According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), there are 2618 accredited four-year colleges and universities in the USA. For any overseas student wanting to pursue higher education in the United States, the task of narrowing these down to find the perfect school for them can seem incredibly daunting.

In light of this, Times Higher Education (THE), a highly-respected global university ranking body, is in the process of creating its own bespoke U.S. college ranking, due for publication in September. But for those of you hoping to cement your decision before that date rolls around, THE has just launched a brand new league table of the top universities in the U.S., based on the comprehensive Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2015-2016.

“The best universities and colleges in the USA number almost 150, and wherever you want to study in America, a top university will not be far away,” notes THE. “Almost all of the states are represented in the best U.S. universities list. In total, 128 different cities appear in the ranking.”

Overall, California wins the title of the most represented state, with a total of 14 institutions making it to the rankings. New York State came in second with 12, followed by Texas and Massachusetts, who each had nine and eight, respectively.

Washington DC on the other hand, stands as the most represented city, hosting a total of four featured universities. Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), Atlanta (Georgia), Chicago (Illinois) and New York City came in next, each claiming three universities in the rankings.

Let’s take a look at the Top 5 U.S. universities, based on data from the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2015-2016:


The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is a world-leading science and engineering research institution, set in a beautiful 124-acre, state-of-the-art campus in the sunny suburb of Pasadena.

The institution hosts a relatively small student population of around 2,243 students, but is also associated with an impressive number of successful graduates and affiliates, including 34 Nobel Prize winners, six Turing Award winners, five Fields Medallists and a number of national awards.

Three of Caltech’s six faculties feature in the Top 5 THE rankings for 2016, including Engineering & Technology (#2), Physical Sciences (#1) and Life Sciences (#5).

“The university has the highest proportion of students who continue on to pursue a PhD, and the trope of the Caltech postgraduate has filtered into popular culture,” says THE, “all the main characters in the TV comedy The Big Bang Theory work or study at Caltech.”


Caltech’s jacarandas are in their full purple bloom! #caltech #springtime

A photo posted by Caltech (@caltechedu) on


Stanford University, located in the beating heart of the Silicon Valley between San Jose and San Francisco, is one of the world’s most respected teaching and research institutions. Located in a central hub for the global technology industry, Stanford has produced a host of successful students and alumni who have gone on to kick-start some of the world’s most successful tech companies – including Snapchat, Google and Hewlett-Packard.

THE points out that in total, companies founded by Stanford alumni make up to USD$2.7 trillion annually.

The admission rate for Stanford is extremely competitive, with just over 5 percent of applicants making it each year.

“Of [Stanford’s] 15,596 students – most of whom live on campus – 22 percent are international,” notes THE.


Sunrise. Credit: @the_kehoe #stanford

A photo posted by Stanford University (@stanford) on


The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is an independent and coeducational university, organised into five cutting-edge schools: Architecture & Planning; Engineering; Humanities; Arts & Social Sciences; and Science.

MIT features in THE Top 5 list 2016 for Engineering& Technology, Physical Sciences, Social Sciences and Arts & Humanities.

According to THE, MIT – Caltech’s primary competitor – boasts a strong entrepreneurial spirit, with various alumni founding notable companies like Intel and Dropbox.

Of the school’s 11,000 students, 33 percent hail from overseas, and THE points out that the school’s undergraduate programme is among the most selective in the U.S., only admitting around eight percent of students. The School’s Engineering and Computer Science programmes are its most sought-after.


Harvard University is a globally-respected provider of education, with campuses based in Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts. With a total enrolment of around 20,000 degree students, Harvard boasts an alumni network of more than 360,000, worldwide.

Among Harvard’s global cohort of extremely successful alumni there are currently eight former U.S. Presidents, approximately 150 Nobel Laureates, 13 Turing award winners and 62 billionaires.

Established in 1636, Harvard also represents the oldest university in the United States.

“Unlike other universities at the top of the list, Harvard is at least equally as reputed for Arts and Humanities as it is for Science and Technology, if not more so,” notes THE. “In the 2016 Arts and Humanities ranking, Harvard takes the second position, and secures Top 10 positions for Physical Sciences, Social Sciences and Engineering and Technology.”


Princeton University is a world-renowned research university, hosting a vibrant community of 7,800 students – just over 25 percent of whom are international. Chartered in 1746, Princeton stands as the fourth-oldest university in the United States, and much like Harvard, represents one of the world’s esteemed Ivy League institutions.

Princeton’s location certainly contributes to its global reputation, conveniently located 60 minutes from New York City and Philadelphia.

Again, Princeton’s application process is highly selective, and it does not offer an early decision application route like most U.S. universities. Furthermore, Princeton’s programmes tend to have very strict requirements; all students are required to pursue independent research alongside their degrees, for example, and some must even undertake an additional foreign language course.

“Renowned Princeton alumni include U.S. Presidents, astronauts, businessmen, Olympians and numerous award-winners,” says THE. “Physicist Richard Feynman attended as a graduate student, as did mathematicians John Nash and Alan Turing.

Click here to read the full list of THE’s best universities in the United States 2016.

Image via Flickr.

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