The really unusual thing about the greater Boston area is that so many and such good postsecondary institutions are crowded into that area. Harvard, M.I.T., Tufts, Brandeis, and others.

Is Boston unique in all the world in that respect, or is there some comparable place elsewhere?

  • While the number of institutions may be interesting in itself, it may be instructive to look at number of principal investigators or post-grad students in an area instead.
    – TAR86
    Jul 24, 2017 at 4:52
  • 6
    I don't think an objective answer to this question is possible.
    – Thomas
    Jul 24, 2017 at 5:01
  • Chicago has both Northwestern and University of Chicago (which usually ranks pretty high; it also boasts a high number of Nobel prize winners on its faculty as well as famous alumni like Barack Obama). Jul 24, 2017 at 15:52

3 Answers 3


So, "good postsecondary institutions" is a bit hard to define. University rankings are probably about the only thing less meaningful than impact factors, but they'll do to give us a basic idea here - do any cities have a large number of universities that are rated higher than the lowest one in your set?

The US News & World Report has a handy list searchable by city. Annoyingly it doesn't quite work for the US (it defines city strictly) but it's a good approximation. Brandeis is rated #280 (making it fifth in the Boston area, if you include Northeastern).

On the US News & World Report ranking, and plugging in a few likely candidates, there are

So that's one higher, one equal, one close. In the specific case of London, Wikipedia has a handy table of universities by ranking. Depending on which metric you want to use, it has either five, six, or eleven (!) institutions ranked higher than Brandeis.

So with these admittedly flawed tools, it looks like London is likely to be an answer, but there are a couple more close contenders. There may be other concentrations in the US depending on how generously you define the city areas - I would guess the Bay Area around San Francisco is a likely candidate, for example.

  • 10
    While I don't disagree with you (I also don't think that the Boston area is quite as special as OP seems to think) there are probably a bunch of better-ranked universities than Brandeis in Boston - Boston University and Northeastern at least come to mind, and I am not an expert in US universities.
    – xLeitix
    Jul 23, 2017 at 20:42
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    For Paris, one should likely add Université Paris-Sud and Ecole polytechnique. UVSQ might also count as Paris university and is just slightly below the cut-off.
    – quid
    Jul 23, 2017 at 21:44
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    I think one needs to take into account that Boston is a much smaller city than NYC or London, making its large concentration of top notch universities feel a bit more exceptional
    – Darren Ong
    Jul 24, 2017 at 1:06
  • 5
    So I was wrong, it turns out that some academics do actually care about inane rankings based on arbitrary criteria. Why should the "US News & World Report" ranking be the holy grail of all rankings for all universities around the world?
    – user9646
    Jul 24, 2017 at 7:15
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    @PeterTaylor: The University of London is a very loose federation, whose sub-units are independent for most practical purposes. This is why institutions like UCL and LSE are listed separately in ranking tables. (BTW, Oxford and Cambridge are less than 100 miles from London, so that adds two more world-class universities in the area.) Jul 24, 2017 at 7:43

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I'll try to demonstrate this.

— Boston is the location for 35 colleges, universities, and community colleges.1 — there are about 152,000 students at Boston's institutions of higher learning. www.bostonplans.org

Considering that Boston's population in 2016 was about 4,667,000, student population in this city is 3.3%.

On the other hand, population of Oklahoma City Metro area is 1,457,758. It's a home to 20 universities (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_colleges_and_universities_in_Oklahoma_City) with a student body of about 75,000 or 5.1% of the population.

USA Today ranks Oklahoma City# 3 vs Boston#9 in Best Cities for students.


I hope you got my point.

  • 2
    Your population figure for Boston clearly includes far more than the cities of Boston and Cambridge, I suspect including Worcester. Are you including Norman and Edmond in Oklahoma City? If one goes by percentage of population alone then expect the student populations in Chapel Hill, NC, Ann Arbor, MI, and Iowa City, IA and the like are far higher. And that suggests that the absolute size of the population has to count for something too, although just how to do that is far from obvious. Jul 23, 2017 at 22:19
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    I follow the logic of the original question. Brandeis is not in Boston itself but in Greater Boston Area. So I included metropolitan areas. Population figures for Boston and Cambridge alone would be under one million, but then it wouldn't include Brandeis and some other fine universities. Jul 23, 2017 at 23:07
  • . . . and hence my question: whether you included Norma and Edmond? Jul 23, 2017 at 23:08
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    There are just over 44,000 students at UIUC. The total population of Champaign County, Illinois is just over 200,000.
    – JeffE
    Jul 23, 2017 at 23:22
  • 1
    Yes, I included Norman and Edmond. And other suburbs of OC. Jul 24, 2017 at 0:33

Melbourne and Sydney Australia both have a large number of world class universities. I'm not sure what you're cut-off is for world class, but looking at this site and focusing on Melbourne as the example (24th July 2017):

Monash and University of Melbourne are both in top 100 globally. Deakin, Swinburne, and RMIT are both in top 500, and La Trobe is 535, Victoria Uni is 613. So that's possibly 5 or 7 strong universities in Melbourne depending on how you define things.

Sydney is similar, especially if you include satellite cities like Newcastle and Wollongong. And you could be even more inclusive and include Canberra.

A few reasons for this concentration of universities:

  • About a third of Australia's entire population lives in and around Melbourne and Sydney.
  • Higher education is one of Australia's major export industries. In particular, fees from many international students across Asia support the sector.
  • While we have the group of 8 in Australia (i.e., perhaps analogous to Ivy League) that have been around for longer and often rank in the top 100 or 200 in the world, the structure of universities in Australia is such that most strive to be complete universities contributing to international research. Thus, there are many universities in Australia that are in that next group (e.g., the 200 to 500 range).
  • 2
    As RAA answer this is great, but that just shows the question is broken right?
    – virmaior
    Jul 24, 2017 at 11:54
  • @virmaior : I'm guessing "RAA" = "reductio ad absurdum", but that's just a guess. Jul 24, 2017 at 17:26

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