Top Universities in the US 2020

Top Universities in the US 2020

Craig OCallaghan

Updated May 20, 2020 Updated May 20

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has once again been ranked as the best university in the United States.

The East Coast university has now topped the QS World University Rankings for a record-breaking eighth consecutive year. It’s one of 157 American institutions to be ranked this year, although not all of them have enjoyed as good a year as MIT. 117 US universities have fallen in rank since 2019, including 10 within the world’s top 50.

Below, we break down the top 10 universities in the US as well as take a quick look at some of the other US universities to be featured this year.

QS World University Rankings 2020 – Top 10 Universities in the US

US Rank

Global Rank




Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)



Stanford University



Harvard University



California Institute of Technology (Caltech)



University of Chicago



Princeton University



Cornell University



University of Pennsylvania



Yale University



Columbia University

10. Columbia University

Dropping two places this year, Columbia University is now ranked joint 18th in the world, a position it shares with EPFL in Switzerland. Despite its fall in rank, the university continues to score a perfect 100 for its ratio of students to faculty members.

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

9. Yale University

Yale University

Established in 1701, Yale University is consistently ranked within the top 10 universities in the US. This year, it’s also fallen two places globally and has been overtaken by the University of Pennsylvania domestically.

However, Yale is ranked within the world’s 10 best universities for three of the indicators used to compile the ranking (read about the methodology here): academic reputation, employer reputation, and faculty to student ratio.

8. University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania

One of the few US universities to improve their rank since last year, the University of Pennsylvania is now the eighth best institution in the United States.

While less reputable than both Columbia and Yale, the University of Pennsylvania out-performs both of these institutions for its research output (measured by the number of citations per faculty) and the percentage of international faculty members.

7. Cornell University

Cornell University

Cornell University remains in 14th place globally for a third consecutive year, an admirable show of consistency from the New York institution.

Although the university continues to be viewed positively by academics and employers, one area for improvement is its poor ratio of faculty members to students. With 23,600 students enrolled at Cornell, class sizes are presumably larger than at some of the other universities in this top 10.

6. Princeton University

Another non-mover, Princeton University is one of the oldest universities in the US, having been founded in 1746. Like Cornell, Princeton also has a poor ratio of faculty to students but is buoyed by a very strong research output and reputation with both academics and employers.

5. University of Chicago

The first of five American universities to feature in the global top 10, the University of Chicago has dropped one place overall this year.

Established in 1890, the university is known for its strong focus on research. For example, the university’s physics department is known for developing the world’s first man-made, self-sustaining nuclear reaction.

4. California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

Despite dropping one place globally this year, California Institute of Technology continues to be the fourth best university in the US. Known as a leading tech school, Caltech is located in the city of Pasadena, California and is the smallest university in the US top 10.

The University of Chicago actually outperforms Caltech with both academics and employers, but the West Coast university performs extremely well for faculty to student ratio and the number of citations per faculty. It’s also much more internationally diverse than most of the other top 10 universities in the US.

3. Harvard University

architecture degree

There are no changes in the top three universities in the US, with Harvard retaining third place in the world. It’s ranked number one for both academic and employer reputation, but performs poorly for its percentage of international students, with 220 universities around the world achieving a higher score.

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. 

2. Stanford University

Will Stanford ever be able to overhaul MIT at the top of the QS World University Rankings? Its biggest area for improvement, as with Harvard, is its percentage of international students. Stanford is ranked only 196th in the world for this indicator, while MIT is 87th.

There are two indicators where Stanford comes out on top against the world’s best university: academic reputation and faculty to student ratio. In both cases, the two institutions scored a perfect 100 but Stanford has been judged to rank marginally ahead of its rival.

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

architecture schools

For a record-breaking eighth consecutive year, MIT has been crowned the best university in the world, helped by the fact it once again scores a perfect 100 for four of the six indicators used to compile the ranking. No other institution in the US manages this, while the University of Cambridge is the only other university to do so globally.

The next 10 best universities in the US are…

QS World University Rankings 2020 – Next Top 10 Universities in the US

US Rank

Global Rank




University of Michigan



Johns Hopkins University



Duke University



University of California, Berkeley (UCB)



Northwestern University



University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)



New York University (NYU)



University of California, San Diego (UCSD)



Carnegie Mellon University



University of Wisconsin-Madison

The 10 universities above include the remaining US universities from the top 50 in the world. Northwestern and NYU have improved since last year, while Californian universities continue to be well represented.

Want to find out about more top US universities. You can read the top 100 here.

This article was originally published in June 2019 . It was last updated in January 2020

Written by

As editor of, Craig oversees the site's editorial content and network of student contributors. He also plays a key editorial role in the publication of several guides and reports, including the QS Top Grad School Guide.

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