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 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.
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 ...
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 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.
The University of California, Berkeley is a public land-grant research university in Berkeley, California. Established in 1868 as the University of California, it is the state's first land-grant university and the first campus of the University of California system. Its fourteen colleges and schools offer over 350 degree programs and enroll 31,000 undergraduate and 12,000 graduate students. Berkeley is ranked among the world's top universities by major educational publications.
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).
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).
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...
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 City University of New York (CUNY) is a mammoth system of two-year community colleges, four-year liberal arts colleges, and graduate professional schools. This system traces its roots back to the Free Academy, established in Manhattan in 1847. In 1866, the Free Academy changed its name to the City College of New York, which makes today’s City College the oldest institution within the CUNY system.
Sorbonne University is a public research university in Paris, France, established in 2018 by the merger of Paris-Sorbonne University and Pierre et Marie Curie University, along with smaller institutions. The date 1257 on its logo refers to the founding of Collège de Sorbonne by Robert de Sorbon, part of the university's early legacy. It is one of the most prestigious universities in Europe and the world: as of 2021, Sorbonne University's alumni and professors have won 33 Nobel Prizes, 6 Fields Medals and one Turing Award.
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.
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 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...
University of Pittsburgh (“Pitt”) traces its roots to the Pittsburgh Academy, a preparatory school founded in 1787, when Pittsburgh was still a frontier outpost. Defined in this way, Pitt is the oldest continuously chartered educational institution west of the Allegheny Mountains.
Paris Sciences et Lettres University is a public collegiate university, in Paris, France, established in 2010, and formally created as a University in 2019. It is a collegiate university with 11 constituent schools. PSL is located in central Paris, with its main sites in the Latin Quarter, at the Jourdan campus, at Porte Dauphine in northern Paris, and at Carré Richelieu.
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).
The University of California, Los Angeles is a public land-grant 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. UCLA receives the most college applications of any university in the United States and is considered one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
The University of Notre Dame (ND) was founded in 1842 by Edward Sorin, a Catholic priest of the religious order of the Congregation of Holy Cross (Congregatio a Sancta Cruce—CSC). ND was originally a primary and secondary school. Two years later, in 1844, the school received its college charter from the General Assembly of Indiana (which had been a state since 1816). It awarded its first degree in 1849.
Rutgers University’s full official name is Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
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).
By rights, the University of Texas (known within Texas itself as “UT,” for short) ought to be 40 years older than it is. In 1839, the Republic of Texas officially set aside 40 acres of prime real estate in the center of the new country’s capital city, Austin, as the site for the campus of a national university. The Texas Congress also granted 288,000 acres of land, mainly in the western regions of the Republic, as a financial endowment for the future university.
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).
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.
The University of Melbourne is a public research university founded in 1853, the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Australia.
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 wave of expansion of Homo sapiens out of its African birthplace reached the continent of Australia around 40,000 years ago, or more. However, the first visit of Europeans to the land down under did not occur until 1606, when the Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon made landfall at what is now the town of Weipa on the western shore of the Cape York Peninsula in northern Queensland.
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.
Georgetown University is a Catholic institution of higher learning that was founded in 1789 by John Carroll, Archbishop of Baltimore.
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.
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 Paris VIII or University of Vincennes in Saint-Denis is a public university in Paris, France. Once part of the federal University of Paris system, it is now an autonomous public institution and is part of the Université Paris Lumières with Paris Nanterre University and Centre national de la recherche scientifique. Most undergraduate degrees are taught in French.
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.
Wesleyan University was founded in 1831 under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1872, Wesleyan led the way in admitting female students, an effort sometimes referred to as the “Wesleyan Experiment.” However, resistance to the experiment in certain quarters made itself increasingly felt, until the policy was reversed in 1912. Women were not admitted again until 1970.
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.
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.
McGill University is the direct descendent of McGill College, founded by royal charter in 1821 and largely funded by a bequest from the Scottish-born Canadian entrepreneur and philanthropist, James McGill. The university took its present name in 1885.
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.
The University of Birmingham has a rather involved history. The oldest entity to which the modern university can trace its roots is the Birmingham School of Medicine and Surgery, founded in 1825. This medical-training college was officially recognized by the crown in 1836, becoming the Birmingham Royal School of Medicine and Surgery, which developed into Queen’s College, Birmingham, in 1843.
Monash University is a public research university based in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Named for prominent World War I general Sir John Monash, it was founded in 1958 and is the second oldest university in the state. The university has a number of campuses, four of which are in Victoria , and one in Malaysia. Monash also has a research and teaching centre in Prato, Italy, a graduate research school in Mumbai, India and a graduate school in Suzhou, China. Monash University courses are also delivered at other locations, including South Africa.
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.
The University of California, San Diego is a public land-grant research university in San Diego, California. Established in 1960 near the pre-existing Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego is the southernmost of the ten campuses of the University of California, and offers over 200 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, enrolling 31,842 undergraduate and 8,631 graduate students. The university occupies near the coast of the Pacific Ocean, with the main campus resting on approximately . UC San Diego is ranked among the best universities in the world by major college and univer...
Goethe University is a university located in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. It was founded in 1914 as a citizens' university, which means it was founded and funded by the wealthy and active liberal citizenry of Frankfurt. The original name was Universität Frankfurt am Main. In 1932, the university's name was extended in honour of one of the most famous native sons of Frankfurt, the poet, philosopher and writer/dramatist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The university currently has around 45,000 students, distributed across four major campuses within the city.
The University of Arizona (UA) was founded in 1885, when Arizona was still a territory (it entered the Union in 1912).
Indiana University Bloomington (IUB) was founded in 1820. It is the flagship campus of the IU System.
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.
Syracuse University traces its roots to Genesee Wesleyan Seminary, which was founded by the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1831 in Lima, a small town south of Rochester, in the western part of New York state.