What Are The Most Prestigious Universities In The World?

Studying abroad is a great way to really come to grips with another country and its culture. Universities provide a ready-made community for you ease into, and studying away from your home country can improve your career prospects and language skills. And, of course, studying overseas provides you with an opportunity to see the world, make new friends, and find new interests you never knew existed.Being an international student is a good first taste of expat life. Expat students are more likely to become expat professionals, and a degree from a foreign institution may accelerate your expat career.

But if you’re going to study abroad, you want to make sure you check your options. The right university is not the same for everyone, and with such a plethora of world-class institutions to choose from, what’s an aspiring international student to do?

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings are here to help. The poll lists a select group of highly respected academics to create a definitive ranking of how those at the heart of the industry rate the world’s top academic institutions.

The USA does very well, occupying eight of the top ten positions. While the university system in the USA is famously expensive, don’t despair. Many of these institutions offer financial aid packages that are also available to foreign students.

Competition for places is fierce, however, and while an average of 25% of the student body at these universities are international, you’ll need to work hard to gain your place.

10. California Institute of Technology, USA

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If science, engineering, space-faring robots, and sunny weather are your thing, Caltech might just be your academic heaven. Its compact campus is located in Pasadena, California, and promises state-of-the-art facilities and a challenging, interdisciplinary education.

Caltech is the home of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), the leading centre in the USA for robotic exploration of the solar system. You may not have heard of Caltech’s alumni, but you will have heard of some of their work: the Mars Curiosity Rover, the Voyager probes, and the Kepler space telescope.

Add to these ground-breaking missions a host of Nobel Laureates, and an enviable student-to-faculty ratio of 3:1, and it’s easy to see why Caltech has earned such a high reputation.

But this school is not for the academically faint of heart. Admission is tough, and the institution prides itself on being small and painfully selective.

9. Columbia University, USA

With impressive alumni including US Presidents Barack Obama and Theodore Roosevelt, more than 80 Nobel Prize Laureates, and a smattering of actors, Columbia University can certainly claim a star-studded history. And a long one too. Founded in 1754, it is the fifth oldest university in the USA, and the oldest in the state of New York.

The university’s main campus is located on the upper west side of the Big Apple, so it’s perfect for students keen to try living in New York City.

Bibliophiles will be salivating at the opportunity to get their hands on the 2 million books held in the Butler Library, and once you’ve skimmed through that lot a further 22 university libraries are dotted around the city.

The university is research focused, with 20 different schools offering courses from architecture to business, law, medicine, arts, humanities, science and engineering.

8. Yale University, USA

Also boasting centuries of history, Yale University occupies 260 acres of New Haven, Connecticut. Consisting of 14 schools, students follow a liberal arts curriculum including arts and humanities, sciences and social sciences before choosing their departmental major.

The university is modelled after Oxford and Cambridge, with students being housed in residential colleges and remaining affiliated with these throughout the four years of their degree.

The importance of community runs through the entire school. Traditional ceremonies, the residential college system, sports and clubs are an integral part of university life. Students are encouraged to make their experience at Yale extend beyond academia alone.

The Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) is dedicated to assuring a warm welcome to students from abroad, and continued support throughout their life at the university.

7. Princeton University, USA

Focusing on the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering, Princeton University is also known for its beautiful, park-like campus.

Spread over 500 acres, it attracts 800,000 visitors a year, and it is easy to see why. The imposing Collegiate Gothic architecture dominates, and adds a certain level of dignified flair to student life.

The university hosts an active cultural scene, with the McCarter Theatre Center located on campus. Here, the Princeton University Triangle Club still perform regularly, while the Tony Award winning professional company offer over 200 performances of theatre, dance, music, and special events every year.

If the campus, the theatre, and the picturesque town of Princeton aren’t enough for you, New York and Philadelphia are both only an hour away.

6. University of California, Berkeley, USA

The University of California’s Berkeley campus is usually known simply as Berkeley. Located in San Francisco’s Bay Area, studying at Berkeley affords students the opportunity to live in one one the world’s most liveable cities, famous for its open-minded residents and rich cultural life.

Academics at Berkeley have contributed hugely to our understanding of the world, with discoveries ranging from the extinction by asteroid of the dinosaurs to the invention of the wetsuit and the formulation of the first flu vaccine.

Sports are a big deal at Berkeley. The California Golden Bears have a long history of excellence in athletics, having bagged titles in American football, baseball, and swimming.

The annual Big Game sees the Golden Bears take on long-standing rivals the Stanford Cardinals in a brutal game of American football, for which the winning team is presented with custody of the Stanford Axe. Stanford have held the Axe since 2010.

Berkeley offers a wide variety of courses. If you can think of it, you can probably study it at Berkeley!

5. University of Oxford, UK

With teaching going all the way back to 1096, the University of Oxford boasts the longest history of any university in the English-speaking world, and an almost equally long tradition of taking in international students.

Emo of Friesland enrolled at the university in 1190, beginning a tradition that is still strong today. Over 40% of students and faculty are international, with 140 countries represented.

The university is practically a town in its own right. Occupying large swathes of the medieval city centre of Oxford are its 44 colleges and over 100 libraries. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to visit Oxford without seeing the university!

Oxford is well known for its non-academic traditions. Students and tourists alike escape the streets in summer, punting flatboats down the city’s waterways.

Held annually, the Boat Race famously pits Oxford rowers against their arch rivals, Cambridge, in a 4.2 mile race down the Thames.

It would take days to read a full list of notable alumni, but a few you’ve probably heard of include Stephen Hawking, Margaret Thatcher, and Oscar Wilde.

Oxford University is ranked number one in the world for medicine and life sciences, and also has an excellent reputation for social sciences, arts and humanities, engineering and technology, and physical sciences.

4. University of Cambridge, UK

The University of Cambridge is Oxford’s arch-rival in the UK. While it cannot claim to be the oldest university in the English-speaking world, with a founding date of 1209 it is certainly antique.

Just like Oxford, the university has a host of traditions. Chief among them is the wooden spoon awarded at Cambridge to the lowest passing grade in final exams. Over a metre in length, and shaped much like an oar, it has not been awarded since 1909, but still occupies pride of place within St John’s College.

We have a lot to thank Cambridge for. Not only did Charles Babbage design the first computing system there in the mid 19th century, the University of Cambridge was also the home of the first ever webcam. Designed to ensure scientists didn’t waste trips to the break room to find an empty coffee pot, the Trojan Room Coffee Pot webcam broadcast a live feed of the bubbling, or bereft, brew pot to faculty computers.

The university offers degrees in six schools: Arts and Humanities, Biological Sciences, Clinical Medicine, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Physical Sciences and Technology.

3. Stanford University, USA

Located just one hour south of San Francisco, Stanford University is known for its entrepreneurial spirit, forming the heart of the innovative, self-sufficient community that would become Silicon Valley.

Google’s co-founders met at Stanford, and alumni include the founders of Hewlett-Packard, Nike, Instagram, and Snapchat.

Stanford’s campus is enormous, occupying over 8,000 hectares. With so much space to play with, the university grounds include a golf course, stadium, nature reserve, and shopping centre.

Even with so much on site the campus is still big enough to offer guaranteed on campus housing to students for all four years of their degree. Accommodation options include dormitories, co-ops, row houses, fraternities, and sororities.

Stanford has a strong sports programme, and has won the NACDA Director’s Cup, recognising the university with the best overall athletic team achievement, every year since 1994.

Stanford University has a broad base of academic options, with over 40 departments in three academic schools, plus a further four professional schools.

2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

Founded with science and technology in mind, MIT has certainly earned its reputation. With 85 Nobel Laureates, 58 National Medal of Science winners, 29 National Medal of Technology and Innovation winners, and 45 MacArthur Fellows, innovation and excellence are par for the course among the faculty and students at this university.

The first chemical synthesis of penicillin, the development of radar, and the invention of magnetic core memory, which enabled the development of digital computers, all took place at MIT.

With a high emphasis on academic merit and technical proficiency, MIT has never awarded an honorary degree, and does not award athletic scholarships.

Students at MIT take their learning seriously, but they show a tendency to apply it in unusual ways. ‘Hacking’ is a favourite pastime, and involves playing elaborate practical jokes and pranks.

Famous hacks include balancing a campus police patrol car on the roof of the Great Dome, suspending an inverted ‘lounge room’, complete with illuminated lamp, from underneath the archway of the MIT Media Lab, and the removal of a 1.7 ton cannon from Caltech to MIT via a fake removal company.

While MIT is best known for its research and education in the physical sciences and engineering, more recently it has been gaining ground in biology, economics, linguistics and management.

1. Harvard University

Harvard is the oldest university in the USA, and the most prestigious in the world. It is also the richest, with an endowment of USD$38 billion.

This wealth allows the university to be generous with their student funding. All students who are offered a place at the university are eligible to receive funding to ensure they can afford to attend, regardless of nationality. Currently, 70% of students at Harvard receive some form of funding, and nearly 20% pay nothing at all.

Getting in isn’t easy, however. For the class of 2019, only six percent of applicants were accepted.

If you want to get a taste of what it might be like to study at Harvard, you can check out their dedicated online learning website. The courses on offer are created by lecturers and staff, and many of them are completely free.

The university caters to a broad range of academic interests, and is particularly well known for its law and medical schools.

Article by Andy Scofield, Expat Focus International Features Writer


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