Top 25 Universities for Critical Thinkers

Critical thinking can be defined as the “purposeful reflective judgment concerning what to believe or what to do.” It’s more than a black and white answer; it’s an observant analysis with no set answer, aimed at building thinking skills. While it is a largely lost art in education today, replaced by stock answers from textbooks, it is still the primary focus of education in some of the world’s most elite universities.

Below is a list of 25 universities that attract and produce great critical thinkers. Due to the complexity of the critical thinking curriculum, it may come as no surprise that this list is made up of the world’s most prestigious universities.

University of Cambridge
Location: Cambridge, UK

Considered the number one university in the world, the University of Cambridge is one of the leading academic centers that promotes a “self-governed community of scholars” and critical thinkers.

Harvard University
Location: Cambridge, MA

Coined as the second best university in the world, Harvard is the finest university in the United States and a leading proponent of critical thinking within its curriculum and its educational methods.

Oxford University
Location: Oxford, UK

Known as one of the top universities in the world, Oxford University has a final essay where students are given a single word to write about. Because there is no single right answer, the paper is graded on the student’s level of critical thinking.


University of Chicago
Location: Chicago, IL

Placing heavy importants on shaping minds, the University of Chicago is known for its “emphasis on critical thinking and broad interdisciplinary exposure to the full range of intellectual discovery.” In fact, the universities website boasts that their classrooms are notorious “hotbeds of exhilarating discourse. Discussions that start in the classroom often move to the dormitory hall, to the lunch table, and into the community” – proof that they do not shy away from the incubation of critical thinkers.


Durham University
Location: Durham, England

The third oldest university in England, Durham University is a top-tiered collection of colleges that is committed to excellence in all aspects of learning and creating well-rounded students with the ability to think critically.


London School of Economics
Location: London, UK

Though economics is mostly a black and white science, the London School of Economics promotes critical thinking in that it aims to “improve society and to understand the causes of things” – continual learning rather than being content with old practices.


Princeton University
Location: Princeton, NJ

Princeton University is a research-based institution that is constantly seeking new information. In fact, their mission statement clearly promotes critical thinking by declaring themselves as a school that “seeks to achieve the highest levels of distinction in the discovery and transmission of knowledge and understanding.”

University of Michigan
Location: Ann Arbor, MI

Aiming to offer “an uncommon education for the common man,” the University of Michigan is one of the few public schools on this list but an impressive farmer of critical thinkers nonetheless. Their mission statement highlights creativity as a way of creating leaders and citizens that will “challenge the present and enrich the future.”

Columbia University
Location: New York City, NY

Located in Manhattan, in the heart of New York City, Columbia University’s mission is to advance knowledge and learning at the highest level. Like many of the Ivy League schools, critical thinking is at the heart of this movement.


University College London
Location: London, UK

Making the list as another English educational power, University College London (UCL) prides itself in an interdisciplinary approach; allowing one subject area to be seeded into another, to create well-rounded results and fruitful new ideas that are outside the box.


Yale University
Location: New Haven, CT

Another Ivy League school centered around critical thinking, Yale University encourages it’s students to excel through more than a stale printed-text education. They place an equal amount of importance in extracurricular activities and support its influence on the academic arena.


Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Location: Boston, MA

Widely known as one the best engineering and science programs in the world, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) places a major emphasis on stretching the known and uncovering new conclusions.


Brown University
Location: Providence, RI

Known as the seventh-oldest university in America, Brown University takes a more casual approach in comparison to other Ivy League schools but still maintains an important role for critical thinkers because their “commitment to undergraduate freedom means students must take responsibility as architects of their courses of study.”

Duke University
Location: Durham, NC

Noted as the youngest of the top universities, Duke University is another top-tiered school that takes a casual yet inspiring approach to education. Boasting a mantra of students (and faculty) being Outrageous & Ambitious, it is expected, campus wide, to challenge ideas and seek out answers in outrageous and ambitious ways.

Cornell University
Location: Ithaca, NY

Known for being the first to admit qualified students regardless of nationality, race, social circumstance, gender, or religion when it was founded in 1865, Cornell has always been a university that prides itself on working outside the box. Their strong emphasis on critical thinking is further proof that they’re interested in quality ideas over social status.


Dartmouth College
Location: Hanover, NH

Because critical thinking is centered around new ideas, that may not be all black and white, Dartmouth College ranks highly because it openly encourages their students to conduct original research for the purpose of creating new knowledge.


University of Pennsylvania
Location: Philadelphia, PA

Rounding out the list of Ivy League schools, the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) is a major advocate for critical thinking. In fact, their website blatantly states that UPenn is “a place to pursue knowledge beyond traditional boundaries.”


California Institute of Technology
Location: Pasadena, CA

While the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) aims to dissect the most fundamental challenges in science, it’s with the primary focus of “educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.” Though science and creativity rarely mix, it shows they’re dedication toward critical thinking.


Stanford University
Location: Stanford, CA

Recognized as one of the finest universities in the world, by many academic and non-academic groups alike, Stanford University is another beacon for critical thinkers. Structured much like the Ivy League schools in the East, and the fact that Google was started on the Stanford campus, the level of curriculum itself is a great incubator for thinking outside of the box.


Imperial College London
Location: London, UK

The Imperial College London is another fine British school that places great importance on critical thinking in the more definitive arenas of science, engineering and medicine. Though they pride themselves in the sciences, they’re mission is to develop the “next generation” of researchers, scientists and academics that will improve on today’s facts through critical thinking.


Johns Hopkins University
Location: Baltimore, MD

Considered one of the top universities and hospitals in the world, Johns Hopkins University is a research based institution that’s primary focus is to foster independent and original research amongst it’s students.


McGill University
Location: Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Entering the list as the first Canadian school, McGill University is considered one of the top 20 universities in the world for its research-intensive curriculum. Though it’s a medical-based program, they’re openly excited about the “collective creativity” happening in the classrooms.


Australian National University
Location: Canberra, Australia

Covering one last country on the list, the Australian National University is another top-ranked university with a great reputation for its focus on critical thinking. Operating within a progressive green campus, they are showing the world that it’s okay to operate a little left-of-center.


King’s College London
Location: London, UK

Rounding out the list as the last British school for critical thinkers, King’s College London is a world-class university with an extreme emphasis on creativity as a means to the advancement of knowledge.


Sonoma State University
Location: Rohnert Park, CA

Though this is one of the smaller and less know universities on the list, Sonoma Sate University is notable because it has teamed up with many of the Ivy League schools in researching, developing and implementing large-scale improved curriculums that are focused on critical thinking.


7 responses to “Top 25 Universities for Critical Thinkers”

  1. Rube

    For some reason I doubt this list is right.
    Just Universities from English speaking countries and one German…
    Highly unlikely if you ask me.

  2. Nicole

    Awesome post! I didnt not realize that so many “top” schools were implementing critical thinking paths. I hope my schools start to focus on this effort as well.

  3. Anna Smith

    Great pictures!
    You didn’t mention the School of Hard Knocks…

  4. Zondra

    Ditto Rube. This list just enforces the age-old idea that apparently you have to spend tonnes of money and immigrate to England if you want a good education. Eurocentrism at its finest. So much for “critical thinking,” eh? :)

  5. pranav

    Chadfefe very nice list of Universities. A view of Australian National University is very nice.

  6. Harold Wagner

    Some good U. choices, some not.
    Sonoma State in California? –a minor state college, nowhere near UC Berkeley
    or UCLA. Dartmouth and Brown? Good New England schools, but undergraduate
    teaching-oriented. Where are Tokyo U., Sorbonne, Moscow State, etc?

  7. kiki fernando

    Don’t expect an intelligent person interested in critical thinking to accept …ahem… a list that is arbitrary and doesn’t state the criteria. The few top brands are in, for sure, but what about the continent where German and French and yes, Oslo… scandinavian ones? Better to list Centres in Unis than Unis. Just a helpful suggestion.

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