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Top Ranked Universities in the USA - a Postgraduate Guide

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. This information isn't postgraduate-specific, but you can use it to see how different American universities do when compared with other top institutions around the world.

We've also taken a look at the best universities in the USA for six main postgraduate subject-areas. This information is much more relevant to Masters-level study. If a US university does well in your subject it probably has the expertise and facilities to deliver high quality graduate programmes.

Finally, we've listed some of the main domestic rankings of US universities - league tabes that compare American institutions against each other.

Top Ranked US Universities

The following table gives the top 50 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.

Each ranking system uses its own methodology, with different factors having more or less influence on a university's result.

For more information on using international rankings as a postgraduate, see our guide.


University THE Ranking (2015-16) QS Ranking (2015-16) Shanghai Ranking (2015)
California Institute of Technology (Caltech) 1 5 7
Stanford University 3 3 2
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 5 1 3
Harvard University 6 2 1
Princeton University 7 11 6
University of Chicago 10 10 9
Johns Hopkins University 11 16 16
Yale University 12 15 11
University of California, Berkeley 13 26 4
Columbia University 15 22 8
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) 16 27 12
University of Pennsylvania 17 18 17
Cornell University 18 17 13
Duke University 20 29 31
University of Michigan 21 30 22
Carnegie Mellon University 22 62 61
Northwestern University 25 32 27
New York University (NYU) 30 53 27
University of Washington 32 65 15
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 36 59 21
University of California, San Diego 39 44 14
University of California, Santa Barbara 39 129 38
Georgia Institute of Technology 41 84 101-150
University of California, Davis 44 85 57
University of Texas at Austin 46 77 37
University of Wisconsin-Madison 50 54 24
Brown University 51 49 75
Washington University in St Louis 60 110 32
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 63 79 39
Boston University 64 91 73
University of Minnesota 65 123 30
University of Southern California 68 130 49
Pennsylvania State University 75 101 60
University of Pittsburgh 79 133 70
Vanderbilt University 87 - 53
Emory University 90 165 101-150
Georgetown University 94 213 301-400
Michigan State University 99 164 99
Rice University 101 106 84
Dartmouth College 104 158 201-300
University of California, Irvine 106 163 50
University of Notre Dame 108 195 201-300
Purdue University 113 89 61
University of Maryland, College Park 117 123 43
University of Florida 120 180 83
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey 123 - 64
University of Colorado at Boulder 127 175 34
Information in this table is based on the 2015-16 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

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

The ranking performance of America's universities is unparalleled, internationally. US institutions don't just dominate the upper reaches of these tables: as of 2015 they occupy the top spot in every single one.

What's more, a different American university takes that honour in each ranking. On one level, this reflects the different methodologies behind each system. But it also speaks to the broader quality of higher education in the USA. America's rankings aren't simply lead by one or two elite institutions: a wide range of universities represent the country in global league tables.

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.

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.

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 best universities in the USA in six 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.


University Ranking by subject
Physical Sciences Engineering & Technology Life Sciences Social Sciences Arts & Humanities Medicine & Health
California Institute of Technology (Caltech) 1 2 39 5 - -
Stanford University 2 1 2 4 1 7
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 3 3 1 8 3 -
University of California, Berkeley 4 5 10 7 7 5
Princeton University 5 7 3 8 9 -
Harvard University 6 11 6 2 2 2
Cornell University 9 21 23 15 25 19
Carnegie Mellon University 10 10 51 - 67 -
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) 11 - 15 14 12 15
Yale University 13 - 5 10 11 17
University of Chicago 15 - 7 18 8 30
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 17 15 35 46 87 -
Columbia University 18 35 13 12 9 10
University of Washington 21 51 47 24 97 23
Georgia Institute of Technology 24 12 - - - -
University of California, Santa Barbara 29 22 67 35 50 -
University of Texas at Austin 30 23 37 68 41 -
University of Michigan 33 17 8 25 19 21
University of California, San Diego 35 45 48 23 - 24
Northwestern University 39 18 17 39 36 69
University of California, Irvine 44 - 73 - - -
Rice University 50 60 - - - -
Boston University 52 87 74 - - 29
University of Maryland, College Park 56 82 94 73 96 -
University of Colorado at Boulder 57 - - 63 - -
University of Massachusetts 57 59 - 83 - -
Brown University 62 - 70 93 32 39
University of Minnesota 67 - 60 38 - 59
Pennsylvania State University 69 39 61 41 81 -
Stony Brook University 71 - - - - -
Michigan State University 86 84 52 51 - -
University of California, Santa Cruz 92 - - 80 75 -
Ohio State University 92 71 71 89 54 -
University of Notre Dame 100 - 33 - - -
University of Southern California - 31 44 - 86 56
Purdue University - 33 - - - -
Texas A&M University - 49 - - - -
Duke University - - 14 22 22 14
New York University - - 18 - 20 34
University of Pittsburgh - - 31 - - 37
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey - - 38 - - -
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - - 42 56 93 25
Georgetown University - - 52 - 92 83
Johns Hopkins University - - 62 - 35 9
Vanderbilt University - - 68 - - 46
Dartmouth College - - 76 - - -
Washington University in St Louis - - 82 - - 22
University of Virginia - - 98 - 72 85
University of Florida - - - 75 - 79
Arizona State University - - - 78 - -
Oregon State University - - - 97 - -
University of California, Riverside - - - 100 - -
Indiana University - - - - 76 -
Emory University - - - - - 38
Tufts University - - - - - 45
Case Western Reserve University - - - - - 66
University of Rochester - - - - - 88
University of Iowa - - - - - 92
Oregon Health and Science University - - - - - 94
Information in this table is based on the 2015-16 Times Higher Education World University Rankings by Subject. This ranks the top 100 global universities in six core academic fields.

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 for most (or all) core academic disciplines. 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.

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 - 19/04/2016

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