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2017 USA 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 taken a look at the best universities in the USA for key postgraduate subject-areas and 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, overall, 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. For more information on using international rankings as a postgraduate, see our guide.


Top US Universities in 2017
University THE 2016-17 QS 2016-17 ARWU 2016
California Institute of Technology (Caltech) 2 5 8
Stanford University 3 2 2
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 5 1 5
Harvard University 6 3 1
Princeton University 7 11 6
University of California, Berkeley =10 28 3
University of Waterloo =173 =152 201-300
University of Chicago =10 10 10
Yale University 12 15 11
University of Pennsylvania 13 18 18
University of California, Los Angeles 14 31 12
Columbia University 16 20 9
Johns Hopkins University 17 17 16
Duke University 18 =24 250
Cornell University 19 16 13
York University 301-350 451-460 -
Northwestern University 20 26 26
University of Michigan 21 23 23
Carnegie Mellon University 23 58 68
University of Washington =25 59 15
Information in this table is based on the 2016-17 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. In fact, 2017 is the first year that they haven't held the number one position in all three (The University of Oxford topped the most recent Times Higher Education table).

All of 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.

One way to get around this is to look at rankings by subject area.

US University Rankings by Subject

Postgraduate study is all about specialisation, advanced knowledge and the opportunity to pursue your subject in depth. That's true wherever you study - in fact, one of the best reasons to study abroad is to seek out the unique facilities and academic expertise that can power your ideal Masters degree.

One way to assess this is to look at rankings of universities in specific subjects.

The table below lists the 10 best universities in the USA in eight key subject areas. It's based on the Times Higher Education World University Rankings by Subject. This lists the best 100 universities in different academic fields, around the world.


US University Rankings by Subject 2017
Arts & Humanities Harvard University =1
Stanford University =1
Columbia University =6
Princeton University =6
Yale University 8
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 9
University of Chicago 10
University of California, Berkeley 11
University of Pennsylvania 12
University of California, Los Angeles 13
Business & Economics Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 1
Stanford University 2
University of Chicago 4
Harvard University 5
Northwestern University 6
University of California, Berkeley 8
University of Pennsylvania 9
Columbia University 10
Cornell University 12
University of Minnesota 15
Clinical, Pre-Clinical & Health Harvard University 2
University of California, Berkeley 5
Stanford University 7
Johns Hopkins University 8
Columbia University 9
Duke University 11
University of California, Los Angeles 12
University of Pennsylvania 15
Cornell University =17
Yale University =17
Computer Science California Institute of Technology (Caltech) 2
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 4
Georgia Institute of Technology 5
Carnegie Mellon University 6
Cornell University 11
University of Washington 13
University of Illiniois at Urbana-Champaign 18
University of Maryland, College Park 19
Columbia University 20
University of California, San Diego 22
Engineering & Technology California Institute of Technology (Caltech) 1
Stanford University 2
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 4
Princeton University 6
University of California, Berkeley 10
University of California, Los Angeles =13
Georgia Institute of Technology =13
Carnegie Mellon University 15
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 16
University of Michigan 17
Life Sciences Harvard University 1
Stanford University 4
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 5
California Institute of Technology (Caltech) 6
Yale University 7
Princeton University 8
University of California, Berkeley 10
Johns Hopkins University 11
University of Chicago 13
Columbia University 15
Physical Sciences Harvard University 1
Stanford University 2
Princeton University 3
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 5
California Institute of Technology (Caltech) 7
University of California, Berkeley 9
Yale University 10
University of Chicago 12
University of California, Los Angeles 13
Cornell University 14
Social Sciences Stanford University 1
Yale University 3
University of Chicago 4
Harvard University 5
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 6
Princeton University 8
University of California, Berkeley 10
Columbia University 12
University of Pennsylvania 13
Cornell University 16

So, what does this table reveal? Well, for a start, it's clear that the USA is almost as dominant in subject-specific rankings as it is in the overall global league tables. And these are the rankings that matter most to prospective Masters students.

The breadth and variety of US higher education is also displayed here. America's best universities are highly ranked in almost every one of the subjects measured by the Times Higher Education tables. This doesn't just demonstrate exceptional quality across the board. It also indicates the potential for great interdisciplinary work - the kind of collaboration and innovation that can lead to great graduate programmes.

Other US universities only make the top 100 for one or two subjects, but this is still an impressive achievement. These institutions are amongst the very best in the world in their areas of expertise - and you can be fairly sure that means they'll offer great Masters degrees in those fields.

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 Economist Magazine List of America's Best Colleges is a relatively new rankings that assesses US universities based on graduate earnings. This table isn't postgraduate specific, but it does provide a broad comparison of a key metric: what an American Masters degree might actually do for your salary. You can view the 2015 ranking here.

2017 is also the debut year for a special Times Higher Education league table, focussing specifically on US College Rankings.

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 - 24/04/2017

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