The 15 Most Prestigious PhD Programs in the U.S.

22 Sep, 2011  |  Written by  |  under PhD Resources

If you’ve made it through your master’s degree and plan to spend more time in a PhD program, then you want to choose from the best doctoral programs in the nation. Those noted programs produce PhD graduates who tend to fare better than most in the job market. While there is no guarantee that having a terminal degree will earn the big dollars, several states and companies compute salaries based upon education. Take a look at the following list of 15 prestigious PhD programs in the U.S. to get a clue as to what you might look for in your field.


  1. Eastman School of Music Doctor of Musical Arts: The Eastman School is a professional school within the University of Rochester, and — in 2008 — was named by the Kaplan/Newsweek How to Get into College guide as the “hottest school for music.” The DMA degree is awarded for high attainments in the practice of music, with emphasis on the arts of performing and teaching. A candidate for this degree must be a capable artist who demonstrates intellectual attributes of the highest order.
  2. Harvard Medical School’s MD/PhD Program: An HMS education is about receiving a medical education that is universally recognized as among the best in the world. Every year, approximately 18 percent of the HMS student body elects to extend the scope of their medical education by pursuing joint degrees in a multitude of disciplines offered at HMS, Harvard, and our many institutional affiliates. Graduates from the M.D./Ph.D. program ready to become a leader in biomedical engineering, a renowned medical academician, or a physician-scientist who will shape the future of medical research as a section head of a government or private sector agency.
  3. Johns Hopkins School of Medicine (JHUSOM): This is the academic medical teaching and research arm of Johns Hopkins University. Hopkins has consistently been the nation’s number one medical school in the amount of competitive research grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health. Its major teaching hospital, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, has been ranked as the best hospital in the United States every year since 1992 by U.S. News and World Report. Their internal medicine program ranks the highest among their medical programs.
  4. MIT Sloan PhD Program: PhD studies at MIT Sloan are intense and individual in nature, demanding a great deal of time, initiative, and discipline from every candidate. Research at MIT Sloan is often an interdisciplinary exercise, as management researchers collaborate with MIT’s eminent researchers in science and technology. But the rewards of such rigor are tremendous: MIT Sloan PhD graduates go on to teach at the world’s most prestigious universities.
  5. Northwestern University Department of Psychology: This university’s Psychology Department is one of the strongest and most prestigious departments in the United States. They offer PhD programs in five areas: clinical psychology, personality psychology, cognitive psychology, social psychology, and the area of brain, behavior, and cognition (BBC). Faculty and graduate students in all five areas are conducting some of the most exciting and influential research being done in the psychological sciences today.
  6. Princeton University Department of Molecular Biology: Princeton’s commitment to a cutting-edge multidisciplinary approach to biology is highlighted by the opening of the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, the new program in quantitative and computational biology, and the new initiatives in neuroscience. Recently, four Princeton faculty members were awarded grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for work deemed “high impact” by the federal medical research agency.
  7. Minister of Education

  8. Stanford University School of Education: The doctoral programs at the Stanford University School of Education produce educational research that is both rigorous and relevant to educational policy and practice. Doctoral students develop deep disciplinary and interdisciplinary expertise and are prepared for leadership roles as educational researchers.
  9. The City College of New York Psychology Programs: The Ph.D. program in Clinical Psychology is founded on a scholar-practitioner model, with a strong integrative psychodynamic orientation that incorporates neuropsychology, family systems theory, attachment theory, and multi-cultural perspectives. The PhD program in Cognitive Neuroscience trains students to become cutting-edge researchers and to explore how the activity of the brain gives rise to workings of the human mind.
  10. University of California at San Diego: How to pick a program here? Of the 25 UC San Diego doctoral programs evaluated by the National Research Council (NRC), 60 percent are among the top 20 programs in their fields nationwide. Some programs include biological sciences, neurosciences, linguistics, literature, mathematics, materials science, computer science and philosophy.
  11. University of Cincinnati Regional Development: This PhD degree is obtainable through the College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP), and is part of an award-winning program of urban design and development. The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Regional Development Planning focuses on economic development planning within a regional context: for local areas, neighborhoods and inner cities, and metropolitan areas. This school is serious about partnering with cities and towns and placing their doctoral candidates in those environments to work real-world problems.
  12. University of Maryland Criminal Justice Program: A 1998 study of the quality of faculty in doctoral criminology and criminal justice programs reported that CCJS faculty were the most frequently cited of American criminal justice programs. A more recent study reported that more than a third of the 22 most accomplished new scholars in criminology and criminal justice received their PhD degrees from CCJS.
  13. University of Miami Sociology Program: This program ranked among the top quartile nationwide in NRC rankings. Many of the UM programs ranked among the top half in the “S” rankings also appear in the top half of the “R” rankings, where they are joined by programs including history, international studies, and communication. The department offers three substantive areas of concentration at the doctoral levels: criminology, race and ethnic relations, and medical sociology.
  14. Urban Planning

  15. University of Southern California School of Policy, Planning and Development: The programs within this school rank among the best throughout the nation. Offerings at the doctorate level include a PhD in public policy and management or a PhD in urban planning and development. Programs integrate classroom work with real-world experience through a variety of internships, mentorship programs and other opportunities within the greater Los Angeles community and around the world.
  16. University of Wisconsin-Madison Journalism & Mass Communication: As one of the oldest journalism programs in the nation, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism & Mass Communication also stands as one of the best. From its award-winning scholars to its motivated students to its convergence curriculum in both undergraduate and graduate studies, the UW-Madison J-School serves as a global leader in journalism research and teaching.
  17. Yale School of Architecture: YSOA is generally considered one of the most prestigious architecture schools in the world. The five-year doctoral program prepares candidates for careers in university teaching, cultural advocacy and administration, museum curatorship, and publishing. The program forges a unique combination of professional knowledge with a historical and analytical grasp of key phases in the history of architecture.