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Top 10 List: World’s Most Prestigious Universities

Updated on March 30, 2015

As you can see from the title: “World’s Most Prestigious Universities” my aim in selecting these fine academic institutions wasn’t so much based on any set criteria—to be exact, my list wasn’t so much based on which school was better than the other—i.e. the ‘best’…as I think the word ‘best’ implies academic superiority—which in a global academic context is a bona fide myth: there’s just ‘way too many’ good schools in the world to say that one is by far better than the others. Put simply, the word ‘prestige’ takes on a more casual approach to doing a university ranking type system—in essence, it simply perpetuates the notion of affluence—which is what academic excellence is all about. Anyway, here’s my list:

1. Oxford University and University of Cambridge--aka, OxBridge

University of Oxford

If you want to talk history alone, Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world-i.e., going back as far as the 11th century. Oxford's competitive advantage in to the antiquity has made it-on an international scale, hands down-a virtual epicenter for renown teaching and research. In addition, Oxford attracts students and scholars from all across the globe, with almost a quarter its students coming from other countries. Oxford's diverse student body-consisting of well over 130 nationalities-combined with its amazing history-makes it, without question, the world's most affluent university in my opinion.

University of Cambridge

Just like it's UK counterpart, the University of Cambridge is one of the oldest universities in the world: what gives Cambridge an edge over Oxford is simple one of shear size. As a matter of fact, Cambridge is one of the largest institutions in the United Kingdom. But don't let size fool you, this school has built up a reputation for academic prowess that's only rivaled by Oxford and of course Harvard; furthermore, the intellectual achievement of its students, as well as the world-class teaching staff puts it on par with any affluent academic institution in the world.

2. Harvard University and Princeton University

Harvard University

Being America's oldest academic institution of higher learning should give Harvard an added distinction over other world renown affluent universities—as the United States leads the world in areas of intellectual capital. On the other hand, both Oxford and Cambridge’s history run much deeper than both Harvard and Princeton. Therefore, it would be unfair for me to say: “well Harvard is the best university in the world…everyone knows that.” The thing that separate Harvard from all the rest is obviously its rigorous admission’s process. This said, holding history at a constant, Harvard University epitomizes affluences the world over: it’s probably the only school that every living acadamian—on every continent—genuinely longs to attend.

Princeton University

Again with age comes affluence and Princeton’s no short order in that particular category: being the fourth-oldest college in the United States, Princeton has made a name for itself on the international arena as being on par with both Harvard and Yale. What gives Princeton a slight advantage over Yale, again, is it’s extremely tough admission process—only rivaled by, of course, Harvard. I’ve had the pleasure of touring both Harvard and Princeton’s campuses and, in my astute ‘guestimation,’ they both appeared to pretty much balance each other out in affluence; therefore, the number two shared slot seems justified.

3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford University


What else could be said about MIT: it’s only one of the greatest science/technological institute of higher learning on planet earth. If a kid can get into MIT, it can only mean two things: 1) He/she is a very hard worker; and more importantly 2) He/she is probably great at math and science. One cannot matriculate into MIT slacking in either area. A good friend of mine got accepted to MIT and I’m not ready to say he was the brightest guy I ever met, but boy he was, indeed, a wiz at math. With this said, MIT’s affluence stems from this very same premise—to be exact, you could make the argument that the world’s best mathematical geniuses (holding Cal-tech at a constant) call MIT their homes.

Stanford University

Rounding out the third spot with MIT, can only be Stanford University. Founded in 1885, this affluent university is recognized as one of the world's leading research and teaching institutions. Having spent some time in the Palo Alto area, I can attest to Stanford’s world renown affluence: while touring the campus and surrounding area, Stanford appeared to be just as competitive as both Harvard and Princeton in most majors; but only has MIT and Caltech as legitimate rivals in the areas of math, science and technology. So when you put in those terms, Stanford University, on paper, could be one of the world’s most sort after institutions of higher learning.

4. Yale University and Berkeley College

Yale University

HYP—aka, Harvard, ‘Yale’ and Princeton rounds out the top three Ivies many think of when they imagine this idea of most affluent universities. Just for the record, this shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the remaining Ivies—i.e., University of Penn, Dartmouth, Cornell, Brown and Columbia—aren’t up to par standards with HYP. And to be quite honest, the only thing that separates HYP from the pack is the overwhelming demand for its educational services from both the domestic and international markets. Put simply, when it comes to selling top-notch higher educational services the world over, there are very few students that wouldn’t want to purchase them from HYP. This said, amid the big three—Yale as an affluent institution—could be the most prestigious of them all. The word ‘Yale’ in on itself is very short, direct and affluently to the point: “What school do you attend…I attend ‘Yale’?” Personally, I’ve never had the chance to visit New Haven Connecticut where, of course, this fine academic institution is located, but did have a sister of one of my best buds, indeed, attend this prestigious school. From what I gathered throught conversations with her—at least at the undergraduate level—Yale didn’t seem as competitive as Harvard and Princeton to matriculate into, thus for that reason and that reason only am I obliged to put Stanford above it in the third slot. What about Yale engineering? No such thing,,,well at least not in regards to the program being competitive enough to warrant any kind of kudos. In fact, Yale, just like its big three Ivy League counterparts in Harvard and Princeton has never really needed to put that much emphasis on engineering. An incoming student would be better served to attend Cornell for such reasons. In conclusion, a degree from Yale, whether its in engineering or 15th century French literature is one bomb degree.

Berkeley College

The University of California Berkeley—aka, Cal Berkeley overlooks the beautiful San Francisco Bay located in a town with the same name. Berkeley, California is arguably one of the world’s most affluent university towns; therefore, it was only fitting to put Berkeley in the number four slot along with Yale. To be precise, other than maybe Ithaca New York, home to Cornell University, I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a place so exclusively connected with the students from which it catered too. This said, both the school and the city were all about being progressive: the grass-roots movements of the 60s, 70s, and 2000s all saw its embryonic developments in Berkeley, CA. Berkeley affluent? Well, what’s the true meaning of affluence—other than building wealth? In fact, the wealth of social and political economics that has sprung from out of Berkeley, CA over the decades has helped shaped many laws in this country; and for that very same reason it’s become an affluent institution that has gained an enormous amount of international academic clot—especially among scholars in academia.

5. University of Chicago and Columbia University

University of Chicago

Unlike the University of Phoenix, the University of Chicago is actually located in the city of Chicago—Hyde Park to be exact, and is an intellectual powerhouse like none other. Having had a chance to briefly visit its Gothic styled city campus, my intellectual senses became somewhat acute to the general intellectual surroundings at hand. If HYP is the hardest to matriculate into, then the University of Chicago could, in theory, be even harder to graduate out of: with more noble laureates per capita than any other place on planet earth, UOC is without question one of your more rigorous institutions, thus by its own admissions have gain significant venerability in the area of academic affluence—especially in regards to its top notch economics program. The only reason why it's not higher than Cal-Berkeley is a certain bias I have for great university towns as oppose to great universities in urban areas. In fact, when it comes to academic rigor alone, UOC could be on an island all by itself.

Columbia University

Columbia University, 'whatta' school right? I mean you’re smack dab in New York City one the world’s premier financial districts. Columbia just like all the rest of the Ivies has enough age on its side to bolster the claim of being one of the world’s most academically affluent universities. In fact, if you’re an Ivy League institute—aka, "Oldy League institute"—then you’re ‘gonna’ be blessed with a tremendous amount of history; which in the realm of academic affluence is a great thing. Again, ‘affluence’ doesn’t necessarily imply better—as Rice University in Houston Texas—proves this point nil.

6. ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) and École Normale Supérieure, Paris

ETH Zurich

Albert Einstein one of the greatest minds of this century use to call this affluent university his alma mater. In fact, if you’ve ever been to Switzerland you’d know just how important the Swiss regard this wonderful academic institution. ETH Zurich is a virtual wonderland of academic prowess and it shows: consistently ranked the top university in continental Europe, ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, is a leading player in research & education in Switzerland and worldwide. The language instructions in the Bachelor’s program are taught in German; therefore, it would behoove a little conventional wisdom to brush up on your German before deciding to study there. Still yet, because of its strong German presence the school appears also to be extremely strong in the math and sciences. Pretty much all degree programs are based on a solid scientific foundation. In addition, with Switzerland being an economic/financial powerhouse in Europe it doesn’t seem to be that bad in business and banking either.

École Normale Supérieure, Paris

Supposedly, the French are only good for producing great food and fashion, but when it comes to higher learning the French aren’t that bad either—to be exact, if you do a little research you’ll notice just how affluent France’s Sorbonne, Science Po; and more importantly, The Ecole Normale Supérieure Paris institutions really are. In fact the (ENS Paris) ranks high not only in France but in continental Europe as a whole: this can be attributed to its rigorous selective process thus making it a very prominent institution with vast academic affluence.

7. University of Hong Kong and University of Tokyo

University of Hong Kong

One day I’ll realize my dream and finally make it to Asia, but for now I’m ‘gonna’ have to rely on the words of my Asian comrades and from what I’ve heard—especially in reference to Southeast Asia—the University of Hong Kong is the real deal. The University of Hong Kong—bka, HKU is the territory's oldest university, and has built up an affluent academic history that stretches back nearly 100 years. Also, not only has HKU helped shaped the minds of many mainland Hong Kongese, it has, in fact, helped develop the intellectual capital of many from beyond its boundaries: today, HKU, is a dynamic, comprehensive, university of world-class standing. With its numerous world class faculties and research centers, HKU’s reputation as a center of intellectual affluence is, indeed, recognized affluently around the world.

University of Tokyo

On the other side of the East China Sea exists a little well known university by the name of The University of Tokyo. I shouldn’t say little because The University of Tokyo is home to well over 4,500 faculty members and 29,000 students—2500 being international students. The University of Tokyo is academically affluent for this very same reason: since 2008 over 3,500 foreign researchers have been coming annually to this magnificent university for both short and extended visits. Although collectively, Asia has some of the finest universities in the world—i.e, Seoul National University (SNU), Peking University, etc—it could be left with very little doubt that the University of Tokyo is slightly a bit more academically affluent.

8. McGill University and The Australian National University (ANU)

McGill University (Canada)

Several of you might be wondering why McGill isn’t higher up in the rankings because when you factor in academic affluence this Canadian institute of higher learning could, very well, be considered one of the best in the world. The reason is quite simple: on the North American continent—as great as McGill is—most academics from around the world first look to American universities; this isn’t to say that Canada doesn’t have any top notch institutions because the University of British Columbia (UBC), University of Alberta and McGill University would, indeed, challenge such notion. Fact is, McGill University attracts some of the world’s brightest students: with over 34,000 students enrolled, the sheer size alone makes it an academically affluent institution.

The Australian National University (ANU)

The country of Australia being it’s own continent has several really great higher learning academic institutions. But from what I’ve heard from many American students that has studied there, the overwhelming favorite among Aussies is The Australian National University—colloquially known as (ANU). Established in 1946, The Australian National University is a fairly new university, but that hasn’t stopped (ANU) from reaching academic prominence. Fact is, within this alacrity of academic growth (ANU) has been able to garner much needed academic affluent from the international community. (ANU) continues to attract some of the best students and staff from within Australia and around the globe. Its reputation for distinctive research is widely recognized, and its teaching programs are among the nation’s best.

9. National University Singapore and University Cape Town

National University of Singapore

Although I’ve never been, from what I’ve heard about Singapore is that it’s one of the most ethnically diverse societies in South East Asia—it also has a heavy penchant for academic high achievement. This said, choosing The National University of Singapore (NUS) to the ninth slot over The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Indian's Institute of Technology (Delhi) was kind of difficult but not that hard: Singapore's global initiatives of above average education, research and entrepreneurial dimensions has put itself on an academic global map thus has placed (NUS) well above many notable international universities—this is especially in deference to its institutions of higher learning being more academically affluent…not superior, just more affluent.

University of Cape Town

The University of Cape Town is Africa’s second oldest higher learning institute and is by far regarded as the continent’s most academically affluent. Having had many chances to talk with international students from this venerable institute, immediately I noticed how well-rounded these students were: this could be the same reason why the school ranks so high in many world university rankings. Simply put, the University of Cape Town is by far Africa’s most academically affluent institution and deserves to be on anyone’s top ten list.

10. Universidade de São Paulo (USP) and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Universidade de São Paulo (USP)

Last but not least is Latin America and when you want to talk about academic affluence in this vast region of the world, you can only talk about one place: São Paulo, Brazil. This said, The University of São Paulo—aka, (USP) is academically affluent for many significant reasons but mainly for it being the oldest University in Brazil thus one of the most prestigious higher education and research institutions in Latin America. Actually, I’ve visited (USP) a few times and its designation of being Latin America’s most affluent institution is well deserved. And although Brazil is home to a bevy of great academic institutions—i.e., Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, University of Brasilia and one of my personal favorites State University of Campinas—the University of São Paulo trumps them all in academic affluence based purely on the fact that the school's so well known internationally.

Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Actually choosing the last slot was kind of difficult…this is especially true given the fact that The Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (UC) is one of my personal favorites. Nevertheless, when you compare the two in the areas of academic affluence, the general Latin American consensus seems to point in the direction of Mexico’s venerable institution—but why? Well, for starters, (UNAM) was founded in the 16th century making it a lot older than (UC). In addition, it’s the largest university in Latin America and is continuously ranked as the best in the region, according to many studies conducted by international publications.


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    • icmn91 profile image

      icmn91 4 years ago from Australia

      Interesting. I had a bad experience at the Australian National University (ANU) with food safety and food mislabelling which I have discussed on my hubs.

      I personally would like to go to the University of Chicago someday. I like how they have a celiac disease center. I can dream on I suppose... ;)

    • j80caldwell profile image

      j80caldwell 6 years ago

      Hey Debby,

      Thanks for the feedback, yeah I agree with you on public schools-as I think some of the brightest kids I've ever met went to some of the really good state universities. Affluent doesn't necessarily imply guaranteed employment in a sluggish economy; so, again I'm gonna have to agree with you.

      See you later Deb!

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 6 years ago

      Jack ~ Really well done research on universities. Maybe a follow up with the second half of your top 20 list would be a good hub? The cost of going to private university today is astronomical and out of range for the general population. Many people can obtain an excellent education from public state universities, colleges and community campuses. Technical schools will be on the rise in today's economy. Blessings, Debby

    • profile image

      dalgleeshe 6 years ago

      oxford and harvard have absolute prestige beyond all.

    • j80caldwell profile image

      j80caldwell 6 years ago

      LOL, a good friend of mine transferred from Tulane to

      Emory and he abosulutey loved Atlanta. Hey, I wish I had a top twenty list, Emory would w/o question make the list,


      And have a Merry New Year

      Thanks for the comment

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Very Interesting and very well done Hub. Happy New Year!

      P.S. I am a bit disappointed that you left my alma mater off the list, Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. And what about Duke? It could have been Dukmory or preferably Emoruke.

      I am just teasing. :) Emory is a very well-respected university, but it usually ranks toward the bottom of the US top twenty schools.


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