American Research Universities and the Nobel Prize

Alfred Nobel was a Swedish inventor and manufacturer who became wealthy in the late 19th century from his 355 inventions, the most well known of which is dynamite. In his will in 1895, he established a significant endowment and procedure by which a set of annual international awards was to be bestowed by a Board representing Swedish and Norwegian institutions. These awards would be granted in recognition of “academic, cultural, and scientific advances that constitute outstanding contributions to humanity”.

Nobel prizes continue to be awarded in the fields of Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine, Economics, Peace, and Literature. Prizes for each of these fields aren’t necessarily granted every year if the Board determines that an award isn’t justified. Single awards are often split among multiple recipients (laureates).

A variable monetary prize ($1.2 million in 2016) accompanies each award. If there are multiple laureates, the monetary prize is divided among them at the discretion of the Board. It’s common, but not required, that laureates donate their prize money to benefit scientific, cultural, or humanitarian causes. Most Nobel Prizes in scientific and economics are awarded to individuals in association with their affiliated institution. In a majority of cases, the affiliated institution is a research university.

Last month, we posted an article titled “America’s Great Research Universities” that described how U.S. academic institutions have risen to the forefront of scientific achievement worldwide. Evidence of this status lies in the 881 Nobel Prizes that have been awarded to laureates associated with American research universities, far more than the universities of any other country. Table A below lists these American universities. They’re ranked by the number of individual and shared Nobel laureates associated with each institution.

Table A: Top 40 American Research Universities – Nobel Laureates







1 Harvard University 151
2 Columbia University 101
3 University of Chicago 89
4 Massachusetts Institute of Technology 83
5 University of California – Berkeley 69
6 Stanford University 58
7 Yale University 52
8 Cornell University 43
9 Princeton University 37
10 Johns Hopkins University 36
11 New York University 35
12 California Institute of Technology 33
13 University of Pennsylvania 29
14 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 24
15 Rockefeller University 24
16 University of Minnesota 23
17 Washington University in St. Louis 22
18 Carnegie Mellon 21
19 University of California – San Diego 20
20 University of Michigan – Ann Arbor 20
21 University of Wisconsin – Madison 19
22 Case Western Reserve University 16
23 University of California – Los Angeles 15
24 City University of New York 13
25 Duke University 12
26 University of Washington – Seattle 12
27 Northwestern University 11
28 University of Colorado – Boulder 11
29 Purdue University 10
30 University of California – Santa Barbara 10
31 University of Texas at Austin 9
32 Boston University 8
33 University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill 8
34 University of Rochester 8
35 Brown University 7
36 University of Southern California 7
37 Vanderbilt University 7
38 Indiana University – Bloomington 7
39 University of Maryland – College Park 7
40 University of Virginia – Charlottesville 7

In addition to the 40 institutions listed above, there are 77 other American colleges and universities that have each been awarded between 1 and 6 Nobel Prizes. However, one should not assume that American research universities are so dominant that scientists and institutions in other countries haven’t also been successful in garnering Nobel Prizes through the years. The top ten non-U.S. Nobel Prize winning institutions are listed in Table B below.

 Table B: Top 10 International Research Universities – Nobel Laureates







3 University of Cambridge – U.K. 90
7 University of Oxford – U.K. 58
10 University of Paris – France 51
11 University of Gottingen – Germany 46
13 Heidelberg University – Germany 41
14 Humboldt University of Berlin – Germany 40
17 Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich – Germany 35
20 ETH Zurich – Switzerland 31
22 University College London – U.K. 27
23 University of Manchester – U.K. 25

The number of Nobel laureates isn’t, by itself, sufficient reason for a student to target a particular institution for admission, but it’s a meaningful factor in the identification of best-fit universities for a science-oriented student. The Nobel Prize is relevant in an assessment of the relative quality of research universities. In fact, third-party ranking services like U.S. News & World Report and Money Magazine use it as part of their calculations.

A rewarding career in science based on an education at one of America’s top-tier research universities is an excellent strategy for a motivated student with the requisite aptitude. If you feel that you are such a student, you should retain the services of IvySelect as your college admissions consulting firm to guide you through the complex admissions process.

IvySelect provides superior comprehensive and individualized counseling based on years of experience in assisting students to attain their educational goals. Some of the elite research institutions to which our students have been admitted include the eight members of the Ivy League; Penn, Columbia, Brown, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, and Dartmouth, as well as Stanford, MIT, Chicago, Washington University in St. Louis, USC, Duke, NYU, Emory, Johns Hopkins, Swarthmore, Caltech, Virginia, Berkeley, Michigan, and UCLA.