Boston University
#37 Overall Influence#56 Desirability Rank

Boston University

Private research university in Boston, Massachusetts, United States

By James Barham, PhD

Boston University (universally known as “BU”) traces its roots to a Methodist Church training college, the Newbury Biblical Institute, founded in Newbury, Vermont, by a group of Boston-based Methodist ministers and elders. Ten years later, in 1849, the school was transferred to the much larger town (and state capital) of Concord, New Hampshire, where it operated as the Concord Biblical Institute for 20 more years. Finally, in 1869, it moved again, this time to Boston itself, under the new name of the Boston Theological Institute.

Just two years after that, in 1871, the school’s name was changed one last time—to Boston University. BU was built up piecemeal over a period of many years, in several different Boston locations, including the Beacon Hill and Copley Square neighborhoods. It only came to occupy its present main campus—in the Back Bay neighborhood along the south bank of the Charles River across from MIT—during the 1930s.

Despite BU’s origins as a Methodist Church training institute, its new 1871 charter stated that there should be no religious test for entrance to the university at large (the School of Theology excepted), placing BU among the ranks of the first American universities to officially sever their ties to their religious past. BU was also early in admitting women and African Americans to its student body on an equal basis with white men.

From today’s perspective, the transplantation of the school to Boston was prescient, as the city and its immediately surrounding region now have the highest concentration of top-ranking colleges and universities in the US. In addition to BU, the greater Boston area is home to Northeastern University and Emerson College (also in Boston proper), to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (in Cambridge), to Boston College (in Chestnut Hill), to Brandeis University (in Waltham), and to Tufts University (in Medford and Somerville).

Nine persons connected with Boston University have won the Nobel Prize. Of these, the best known are the:

  • American particle physicist, Sheldon Glashow—physics
  • American novelist, Saul Bellow and the Saint Lucian-born poet, Derek Walcott—literature
  • Romanian-born novelist, Holocaust-survivor, and prolific non-fiction author and political activist, Elie Wiesel— peace

Then there is the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., the Baptist minister and primary leader of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s until his assassination in 1968, who obtained his doctorate in systematic theology from BU in 1955, and who received the Noble Peace Prize in 1964.

It is also worth noting that King’s dissertation advisor at BU was Edgar Sheffield Brightman, who taught philosophy there for more than 30 years. Brightman’s own teacher, Borden Parker Bowne, was the founder of the American philosophical movement known as personalism; he, too, taught at BU for 30 years. Finally, one of Brightman’s students, Peter A. Bertocci, also taught for three decades at BU, where among other things he edited MLK’s papers. Thus, the three most important figures in the history of American personalism all made their long and distinguished careers at BU, which may be considered the beating heart of that significant American philosophical movement.

Another well-known philosopher, the Kant-scholar, and conservative public intellectual, John Silber, served as President of BU for some 25 years.

Among other well-known BU-connected individuals, we may mention:

  • Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone at BU in 1875
  • Philosophers, Alasdair MacIntyre & Roger Scruton
  • Poets, Robert Lowell & Sylvia Plath
  • Novelist, Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Folk singer, Joan Baez
  • Actors, Faye Dunaway, Geena Davis, Alfre Woodard, Julianne Moore, Marisa Tomei, & Emily Deschanel
  • Radio personality, Howard Stern
  • Television personalities, Rosie O’Donnell and Bill O’Reilly
  • Prominent, recently elected member of the US House of Representatives, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Finally, William Howard Taft lectured at BU’s law school between 1918 and 1921, in between serving as the 17th President of the United States and the 10th Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. Taft is the only person ever to hold both of those high positions.


What does this school look for?

Annual Applications




Graduation Rate


Median SAT Score


Median ACT Score



How much does it cost to attend?

Tuition (in-state)


Fees (in-state)


IncomeAverage Net Cost

After Graduation

Averages for 10 years after enrolling

Avg Earnings




Campus Life

What's it like to attend this school?

The People

Full time on-campus stats

Student Body






The Campus

Where will you be attending?


One Silber Way, Boston MA 02215

On Campus Crime Rates

Property Crime

11 per 100k

Violent Crime

1 per 100k

City Crime Rates

Property Crime

22 per 100k

Violent Crime

7 per 100k

What is Boston University known for?

Our answer to this is to show you the disciplines in which a school's faculty and alumni have had the highest historical influence. A school may be influential in a discipline even if they do not offer degrees in that area. We've organized two lists to show where they are influential and offer corresponding degrees, and where they are influential through scholarship although they don't offer degrees in the disciplines.

Top areas of influence with degrees offered

#9 World Rank #8 USA Rank
Social Work
#27 World Rank #11 USA Rank
Religious Studies
#32 World Rank #12 USA Rank
Earth Sciences
#14 World Rank #13 USA Rank
Criminal Justice
#20 World Rank #15 USA Rank
#36 World Rank #16 USA Rank
#32 World Rank #19 USA Rank
#39 World Rank #19 USA Rank
#27 World Rank #19 USA Rank
#26 World Rank #20 USA Rank
Political Science
#23 World Rank #21 USA Rank
#44 World Rank #21 USA Rank
#27 World Rank #22 USA Rank
#69 World Rank #25 USA Rank
#49 World Rank #27 USA Rank
#53 World Rank #29 USA Rank
#94 World Rank #33 USA Rank
#49 World Rank #33 USA Rank
Computer Science
#91 World Rank #34 USA Rank
#64 World Rank #34 USA Rank
#70 World Rank #39 USA Rank
#117 World Rank #43 USA Rank
#77 World Rank #54 USA Rank

Other areas of influence

#35 World Rank #28 USA Rank

Influential People

Who are Boston University's Most influential alumni?

Boston University's most influential alumni faculty include professors and professionals in the fields of Social Work, Criminal Justice, and Education. Boston University’s most academically influential people include Martin Luther King Jr., Howard Stern, and Neal Stephenson.

Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.

American clergyman, activist, and leader in the American Civil Rights Movement

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Howard Stern
Howard Stern

American radio and television personality, producer, author, actor, and photographer

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Neal Stephenson
Neal Stephenson

American science fiction writer

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Bill O'Reilly
Bill O'Reilly

American political commentator, journalist, author, and former television host

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Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri

American author of Indian origin

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Ann Hibner Koblitz

American academic

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Kim Stanley Robinson
Kim Stanley Robinson

American science fiction writer

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Sheldon Lee Glashow
Sheldon Lee Glashow

American theoretical physicist

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Leonard Nimoy
Leonard Nimoy

American actor, film director, poet, musician and photographer

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William Sims Bainbridge
William Sims Bainbridge

American sociologist

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Julianne Moore
Julianne Moore

American actress

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Lothrop Stoddard
Lothrop Stoddard

American historian, political scientist, journalist and race theorist

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