving down through the centuries the manifold changes wrought by the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment, to grow into one of the contemporary world’s most impressive centers of learning. Today, just as 800 years ago, Oxford’s name is synonymous with knowledge and learning. Its high reputation is well earned, as is evidenced (among other things) by the fact that the school runs the world’s largest — and many would say, most prestigious — academic press, with offices in over 50 countries. One in five people who learn English worldwide do so with Oxford University Press materials. This international appeal explains why almost 40 percent of the student body comes from outside the U.K.. Over 17,200 people applied for 3,200 undergraduate places in 2014. But despite many hundreds of students willing to pay tuition, and centuries of accumulated assets, the school’s highest source of income continues to be research grants and contracts. Oxford’s academic community includes 80 Fellows of the Royal Society and 100 Fellows of the British Academy.
5. Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.
Yale University has everything one would expect form a major research university. It is one of the original eight Ivy League schools, it has a $20 billion endowment, and roughly one in six of its students come from foreign nations. Yale has also had a disproportionate influence over American Politics. Numerous major US political careers begin at Yale (the infamous Skull and Bones Society by itself has produced three Presidents), and Yale Law School has been the preeminent US law school for years. Its research centers address topics as varied as Benjamin Franklin’s writings, bioethics, magnetic resonance imaging research, and the Russian archives. Whereas many other elite institutions have developed areas of specialization — be they Caltech’s and MIT’s focus on science or Princeton’s focus on research in the humanities and social sciences — Yale is equally dominant in the humanities, the sciences, and the professions. This gives the school a unique ability to pursue interdisciplinary research, as well as a flexible alumni network that stretches to every corner of the globe.
6. Stanford University
Stanford, California, U.S.
With an $18.7 billion endowment, Stanford has access to numerous world-class research resources. The school’s 1189-acre Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve lets scientists study ecosystems firsthand. Its 150-foot radio telescope, nicknamed the Dish, enables studies of the ionosphere. Stanford also boasts a 315-acre habitat reserve, which is trying to bring back the endangered California tiger salamander, as well as the SLAC Accelerator Laboratory, which actively advances the US Department of Energy’s research. Furthermore, Stanford is affiliated with the prestigious Hoover Institution, which is one of the leading social, political, and economic think tanks. But it takes more than just great laboratories and facilities to build a great research center. Stanford also has some of the finest minds in the world working for it. The school’s faculty currently include 22 Nobel laureates, 51 members of the American Philosophical Society, three Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients, 158 National Academy of Science members, five Pulitzer Prize winners, and 27 MacArthur Fellows.
7. University of Paris (Sorbonne)
Today, the University of Paris is a network of universities spread across the historic City of Lights. The nucleus of this network dates to the twelfth century, but the modern division into 11 main campuses dates from the reorganization which occurred in 1970 in the wake of “the events of ’68.” The word “Sorbonne” has long been used in a loose sense as a synonym for the University of Paris as a whole, but also, and more correctly, in a stricter sense for the campus located on the original site of the university in the Latin Quarter. Beginning in 2018, some consolidation of this mammoth system will begin to occur, notably the reunification of Paris-Sorbonne University (specializing in the humanities) and Pierre et Marie Curie University (science and medicine). The reorganized system will once again be officially known as Sorbonne Universities. Other notable entities comprising this grand alliance of schools include the following: the technological institute UTC; the medical school INSERM; the performing arts school PSPBB; the education school CIEP; the business school INSEAD; and the highly prestigious think tank, CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique). CNRS is the world’s top producer of scientific research papers; all by itself this one branch of the Sorbonne has produced 20 Nobel Prize laureates and 12 Fields Medalists.
8. University of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
The University of Chicago was only founded in 1890, making it one of the youngest elite universities in the world. But despite its youth the school has spearheaded many of the world’s most important scientific achievements. The famous Miller — Urey experiment, which proved seminal for the development of research on the origin of life, was carried out there in 1952. Chicago is now one of the leading universities in the sciences, famous for its many distinguished alums, such as James D. Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA who also helped launch the Human Genome Project. And for better or for worse, émigré Italian physicist Enrico Fermi created the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction at Chicago in 1942. But the university is not just a science school. It also possesses great depth with elite programs in social studies and the humanities. Of the school’s 90 Nobel Prize winners, 29 have been in economics since the Prize was first awarded in 1969, which has proved useful as the university — home of the world-famous “Chicago school of economics”—quickly recovered from the 2008 — 09 world financial crisis. This has left Chicago with a nearly $7 billion endowment that is rapidly growing, with all the ample research opportunities that such resources provide.
9. University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.
With 50,000 students and 5,500 faculty spread over three campuses, the University of Michigan is an extremely large research university with the expansive alumni networks that such numbers grant. Students have 17 distinct schools and colleges, roughly 600 majors, over 600 student organizations, and a staggering 350 concerts and recitals annually to choose from. The pleasant college town of Ann Arbor was listed as the number one college town in 2010 by Forbes Magazine. The University faculty include Pulitzer, Guggenheim, MacArthur, and Emmy recipients. The school’s alumni have produced 14 Nobel Prize winners and one Fields Medalist. Michigan also runs one of the world’s largest healthcare facilities, gives its students first-class computer access, and utilizes a library with over 13 million volumes. It is little wonder why the school attracts students from all 50 states and over 100 countries. Almost half of the student body graduated in the top five percent of their class, and two thirds graduated in the top 10. Michigan puts more students into medical school than any other school in America
10. Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.
Princeton University is one of the oldest, most historic universities in the United States. Its famous Nassau Hall still bears a cannon ball scar from the 1777 Battle of Princeton, and its former president, John Witherspoon, was the only university president to sign the Declaration of Independence. The school’s nearly three-century history has given it ample time to develop an impressive $18.2 billion endowment. But unlike the other big institutions it competes with, such as Yale, Harvard, and Stanford, Princeton spreads its considerable wealth across a far smaller number of students and programs. Princeton has no law school, medical school, business school, or divinity school. Instead of developing professional programs, it has self-consciously evolved into a massive, research-driven think tank. Whereas other schools typically drive their elite faculty’s attention towards graduate students, Princeton expects its professors to teach undergraduates, as well. Moreover, Princeton continues to challenge its students with a difficult grading scale, to a much greater degree than many other leading institutions. Even brilliant valedictorians need to focus on their studies if they come here.
11. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
In the century and a half since its beginning in 1861, MIT has become the world’s preeminent science research center. MIT is known for a focused approach that uses first-class methodologies to tackle world-class problems. This pragmatic creativity has produced legions of scientists and engineers, as well as 80 Nobel laureates, 56 National Medal of Science winners, 43 MacArthur Fellows, and 28 National Medal of Technology and Innovation winners. Nevertheless, the school’s more than $10 billion endowment still leaves plenty of room for the arts and humanities. That is why MIT’s university press can publish 30 journals and 220 academic books every year. Since 1899, the MIT Technology Review has continuously researched developing trends in the industrial sciences and other related fields, making their publications essential for anyone trying to understand where future innovation is headed. Notable people affiliated with MIT include Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, founder of modern linguistics Noam Chomsky, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
12. University of California – Berkeley
Berkeley, California, U.S.
Berkeley is unique among the elite universities of the world. Most of the schools it competes with are privately owned, but Berkeley is a state school with the elite status of a private school. The school is nestled in a pleasant city of the same name within easy commuting distance of San Francisco. With over 42,000 students, Berkeley is large for a school of its status. Such an impressive selection of talented students feeds its over 350 degree programs and produces more PhD’s annually than any other US institution. Student research is encouraged as each year 52% of seniors assist their professors in their research. Berkeley draws students from over 100 nations. During the previous decade, the National Science Foundation granted its students more graduate research fellowships than any other school. The school’s faculty, who benefit from a more than $4 billion endowment, include 42 members of the American Philosophical Society, 108 Faculty Fulbright Scholars, 31 Faculty MacArthur Fellows, and 30 Nobel Prize winners (seven of whom are current faculty members).
13. University of Edinburgh
Founded in 1583, the University of Edinburgh is one of the oldest schools in the English-speaking world. Its list of historic luminaries includes Adam Smith, David Hume, Charles Darwin, James Clerk Maxwell, and Alexander Graham Bell. The school has also produced heads of state for Malawi, Tanzania, Syria, South Korea, Nicaragua, Canada, and, of course, the United Kingdom. Edinburgh scientists cloned Dolly the sheep (the first cloned mammal). Peter Higgs created the Higgs Boson theory here. This university created the first genetically engineered hepatitis B vaccine, and helped design the first industrial assembly robot. Students can choose from among 500 degree programs spread throughout 100 disciplines. Edinburgh has the largest proportion of international students of any school in Scotland (two-thirds of the world’s nations are represented in the study body), as well as many foreign exchange programs. Students can enjoy all these opportunities right in the middle of Scotland’s beautiful capital. The school now has a £392 million endowment and a £905.8 million operating budget.
14. Cornell University
Ithaca, New York, U.S.
Cornell University is a sprawling city of science that almost seems out of place amidst the rolling upstate New York countryside surrounding the village of Ithaca (town pop. approx. 10,000; gown pop. about twice that). Typically, schools numbering in the tens of thousands are integrated into much larger cities. Thus, Cornell in many ways has both the character of a quaint college nestled in the woods and the endless opportunity characteristic of urban centers. But Cornell is not limited by its beautiful campus. It runs one of the nation’s leading medical schools in New York City. It is also among the most active schools in seeking out international connections. In 2001 it started the first American medical school outside the United States, in Qatar, and continues to develop strong ties with China, India, and Singapore. Cornell is building itself into a transnational hub of intellectual inquiry. It has also developed multiple interdisciplinary research centers in nanotechnology, biotechnology, genomics, and supercomputing. Moreover, the university was the first to build entire Colleges for hotel administration, labor relations, and veterinary medicine.
15. University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
The University of Pennsylvania (“Penn”) is an Ivy League school dating back to 1740. To this day, it carries on the pragmatic curiosity of its illustrious founder, Benjamin Franklin, in a wide spectrum of fields, and has become an integral part of the history and character of Philadelphia. Penn is extremely diverse. Of the class of 2017, 50 percent of the student body is black, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American. The school also has just under 500 international students. The faculty include 84 Academy of Arts and Sciences members, 81 Institute of Medicine members, 33 National Academy of Science members, 31 American Philosophical Society members, 175 Guggenheim Fellowship recipients, and 12 National Academy of Engineering members. These first-class thinkers empower the school’s over 100 research centers and institutes and direct much of its $8 billion endowment. The school has 357 buildings spread over 994 acres, in addition to its own teaching hospital.
16. Humboldt University of Berlin
Humboldt University of Berlin is the oldest of Berlin’s four universities. Founded in 1810 by Wilhelm von Humboldt, it was the first university to emphasize the unity of research and teaching in addition to the value of research without restrictions. During the Cold War, the university split into the original university in East Berlin and a sister administration called the Free University of Berlin in West Berlin. Today, the two are still linked by a shared medical school. Humboldt prioritizes research in several disciplines and collaborates with other faculties through Integrative Research Institutes and Interdisciplinary Centres. The university has a long history as the preeminent university for the natural sciences. Today, in addition to natural sciences, Humboldt University is also considered one of the finest universities in the world for its 189 disciplines, including the humanities, social sciences, cultural studies, mathematics, medicine, and agricultural sciences.
17. New York University
New York City, New York, U.S.
New York City is filled with great places of learning from secondary schools up through graduate research centers. Nevertheless, even in this extremely wealthy and competitive environment, New York University has earned an impressive reputation second only to Columbia’s. NYU pursues its academic excellence while striving to be as diverse as the city it resides in. Eighty-seven different foreign nations and 48 states are represented in its freshman class alone. NYU also sends more students abroad than any other American school. Even in the present time of economic unpredictability, 83 percent of the graduating class leave with jobs. This number increases to 94 percent employed or in graduate school within six months of commencement. Furthermore, the average starting salary is an impressive $53,350. Almost half of the graduating class will receive multiple job offers. NYU has also expanded into two foreign countries, with campuses in Shanghai and Abu Dhabi. Students can choose from over 230 areas of study and enjoy an intimate 10:1 student/faculty ratio.
18. Northwestern University
Evanston, Illinois, U.S.
Northwestern University’s 21,000 students enjoy three campuses, two of which border Lake Michigan (one in suburban Evanston just north of Chicago, the other in the city itself), while the third is in Doha, Qatar. These campuses house 12 Schools and Colleges. The university employs a prestigious 3,400 full-time faculty members who currently include a Nobel Prize laureate and several MacArthur Fellowship and Tony Award winners. The university is also known for its 19 teams’ presence within the Big Ten athletic conference. Its $10.456 billion endowment is why the school can afford to utilize more than $500 million for research in a given year, and why its library holds over five million books. along with numerous journals and microforms. As is so often the case, this leading research university comes in a pair and benefits from its close proximity to the University of Chicago. The school also runs several major graduate research initiatives, including the Center for Global Health, the Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern, and the Global and Research Opportunities at Northwestern.
19. Johns Hopkins University
Many of the schools in this ranking were founded amid humble ambitions; they may have begun as small colleges or places aimed primarily at religious instruction. In contrast, from its very inception its founders wanted Johns Hopkins to be at the forefront of scientific discovery. That is one reason why the school has blossomed into the elite vanguard of research that it now is. Located in Baltimore, the university operates what is widely regarded as the leading medical school in the world, and has received more extramural National Institutes of Health (NIH) awards than any other medical school. This is also why it receives more federal research funds than any competitor. But Johns Hopkins is much more than just a medical school. The university at large also receives more federal research and development funds than any other school, which helps further its prestigious School of Advanced International Studies, Carey Business School, and Whiting School of Engineering. The faculty include 51 American Academy of Arts and Sciences fellows, 61 Institute of Medicine Members, 28 National Academy of Science members, and four Nobel Prize winners.
20. University of Toronto
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The University of Toronto is the leading Canadian research university. Even by the standards of large state schools, this institution is utterly massive with over 80,000 students, 20,000 faculty and staff, and 530,000 alumni around the world. Students can choose from 215 graduate, 60 professional, and more than 700 undergraduate degree programs spread over three different campuses. The student body represents over 150 nations. The school has 44 libraries with over 21 million holdings, and an operating budget of $1.9 billion; it contributes $15.7 billion to the Canadian economy every year. Toronto has produced no fewer than 10 Nobel Prizes, including the first two from Canada. Given its immense size and resources coupled with the world-class intellects it attracts, it should come as no surprise that Toronto ranks second in North American publications and third in North American citations. Its ample research leads to dozens of new patents every year and many new technological spin-offs.
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