With companies like Facebook, Apple and Google dominating the world, it’s only natural that computer science is becoming ever more popular. With everything from entertainment, media and gaming to shopping, banking and even work moving online, it’s no surprise that software engineers are in such high demand.
Long gone are the days when computer science was considered a geeky subject, too. Not only is coding chic, but it will also bag you a large paycheque – especially if you’ve studied at a top university or college.
Therefore, to help you out, we’ve checked the latest rankings to bring you the best computer science schools in the world. If you’re a talented programmer with ambition, creativity and drive, these are the top places to realise your potential.
10. University of Toronto
Location: Toronto, Canada
Originally founded in 1827 under colonial rule, the University of Toronto has a strong tradition of STEM innovation and discovery. As a result of its contributions to science, the university now receives the highest amount of scientific research funding in Canada.
Computer science undergraduates at the University of Toronto explore topics well beyond the scope of basic programming and have access to state-of-the-art facilities. Those with an entrepreneurial streak also have access to the school’s customised network and resources.
The school is affiliated with five Turing Award winners, while influential computer scientists William Kahan, Eric Hehner and Calvin Gotlieb are all among its alumni.
9. ETH Zürich
Location: Zurich, Switzerland
Often ranked as one of the best universities in Europe, the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich – or ETH Zürich, for short – is an influential institution within the STEM world, with Albert Einstein among its alumni.
It’s not just in science and medicine where the university is making its mark, though. The school’s computer science programme gives a strong grounding in electrical engineering and mathematics, as well as additional electives tailored to the student’s interest. While the first year is taught entirely in German, many of the modules in the second and third years are in English.
The school is affiliated with one Turing Award winner, while notable computer science alumni include IEEE director and Harvard professor Hanspeter Pfister, software engineering pioneer and ETH Zürich professor Niklaus Wirth, and legendary mathematician John von Neumann.
8. École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)
Location: Lausanne, Switzerland
The École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne’s official founding in 1969 was the result of decades of evolution of a small architecture and engineering school from 1853. The modern polytechnic university’s contribution to research and innovation is impressive. The school’s professors were published 4,400 times in scholarly publications in 2019, and 8% of those instructors are the most cited in the world.
The curriculum at EPFL is designed to help students choose the best career path. The first year includes core classes for both a computer science and communications systems degree. Students then select their preferred degree and can further tailor their courses to focus on physics, mathematics or life sciences. Master’s programmes are available in cybersecurity, computer science, communications systems and data science.
EPFL values practical experience with several opportunities for internships. Facebook, Google and Microsoft recruit on-site. The university boasts several notable professors, including astronaut Claude Nicollier and Turing Award laureate Joseph Sifakis. Carmela Troncoso, head of the Security and Privacy Engineering Lab, led the development of new technology for COVID-19 contact tracing.
7. Harvard University
Location: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
An Ivy League institution with centuries of tradition and history, Harvard University – in association with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer – significantly increased funding into its computer science programme in 2014, with additional plans for the implementation of state-of-the-art facilities in the coming years.
The school boasts 14 Turing Award winners, while notable computer scientists who studied at Harvard include Andrew Yao, An Wang, Richard Stallman and Dennis Ritchie (the creator of the widely used C programming language). Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, meanwhile, both dropped out of Harvard in order to focus on building Microsoft and Facebook, respectively.
6. University of Cambridge
Location: Cambridge, UK
Founded in 1209, the University of Cambridge is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world. A dedicated computer science department was created in 1937, and Cambridge scholars began contributing to the foundations of digital computing in 1945.
Current students can take a three-year bachelor’s course of study, learning the foundations of computer science, programming, operating systems, computation theory and more. Those who excel can attend an extra year to receive both a BA and a Master of Engineering degree. There is also a one-year course for an MPhil in Advanced Computer Science, and a three-year PhD programme.
Career opportunities abound for Cambridge students, with over 300 computing and advanced technology companies and laboratories in the area. Computer science students conduct group projects that include relevant external work experience and often lead to licensing, development or employment.
Alongside other historical genius icons like Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, Cambridge alumni include the forefathers of modern computers: Charles Babbage, Alan Turing and Maurice Wilkes.
5. University of Oxford
Location: Oxford, UK
Although the University of Oxford’s existence can be traced all the way back to the 11th century, the University’s computer science department began in 1957 as a computing laboratory. Since then, it has – like its parent university – evolved into one of the most influential in the world.
As with other subjects at Oxford, students benefit from one-to-one tuition and small tutorial groups, with strong industry links to key players. The basics are taught from the start, too, meaning it’s the perfect course if you have no prior knowledge or experience of programming.
There are six Turing Award winners affiliated with Oxford, while notable alumni include Stephen Wolfram, Tony Hoare and the inventor of the World Wide Web himself, Tim Berners-Lee.
4. University of California, Berkeley (UCB)
Location: Berkeley, California, USA
Established in 1868, Berkeley is the oldest campus of the University of California system. It currently offers over 350-degree programmes and has a storied history of major contributions to multiple fields including CPU design, statistical theory and robotics. The school’s impressive accolades include 31 Nobel Prize, 11 Turing Award and 117 Olympic gold medal winners.
Berkeley is also one of the best universities for social and political activism, which is integrated throughout the curriculum. One path for computer science majors at UCB is a Bachelor of Arts degree from the College of Letters & Science. This is an ideal choice for students interested in a combination of science and liberal arts, and a potential double major such as mathematics or cognitive science.
A more stringent application process is required for admittance to the College of Engineering, where a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering and computer sciences is available. Five-year BS/MS and honours programmes are also available.
3. Carnegie Mellon University
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
A private college located in downtown Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University has an entire school dedicated to computer science, with its research output in the last 15 years responsible for advancement in several technical fields.
Since its inception in 1988, the school has also consistently ranked among the best in the US, with a particular emphasis on its teaching and research into artificial intelligence. Indeed, from 2018, the school offers a separate Bachelor of Science programme in AI. Meanwhile, the $98 million Gates and Hillman Centers house some of the best learning facilities in the world.
Carnegie Mellon is affiliated with 13 Turing Award winners, among them AI pioneers Edward Feigenbaum and Raj Reddy, as well as cryptographer Shafi Goldwasser and the ‘father of computer graphics’ Ivan Sutherland.
2. Stanford University
Location: Palo Alto, California, USA
Located in the heart of Silicon Valley – one of the most influential tech hubs in the world – Stanford University’s computer science department has been consistently ranked as one of the best in the world since its creation in 1965.
Housed in the Gates Computer Science Building (named, unsurprisingly, after the Microsoft founder), undergraduates are encouraged to get involved early in research and even teaching, while the industry opportunities in such a prime location are obvious.
Stanford is also affiliated with 27 Turing Award winners (more than any other university in the world), while its alumni include Netflix founder, Reed Hastings, Microsoft Word creator, Charles Simonyi and Google cofounders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. WhatsApp, YouTube, Mozilla Firefox and Instagram were also all either founded or co-founded by Stanford graduates.
1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
At first place is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which has been responsible for some of the most significant computer science breakthroughs in modern history. These include pioneering advancements in public-key cryptosystems, internet standards and artificial intelligence, while radar, electronic ink and the Black Box (now used in all commercial aircraft) were all also developed at MIT.
Undergraduate students can pursue computer science in conjunction with either engineering, electrical engineering, molecular biology or economics and data science. There is a particular emphasis within the curriculum on circuit design, robotics and communication theory.
In terms of Turing Awards, meanwhile, MIT falls one short of Stanford with 26, although notable computer science alumni include Uber CTO Thuan Pham, LeapPad creator Jim Marggraff and professional poker player Robert Varkonyi.
As some of the alumni on this list prove, an education at one of these universities can put you in a great position, either to succeed on your own or with a top company. Ultimately, though, it’s all about your own dedication and motivation to grow.
Where do you want to study computer science? Let us know in the comments below.
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 6 May 2019 and contains revisions by Valerie David.
QS Top Universities 2020-11-10