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For many college students across the country, their academic year was once again largely defined by the coronavirus pandemic — whether that meant routine testing for the virus, mask and social distancing requirements, or a hybrid class schedule. Throughout it all, one facet of higher education remained constant in 2021: the dominance of Massachusetts universities in nationwide rankings.

For the fifth year in a row, Harvard University in Cambridge claimed the top spot on the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education’s annual list of the best overall schools in the nation. The nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology came in third — one notch down from last year — behind Stanford University in California.


Nine of the schools that placed in the top 10 last year again made the cut, largely in part because those institutions had the “spending power to cope with the falling revenues and rising costs many have experienced as a result of the pandemic,” according to the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ/THE rankings are based on 15 factors across four main categories — among them student outcomes, academic resources, student engagement, and the learning environment.

Here are the universities that made the top of the list:

1. Harvard University

2. Stanford University

3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

4. Yale University

5. Duke University

6. Brown University

7. California Institute of Technology

8. Princeton University

9. Johns Hopkins University and Northwestern University (tied)

Here are the best schools for student outcomes:

1. Princeton University

2. Yale University

3. Duke University, Harvard University, and Stanford University (tied)

6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

7. Cornell University

8. Dartmouth College

9. California Institute of Technology and The University of Chicago (tied)

Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.