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#1 Overall Influence #2 Desirability Rank

Harvard University

Private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
By James Barham, PhD

Harvard University is almost universally acclaimed as the world’s most prestigious university. There is little doubt that its towering reputation is well earned.

For starters, some 150 Nobel laureates have either studied or taught at the school—more than at any other university in the world.

Moreover, over 40 international heads of state or government have passed through its gates. Of these, eight were US Presidents (the most of any college or university):

  • John Adams
  • John Quincy Adams
  • Rutherford B. Hayes
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • John F. Kennedy
  • George W. Bush
  • Barack Obama

Harvard Law School is also often considered the best in the country. It has contributed no fewer than 16 Justices to the US Supreme Court over the years (the most of any law school in the country). The sitting Justices who are Harvard Law graduates are Stephen G. Breyer, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Neil Gorsuch, and Elena Kagan.

Another reason for Harvard’s reputation is its strength across a wide variety of academic disciplines, not only in the arts and sciences—from Classics and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations to biology, astronomy, and physics—but also in law, business, and medicine.

Philosophy has long been a particular strength, as witnessed by the following names:

  • William James
  • C.S. Peirce
  • George Santayana
  • Josiah Royce
  • W.E.B. Du Bois
  • Alfred North Whitehead
  • C.I. Lewis
  • Alonzo Church
  • W.V.O. Quine
  • Hilary Putnam
  • Donald Davidson
  • John Rawls
  • Robert Nozick
  • Saul Kripke
  • David K. Lewis
  • Thomas Nagel
  • Hubert Dreyfus

Other distinguished, nineteenth- and twentieth-century individuals with connections to Harvard include:

  • Transcendentalist thinker and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Author, lecturer, and political activist, blind and deaf from birth, Hellen Keller
  • Great novelist, Henry James
  • Nobel Prize-winning, modernist poet, T.S. Eliot
  • Sociologist, Talcott Parsons
  • Anthropologist, Clifford Geertz
  • Physicist and Manhattan Project leader, J. Robert Oppenheimer
  • Political theorist/historian and US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger
  • US Vice President, Al Gore
  • Microsoft founder, Bill Gates
  • Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg
  • Film directors, Terrence Malick and Darren Aronofsky
  • Actors, Jack Lemmon, Tommy Lee Jones, Matt Damon, and Natalie Portman, among many others far too numerous to mention.

Nor does it hurt that, with some seven million volumes, Harvard’s Widener Library is one of the largest academic libraries in the world.

But all of this raises the question: Why Harvard? Why did this particular school attain such a stratospheric academic stature?

For one thing, it is the oldest institution of higher learning in what is now the United States, having been founded, under the name of New College, a mere 16 years after the arrival of the Mayflower. On the other hand, though, by the standards of Europe where scores of universities date back to the Middle Ages, Harvard is a relative newcomer on the educational scene. Longevity alone, then, cannot explain the school’s international pre-eminence. So, what does?

If we focus on the period since World War II, we can clearly see that Harvard has risen to world prominence in conjunction with the nation of which it is a part—the United States—which at war’s end in 1945 found itself the military, technological, and economic leader of the world. Even before the war, during Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s, eminent Jewish academics and others who saw the handwriting on the wall had streamed into the US by the tens of thousands. After the war, with Germany in ruins, the migration of highly distinguished scientists and scholars to this country continued throughout the late 1940s and into the 1950s.

Harvard was certainly a prime beneficiary of these historical trends, but many other institutions benefited, as well. Which raises the question: What accounts for Harvard’s outstanding excellence in relation to other American colleges and universities, which can be traced to well before World War II?

Here, we may point to a combination of factors, including the intellectual and cultural dominance of Boston, and New England as a whole, during the first couple of centuries of our nation’s history. Another factor is undoubtedly Harvard’s enormous endowment—in excess of $40 billion—making the school by far the wealthiest university in the US. Such riches bring with them the ability both to pay top-of-the-line salaries to its faculty and to provide them with cutting-edge facilities.

Who can say with certainty which of these many factors was decisive? Still, we can safely say that the more famous Harvard became, the greater the number of distinguished scholars and promising students who wished to be associated with it—which in the fulness of time increased its reputation still further.

And so on, until the present day . . . and, in all likelihood, long into the future.

From Wikipedia

Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in 1636 as Harvard College and named for its first benefactor, the Puritan clergyman John Harvard, it is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and among the most prestigious in the world.

Source: Wikipedia


What does this school look for?

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Graduation Rate


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Median ACT Score



How much does it cost to attend?

Tuition (in-state)


Fees (in-state)


IncomeAverage Net Cost
0 - 30K$2,973
30K - 48K$1,010
48K - 75K$3,411
75K - 110K$15,553

After Graduation

Averages for 10 years after enrolling

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Campus Life

What's it like to attend this school?

The People

Full time on-campus stats

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The Campus

Where will you be attending?


Massachusetts Hall, Cambridge MA 02138

On Campus Crime Rates

Property Crime

19 per 100K

Violent Crime

0 per 100K

City Crime Rates

Property Crime

21 per 100K

Violent Crime

3 per 100K

What is Harvard 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

#1 World Rank
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#3 World Rank
#1 World Rank
#1 World Rank
#1 World Rank
Political Science
#2 World Rank
#1 World Rank
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#4 World Rank
Computer Science
#1 World Rank
#2 World Rank
#1 World Rank
#1 World Rank
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#1 World Rank
Religious Studies
#1 World Rank
#1 World Rank
#3 World Rank
Earth Sciences

Other areas of influence

#1 World Rank
Criminal Justice
#2 World Rank
Social Work
#5 World Rank

Influential People

Who are Harvard University's Most influential alumni?

Harvard University 's most influential alumni faculty include professors and professionals in the fields of Biology, Literature, and Philosophy

Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich

American poet, essayist and feminist

Robert Metcalfe

Robert Metcalfe

American electrical engineer

Helen Keller

Helen Keller

U.S. author and political activist for women's suffrage, labor rights, socialism, and antimilitarism; the 1st deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor's degree

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin

American fantasy and science fiction author

Paul Sweezy

American economist

Fischer Black

Fischer Black

American economist

Stanley Milgram

Stanley Milgram

American social psychologist

Jacob Viner

Jacob Viner

Canadian economist

John Tate

John Tate

American mathematician

Eleanor Rosch

Eleanor Rosch

Professor of psychology

Thomas Schelling

Thomas Schelling

American economist

Steve Bannon

Steve Bannon

American media executive and former White House Chief Strategist for Donald Trump