Top Schools for Innovation in the United States

Innovation is the key to growth, and schools, increasingly, are valued for their ability to try new things to prepare students for the future. So what are the top schools for innovation? It’s a hard question to answer, given that everyone sets the parameters of innovation differently.

Based on two recently published lists—one by the researchers at Thompson Reuters ranking the top schools for innovation and the other by the US News and World Report looking at American schools—these five universities were the first common factors between the lists, all ranking at 8th place or above. Both lists examined different qualities to base their rankings on.

Thompson Reuters used a series of 10 criteria, focusing on “academic papers, which indicate basic research performed at a university, and patent filings, which point to an institution’s interest in protecting and commercializing its discoveries”:

  1. Patent Volume
  2. Patent Success
  3. Global Patents
  4. Patent Citations
  5. Patent Citation Impact
  6. Percent of Patents Cited
  7. Patent to Article Citation Impact
  8. Industry Citation Impact
  9. Percent of Industry Collaborative Articles
  10. Total Web of Science Core Collection Papers

U.S. News took a different, less regimented approach. As part of their annual peer assessment survey of colleges, they asked college presidents and admissions deans to name “10 colleges or universities in their U.S. News Best Colleges ranking category that are making the most innovative improvements in terms of curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology or facilities.” It’s a more limited perspective on the list, but the number of similarities just within the top 10 demonstrate the extent to which these institutions have made a name for themselves as innovators.

Neither lists are necessarily comprehensive in their methodology given the numerous factors there are to consider; however, they provide a good starting point. The following universities, in no particular order, all exemplify a new future, one that is filled with technology, creativity, and success.

Stanford University, Stanford CA

Stanford University

Among various initiatives taken by Stanford to encourage innovation, there are a few that stand out. The Center for Social Innovation provides research services, student programs, and curriculum development support to students, staff, and the academic community at large. They’ve partnered with various sects of the university to offer unique certificate programs like the Certificate in Public Management and Social Innovation. Another similar one is a collaboration between the schools of engineering and business studies to provide a Stanford Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge MA


MIT’s Innovation Initiative is an attempt to take the various centers and programs that focus on innovation and create a link between them in order to further an institute-wide goal of greater innovation.

Harvard University, Cambridge MA

Harvard University

Harvard’s Innovation Lab—or the i-lab as they call it—like Stanford’s entrepreneurship certificate, focuses on the importance of creative business ideas. However, what’s different about the i-lab is that it is an entire space dedicated to fostering inter-disciplinary communication and thinking for any student at Harvard with an idea. There are different programs available, but the general premise of the i-lab is to provide Harvard students with the space and resources needed to starting a business in the 21st century.

Northeastern University, Boston MA

Northeastern UniversityOne feature that makes Northeastern stand out from the general fare of research centers and programs for innovation is an actual Master’s degree in Innovation offered by the D’Amore-McKim School of Business.

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor MI

University of Michigan

Like MIT, which aims to connect numerous initiatives for a unified approach to innovation, University of Michigan’s Innovate Blue team looks to achieve the same goal by being a resource for the entire school.

There are definitely a lot of similarities between the five, and there are many other schools across the U.S.—and the world—that have turned their gaze on innovation as the driver for a better future. What has put these particular schools at the top of multiple lists is their commitment to the cause, and the sheer amount of results their efforts have brought about.


Suchita Chadha

Suchita Chadha

Suchita is a student at Emerson College, where she is pursuing a BFA in Writing, Literature, & Publishing for poetry with a Global & Post-Colonial Studies minor. She has been published in Verge Magazine (Canada) and Affairs Today (UK).