Top Universities in London: UCL or Imperial? | Top Universities
CMT
Tool

Where should you study?

Join one of our upcoming events to find out. Meet universities and business schools from around the world.

Top Universities in London: UCL or Imperial?

By Julia G

Updated June 22, 2021 Updated June 22, 2021

As a city, London has plenty to offer - and so do its universities. However, when it comes to choosing the best university in England's capital, two London universities in particular stand out from the crowd.  

University College London (UCL) and Imperial College London are the two highest-ranked London universities in the QS World University Rankings® 2022, beating 18 other universities from the city and ranking in the top 10 in the world -- something both schools have managed consistently. 

This year, Imperial climbed one place to rank seventh in the world, while UCL rose two places to rank joint eighth.  

To get a better idea of whether you’d be best suited to UCL or Imperial, here’s a quick overview of the key similarities and differences: 

 
 

UCL (University College London) 

Imperial College London 

QS World University Rankings® 2022 

Ranked joint eighth in the world in 2022 

Ranked 14th in the world by academics and 13th by employers 

38th for faculty/student ratio 

108th for research impact (citations per faculty member) 

85th in the world for percentage of international faculty members, and 12th for international students 

Ranked seventh in the world in 2022 

Ranked 22nd in the world by academics and ninth by employers 

27th for faculty/student ratio 

64th for research impact (citations per faculty member) 

47th in the world for percentage of international faculty members, and 10th for international students 

 

Subject strengths* 

12th in the world for arts & humanities 

48th for engineering & technology 

10thfor life sciences & medicine 

Joint 57th for natural sciences 

28th for social sciences & management 

233rd in the world for arts & humanities 

Eighth for engineering & technology 

12th for life sciences & medicine 

Ninth for natural sciences 

Joint 60th for social sciences & management 

Location 

Main campus is located in Bloomsbury, central London 

Main campus is in South Kensington, west London 

Student community 

Around 43,800 students in total 

53 percent international students 

Around 19,904 students 

Of these, around 60 percent are international. 

Tuition fees (2021/22) 

UK undergraduates: £9,250 per year 

International students: £23,300 to £31,200 annually for most undergraduate programmes. 

Medicine: TBC (see UCL prospectus page for more information) 

UK undergraduates: £9,250 per year 

International students: £32,000 to £34,500 annually for most undergraduate programs 

Medicine: £45,300 per year for international students 

*Based on the broad subject areas in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021

QS World University Rankings® 2022 

As mentioned earlier, Imperial ranks slightly above UCL in the QS World University Rankings® 2022, with Imperial ranking seventh and UCL ranking joint eighth. 

Although both schools rank well across the majority of indicators, they clearly each have their strengths. UCL beats Imperial by eight positions in the academic reputation indicator; whereas Imperial comes out on top in the employer reputation indicator, ranking ninth to UCL’s 13th. 

Both schools have a high faculty/student ratio, although Imperial places in 27th and UCL ranks 38th. Imperial also has the advantage in the research impact indicator; ranking 44 positions above its rival.  

Imperial and UCL are also proud both globally focused universities and rank within the top 100 for percentage of student faculty members and international students. Although both rank very similarly for these two indicators, Imperial beats UCL on each.  Despite this advantage, both Imperial and UCL should appeal to students keen to join a truly international community of students and academics. 

Subject strengths   

Rather than relying on the world ranking alone, it might be more useful to consider how these two universities perform for the subject you wish to study. 

Looking firstly at the broad subject areas of the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021, Imperial College London achieves the strongest score for the engineering and technology indicators, and is ranked seventh in the world for this subject area. 

While UCL operates across the full academic spectrum, Imperial specialiseses primarily in science, engineering, management and medicine, and has a leading business school.  

So, if your area of interest is one of the arts, humanities or social sciences disciplines, you should probably apply to UCL. Alongside world-leading departments of the arts and sciences, UCL also boasts a top-rated architecture school and one of the UK’s best art schools, the Slade School of Art. 

You can get a closer insight into how UCL and Imperial compare for different disciplines in the table below. 

UCL and Imperial in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021 

 
 

UCL 

Imperial 

Accounting & finance 

=68th 

33rd 

Anatomy & physiology 

7th 

12th 

Anthropology 

6th 

-- 

Archaeology 

2nd 

-- 

Architecture 

-- 

-- 

Art & design 

=48th 

51-100 

Biological sciences 

15th 

=13th 

Business & management 

=94th 

34th 

Chemistry 

39th 

12th 

Classics & ancient history 

22nd 

-- 

Communication & media studies 

=44th 

-- 

Computer science & information systems 

=23rd 

16th 

Dentistry 

12th 

-- 

Development studies 

-- 

51-100 

Earth & marine sciences 

=34th 

24th 

Economics 

16th 

53rd 

Education & training 

1st 

8th 

Engineering (chemical) 

=24th 

10th 

Engineering (civil) 

51-100 

6th 

Engineering (electrical) 

=49th 

9th 

Engineering (mechanical) 

111th 

8th 

Engineering (petroleum) 

-- 

6th 

English language & literature 

13th 

-- 

Environmental sciences 

33rd 

10th 

Geography 

9th 

-- 

Geology 

40th 

29th 

Geophysics 

38th 

33rd 

History 

=19th 

-- 

Law 

15th 

-- 

Library & information management 

19th 

-- 

Linguistics 

=17th 

-- 

Materials science 

60th 

14th 

Mathematics 

=42nd  

11th 

Medicine 

9th 

10th 

Modern languages 

20th 

-- 

Pharmacy 

7th 

=26th 

Philosophy 

22nd 

-- 

Physics & astronomy 

=31st 

11th 

Politics 

42nd 

-- 

Psychology 

=10th 

-- 

Social policy & administration 

=28th 

101-120 

Sociology 

20th 

-- 

Sports-related subjects 

20th 

-- 

Statistics 

28th 

10th 

Theology, divinity & religious studies 

101-120 

-- 

See the full QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021 

Location  

UCL and Imperial are both located in the centre of London, close to dynamic and culture-rich areas full of museums, galleries, theatres and more. However, there are some differences in location that might influence your student experience.  

While Imperial’s South Kensington location is central relative to the sprawling immensity of the Greater London Area, it’s actually located a little to the west of central London. Not that this is a bad thing: Imperial is near Harrods, Hyde Park, and the Science Museum and Natural History Museum, meaning it’s based in one of London’s most attractive and desirable postcodes. 

UCL’s Bloomsbury campus is a small enclave of calm amid London’s bustling centre. At equal distances from Soho and King’s Cross, and in walking distance to Chinatown and Piccadilly Circus, you couldn’t be much closer to the heart of the city. 

One of UCL’s main student halls of residence is in nearby Camden Town, which is renowned for its lively social scene, famous market and live music. UCL’s central campus is next to the British Library, one of the most important and comprehensive research libraries in the world. 

Meanwhile, Imperial’s main halls of residence are based near to its campus in West London, a well-heeled part of town with a slightly calmer atmosphere. Imperial’s location may be slightly more appealing to those who fancy some respite from the crowds, especially since it’s just a stone’s throw away from the large green spaces of Hyde Park.  

London itself was ranked number one in the latest QS Best Student Cities ranking, thanks to its excellent scores in every indicator, apart from affordability. 

Student community   

UCL is one of the constituent colleges of the University of London, and one advantage of its Bloomsbury location is that it’s based in the middle of a huge student community. The main campus backs out onto a courtyard shared by SOAS and Birkbeck College, and the adjacent University of London Union is a hub of activity, from societies and student politics to live music and social events. 

UCL’s total student population of 43,800 students puts it at the larger end of UK universities. When the student populations of the other nearby University of London colleges are factored in, its extended student community ranks among the largest in the world. 

Imperial is slightly more self-contained, with a total student population less than half the size of UCL’s at around 19,904. Imperial was previously a member of the University of London - before becoming formally independent in 2007 - and its students are still integrated into the city’s wider student community. However, its location and independent status mean it remains separate, with a slightly more intimate community feel. 

Tuition fees  

Domestic students starting their undergraduate studies will pay £9,250 per year. At undergraduate level, international students at UCL can expect to pay around £23,300 to £31,200 for most programs. 

In 2018, UCL implemented ‘fixed fees’ for international undergraduates, meaning your tuition fees will stay the same in each year of your course. However, this does not apply to those studying medicine. 

Imperial charges international students £32,000 to £34,500 annually for most of its undergraduate and postgraduate courses, with medicine coming in at £45,300 per year. 

Science and engineering degrees at both universities are often three-year programs with an optional fourth year, leading to MSc or MEng qualifications. Undergraduate-level arts, humanities and social sciences degrees at UCL are nearly always three years in length.  

Financial aid  

While those overseas tuition fees might seem expensive, the good news is there are funding opportunities available for both universities.  

UCL’s website offers a scholarship finder tool, allowing you to search for scholarships matching your subject and demographics. 

Imperial offers one of the most generous bursary schemes in the country for home students – the Imperial Bursary. It also has a scholarship search tool, which provides you with more personalised results dependent on the level of detail you provide. 

As well as looking on the official university websites, there are many external scholarships you could consider, including those funded by the UK government. One example is the British Chevening Scholarships, which aim to develop global leaders by providing full or part funding for graduate programs in any subject. You can browse other UK scholarships here

This article was originally published in December 2013. It is updated after every QS World University Rankings launch, most recently in June 2021. 

You can read about more of the top universities in London here.  

Want more content like this? Register for free site membership to get regular updates and your own personal content feed. 

This article was originally published in June 2018 . It was last updated in June 2021

Want more content like this Register for free site membership to get regular updates and your own personal content feed.

Written by
Julia is the Assistant Editor for TopUniversities, publishing articles for students and graduates across the world. A native Londoner, she holds an MSc in Marketing Strategy & Innovation from Cass Business School and a BA in Classical Studies & English from Newcastle University.

+ 75 others
saved this article

+ 76 others saved this article

Related Articles Last year

Most Shared Last year

Most Read Last year