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Harvard Tops 2020 U.S. News Best Global Universities Rankings

Emma Kerr

An increasing number of students are pursuing an international education.

From 2010 to 2017, the number of international students who enrolled in higher education institutions worldwide increased by 2 percentage points, according to a report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in September. English-speaking countries remained the most attractive, with Australia, Canada, the U.S. and the United Kingdom together drawing in 40% of internationally mobile students.

To make the most of studying at a university abroad, higher education experts say students should avoid common mistakes like only applying to well-known U.S. colleges and not accounting for costs beyond tuition, including the impact of fluctuating currency exchange rates. Prospective students can find guidance about which international schools are world-renowned by examining the sixth edition of the U.S. News Best Global Universities rankings, released today.

The overall ranking includes 1,500 schools spread across 81 countries. U.S. News also offers rankings specific to particular countries, geographic regions and academic disciplines.

[See: Top 20 Best Global Universities.]

The 2020 Best Global Universities rankings are based on data and metrics provided by Clarivate Analytics InCites. The methodology differs from that used to calculate other U.S. News rankings, such as Best Colleges and Best Graduate Schools, in that the Best Global Universities rankings are entirely based on schools' academic research performance, such as highly cited papers, and global and regional research reputations. These are not ratings of specific undergraduate or graduate programs.

The top 10 schools in the overall Best Global Universities ranking are similar to last year's edition, with Harvard University in Massachusetts again topping the list, followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University in California.

Though the same schools continue to dominate the top 10, there was some movement in their positions: Two U.S. universities, Columbia University in New York, ranked No. 7, and Princeton University in New Jersey, ranked No. 8, surpassed the U.K.'s University of Cambridge, which now ranks No. 9.

Most of the top 10 schools are located in the U.S., with the exception of the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford, ranked No. 5.

The U.S. has more universities that qualified for the overall ranking than any other nation: 249. China has the second-highest number of institutions, at 188, and the U.K. has the third-largest contingent, at 86. Universities in six countries that weren't represented in the rankings last year made the cut this year: Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Macedonia, Malta, Tanzania and Zambia.

[Read: Frequently Asked Questions: Best Global Universities Rankings.]

Aspiring international students can also consult the 44 country and five regional rankings to compare school options in specific areas of the world. These rankings are based entirely on how each school within that geographic region performed in the overall Best Global Universities ranking.

The highest-rated institutions in the regional rankings remain the same as in the prior edition. The University of Cape Town tops the Africa ranking, and the National University of Singapore leads the Asia ranking. In the Australia and New Zealand ranking, the University of Melbourne is in first place. The University of Oxford remains at the top in Europe, and the Universidade de São Paulo is No. 1 in Latin America.

Prospective students who are interested in a specific field, such as engineering, can refer to the relevant subject ranking. In total, schools are evaluated in 28 subjects. Some subject areas increased by 50 to 150 ranked schools, while others remained the same in size. This year, the rankings include six new subjects: surgery; oncology; cardiac and cardiovascular systems; mechanical engineering; civil engineering; and electrical and electronic engineering.

The Best Global Universities subject ranking methodology is different from the overall ranking methodology, since the former focuses on a school's research strength within a particular field. The subject rankings do not evaluate academic majors, departments or a specific school at a university, such as a business or medical school.

[Read: How to Use Student Experiences to Find a Global University.]

There are 137 schools that are represented in a subject ranking but did not qualify for placement in the overall Best Global Universities ranking.

Among all subject rankings, the U.S. continues to have the highest proportion of ranked schools, with 16.6% of schools ranked in a subject, followed closely by China, with 12.5%.

Last year, the U.S. dominated in every subject but one with the highest proportion of ranked schools. But this year, China is making a splash as it has the largest percentage of schools ranked for chemistry, civil engineering, materials science and mechanical engineering.

There are a few universities that have the unique distinction of placing highest in multiple Best Global Universities subject rankings, demonstrating the breadth of their research excellence. These institutions include Harvard, which is the highest-rated school in 13 of the 28 subject rankings, and the following three schools, each of which is rated No. 1 for multiple subjects: Tsinghua University in China, Wageningen University and Research Center in the Netherlands and the California Institute of Technology in the U.S.

Only five universities earned spots in all 28 subject rankings: McGill University and the University of Toronto in Canada, the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, Pennsylvania State University--University Park in the U.S. and the University of New South Wales in Australia.

See the complete rankings of the Best Global Universities.

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