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Top Universities in the US 2020

By Julia G

Updated March 23, 2021 Updated March 23, 2021

The recently released QS World University Rankings: USA feature 300 of the best colleges in the United States of America. The ranking represents a landmark attempt to identify and recognize the top universities in one of the most popular study destinations in the world.

While American universities have featured in other QS rankings, this new ranking will use a brand-new methodology, evaluating universities according to not only their research performance and salary uplift, but also their social impact and the efforts they are making to support the 17 US Sustainable Development goals.

Read on to discover which universities make up the top 10 in the US… 

QS World University Rankings: USA – Top 10 Universities in the US





Harvard University

Cambridge, MA


Stanford University

Stanford, CA


Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Cambridge, MA


University of California, Berkeley (UCB)

Berkeley, CA


Columbia University

New York, NY


University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Los Angeles, CA


Yale University

New Haven, CT


University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA


Princeton University

Princeton, NJ


Cornell University

Ithaca, NY

10) Cornell University


Cornell University

Kicking off the US top 10 is Cornell University in 10th place. The university scores particularly highly in the research and employability ranking indicators, placing 10th in the country for both.

The main campus of Cornell is on East Hill in Ithaca, New York, overlooking the city and Cayuga Lake. It spreads over 2,300 acres and comprises laboratories, administrative buildings, and almost all the campus' academic buildings, athletic facilities, auditoriums, and museums. 

9) Princeton University

Princeton University

Ninth in the US rankings is New Jersey’s Princeton University, which achieves one of the highest scores in the ranking for learning experience, coming in at joint sixth for the indicator.

Princeton is one of the world’s foremost research universities (in eighth place in the rankings for this indicator), and has educated two US presidents, James Madison and Woodrow Wilson. Other distinguished graduates include Michelle Obama, actors Jimmy Stewart and David Duchovny, Google chairman Eric Schmidt and Apollo astronaut Pete Conrad. 

8) University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania

In eighth place in the US is the University of Pennsylvania, which ranks joint sixth for learning experience and fifth in the country for employability. 

The University of Pennsylvania is a private Ivy League research university located in the city of Philadelphia. It was founded in 1740 by Benjamin Franklin, one of the United States’ founding fathers, who was eager to create a school to educate future generations.

=6) Yale University

Yale University

In joint sixth place is Yale University, which achieves a perfect score for learning experience – the joint highest ranked school in the US for this indicator. It is also fourth in the country for employability.

Situated in New Haven, Connecticut, the first planned city in America, Yale was founded by English Puritans in 1701, making it the third-oldest higher education institution in the United States.

=6) University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Another school in sixth place is the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), which has the fifth highest score for research in the country.

UCLA has a total of 44,288 students, of which 6,992 are international – which goes some way to explaining why the university achieves the joint highest score in the country for diversity and internationalization. 

5) Columbia University

Columbia University

In fifth place in the US is Columbia University, which achieves impressive scores for all ranking indicators, particularly diversity and internationalization, where it takes joint fourth place in the country.

Columbia was established in 1754 and has produced many notable alumni, including three US presidents: Barack Obama, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt.

4) University of California, Berkeley (UCB)


University of California, Berkeley (UCB)

Narrowly missing out on a spot in the top three is the University of California, Berkeley, which takes fourth place in the US rankings. The university has impressive research credentials, taking third place in the country for this indicator.

Berkeley is one of the 14 founding members of the Association of American Universities and is home to some world-renowned research institutes, including the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute and the Space Sciences Laboratory. 

3) Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) takes the bronze medal position in the US, which takes fourth place in the research indicator, and third place in the employability indicator.

MIT researchers are at the forefront of developments in artificial intelligence, climate adaptation, HIV, cancer, and poverty alleviation, while in the past MIT research has fueled scientific breakthroughs such as the development of radar, the invention of magnetic core memory and the concept of the expanding universe. 

2) Stanford University


Stanford University

In second place in the US rankings is Stanford University. The school also takes second place in the employability and research ranking indicators. 

Covering 8,180 acres, Stanford has one of the largest university campuses in the US, with 18 interdisciplinary research institutes and seven schools: the Graduate School of Business; School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences; Graduate School of Education; School of Engineering; School of Humanities and Sciences; Law School; and School of Medicine.

1) Harvard University

Harvard University

Taking the top spot in the US this year is Harvard University, which also ranks first for the research and employability ranking indicators. Additionally, Harvard achieves joint sixth place for learning experience.

The oldest university in the country, dating back to 1636, Harvard has a large, residential campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is well respected in a broad range of fields, including law, business and medicine.

This article was originally published in May 2020 . It was last updated in March 2021

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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.

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