Students looking for universities in London will encounter a range of options as vibrant and varied as the city itself. Whether you want a specialist or multidisciplinary institution, central or more suburban surroundings, or the option to combine a flexible study schedule with your career, your chances of finding a good match in the UK capital are high.
For a taste of what’s on offer, here’s a look at the top 10 universities in London, based on the QS World University Rankings® 2014/15.
Imperial College London
After a few particularly successful years in the rankings, Imperial College London reached its highest position yet this year – climbing to 2= in the world (joint with the University of Cambridge). This science and technology-focused institution is well known for its leadership in engineering and natural sciences, as well as having a prestigious business school and one of the UK’s largest medical faculties. Its global appeal is reflected in high international student numbers (just under a third of the student body). Imperial’s main campus is in South Kensington, not far from the city center; it’s close to the huge green space of Hyde Park, the monumental Royal Albert Hall, luxury superstore Harrods, and several of the city’s biggest museums.
University College London (UCL)
Previously the highest-ranked among universities in London, until Imperial’s recent leap, University College London (UCL) maintains a strong position at 5= in the world (alongside the University of Oxford). It’s again extremely popular with international students, who account for more than a third of the student body. A multidisciplinary institute, it covers a broad spectrum of subjects (this is one of the main points of difference between UCL and Imperial), and has a high percentage of postgraduate students (around 46%). Its faculties and teaching hospitals are all in the heart of central London, close to the British Library and a cluster of other leading London universities – SOAS and Birkbeck (see below) are both neighbors. The main Gower Street campus is also just a short walk from the party atmosphere of Soho, London’s entertainment center, and famous shopping district, Oxford Street.
King's College London
Having enjoyed several years of improved rankings performance, King’s College London (KCL) this year climbed a further three places to rank 16th in the world, consolidating its place in the global top 20. Again, this comprehensive research-led university is a popular choice for international students, while postgraduates make up around 40% of its 26,000 students. Claiming to be “the most central university in London”, King’s College London has five London campuses, four of which are situated fairly close together by the River Thames, close to iconic landmarks such as Tower Bridge, the London Eye and Big Ben.
London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
The UK’s only university specializing in the social sciences, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) ranks 71= in the world this year. It gets a much higher position in many of the individual subject rankings, reflecting its role as a world-leading pioneer in subjects such as international relations, politics, sociology, law and accounting. Another highly international institution, LSE boasts more than 100 languages spoken on campus. Again, it occupies a location close to the heart of the city – in the Chancery Lane area, historically associated with the legal professions. Just to the north of the river, it’s within walking distance of the British Library, and close to the cultural institutions of Trafalgar Square and the nightlife of the West End (also known as “theatreland”).
Queen Mary, University of London
Climbing 17 places to rank 98th in the world this year, Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL) offers teaching and research across a wide range of subjects, including medicine and dentistry at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry. Of QMUL’s 17,840 students, around 10% are from EU countries other than the UK, and 30% from beyond the EU. The university’s main campus is in Mile End, close to many of the recently regenerated and increasingly trendy parts of the “East End” – including the curry houses of Brick Lane, art galleries of Whitechapel and Hoxton, and gritty-but-trendy bars and music venues of Shoreditch.
Royal Holloway, University of London
While many of the top universities in London are centrally located, some are much further out. Situated in the town of Egham, Royal Holloway, University of London is just under an hour’s train journey from central London. Perfect for students looking to combine a more suburban experience with the choice of popping into the city for nights out or day trips, Royal Holloway offers one of the most beautiful and historic campuses in the UK. Currently ranked 275= in the world, it’s another global university, with students from over 100 countries, and offers courses in a broad range of subjects.
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
Currently ranked 331= in the world, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) focuses on the languages, cultures and societies of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East – the only institution in Europe specialized in this field. Just over half of its students come from outside the UK, representing more than 130 countries. Like UCL and Birkbeck, SOAS is in the Bloomsbury area of London, known for its attractive garden squares, history of artistic and intellectual inhabitants (look up “the Bloomsbury group”), and high concentration of academic resources – including the extensive Senate House Library and the British Library (the UK’s national library).
City University London
City University London (ranked 341=) is named to reflect its close relationship with ‘The City’ – London’s historic financial district, also known as ‘the square mile’. It prides itself on having strong links with leading companies in this competitive district, ranging from giants of the financial services sector to media companies and medical research centers. It also marks its special links to the city by having the Lord Major of London as its Chancellor. City University London offers a broad spectrum of courses, but is perhaps best known for its Cass Business School, City Law School and the School of Health Sciences. Of its 17,000 students, 16% are from EU countries other than the UK, and 28% are from countries outside of the EU.
Named after the Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Brunel University (ranked 355=) is particularly known for its engineering and design courses, but also offers a range of courses in arts, business, law, health and social sciences, information systems and sport. Again, it boasts an internationally diverse student community, with nearly 15,000 students from over 100 countries. All courses are based at Brunel’s campus in Uxbridge, West London, which is just under an hour from the city center on the London Underground. As a campus-based university, it provides a complete student community all within walking distance, including accommodation, libraries and study facilities, a selection of bars and restaurants, sports center and plenty of green spaces.
Birkbeck College, University of London
Finally, Birkbeck College, University of London (ranked 434=) is the only university in London that allows students to complete full-length degrees during evening courses, with all the visa and loan privileges of daytime study. Birkbeck is again located in the Bloomsbury area, close to UCL and SOAS, and it schedules its programs with the aim of allowing students to complete a day’s work before attending class. The majority of students study part-time, taking advantage of the university’s flexible ethos, and are enrolled on a wide range of programs at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.
Image credits: Alun Salt (School of Oriental and African Studies); City University London; Birkbeck College
This article was originally published in October 2013. It was updated in November 2014 to reflect the latest QS World University Rankings® results.