international students at the library

What’s the Best University in the World?

There can be no categorically correct answer to the question in the title. There’ll never be a definitive standard against which an entity as wide-ranging, complex, and esoteric as a university can be measured. Universities are best valued subjectively, so a better question is, “To what extent does a university appeal to your unique values, skills, needs, and goals?”

At IvySelect we know this well. It’s the basis of our approach to elite college admissions. The best university in the world is the one that fits you best while enabling you to accomplish your educational goals.

A preponderance of the high-achieving American seniors who aspire to attend an elite university apply to U.S.-based institutions. Such students represent the majority of IvySelect’s clients. But IvySelect also represents many students in other countries who wish to attend one of the world’s best universities. These students often prefer to attend school in an English-speaking country due to the near universality of English usage in many fields. As a college admissions consulting firm specializing in top-tier schools, IvySelect takes pride in our ability to assist foreign nationals to gain admission to the best of America’s universities.

If you’re a senior in another country with lofty educational ambitions, it’s natural that you’d be interested in the consensus of experts regarding the world’s best universities. In the U.S., many organizations conduct the necessary research and present their findings. Some of these organizations are news and information providers and have deep resources to devote to fact gathering and statistical analysis. Others are researchers specializing in the niche market for information about college comparisons and rankings.

The world market for the comparative analysis of colleges is more concentrated. There are a few organizations that conduct research and present annual rankings.

Table A below reflects the top three choices for best university in the world by the most commonly cited international university ranking services.

Table A: Top Three Choices for Best World University


Evaluating Organization


Top Three Universities

Shanghai Ranking Consultancy

(Academic Ranking of World Universities)





Times (London) Higher Education Oxford




QS World University Rankings MIT




US News & World Report Harvard




Webometrics Harvard



As you can see, there’s consistency in the top three spots. Although there’s no agreement on the top university, the modal value is Harvard because it was chosen more often than any other institution.

If you have your own idea of what’s the world’s best university, chances are good that if it’s not in the top three then it is in the top 20. Universities listed in the top 20 at least once in the five sources are listed below in Table B.

Table B: Universities in the Top 20 Lists for Best World Universities

Princeton University Imperial College of London UC – Berkeley
ETH Zurich University College London University of Chicago
Columbia University Johns Hopkins University Michigan – Ann Arbor
Washington Univ. in St. Louis Cornell University University of Pennsylvania
Wisconsin – Madison UC – Los Angeles UC – San Diego
National Univ. of Singapore Penn State University UC – San Francisco
Nanyang Tech. of Singapore University of Toronto Ecole Polytechnique of Lausanne

As they have for many years, American institutions continue to lead the world in the quality of education at the most elite level. American institutions hold 13 of 15 of the top three positions on the five international rankings services shown above. Harvard holds three number one spots and MIT one. Oxford and Cambridge are the only non-U.S. institutions represented in the top three lists, with Oxford awarded the top spot on one of the lists. It should be noted, however, that several countries, including Germany, France, India, China, Great Britain, Switzerland, Australia, and Canada, are adopting important measures to further elevate the level of excellence of their best institutions.

Due to our expertise in the area of top-tier admissions, IvySelect’s college admissions consultants offer world-class guidance in helping you find the best university for you.

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