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Verdict rendered: The top postgraduate institutions in the US judged

If you've been giving some thought to studying a postgraduate degree in the United States and are wondering which institutions top the ratings, we've got an in depth analysis of the best postgraduate universities in the country.

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The decision to study a postgraduate degree can be motivated by a number of factors. You may be interested in pursuing a subject out of interest for research in the field or to apply the knowledge that you gain in real world scenarios. Perhaps you’re aiming to improve your career prospects and earnings, or wish to undertake the degree as it’s essential for entry into your desired profession. Whatever your motivation, you’ll naturally be searching for an institution that offers excellent teaching and learning as well as desirable graduate outcomes. This is where university rankings can assist your decision making.


What are the U.S. graduate programme and university rankings 2021?


With the United States home to some of the top-rated university’s and graduate schools in the world, it’s a good place to search for a prospective institution. With this in mind we decided to take a look at and analyse the recently released U.S. News & World Report best graduate schools for 2021. The rankings evaluate and rate a number of different types of postgraduate courses and programmes, including those of the most popular disciplines namely engineering, nursing, medicine, business, law and education. The 2021 edition has also included a number of new disciplines in the rankings including MBA specialisations, specialisations in the field of law, and doctor and nursing specialisations. If you're looking for your perfect match you can make use of our new course matcher tool


How do the university rankings work?


The U.S. News & World Report rankings make use of two distinct data sets when assessing institutions. The first considers the opinions and analysis of experts in respective fields who assess the academic excellence of a programme. The second type of data used focuses on an institution’s graduate school research, students and faculty. The career and academic outcomes for students are central to this assessment. The rankings examine over 2,081 programmes across the U.S. with more than 24,603 survey participants contributing to the ratings.


Which universities rate highly for law programmes?


The 2021 rankings see the top place for full-time law programmes occupied by one of the prestigious Ivy League Colleges, namely Yale Law School. Second spot went to Stanford Law School, based in California with the third placed university being the famous Harvard Law School, alma mater of former U.S. president Barack Obama. Columbia Law School in New York jumped one spot from the 2020 rankings to sit in fourth spot, with the University of Chicago Law School rounding out the top five. The top ten universities for postgraduate law studies in the U.S. are:


  1. Yale University
  2. Stanford University
  3. Harvard University
  4. Columbia University
  5. University of Chicago
  6. New York University
  7. University of Pennsylvania
  8. University of Virginia
  9. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  10. University of California, Berkeley


The rankings also evaluate part-time law programmes and for 2021, Georgetown University Law Center coming out as the top ranked institution.


US university rankings


What are the top rate U.S. universities for nursing?

If you’ve been looking to pursue a master’s degree programme in nursing in the U.S. then Johns Hopkins University would be the premier institution to attend, having kept its top place in the 2021 rankings. Second spot was taken by Duke University, with the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill coming in at number three alongside the University of Pennsylvania. The top ten for nursing master’s programmes in the U.S. for 2021 were:


  1. Johns Hopkins University
  2. Duke University
  3. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill / University of Pennsylvania (tie)
  4. Emory University
  5. Ohio State University
  6. University of Pittsburgh
  7. University of Washington
  8. University of Michigan
  9. Vanderbilt University


The rankings for top nursing programmes can also be further refined according to programme specialisations from nursing administration to paediatric and primary care nursing.


Which U.S. institutions rate highly for medicine?


There is little change between the 2020 and 2021 rankings with the best medical schools for research remaining unchanged. In first place is Harvard Medical School followed by Johns Hopkins University in second. The top ten did however see some changes with New York University moving from the number nine spot in 2020 to fourth in 2021. Stanford University dropped down one spot in the rankings to occupy fifth spot. The top ten places to study medicine in the U.S. for research are:


  1. ​Harvard University
  2. Johns Hopkins University
  3. University of Pennsylvania
  4. New York University
  5. Stanford University
  6. Columbia University
  7. Mayo Clinic School of Medicine
  8. University of California – Los Angeles
  9. University of California – San Francisco
  10. Washington University in St.Louis


Don’t forget that you can also use the U.S. News & World Report rankings to check the ratings for medical schools based on specialisations including


  • Family medicine
  • Internal medicine
  • Anaesthesiology
  • Paediatrics
  • Radiology
  • Psychiatry
  • Surgery
  • Obstetrics and gynaecology  


What about the top engineering universities in the U.S.?

If you’re a prospective postgraduate engineering student with an eye on the U.S. then the Massachusetts Institute of Technology would likely be your dream institution and once again it sits atop the rankings for 2021. Second place went to Stanford University and making up the top three is the University of California, Berkeley. Unusually, there was a three-way tie for the number four spot between the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, Carnegie Mellon University and the California Institute of Technology.


The rankings are based on specialisations in engineering including civil engineering; computer engineering, mechanical engineering; aerospace/aeronautical engineering; materials engineering; and chemical engineering. The top ten institutions for all specialisation in the U.S. for 2021 are:


1.Massachusetts Institute of Technology

2.Stanford University

3.University of California, Berkeley

=4. California Institute of Technology

=4. Carnegie Mellon University

=4. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

7. Purdue University -West Lafayette

8. Georgie Institute of Technology

9. University of California, San Diego

10. University of Illinois


Which universities in the U.S. rank highly for education programmes?

Postgraduate programmes in the field of education continue to be very popular, with strong student interest and graduates looking to refine their skills and improve their career prospects. There has not been much change in the positioning of the top institutions for 2021, with the number one place going to Harvard University followed by the University of Pennsylvania. There was a change to the number three spot with Stanford University rising one spot to take the place. Some of the specialisations that were evaluated include curriculum and instruction; educational psychology, special education; and elementary teacher education. The top ten rated university education programmes for 2021 are:


  1. Harvard University
  2. University of Pennsylvania
  3. Stanford University
  4. University of California, Los Angeles
  5. University of Wisconsin, Madison
  6. Vanderbilt University
  7. Northwestern University
  8. Columbia University, Teachers College
  9. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  10. New York University


Top universities in the USA


Why should I use university rankings?


University rankings are a good tool for researching a prospective study abroad destination or institution. They give you a useful insight into what sort of degrees and programmes are available and which are underpinned by excellent teaching and learning. Rankings can allow you to compare and contrast institutions and weigh up your priorities. Remember that the rankings are useful guidelines rather than rules and can form part of your decision-making process. You also need to consider things like your budget, qualifications, academic record, desired lifestyle, university acceptance rate, and career ambitions. 


You may find our guide to the most popular postgraduate degrees and postgraduate subjects helpful. We also have a great analysis of how to use league tables and rankings for your university research. If you want to expand your research you can also look at the top universities in the world for 2021 and the best universities in the UK

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