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2021 American University Rankings - Top Choices for Postgraduate Study

The USA is the world's most popular study abroad destination and home to one of the largest higher education systems. But how good are its universities for postgraduate study?

The answer is very.

America's top universities dominate the upper reaches of all major global rankings. They also do very well in subject-specific league tables, where performance can matter most to prospective postgraduate (or 'graduate') students.

This page summarises the global rankings of US universities in the three most important international league tables. We've also listed some of the main domestic rankings of US universities.

Top Ranked US Universities

The following table gives the top 20 universities in the USA, based on global university rankings.

This information is based on the latest rankings tables, researched and published by Times Higher Education, QS and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). For more information on using international rankings as a postgraduate, see our guide.

Top 20 American Universities in 2021
University THE 2021 QS 2021 ARWU 2020
Stanford University 2 2 2
Harvard University 3 3 1
California Institute of Technology 4 4 8
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 5 1 4
University of California, Berkeley 7 30 5
Yale University 8 17 11
Princeton University 9 12 6
University of Chicago 10 9 10
Johns Hopkins University 12 =25 15
University of Pennsylvania 13 16 19
University of California, Los Angeles 15 36 13
Columbia University 17 19 7
Cornell University 19 18 12
Duke University =20 42 =27
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor 22 21 22
Northwestern University 24 29 =30
New York University 26 35 =27
Carnegie Mellon University 28 51 95
University of Washington 29 =72 16
University of California, San Diego 33 54 18
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

Do rankings matter for Masters degrees?

International rankings use all sorts of metrics to assess universities and they aren't all equally relevant to postgraduate study. That's why we've put together a guide to university rankings for Masters students.

So, how good are universities in the USA for Masters study?

US universities continue to dominate the top end of all three world university rankings, with American institutions holding the number one position in two of three rankings. Of course, this reinforces the USA's status as a top international study destination. But how relevant is it to Masters-level study?

Global rankings do take into account some of the factors that matter to postgraduate students. The quality (and volume) of a university's research, the reputation of its academics and its ability to attract external funding or partnerships can all have an impact on the quality of advanced degree programmes.

But international rankings measure these factors on an overall level. This can obscure the areas of specialism or expertise that represent an institution's key strengths - and which its Masters programmes will draw upon.

Search for a Masters in the USA

Our database includes plenty of US Masters degrees and our listings provide lots of helpful information about specific programs. Why not take a look?

Domestic rankings of US universities

As you'd expect from one of the world's largest higher education systems, there are a wide range of domestic rankings that only include universities in the USA. Most are produced by American media outlets and similar organisations.

Domestic rankings don't compare US universities internationally; instead they rank US institutions against each other. This can be useful if you're narrowing your search to the USA, but less helpful if you're still comparing a range of options for postgraduate study abroad.

We haven't summarised specific US university rankings here, but significant examples include:

  • The U.S. News & World Report provides a wide range of rankings in education and other areas and are one of the most influential providers of American university league tables. Their Best Grad Schools ranking looks at providers of postgraduate ('graduate') qualifications in twelve broad fields.
  • The Washington Monthly National University Rankings offers an alternative to the U.S. News & World Report. It doesn't produce a specific ranking of graduate schools, but its main ranking does consider each university's research performance in detail. This can make it more relevant to advanced degree programmes such as Masters and PhDs. You can view the current ranking here.
  • The America's Top Colleges ranking is published by Forbes magazine (an influential American business publication). This ranking focusses primarily on student-centred metrics such as satisfaction, academic success and graduation rate. These aren't specific to graduate (postgraduate) level work, but they can still be useful in evaluating how well a university delivers for its students. You can view the current rankings here.
  • The Wall Street Journal / Times Higher Education College Rankings is a relatively new league table that focuses on US College Rankings, positioning student responses to its annual survey as one of its main metrics.

Looking for more information about postgraduate study in the USA?

There are a lot of American institutions in these rankings, but that's only a fraction of the total number of universities in the USA. To really get to grips with postgraduate study in the US higher education system, check out our comprehensive guide.

Last updated 08/09/2020

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