Best universities for life sciences degrees 2023

Find the best universities for life sciences using Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings data

October 28 2020
Looking through a microscope

If you’re choosing where to study pharmacy, biochemistry, zoology or other related subjects, Times Higher Education’s ranking for life sciences can help you find the best universities in the world for your degree.

The top colleges for life sciences are concentrated in the US and the UK: 195 of the 895 universities in the Times Higher Education ranking for life sciences are in these two countries.

Older prestigious institutions take the top spots, including Harvard University in first place, with the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology following closely behind.

Best universities by subject

Best universities for arts and humanities
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Best universities for computer science
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Life sciences takes in a range of subjects, from forestry to biotechnology. A full list of degrees and what you can do with them appears below.

Graduates of life sciences degrees go on to work in a variety of fields. Many jobs directly use life science research and knowledge, such as roles in pharmaceutical companies, environmental work and even forensic science.

The life sciences ranking assesses universities using 13 indicators of excellence that evaluate teaching, research, research influence, innovation and international outlook. The full methodology can be found here.

Best universities worldwide

Best universities in the UK
Best universities in the US
Best universities in Canada
Best universities in Australia
Best universities in Europe
Best universities in Germany
Best universities in France

Top five universities for life sciences degrees

1. Harvard University

As is the case at many US colleges, undergraduates at Harvard University have the opportunity to take a variety of different courses before declaring a major subject.

Within life sciences, there are many interdisciplinary foundational courses grouped in nine concentrations to help students “explore the diversity of living systems”. The majors include biomedical engineering, neurobiology and human evolutionary biology.

Students are encouraged to do their own original research, and many courses are hands-on.

According to the university, life science graduates often go on to postgraduate work, including medical or scientific research. Other graduates have recently pursued careers in business, consulting and environmental advocacy.

Harvard is perhaps the world’s best-known university; it regularly takes the top spot in global reputation surveys. It has built its reputation, wealth and influence over more than 300 years, having been founded in 1636.

Although tuition is expensive, students from low-income families are fully supported by university grants. For the class of 2019, only 5.3 per cent of applicants made it through the competitive application process.

2. University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge, in the UK, is one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious higher education institutions, and follows a collegiate system.

Its School of Biological Sciences contains nine departments and various research centres, including the departments of biochemistry, pharmacology and zoology.

There is also a Graduate School of Life Sciences, which is responsible for master’s degrees and doctorates.

Four major undergraduate programmes in life sciences are offered: biological sciences as a natural science specialism, a pre-clinical veterinary science programme, a psychological and behavioural sciences programme, and medical science.

Students have close interaction with teachers through the tutorial system and are automatically members of their college community, where they eat meals, live in college-owned buildings and attend recreational activities.

Charles Darwin, perhaps the most famous life scientist of them all, was an alumnus of Christ’s College, Cambridge, and many other prominent biologists have studied or taught at the university.

3. University of Oxford

Life sciences degrees at the University of Oxford are spread across a number of specialised departments within both the science and clinical divisions of the university.

Oxford is one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious universities. It lies an hour west of London and is renowned for its architecturally impressive colleges dotted around the centre of the small town.

Many world-leading academics work at the university. Richard Dawkins, the famous evolutionary biologist, is affiliated to the university and can often be seen around town or at public events.

Oxford students belong to a college, where they live, eat and attend small-group tutorials with teachers. Postgraduate students are more likely to live off campus and will not necessarily be taught within their college.

In general, Oxford graduates progress to high-profile careers, and many prominent politicians, cultural figures and award-winning scientists are associated with the university.

What can you do with a life sciences degree?

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What can you do with a veterinary science degree?

4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Many academic departments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology offer courses in life sciences subjects, to contribute towards a major or minor degree subject.

Courses range from biological engineering – a pioneering new discipline that combines principles of engineering and biological systems – to “Science, Technology and Society”, which offers a more comprehensive overview of life sciences and its applications.

The university offers undergraduate and postgraduate life sciences degrees. Although an undergraduate major in a life science subject is excellent preparation for many jobs, further study in health sciences or engineering is a common post-graduation option.

Many life sciences graduates will continue on to medical school. Other career paths suggested by the School of Life Sciences are finance, intellectual property law and forensics.

Across all science and technology disciplines, MIT has an excellent reputation, and admission is accordingly very selective; only 8 per cent of applicants win a place, although life sciences programmes are not quite as competitive as computer science and engineering courses.

More than 80 affiliates of the university have won Nobel prizes, and many more have achieved recognition through other awards.

5. Stanford University

With one of the largest and most beautiful campuses in the US, Stanford University is a popular destination for US and international students.

It is particularly renowned for science and innovation, and university researchers, students and alumni contribute significantly to technological development in Silicon Valley, located right near the university.

Stanford’s department of biology leads the way for life sciences research, while the bioengineering department creates a fusion of engineering and life sciences by inventing new technologies.

The biology department offers courses in biochemistry, biophysics, computational biology, conservational biology and many other subdisciplines.

Many Stanford alumni have won prestigious accolades, such as Nobel prizes, Rhodes scholarships and Turing awards.

Almost 90 per cent of undergraduate students live on campus, and all first-years are required to live on campus.

Of the more than 15,000 students, more than 20 per cent are international.

Student experience of life sciences

Trading America for Australia: my mother sent me to study 9,000 miles away!
Women in STEM: undertaking PhD research in cancer
Pursuing a PhD in neuroscience
Why I chose to study at Osaka City University
Why I chose to study at the National University of Singapore
Attending a small agricultural university

Best universities for life sciences 2021

Click each institution to view its World University Rankings 2021 profile

Life sciences rank 2021 Life sciences rank 2020 University Country/region
 1   2  Harvard University United States
 2   1  University of Cambridge United Kingdom
 3   3  University of Oxford United Kingdom
 4   4  Massachusetts Institute of Technology United States
 5   5  Stanford University United States
 6   9  Yale University United States
 7   6  California Institute of Technology United States
 8   14  University of California, Berkeley United States
 9   7  Johns Hopkins University United States
 10   8  Princeton University United States
 11   13  The University of Chicago United States
 12   10  UCL United Kingdom
 13   =11  ETH Zurich Switzerland
 14   15  Tsinghua University China
 =15   =11  University of California, San Diego United States
 =15   17  Cornell University United States
 17   16  Imperial College London United Kingdom
 18   20  Wageningen University & Research Netherlands
 19   22  University of California, Los Angeles United States
 20   18  Columbia University United States
 21   21  Peking University China
 22   19  University of Pennsylvania United States
 23   23  Duke University United States
 24   25  Karolinska Institute Sweden
 =25   29  National University of Singapore Singapore
 =25   24  University of Toronto Canada
 27   30  University of Michigan-Ann Arbor United States
 =28   =27  University of California, Davis United States
 =28   26  University of Edinburgh United Kingdom
 =30   =27  University of British Columbia Canada
 =30   =33  Washington University in St Louis United States
 32   31  LMU Munich Germany
 33   =33  École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne Switzerland
 34   32  New York University United States
 35   37  Heidelberg University Germany
 36   35  King’s College London United Kingdom
 37   41  University of Melbourne Australia
 38   39  Kyoto University Japan
 39   43  McGill University Canada
 =40   42  The University of Queensland Australia
 =40   38  The University of Tokyo Japan
 42   44  Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris France
 43   40  University of Wisconsin-Madison United States
 44   45  Sorbonne University France
 45   48  Northwestern University United States
 46   =59  Technical University of Munich Germany
 47   49  Utrecht University Netherlands
 48   46  University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
 49   36  Uppsala University Sweden
 50   61  University of Freiburg Germany
 51   =52  KU Leuven Belgium
 52   =57  University of Sydney Australia
 53   =59  University of Zurich Switzerland
 =54   51  Ghent University Belgium
 =54   55  Monash University Australia
 =56   47  Australian National University Australia
 =56   =100  Fudan University China
 =58   75  Boston University United States
 =58   50  Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Singapore
 60   63  University of Manchester United Kingdom
 61   =67  University of Tübingen Germany
 62   56  University of Göttingen Germany
 =63   54  University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill United States
 =63   =86  Zhejiang University China
 65   =57  University of Texas at Austin United States
 66   65  University of Geneva Switzerland
 67   62  Michigan State University United States
 68   66  University of Minnesota United States
 69   70  Technical University of Denmark Denmark
 =70   64  Lund University Sweden
 =70   =71  Trinity College Dublin Republic of Ireland
 72   =52  University of Science and Technology of China China
 73   =71  University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign United States
 74   =71  University of Helsinki Finland
 75   69  Montpellier University France
 76   83  Humboldt University of Berlin Germany
 77   =84  University of Groningen Netherlands
 78   =67  University of Aberdeen United Kingdom
 79   101–125  McMaster University Canada
 80   101–125  University of Florida United States
 81   74  University of California, Santa Barbara United States
 82   94  Vanderbilt University United States
 =83   77  Seoul National University South Korea
 =83   90  University of Southern California United States
 =83   78  The University of Western Australia Australia
 86   =86  University of Bonn Germany
 =87   =86  Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) South Korea
 =87   79  Stockholm University Sweden
 =89   =92  Osaka University Japan
 =89   =98  University of Würzburg Germany
 =91   76  University of Glasgow United Kingdom
 =91   91  The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Hong Kong
 =91   =84  University of Vienna Austria
 =94   =92  University of Basel Switzerland
 =94   101–125  University of East Anglia United Kingdom
 96   101–125  École Polytechnique France
 97   101–125  University of Massachusetts United States
 =98   101–125  University of Cologne Germany
 =98   NR  Georgia Institute of Technology United States
 =98   =80  Penn State (Main campus) United States
 101–125   126–150  University of Alberta Canada
 101–125   151–175  University of Amsterdam Netherlands
 101–125   101–125  University of Birmingham United Kingdom
 101–125   =100  Brown University United States
 101–125   126–150  University of California, Irvine United States
 101–125   101–125  University of California, Riverside United States
 101–125   126–150  Chinese University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
 101–125   101–125  University of Colorado Boulder United States
 101–125   101–125  University of Dundee United Kingdom
 101–125   96  Emory University United States
 101–125   95  University of Exeter United Kingdom
 101–125   101–125  Free University of Berlin Germany
 101–125   126–150  James Cook University Australia
 101–125   101–125  University of Lausanne Switzerland
 101–125   97  University of Leeds United Kingdom
 101–125   NR  University of Luxembourg Luxembourg
 101–125   126–150  Nanjing University China
 101–125   151–175  National Taiwan University (NTU) Taiwan
 101–125   126–150  University of Paris France
 101–125   101–125  University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh campus United States
 101–125   101–125  Radboud University Nijmegen Netherlands
 101–125   101–125  Rice University United States
 101–125   101–125  University of St Andrews United Kingdom
 101–125   =80  Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Sweden
 126–150   =86  Aarhus University Denmark
 126–150   126–150  University of Adelaide Australia
 126–150   101–125  University of Bristol United Kingdom
 126–150   101–125  University of California, Santa Cruz United States
 126–150   301–400  East China Normal University China
 126–150   151–175  École Normale Supérieure de Lyon France
 126–150   176–200  University of Hamburg Germany
 126–150   151–175  Hokkaido University Japan
 126–150   126–150  Lancaster University United Kingdom
 126–150   126–150  Macquarie University Australia
 126–150   101–125  University of Maryland, College Park United States
 126–150   151–175  University of Montreal Canada
 126–150   126–150  Newcastle University United Kingdom
 126–150   126–150  North Carolina State University United States
 126–150   101–125  University of Nottingham United Kingdom
 126–150   101–125  Ohio State University (Main campus) United States
 126–150   101–125  Oregon State University United States
 126–150   151–175  University of Oslo Norway
 126–150   NR  Paris-Saclay University  France
 126–150   151–175  Queen Mary University of London United Kingdom
 126–150   126–150  Queen’s University Belfast United Kingdom
 126–150   101–125  Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies – Pisa Italy
 126–150   201–250  Shanghai Jiao Tong University China
 126–150   126–150  University of Sheffield United Kingdom
 126–150   126–150  University of Southampton United Kingdom
 126–150   151–175  TU Dresden Germany
 126–150   126–150  Tufts University United States
 151–175   =98  University of Arizona United States
 151–175   126–150  Arizona State University (Tempe) United States
 151–175   151–175  University of Auckland New Zealand
 151–175   126–150  Cardiff University United Kingdom
 151–175   126–150  Dartmouth College United States
 151–175   201–250  University of Delaware United States
 151–175   201–250  Florida State University United States
 151–175   126–150  University of Iceland Iceland
 151–175   151–175  Indiana University United States
 151–175   126–150  University of Konstanz Germany
 151–175   151–175  Lomonosov Moscow State University Russian Federation
 151–175   151–175  Université Catholique de Louvain Belgium
 151–175   NR  University of Notre Dame United States
 151–175   151–175  University of Reading United Kingdom
 151–175   151–175  Stony Brook University United States
 151–175   126–150  Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) South Korea
 151–175   151–175  University of Sussex United Kingdom
 151–175   176–200  University of Tartu Estonia
 151–175   126–150  University of Tasmania Australia
 151–175   126–150  Texas A&M University United States
 151–175   151–175  Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) South Korea
 151–175   176–200  University of Virginia (Main campus) United States
 151–175   151–175  Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam Netherlands
 151–175   126–150  University of York United Kingdom
 176–200   201–250  University of Antwerp Belgium
 176–200   201–250  University of Barcelona Spain
 176–200   201–250  University of Bergen Norway
 176–200   176–200  University of Bern Switzerland
 176–200   151–175  University of Cape Town South Africa
 176–200   126–150  Colorado State University, Fort Collins United States
 176–200   151–175  Delft University of Technology Netherlands
 176–200   151–175  University of Erlangen-Nuremberg Germany
 176–200   201–250  Goethe University Frankfurt Germany
 176–200   176–200  University of Gothenburg Sweden
 176–200   176–200  Iowa State University United States
 176–200   176–200  University of Kent United Kingdom
 176–200   176–200  King Abdulaziz University Saudi Arabia
 176–200   201–250  La Trobe University Australia
 176–200   NR  Université libre de Bruxelles Belgium
 176–200   151–175  University of Liverpool United Kingdom
 176–200   151–175  Nagoya University Japan
 176–200   201–250  Nankai University China
 176–200   201–250  Northeastern University United States
 176–200   176–200  University of São Paulo Brazil
 176–200   176–200  Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) China
 176–200   201–250  University of Stirling United Kingdom
 176–200   176–200  Tohoku University Japan
 176–200   176–200  University College Cork Republic of Ireland
 176–200   201–250  Vrije Universiteit Brussel Belgium
 176–200   151–175  University of Warwick United Kingdom

Click here to view the full life sciences ranking 

Read more: The most detailed subject guide you will ever see to help you pick your degree


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