Harvard University is almost universally acclaimed as the world’s most prestigious university. There is little doubt that its towering reputation is well earned.
An institution of higher education named University College London (UCL) was founded in the UK’s largest metropolis and capital city in 1826. A mere three years later, in 1829, a second, similar institution named King’s College London (KCL) opened its doors. Then, a mere decade after the founding of UCL, a third institution known simply as University of London (UL) was founded in 1836 by the merger of UCL and KCL.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, founded shortly before the American Civil War and universally known as “MIT,” is located just across the Charles River from downtown Boston. Starting from the MIT campus, if you walk, cycle, or drive in a westerly direction along Massachusetts Avenue (“Mass Ave,” to the locals), or ride the Red Line underneath it, you soon arrive at Harvard Square, with the bulk of the town of Cambridge sandwiched in between. Thus, MIT is not unlike a bookend paired with Harvard, geographically speaking, and academically speaking, as well, it looks upon itself very mu...
The University of Chicago is one of the foremost universities in the world academically, albeit one of the youngest in that august company. In spite of its relatively recent founding, the school has been associated with some of the world’s most important scientific achievements, above all, the first controlled, self-sustaining, nuclear chain reaction (atomic fission), which was achieved in late 1942 by a team led by the legendary Italian physicist, Enrico Fermi, in a laboratory beneath a football field on the Chicago campus.
Although only the ninth-oldest university in the country, Princeton is one of the most historic. Originally founded as the College of New Jersey, the school’s sixth presidents, the Scottish theologian and educator John Witherspoon, signed the Declaration of Independence—the only college leader to do so. The next year, George Washington’s colonials dealt a small but significant blow to Lord Cornwallis’s superior forces at the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777. The victories at the earlier Battle of Trenton and at Princeton had an important positive effect on American morale, leading ...
Stanford University was founded by Leland Stanford, a wealthy railroad magnate and erstwhile US Senator from California, as well as a former Governor of the Golden State. He placed the university in an unincorporated area about 30 miles south of San Francisco, adjacent to the town of Palo Alto (which he also founded). The campus lies in what is now known as Silicon Valley, which contributes greatly to the immense intellectual and economic influence of the private, research university that still bears the Stanford family name. Today, Stanford University is perhaps the closest thing to a true Iv...
Yale was originally founded under the name of Collegiate School by Connecticut Colony in 1701. It is the fourth-oldest institution of higher learning in the US, after Harvard, the College of William & Mary (in Williamsburg, Virginia), and St. John’s College (in Annapolis, Maryland). Called the “Collegiate School,” its original mission was to train future ministers for the Congregational Church.
Columbia is the eleventh-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. After New Jersey founded its college (now Princeton University) in 1746, New Yorkers, not wishing to be outdone, established their own college just eight years later. Its original name was King’s College.
The University of California, Berkeley is a public research university in Berkeley, California. Established in 1868 as the state's first land-grant university, it is the oldest campus of the University of California system and a founding member of the Association of American Universities. Among its 14 colleges and schools, the university employs over 2,500 faculty and enrolls some 31,000 undergraduate and 12,000 graduate students, and its 180 academic departments and 80 interdisciplinary research units offer over 350 degree programs. Berkeley is ranked among the world's top universities by ma...
The University of Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world, which affords it an aura of awe and respect that no amount of money can buy.
As the cultural mecca of the US, New York City naturally contains many fine colleges and universities. One of the very best is New York University (NYU), located in Washington Square in Lower Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood. While NYU is a quintessentially urban school lacking a conventional, pastoral college campus setting, its site is immediately recognizable thanks to Washington Square Arch, which is a replica of the ancient Roman Arch of Titus and very similar in appearance to Paris’s celebrated Arc de Triomphe (though only half its size).
The University of Pennsylvania (commonly known as “Penn”) is a leading private research university (note that nearly all US universities named after their state are public-supported—Penn is an exception to this rule).
Founded in 1209, the University of Cambridge is one of the oldest universities in the world (or, at least, in Europe, not to prejudge the claims of several Islamic institutions to that title).
Cornell University was founded in turbulent times. With the Civil War winding down, and less than two weeks after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the Governor of New York signed the school’s official charter in the state capital, Albany, where only the day before Lincoln’s funeral procession had passed through the city’s streets.
The flagship campuses of many of the state university systems have superb faculties and excellent academic reputations. However, setting aside Berkeley as a special case, by our criteria the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus is the most distinguished of all these many fine institutions. That is, Michigan has a strong claim to be considered (after Berkeley) the best public research university in the US.
The School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences—or, in its French form, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS)—traces its roots to a department within the earlier École Pratique des Hautes Études [Practical School of Advanced Studies], founded in 1868.
George Mason University (GMU) was founded in 1949 as the Northern Virginia University Center of the University of Virginia. The school was originally located in Arlington, Virginia, a suburban town just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC.
The founding of Northwestern University was spearheaded by the physician and politician John Evans, for whom the town of Evanston, Illinois, is named. The school is a private institution whose campus lies along Lake Michigan, just north of Chicago.
With more than 40,000 students, Manchester is the largest single-site university in the United Kingdom. While it traces its roots back to the Manchester Mechanics’ Institute founded in 1824, the present university was formed by the merger of University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) and Victoria University of Manchester in 2004.
The University of Delhi (DU) was founded in 1922 by the government of British India. The new university soon absorbed four other colleges already existing in Delhi: Delhi College (originally founded in 1792 as Zakir Husain Delhi College); St. Stephen’s College (founded in 1881); Hindu College (founded in 1899); and Ramjas College (founded in 1917). One reason why the British decided to establish DU was the transfer of the seat of colonial administration from Kolkata (Calcutta) to Delhi in 1911.
Johns Hopkins was designed from its origin to contribute to the cutting edge of scientific discovery. With time, this goal has been fully achieved, leading to the top-tier research institution that the university is today. The school is named after its founding benefactor, the entrepreneur and philanthropist Johns Hopkins, who contributed $7 million (approximately $145 million in today’s money) to create both the university and an associated hospital.
The University of Warwick (pronounced “Warrick”) was founded in 1965 near the West Midlands market town of the same name, which lies approximately halfway between Coventry and Stratford-upon-Avon, and has a population of a little over 30,000. However, the university campus does not lie in Warwick proper, but rather in a rural area to the north of the old town center, virtually on the outskirts of Coventry.
Duke began life as Brown’s Schoolhouse, on a site in what is now the town of Trinity in Randolph County, North Carolina, a little over 70 miles west of its current location in the city of Durham.
The University of California, Los Angeles is a public research university in Los Angeles, California. UCLA traces its early origins back to 1882 as the southern branch of the California State Normal School . It became the Southern Branch of the University of California in 1919, making it the second-oldest of the 10-campus University of California system.
The Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York is a public research institution and post-graduate university in New York City. It is the principal doctoral-granting institution of the City University of New York system. The school is situated in the landmark B. Altman and Company Building at 365 Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, opposite the Empire State Building. The Graduate Center has 4,600 students, 31 doctoral programs, 14 master's programs, and 30 research centers and institutes. A core faculty of approximately 140 is supplemented by over 1,800 additiona...
The University of Bonn is a public research university located in Bonn, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It was founded in its present form as the Rhein-Universität on 18 October 1818 by Frederick William III, as the linear successor of the Kurkölnische Akademie Bonn which was founded in 1777. The University of Bonn offers many undergraduate and graduate programs in a range of subjects and has 544 professors. Its library holds more than five million volumes.
The University of Bristol traces its roots to a Merchant Venturers’ school (later the Merchant Venturers’ Technical College) founded in 1595 by the Society of Merchant Venturers, a Bristol-based charitable organization.
The University of Toronto received its royal charter in 1827 from King George IV. Originally known as King’s College, it was the first institution of higher learning in the colonial Province of Upper Canada (consisting of mostly what is now southern Ontario).
Australian National University (ANU) proper dates to 1946, when it was founded by an act of the Australian Parliament in a suburb of Canberra, the capital of Australia.
In 1900, the Scottish-born industrialist and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, donated the funds to establish a vocational college called the Carnegie Technical Schools. In 1912, the Technical Schools’ name was changed to the Carnegie Institute of Technology (CIT).
The University of Minnesota (UM) traces its roots to a college preparatory school established in the city of Minneapolis seven years before Minnesota entered the Union in 1858. This school closed its doors during the Civil War, but reopened in 1867.
Georgetown University is a Catholic institution of higher learning that was founded in 1789 by John Carroll, Archbishop of Baltimore.
The University of British Columbia (UBC) was founded in 1908.
In spite of dating back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the University of Edinburgh is only the fourth-oldest university in Scotland (after St. Andrews, Glasgow, and Aberdeen), hence the sixth-oldest in the English-speaking world (with Oxford and Cambridge, of course, in first and second positions).
The University of Virginia (UVA) was very much the personal project of the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. Virginia already had a venerable and distinguished university, the College of William & Mary, which is the second-oldest in the country—founded right after Harvard—and was Jefferson’s own alma mater.
The University of Essex is a public research university in Essex, England. It was established in 1963, welcomed its first students in 1964 and received its royal charter in 1965. Essex is a plate glass university, a group of universities which were established in the 1960s. Essex's motto, ’Thought the harder, heart the keener’, is adapted from the Anglo-Saxon poem The Battle of Maldon.
The University of Sussex was established by royal charter in 1961 in the village of Falmer, in the eastern portion of the sprawling South Downs National Park, just north of the seaside city of Brighton, in the county of East Sussex.
Tufts University was founded as Tufts College in 1852 in the Boston Metropolitan Area–suburb of Medford, north of Cambridge. The school was built under the auspices of the Universalist Church of America on 20 acres of land donated by businessman and philanthropist Charles Tufts. Today, the university also has a satellite campus located in downtown Boston.
Bocconi University is a private university in Milan, Italy. Bocconi provides undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate education in the fields of economics, finance, law, management, political science, and public administration. SDA Bocconi, the university's business school, offers MBA and Executive MBA programs.
The University of Rochester traces its roots to the Baptist Education Society of the State of New York, founded in 1817 in the town of Hamilton in central New York state. Its primary function was to train Baptist clergymen. In 1823, the educational society changed its name to the Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution.
The University of Wisconsin was founded at the same time that the eastern part of the Wisconsin Territory became the new state of Wisconsin and entered the union. In accord with its charter, the new state university was physically located in the state capital, Madison.
This university has a fascinating pedigree. It was originally founded by Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm III, in consultation with three great German Enlightenment thinkers: the philologist and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt, the philosopher J.G. Fichte, and the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher. Originally known simply as the University of Berlin, for most of its existence up until the aftermath of World War II, it was officially known as the Friedrich Wilhelm University.
Amherst College was founded in 1821. It is a four-year, liberal arts college with an enrollment of over 1,850 undergraduates.
Brown began life as the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (officially) or Rhode Island College (unofficially). It is the twelfth-oldest institution of higher learning in the US.
The University of Calcutta, informally known as Calcutta University , is a collegiate public state university located in Kolkata, West Bengal, India. It was established on 24 January 1857 and was one of the first institutions in Asia to be established as a multidisciplinary, Western-style university. Presently, the university's jurisdiction is limited to a few districts of West Bengal. Within India, it is recognized as a "Five-Star University" and accredited an "A" Grade by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council. The University of Calcutta was awarded the status of "Centre with Pote...
Rutgers University’s full official name is Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
The University of Vienna was founded by the Habsburg ruler, Rudolf IV, Duke of Austria. This monarch was known as “Rudolf der Stifter” [Rudolf the Founder] on account of his fondness for building new cathedrals and monasteries, as well as the university. He may also have been motivated by rivalry with his Central European peers, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV (who had established Charles University in Prague just a few years earlier, in 1348) and Casimir III (known as “Casimir the Great”), King of Poland (who had founded Jagiellonian University in Kraków one year earlier, in 1364).
The University of Maryland is a system comprising 15 campuses. The system has a rather complicated history.
Founded by a decree (“papal bull”) issued by Pope Nicholas V, Glasgow is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world. Only Oxford and Cambridge (see above) and, in Scotland, St. Andrews University (founded in 1413) are older.
The University of Southern California (USC) was founded as the first private research university in the state (five years before Stanford) largely through the efforts of Judge Robert Widney, one of the most prominent citizens of Los Angeles at that time.