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What is the best university in the world?

JUL 13, 2020 • 11 min read

MIT Tops the QS World University Rankings for 2021

Recently QS Top Universities released their QS World University Rankings 2021 and have yet again crowned MIT as the number one university in the world!

To claim the top place they have beaten out long-time university rankings rivals Stanford (2nd place) and Harvard (3rd place). Out of the 1,000 universities ranked and 5,500 universities considered for inclusion, check out the top-20 below:

  1. MIT
  2. Stanford University
  3. Harvard University
  4. Caltech
  5. University of Oxford
  6. ETH Zurich
  7. University of Cambridge
  8. Imperial College London
  9. University of Chicago
  10. UCL
  11. NUS
  12. Princeton University
  13. Nanyang Technological University
  14. EPFL
  15. Tsinghua University
  16. University of Pennsylvania
  17. Yale University
  18. Cornell University
  19. Columbia University
  20. University of Edinburgh

The highlights of the rankings include Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) achieving its record-breaking 9th straight year at number one. While Ivy League universities Columbia, Cornell and UPenn lost a small amount of ground, Princeton moved up a place - the Ivy League overall still maintaining dominance on a world rankings scale. Universities in the UK also performed strongly, with Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and UCL all placing within the top-10.

Beyond the US and UK, there is also continued success from universities in Europe. This includes ETH Zurich, which remained the 6th highest ranked institution in the world. The biggest improvement in the top-20 was by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, or EPFL, who climbed from 18th to 14th. The other top-ranked European universities included the Technical University of Munich (Germany) and Université PSL (France) and Delft University of Technology (Netherlands).


An important question to ask is how QS has ranked thousands of universities from around the world. To craft the World University Rankings, QS have used a weighted score of six metrics they believe best capture university performance. These include:

Academic Reputation (40%)

This metric is based on survey responses from over 100,000 individuals in the higher education space regarding teaching and research quality at the world’s universities. As such, they are expert opinions and subjective in nature. MIT, Stanford, Harvard, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Oxford, Cambridge and the University of Tokyo all scored a perfect 100 on this metric.

Employer Reputation (10%)

This metric is based on survey responses from over 50,000 employers, who are asked to identify those institutions from which they source the most competent, innovative, effective graduates. MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Cambridge and Oxford all achieved perfect scores.

Faculty/Student Ratio (20%)

This metric compares the number of students to the number of faculty at each university. QS believes this acts as an effective proxy metric for teaching quality, and reveals which institutions are able to provide students with meaningful access to lecturers and tutors. 23 universities achieved a perfect score for this metric

Citations per faculty (20%)

This metric is calculated by dividing the total number of citations received by papers produced by an institution in the last 5 years by the number of faculty members at that institution. This is said to serve as a proxy for academic output and research impacts of the university. Princeton, KAUST, the Indian Institute of Science and GIST received perfect scores.

International Faculty Ratio & International Student Ratio (5% each)

These metrics consider the percentage of students and faculty that come from around the world. This demonstrates an ability to attract faculty and students from across the world, which in turn suggests that it possesses a strong international brand. Each of these categories has over 25 universities with a perfect score.

Of course, trying to calculate the performance of universities is in itself a subjective exercise and it is important to remember that rankings, while useful indicators of academic performance and prestige, cannot capture all the things you might be looking for in a university. In other words, it is important that you target the right university for you!

At Crimson we are dedicated to helping students find their best-fit university, which starts with looking at each institution and learning as much as possible about where they are, what majors and courses resonate, and exactly what they have to offer.

For more help picking your perfect university, check out our new university profiles on some of the US and UK’s top universities, or try our US and UK College Admissions Calculators to generate a list of recommended colleges that are the best fit for you.

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