Top 10 Universities in the United States (2021)

An illustration of a map of the US with photos of students' faces arranged across the map.

If you’re wondering what the best universities in the United States are, we’ve got you covered! Every year QS Top Universities updates its annual World University Rankings. While there have been some changes in the following US universities’ global rank, the country remains a higher education powerhouse. Over a quarter of the top 100 universities globally and half of the top 10 are American. But which ones are the best of the best?

We’ve highlighted the 10 best universities in the US for 2021 below. 

Top 10 Universities in the United States for 2021

10. University of Pennsylvania

Global Rank: 16

A photo of the University of Pennsylvania's campus.

The University of Pennsylvania cracked the top 10 list this year, and it’s safe to say that its student-to-faculty ratio and academic reputation significantly contributed to its top spot ranking. Located in Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania stands apart from other Ivy League universities when it comes to diversity. An encouraging 51% of students are visible minorities, and over half (55%) of all students are women.

Fun Fact: R&B and soul music sensation John Legend is an alumni of the University of Pennsylvania.

9. New York University (NYU)

Global Rank: 35

A photo of New York University.

New York University has carved out a spot on 2021’s list of best universities in the US. NYU is located in bustling Manhattan and scored almost perfect ratings in four of the six ranking criteria: academic reputation, employer reputation, student-to-faculty ratio, and international student ratio. The university estimates that an impressive 27.6% of its student body is made up of international students.

8. Princeton University

Global Rank: 12

A photo of Princeton University's campus.

Founded in 1746, Princeton is one of the oldest universities in the US and ranks high at the national and international levels. The university’s research output is some of the highest in the world, earning a perfect 100 in the citations per faculty ranking. Princeton’s student population diversity is impressive, with international students making up 23.4% of the university’s more than 8,000 students.

Fun Fact: Princeton has won more Ivy League titles than any other member of the League.

7. Columbia University

Global Rank: 19

A photo of Columbia University campus

Columbia University is New York City’s Ivy League university, and scores a perfect 100 with QS for its ratio of student-to-faculty members. This likely has something to do with Columbia being one of the most exclusive universities in the United States. Columbia has an undergraduate acceptance rate of just 5.8%, making the Class of 2021 the most challenging year to be admitted to Columbia University to date. 

6. Yale University

Global Rank: 17

A photo of Yale University campus.

Yale University consistently ranks on the list of top 10 US universities. One of the most prestigious universities in the world, Yale scores especially high in student-to-faculty ratio, academic reputation, and employer reputation. In fact, Yale is ranked 13th in the world for graduate employability reputation—one of the top-performing US universities on the list.

Fun Fact: Yale is home to the oldest student-run daily newspaper still in existence.

5. University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Global Rank: 36

A photo of University of California, Los Angeles. California

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of California‘s affiliate based in warm and sunny Los Angeles, has moved up a spot on this year’s list. UCLA scored a perfect rating of 100 for its academic reputation and an almost perfect score for employer reputation, with a rating of 99.9. Despite high scores for both of these criteria, UCLA’s score of 26.7 for its international student ratio demonstrates that there’s much room for improvement when it comes to the presence of international students on campus. 

4. University of California Berkeley (UCB)

Global Rank: 30

A photo of the University of California Berkley's campus.

The University of California Berkeley has held down the fourth place spot for another year. UCB’s consistency can be attributed to its perfect score of 100 for both employer reputation and academic reputation, and an almost perfect score for citations per faculty. The university also boasts a high international faculty ratio.

Fun Fact: US soccer superstar Alex Morgan is a UCB alumni.

3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Global Rank: 1

A photo of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's campus.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, has dropped a couple of ranks on the list of best US universities but still upholds the top spot globally. In fact, MIT has been ranked as the best university in the world for nine consecutive years. MIT scored perfect ratings in four of six ranking criteria: academic reputation, employer reputation, faculty to student ratio, and international faculty. It also scored close to 100 for international students ratio and research citations.

2. Stanford University

Global Rank: 2

A photo of Stanford University's campus.

Stanford earns perfect ratings in three categories: academic reputation, faculty-to-student ratio, and employer reputation. These perfect scores greatly contribute to its ranking as the second-best university in the US and across the world. However, with a current score of 63.6, Stanford could stand to improve its international student ratio. 

Despite this drawback, Stanford continues to be one of the most sought-after institutions in the US. Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, Stanford is sometimes called a ‘billionaire factory,’ as its graduates have become some of the world’s most successful business leaders and entrepreneurs.

1. Harvard University

Global Rank: 3

A photo of Harvard University's campus.

Harvard University comes in first place in the US. In terms of performance, Harvard pulled in perfect ratings for its research and employability ranking criteria. Despite Harvard’s top spot ranking, it still lags behind the competition for its international student population, with international students making up only 15% of its overall student population. While this is definitely a metric that the university can improve, it’s still at the top of the list for many other criteria—establishing Harvard as not only one of the best universities in the US, but the entire world.

Want to study abroad in the United States? Explore more exciting universities on ApplyBoard!


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