Harvard University is almost universally acclaimed as the world’s most prestigious university. There is little doubt that its towering reputation is well earned.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...
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.
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.
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).
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 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 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.
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).
The New School is a private, research university located in and around Greenwich Village in lower Manhattan. It was founded in 1919 as the New School for Social Research.
The University of Paris VIII or University of Vincennes in Saint-Denis is a public university in Paris. 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 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 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 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 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.
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.
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.
Heidelberg University, officially the Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg, is a public research university in Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Founded in 1386 on instruction of Pope Urban VI, Heidelberg is Germany's oldest university and one of the world's oldest surviving universities. It was the third university established in the Holy Roman Empire.
Bielefeld University is a university in Bielefeld, Germany. Founded in 1969, it is one of the country's newer universities, and considers itself a "reform" university, following a different style of organization and teaching than the established universities. In particular, the university aims to "re-establish the unity between research and teaching", and so all its faculty teach courses in their area of research. The university also stresses a focus on interdisciplinary research, helped by the architecture, which encloses all faculties in one great structure. It is among the first of the Ger...
The University of Arizona (UA) was founded in 1885, when Arizona was still a territory (it entered the Union in 1912).
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.
Brandeis University was founded in suburban Boston in 1948. Its founders intended to provide a top-rank research university that would be friendly to Jewish students and faculty—at a time when the American Ivy League schools all restricted the number of their Jewish students according to a strict quota system.
Rutgers University’s full official name is Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
Tunis University is a university in Tunis, Tunisia. It was founded in 1960 on the basis of earlier educational establishments.
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 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 State University of New York at Stony Brook , more commonly known as Stony Brook University , is a public sea-grant and space-grant research university in Stony Brook, New York. It is one of four university centers of the State University of New York system. Consisting of 213 buildings over 1,454 acres of land in Suffolk County, it is the largest public university in the state of New York by area.
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 Maryland is a system comprising 15 campuses. The system has a rather complicated history.
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 Warsaw , established in 1816, is the largest university in Poland. It employs over 6,000 staff including over 3,100 academic educators. It provides graduate courses for 53,000 students . The University offers some 37 different fields of study, 18 faculties and over 100 specializations in Humanities, technical as well as Natural Sciences.
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.
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.
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.
Lancaster University is a collegiate public research university in Lancaster, Lancashire, England. The university was established by royal charter in 1964, one of several new universities created in the 1960s.
The University of California, San Diego is a public research university in San Diego, California. Established in 1960 near the pre-existing Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego is one of the ten campuses of the University of California, and offers over 200 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, enrolling approximately 30,800 undergraduate and 8,000 graduate students. The university occupies near the coast of the Pacific Ocean, with the main campus resting on approximately .
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.
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.
As with several other universities on this list, the founding of the University of Leipzig occurred in the context of the gradual coalescence in Central Europe of numerous principalities out of the slow disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire. Numerous semi-autonomous duchies, principalities, and kingdoms (small, medium, and large) were brought into being by this historic political transformation, and many of the dukes, princes, and kings who governed them coveted the prestige of having a university on their own territory.
The University of Freiburg , officially the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg , is a public research university located in Freiburg im Breisgau, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The university was founded in 1457 by the Habsburg dynasty as the second university in Austrian-Habsburg territory after the University of Vienna. Today, Freiburg is the fifth-oldest university in Germany, with a long tradition of teaching the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences and enjoys a high academic reputation both nationally and internationally. The university is made up of 11 faculties and attracts s
The University at Buffalo (officially, State University of New York at Buffalo) was founded in 1846 as a private medical college by Millard Fillmore, 13th President of the US. Commonly known as UB, the university joined the SUNY system in 1962.
A university was founded in Jena—in what is now the state of Thuringia in the heart of the German-speaking lands—around the middle of the sixteenth century. While it is not one of the oldest universities in Central Europe (for a thumbnail history, search “University of Leipzig” on our site), it is still among the dozen or so oldest universities located on the soil of what is now the Federal Republic of Germany (exact counts vary). Thus, Jena is quite a venerable institution by most standards.