The 20 Best Universities in the World Today

Some university rankings focus on factors unrelated to academic merit. Thus, some rankings of colleges and universities may give weight to attractiveness of campus, satisfaction of students and alumni, extracurricular benefits (such as top athletics programs), affordability of tuition, and expected income of graduates.

This is not such a ranking.

In contrast, if you are looking for a ranking with a focus on academic prestige, scholarly excellence, and sheer intellectual horsepower, then this is the ranking you want.

At the universities in this ranking, you will be mixing with the brightest faculty and students in the world, and developing your knowledge and skills so that you yourself will be in a position to join the world’s elite academics, scientists, and thinkers.

1. Oxford University

Oxford, England, UK

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 UK. 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.

2. New York University

New York City, New York, US

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.

3. Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, Maryland, US

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.

4. University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US

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.

5. Harvard University

Cambridge, Massachusetts, US