Just as MIT and Caltech are top of the wish list for many technology students, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the Sciences Po are the big two names in the social sciences field.
Both are specialized in social sciences and humanities, including law, languages, geography, international relations and management.
Both are highly international, in terms of their campus communities and wider collaborations. And both boast long lists of well-known alumni, including an impressive number of world leaders and Nobel laureates. In short, choosing between the two is likely to be a tough decision, especially since their respective locations – London and Paris – are also two of the world’s most exciting places to study and live.
If you really can’t decide, this is a rare occasion when it may actually be possible to choose both. LSE and Sciences Po offer a dual master’s degree in international relations or international political economy. This is a two-year program split between the two locations and leading to graduation from both universities. They also collaborate on an undergraduate exchange program.
However, most students do have to choose just one! This may come down to course availability and options, which are similar but not identical at the two universities. Still stuck? Here’s a look at how these elite social science schools compare on key factors, with an at-a-glance overview followed by more detailed comparison...
Ranked joint 37th in the world overall
Rated 6th by graduate employers and 61st by academics
224th for student/faculty ratio, 107th for research impact (citations per faculty member)
23rd in the world for percentage of international faculty members, and 8th for international students
Ranked 220th in the world overall
Rated 140th by graduate employers and 336th by academics
99th for student/faculty ratio
Unranked for research impact (citations per faculty member)
288th in the world for percentage of international faculty members, and 52nd for international students
Global top five for accounting & finance, anthropology, development studies, social policy and administration, communication and media studies, geography, politics and sociology.
Global top 20 for economics, history, law, business and management and philosophy.
Ranked 4th for politics, top 50 for social policy and administration and sociology.
Global top 100 for economics, law and development studies.
In the center of UK capital London, ranked 5th in the QS Best Student Cities 2016
Based in the heart of French capital Paris, ranked 1st in the QS Best Student Cities 2016
Six additional campuses across France
9,600 full-time students and 700 part-time, of which 60% are postgraduates
Around two-thirds of students are from outside the UK
Source: LSE Key Facts
13,000 students, of which 47% are from outside France
Source: What is Sciences Po?
The world’s largest library devoted to social sciences
Continental Europe’s largest library for social sciences and humanities
*Based on the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2016.
QS World University Rankings® 2016-2017
Both institutions are strong performers in the QS World University Rankings, though LSE does have a strong lead – ranking joint 37th in the 2016-2017 edition, compared to Sciences Po at 220th. Closer analysis shows the London school outranks its Parisian counterpart on almost all the performance indicators used to compile the rankings, with the exception of faculty-student ratio; the French institution promises more full-time academic staff members per student.
Both boast well-established reputations among the international academic community, while receiving even stronger ratings from employers – their graduates are clearly in high demand in the workplace. Both also score well for the international diversity of staff and students. LSE ranks among the world’s top 10 for its percentage of international students, and Sciences Po within the top 55.
In the indicator measuring research citations per faculty member, a reflection of research impact, LSE is just outside of the global top 100, and Science Po outside of the top 400.
The QS World University Rankings by Subject 2016 provides detailed insights into how these two leading social science schools compare in specific fields. As the table below shows, LSE tends to rank slightly higher than its cross-channel rival, though both are firmly established among the world’s leading institutions in core social sciences such as economics, politics and sociology. Sciences Po claims its strongest rank in politics, for which it comes 13th in the world, while LSE boasts a place within the global top 10 for 12 subjects, including politics, accounting and finance, development studies and social policies.
LSE and Sciences Po in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2016
Accounting & finance
Communication & media studies
Social policy & administration
Statistics & operational research
Rivalry between the two can only be further intensified by their locations in the heart of the capitals of those long-time rivals: France and the UK. Just over 200 miles apart and connected by a train journey (beneath the English Channel) which takes just over two hours, London and Paris have a long history of competition, each vying to be Western Europe’s most-visited, -loved and -celebrated city.
In the QS Best Student Cities 2016, Paris retains the number one spot, with London ranking as the world’s fifth best city for students. The biggest gap between the two is in the “affordability” category; while both are relatively expensive places to live, the UK’s higher tuition fees make London a costlier overall prospect for both domestic and international students.
Undergraduate students at Sciences Po may also be based at one of six regional campuses, located across France, each of which specializes in a particular field of study – Reims for transatlantic relations, Le Havre for Asian studies, Dijon for a European focus, Nancy for French-German studies, Poitiers for the Latin American program and Menton for Middle East and Mediterranean studies.
Sciences Po is slightly larger in terms of overall student numbers, with around 13,000 students, compared to roughly 9,600 at LSE. However, those at the French school are a little more spread out; about a third of Sciences Po’s 4,000 undergraduate students are enrolled at the regional campuses, not the main Paris one (see above).
Both universities are very internationally diverse. At LSE, around two-thirds of students are from outside the UK, while almost half (47%) of Sciences Po students are from outside France.
Unsurprisingly, as the world’s leading institutions specializing in social sciences, LSE and Sciences Po boast two of the world’s most impressive resource collections in the field. LSE in fact claims the world’s largest library devoted to social sciences, while Sciences Po has the largest within continental Europe.
The latter collection includes 660,000 books, 15,000 periodicals and 20,300 electronic journals. Meanwhile LSE’s British Library of Political and Economic Science features more than four million printed items, subscriptions to 33,600 e-journals, and 50km of shelving – equivalent, funnily enough, to the length of the Channel Tunnel which connects the UK to France.
To conclude: these famed institutions remain two of the most compelling choices for those with an interest in social science and humanities subjects, offering some of the world’s leading resource collections in these fields, and two of the globe’s most international and elite academic communities. While a straight-up comparison in the rankings tables makes LSE the clear winner, Sciences Po’s differentiated course offering, strong faculty/student ratio and choice of locations in Paris and beyond will nonetheless give it the edge for many prospective social science students.
This article was originally published in April 2013. It was updated in January 2015 and again in November 2016 to include the latest data from the QS World University Rankings and other sources.
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