Study in Massachusetts

Study in Massachusetts

Laura Tucker

Updated September 13, 2021 Updated September 13

Home to two of the world’s top three universities and a further nine ranked within the QS World University Rankings® 2016-2017, the US state of Massachusetts is a true hub of higher education, featuring eclectic university towns and forward-looking yet historical metropolises.

The state capital, Boston, took joint 13th place in QS Best Student Cities 2016, consolidating its reputation as one of the world’s best places to live and study. Nicknamed the ‘Athens of America’ due to its long-established association with academic excellence and social development, Boston is known as a progressive city with liberal politics and a strong community culture.

Not all universities in Massachusetts are located in Boston – but many of the state’s leading institutions are found either here or in the nearby student-centered city of Cambridge. Beyond these urban centers, those who study in Massachusetts will also find plenty of natural settings to explore, from Cape Cod’s beaches to the popular summer island resort, Martha’s Vineyard.

Top universities in Massachusetts

With one Ivy League institution and a myriad of public universities in Boston and across Massachusetts, it’s difficult to know where to start. Despite this, when choosing where to study, remember that not all universities in Massachusetts offer the same programs, lifestyle or subject strengths, so their appeal will vary depending on your own priorities.

While a number of the top universities in Massachusetts have the advantage of being located in or close to the thriving city of Boston, a few are found further out in smaller cities. The state’s two top universities, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, are both located in the city of Cambridge, just a short drive from Boston.

Subject strengths at universities in Massachusetts vary, allowing prospective students to search for a school which best matches their own interests. For example, in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2016, MIT is ranked 1st in the world in an impressive 12 out of 42 possible subjects, most of which are engineering and technology specializations. Harvard also ranks 1st in the world for 12 subjects, which are mainly in the social sciences and life sciences. 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)


Needing little introduction, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has held the top spot in the QS World University Rankings for the past five years in a row. Often perceived as one of the universities in Boston, MIT is actually located on 168 acres of land just northwest of Boston in the city of Cambridge – allowing for serious studying without distraction, but also the chance to visit the bustling city on occasion! Strongly focused on science and technology, and a dominant world-leader in these fields, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also offers a prestigious business school (the Sloan School of Management) and advanced facilities for innovation and research. There are currently 4,527 undergraduates studying at MIT, and 6,804 graduate students. Only 7.9% of applications were accepted in 2016 – an indication of how strongly contested the school’s places are.

Harvard University


The only Ivy League university in Massachusetts, Harvard University is another sharp shooter in the world rankings, currently ranked third both among US universities and in the world. Established in 1636 and known as the oldest university in the US, Harvard University is a multidisciplinary school located – like MIT – in the city of Cambridge just outside of Boston. While charging some of the highest tuition fees in the US, Harvard University offers a financial aid scheme which currently helps pay for the tuition of almost 60% of Harvard undergraduates. There are approximately 21,000 students studying at Harvard today, of which over half (14,500) are postgraduate students.

Boston University

Boston University

The top-ranked of all universities in Boston’s city center, Boston University is currently ranked 89th in the world and 29th in the US. Another multidisciplinary university, Boston University (BU) offers 17 schools and 250 fields of study. Heavily involved in innovation, research and development and forward-thinking politics, BU has a history of incubating new ways of thinking and groundbreaking research, boasting more than US$368 million in research awards. With 16,478 undergraduates and 14,150 graduates, BU offers the chance to study in Boston across two campuses, including one based in the historic south end of Boston, the Boston University Medical Campus (BUMC), which trains all life sciences and medicine students.

The remaining top universities in Massachusetts are:

Top student cities in Massachusetts



Known as the Cradle of Liberty due to its key role in the American Revolution, Boston is the capital city of Massachusetts, home to and surrounded by a great many places to study. A bustling and cosmopolitan city, those who choose to study in Boston will get to experience its eclectic urban arena firsthand, including its strong Irish influences, vibrant arts scene and passionate sports fans.

Whether cheering on American football, baseball or basketball matches or the city’s annual marathon, Bostonians have numerous chances to get involved in the competitive community spirit. Boston’s political influence is another reason to get excited. Having been at the forefront of the American Revolution, the city continues to be a place of ongoing cultural revolution, progressive politics and innovative ideas. The annual week-long Harborfest is just one date in Boston’s packed cultural calendar and is the largest Independence Day festival in the US.

Meanwhile many history-lovers choose to study in Boston for the numerous world-class museums and the historic architecture which is hidden amongst the high rises and contemporary builds. And, while you may not think nature would come high on the list of attractions for such an urban jungle, Boston is at the heart of New England, perfectly placed for vibrant autumnal scenes in the fall and blossoming parks in the spring.



Massachusetts’ second-largest city, Worcester, is also the most central city in the state. Featuring the same brilliant fall scenery as Boston, Worcester also boasts a highly developed healthcare industry, connected to the large numbers of academic institutions training students in the region, as well as a developing arts scene and increased commercial investment in the downtown area.

Cheaper than undertaking study in Boston and perhaps more easily accessible from other states, Worcester and its continued cultural development should definitely not be dismissed. It’s also just an hour’s drive from Boston.



Located to the west of the state, almost on the northern border of Connecticut, is the city of Springfield. The Connecticut River which runs through the heart of the region is one reason for the city’s thriving economy, having been a key trading and transportation hub for many years. Almost midway between New York and Boston, Springfield offers enough nature, art and culture to make it more than just a stopover city.



A small city with a university town feel, Cambridge has a huge student community thanks to its impressive cluster world-leading institutions (including MIT and Harvard). The great thing about Cambridge is that it allows its student residents to focus on their studies and form close-knit networks to benefit their future careers, as well as offering the cosmopolitan excitement of Boston in its back garden.

Massachusetts facts

Boston Public Garden

  • Located in the north-east of the US, Massachusetts shares borders with Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Its capital and largest city is Boston.
  • Famous people from Massachusetts include former president John F. Kennedy, poet Sylvia Plath and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson.
  • The state’s official dessert is the Boston Cream Pie – a round cake filled with custard or cream and topped with chocolate.
  • Harvard University has more than 18 million volumes in its libraries, a number beaten only by the Library of Congress and the Boston Public Library.
  • Boston has 10 sister-cities: Barcelona, Spain; Kyoto, Japan; Strasbourg, France; Melbourne, Australia; Padua, Italy; Taipei, Taiwan; Hangzhou, China, Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana, Praia, Cape Verde, and Belfast, UK.
  • After Boston, the largest cities in Massachusetts are Worcester, Springfield, Lowell, Cambridge, New Bedford, Brockton, Quincy and Lynn.
  • Its official name is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
  • Home to nearly 6.8 million people.
  • Volleyball was invented in Massachusetts in 1895 by William G. Morgan.

This article was originally published in January 2015 . It was last updated in September 2021

Written by

Laura is a former staff writer for, providing advice and guidance for students on a range of topics helping them to choose where to study, get admitted and find funding and scholarships. A graduate of Queen Mary University of London, Laura also blogs about student life.


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