So you want to go to the best school on the planet that you can get into? Fortunately, if you’re in the United States, you have the your choice of the very best schools on the planet. Below are 2010’s top 50 schools in the United States. Next to each school’s rank in the United States is also its world rank. Thus Harvard is ranked 1 [1] – it’s first in the United States and first in the world. Princeton, by contrast, is ranked 6 [7] – it’s sixth in the United States but seventh in the world (it turns out that Cambridge University in England is ranked fifth in the world).

You might wonder why the rankings below don’t match up with others that you might have seen, like the U.S. News and World Report rankings. Unlike other rankings, which take into account how happy students are with their academic experience at the school or the sorts of amenities the school does or doesn’t have (having a top school right next to a slum doesn’t help its U.S. News ranking), the rankings below reflect strict academic excellence measured in objective terms such as scholarly output of the faculty.

As you look through this list, you’ll see some interesting patterns. One thing that will immediately strike you is that even schools in your backyard that you might not have thought were so great may still be world-class. For instance, some of the big state schools that you might know mainly for their athletics programs are also dynamite places to study and do research. You’ll also find that some of the states that are on the verge of insolvency in the current economic crisis have the best schools (maybe they’ve overspent on education?). Indeed, lots of the best schools are in California.

Just because a school has a terrific academic ranking does not mean that you’ll want to go there. Some schools that are great as a whole may not be very good in the thing that most interests you. In other articles here at SuperScholar we’ll list the best schools by discipline. But even here you’ve got to be careful. Just because a school is great in a given discipline doesn’t mean that it’s got the best person in the area that interests you most (for example, some schools great in history as a whole may not have anyone who works in the given historical period that interests you most).

Other things being equal, however, it’s good to go to the best school you can get into. Why? Because such school attract other bright students, and being with other bright students makes you brighter. “Iron sharpens iron,” as the saying goes. The best schools will help you to be the best that you can be.

1 [1] Harvard University

2 [2] University of California, Berkeley

3 [3] Stanford University

4 [4] Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

5 [6] California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

6 [7] Princeton University

7 [8] Columbia University

8 [9] University of Chicago

9 [11] Yale University

10 [12] Cornell University

11 [13] University of California, Los Angeles

12 [14] University of California, San Diego

13 [15] University of Pennsylvania

14 [16] University of Washington

15 [17] University of Wisconsin – Madison

16 [18] The Johns Hopkins University

17 [19] University of California, San Francisco

18 [22] University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

19 [25] University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

20 [28] University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

21 [29] Northwestern University

22 [30] Washington University in St. Louis

23 [31] New York University (NYU)

24 [32] University of Colorado at Boulder

25 [33] University of California, Santa Barbara

26 [34] Rockefeller University

27 [35] Duke University

28 [36] University of Maryland, College Park

29 [38] The University of Texas at Austin

30 [41] University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

31 [43] Pennsylvania State University – University Park

32 [46] University of California, Davis

33 [47] University of California, Irvine

34 [48] University of Southern California

35 [49] The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas

36 [53] Vanderbilt University

37 [54] Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey – New Brunswick

38 [56] University of Pittsburgh

39 [58] Carnegie Mellon University

40 [59] The Ohio State University – Columbus

41 [65] Brown University

42 [68] University of Florida

43 [69] Purdue University – West Lafayette

44 [77] Boston University

45 [78] University of Arizona – Tucson

46 [81] Arizona State University – Tempe

47 [82] University of Rochester

48 [82] University of Utah

49 [86] Michigan State University

50 [90] Indiana University – Bloomington

Source: Academic Ranking of World Universities