The Top UK Universities and the Subjects they Rank Highly for

Choosing a university to spend the next chapter of your life at can be a complex decision. Navigating the league tables and comparing university rankings for specific subjects can be incredibly time-consuming.
Our expert team is here to make the decision much easier. This article will give you all the information you need to know on the top universities and the subjects they rank most highly for.

How Important Are University League Tables?

Whilst it is useful to know which universities are considered ‘the best’ and which subjects they rank most highly for, make sure you take into account all factors when deciding which universities to apply for. Choosing a university is a highly personal choice and no table can show you where you will end up flourishing! That said, this article can help you identify the universities you will want to consider.

How Reliable Are University League Tables?

Sometimes, the university league tables’ subject rankings contradict each other. For instance, UCL is world-renowned for its Education Studies programmes. According to QS, it is the best university in the world to study Education and The Guardian ranks it as the best in the UK. However, The Complete University Guide listed the course as 14th best in just the UK. Similarly, The Guardian ranks Warwick as the current best place to study Media and Film, whilst The Complete University Guide ranks it as 12th.

Subject rankings can also shift dramatically year on year. For example, according to The Complete University Guide, Imperial was ranked 18th for Chemistry in 2021 and then 3rd in 2022. Bath was top for Politics in 2021 before dropping to 9th the following year.

Top Tip: In addition to looking at the current position in the league tables, look at performance in previous years. If your chosen subject at your chosen university seems to be moving up the league tables (or staying relatively consistent) then that is a good sign for your future education and quality of degree. If it’s moving down overall (or in certain measures such as student satisfaction), that’s worth taking into consideration.

Which University Guide is the Best?

There are three main university league tables for UK universities: The Guardian, The Times’ Good University Guide, and The Complete University Guide. The results can vary due to the fact that they collect, measure and assign weighting to the data in different ways. We will be looking at the rankings from all three. Where possible, though, we used The Times Higher Education’s Table of Tables, which aggregates data from all three, making it the ultimate ranking system.

With Oxford and Cambridge, we used the QS World University Rankings which is an international league table. These two universities dominate the domestic tables for most subjects, so to get a better sense of just how good they are, we had to look at how they perform on the world stage.

University of Oxford

What Does Oxford University Specialise In?

Oxford, along with Cambridge, is consistently considered to be in the top five universities in the world. In the 2022 Times Higher Education World Ranking, it is placed first for the sixth year running and in the QS World University Ranking, it is currently placed second. According to The Complete University Guide, it has forty subjects that rank in the top ten in the UK, ranging from Music to Medicine. We’ve chosen to show how Oxford compares to all universities internationally.

University of Oxford’s Top Ranking Subjects

Subject</strong QS World University Ranking 2021
Anatomy & Physiology1st
English Language & Literature1st
Modern Languages=1st
Classics & Ancient History2nd

How is Oxford University Better Than Cambridge University?

Generally speaking, the differences between Oxford and Cambridge are very minor. Both institutions are amongst the best across the Humanities, Sciences and Languages. Oxford, however, seems to perform marginally better than Cambridge when it comes to the Humanities (such as English, History, Law and Classics). This is why Oxford’s PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) course is notoriously prestigious, though it doesn’t appear in the table above.

Is Oxford University Hard to Get Into?

Oxford is famously difficult to get into for both undergraduate and postgraduate courses. The 2021 acceptance rate was 15.5% for undergraduate courses and 18.5% for postgraduate courses. Of course, top-tier A level results (A*A*A-AAA) and a standout personal statement are required. For most Oxford courses, you will have to pass specific admissions tests as well as an interview. Each course requires you to take a different admissions test – check our helpful article to find out which test you’ll need to sit.

The Profs’ expert admissions tutors can give you tailored one-to-one guidance on your personal statement, admissions test tutoring, and support with preparing for the interview. Get in touch long before your application is due if you want to give yourself the best chance of success!

The average Oxbridge acceptance rate is just 18%. For those that work with The Profs, the acceptance rate is 55%. We believe these stats speak for themselves: Click here to find out more.

University of Cambridge

Like Oxford, The University of Cambridge is known for being one of the best in the world. It has a reputation for all-round academic excellence and pioneering research. The Times named it their number-one UK university in 2020 and QS named it the second best in the world the following year. According to The Complete University Guide, it has 45 subjects that rank in the top ten best UK Universities for that subject, five more than Oxford. The table below shows how Cambridge’s ten best subjects perform on the world stage.

University of Cambridge’s Top Ranking Subjects

SubjectQS World University Ranking 2021
Anatomy & Physiology2nd
English Language & Literature2nd
Biological Sciences3rd
Classics & Ancient History3rd
Mechanical Engineering3rd

What Does Cambridge University Specialise In?

Cambridge is renowned for excellence in the Sciences. It ranks particularly highly for Biological Sciences and Mechanical Engineering.

Cambridge also offers a Natural Sciences course, which is a flexible course that allows students to take purely Biological Sciences, purely Physical Sciences, or a blend according to their interests and aptitude.

By contrast, Oxford only offers traditional single-discipline Sciences, such as Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

How is Cambridge University Better Than Oxford University?

As mentioned earlier, the two institutions go toe-to-toe with the best in the world in almost every subject. Cambridge, however, does boast significantly better rankings than Oxford in Engineering-based subjects. Cambridge also performs slightly better than Oxford across all Sciences besides Medicine, Pharmacy, Physiology, Psychology and Sociology. It also offers fewer Humanities courses than Oxford – and notably refuses to offer PPE as a combined discipline.

Is Cambridge University Hard to Get Into?

The acceptance rate for Cambridge in 2020 for undergraduate admissions was 19.6%. For their specialist subjects like Natural Sciences, 25% of candidates are given offers. Science courses typically require A*A*A in A level or equivalent.

Cambridge requires a ‘Pre-Interview Assessment’ for most of its courses which, if successful, is followed by an interview.

As with Oxford, the odds are stacked against you when applying to get into Cambridge. Make sure you maximise your chances by getting support from our expert admissions tutors.

University of St Andrews

The high-achieving Scottish university has broken new ground in recent years by becoming the UK’s number one university (According to The Times’ 2021 guide), beating both Oxford and Cambridge for the first time in 30 years, partly thanks to its outstanding Student Experience rating of 84.2/100.

University of St Andrews Top Ranking Subjects

SubjectUK Position (The Guardian 2021)UK Position (The Complete University Guide 2021)
History of Art1st3rd
Biomedical Sciences, Anatomy & Physiology1st
Classics & Ancient History1st4th
Computer Science1st3rd
Media & Film2nd18th
English Literature, Language & Creative Writing3rd3rd

What Subjects Does St Andrews University Specialise In?

As you can see, St Andrews is of similar quality to Oxford and Cambridge. Besides those subjects in the table above, they have many more that rank in the top five and ten in the UK including Economics (3rd), Business (4th), Psychology (4th) and Earth & Marine Sciences (6th).

St Andrews is notably ranked first for History of Art and has been now for several years running. For undergraduates, they offer a four-year Masters Degree in Art History (with Joint Honours options) and for postgraduates there’s Art History MLitt, History of Photography and Museum and Heritage Studies.

Is St Andrews better than Oxford and Cambridge?

Though The Times named St Andrews as their 2021 best UK university, it has dropped to 4th its 2022 edition, being ousted once again by Oxbridge and, this time, LSE. Despite the slight drop, The Guardian still ranks St Andews as best in many subjects – even those Oxbridge is famed for, like Politics and Classics.

Is it Hard to Get into St Andrews?

Of all the UK universities, St Andrews has the highest average entry tariff of 207 UCAS points. This means that they place a lot of emphasis on having excellent grades. Their acceptance rate is 22.5%, indicating high competitiveness.

All their courses require at least AAB at A level. Their top-ranking Art History and Computer Science undergraduate courses both admit applicants with a standard of AAA at A level.

St Andrews doesn’t interview candidates for the vast majority of its courses so you should bear in mind that your UCAS application, including your personal statement, is your only chance to stand out. Our brilliant personal statement tutors can help you with just that.

Of those students that work with The Profs, 90% receive offers from their first or second choice universities.

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)

Rated first for quality of published research, LSE is a world-leading institution in the fields of Economics and Social & Political Science. Check out our guide to getting into LSE here.

LSE’s Top Ranking Subjects


Subject UK Position (The Guardian 2021)UK Position (The Complete University Guide 2021)
Accounting & Finance2nd2nd
Business, Management & Marketing5th4th

What Does LSE Specialise In?

As a specialist university itself, it should come as no surprise that LSE ranks in the top ten for Economics; Business, Management & Marketing; Accounting & Finance; and Politics courses. LSE also ranks highly in closely related fields such as Sociology, Law and Geography.

Is LSE Good for Geography?

Ranked 3rd, LSE’s Geography courses are top-notch. However, given the school’s orientation towards social sciences, LSE almost exclusively covers Human Geography. If you would like to hone in on the social aspects of Geography, rather than Geology and Environmental Sciences, LSE is unmatched.

In the undergraduate BA in Geography degree, you will be focusing on topics like globalisation, political geography, and urban geography. Many degrees at LSE share modules, so be prepared to draw from all social sciences when studying there.
Which is Better: LSE or UCL?

Both are consistently in the top five universities domestically and both have a strong international reputation. Whilst many like to compare the two, it is difficult to say which is better.

Whilst LSE is better in its specialist subjects – Economics, Finance, Political Science and Social Sciences – UCL, like Oxbridge and St Andrews, is better in most other areas. In the Complete University Guide, LSE has eleven subjects ranked in the top ten in the UK, whilst UCL has 29.

Can I study at LSE Without Further Maths A level?

Further Maths A level is a requirement for the following LSE courses: BSc Mathematics and Economics, BSc Mathematics with Economics, and BSc Financial Mathematics and Statistics. For these courses, if you do one other non-maths A level, it is also sufficient to have Further Maths as just an AS Level.

For other Science-and-Maths-intensive courses, Further Maths may help your application.

However, for other courses, doing Maths, Further Maths and any other subject will not demonstrate enough breadth. For courses like Politics, Geography and Philosophy, you should do at least one essay-writing A level. You find all the official LSE information here.

If you want to study at LSE but struggle with Maths, be sure to contact one of our Maths tutors to get you up to scratch.

Durham University

Many people ask, ‘Is Durham better than Oxbridge?’ Whilst Durham is often termed as being a refuge for ‘Oxbridge rejects’, England’s third oldest university is in fact an excellent university in its own right, competing with Oxbridge and St Andrews for the top spots in many subjects whilst being less academically intense for its students.

Durham’s Top Ranking Subjects

Subject UK Position (The Guardian 2021) UK Position (The Complete University Guide 2021)
Religious Studies & Theology3rd3rd
English & Creative Writing4th4th
Classics & Ancient History4th3rd
Earth & Marine Sciences4th
Sports Science4th5th

What Does Durham University Specialise In?

According to The Guardian, in 2022, Durham was ranked as the number one university to study both Criminology and Music.

Their Music department is particularly high-achieving. It was rated as first in The Complete University Guide for the past four years, first in The Guardian for the past three years, and first in The Times for three of the past four. It currently holds a perfect score of 100 points in the latter.

Is it Hard to Get Into Durham University?

Given its prestige, Durham is exceptionally hard to get into – you will require at least AAB at A level for most courses. For some courses, such as Law (LNAT) and Maths (TMUA), admissions tests are mandatory.

To get into their BA in Music, you will need AAB in your A levels and Grade 7 Theory is acceptable in lieu of A level Music. Having achieved Grade 7 or 8 in one instrument is “advisable but by no means essential”. To help you reach these high standards, get in touch with one of our expert Music tutors.

Which Durham University College Should I Apply to?

Unlike Oxbridge, the college you apply for won’t affect the likelihood of receiving an offer. At Durham, once you have been accepted onto a course, your application is then forwarded to the colleges and you are assigned one according to your preferences.

You can learn more about their colleges here.

University of Warwick

The University of Warwick was The Times’ 2022 runner-up university of the year and was awarded first place for teaching quality. The Coventry-based institution has long been a staple feature in conversations about the most prestigious UK universities despite only being established in the late 20th Century.

Warwick’s Top Ranking Subjects

SubjectUK Position (The Complete University Guide 2021)UK Position (The Guardian 2021)
Media & Film Studies12th1st
Business, Management & Marketing8th2nd
Accounting & Finance4th3rd
History of Art5th3rd
Modern LanguagesFrench – 3rd, Iberian – 9th7th
English Literature, Language & Creative Writing14th10th

What Does Warwick University Specialise In?

Warwick is currently, according to The Guardian, the number one best university in the UK to study Media & Film, partly due to its 95.2 score in student satisfaction with teaching – an extension of their campus-wide high teaching standards. Given significantly less weighting in The Complete Guide, Warwick only finishes 12th in this subject area.

Talk to one of our Film or Media Tutors who can help you craft a perfect application.

Warwick also excels in this area thanks to its first-class film facilities. Located on-campus, Warwick Arts Centre underwent a £26 million transformation which saw three new state-of-the-art cinema auditoriums being built.

Given their relative specialism in Modern Languages (7th), Warwick also offers combined undergraduate honours in Film Studies with French, Hispanic Studies, Italian or German.

Can I Visit Warwick University?

Yes, you can go on a self-guided tour of Warwick’s campus at any time or, if you receive an offer, you will be invited to attend one of their open days. More information can be found at their site here.

Talk to one of our Film or Media Tutors to help you craft a perfect application.

Imperial College London

Imperial’s Top Ranking Subjects

Imperial is an internationally renowned titan in the Sciences which finished 7th in the QS World University Rankings and was named The Times’ 2022 University of the Year for Student Experience.

SubjectUK Position (The Guardian 2021)UK Position (The Complete University Guide 2021)
Electrical Engineering1st4th
Mechanical Engineering1st3rd
Chemical Engineering2nd3rd
Civil Engineering3rd8th
Computer Science5th4th
Earth & Marine Sciences5th4th

What is Imperial College Known For?

Imperial College focuses exclusively on the Sciences, Engineering and Business, though it is by far more impressive in the former departments than the latter.

Imperial has a history of cutting-edge research in the Sciences and has been recently front-and-centre in the world’s desperate bid to understand the Covid pandemic, publishing over forty reports on the mechanics of the outbreak.

As the table shows, Imperial is particularly strong in the field of Engineering.

Is Imperial College Hard to Get Into?

STEM courses typically have high grade requirements, and for specialist STEM universities like Imperial, even more so.

Imperial’s Electrical Engineering course requires A*AA, Pure Maths requires A*A*A, and Mechanical Engineering requires A*A*A. You can follow the links to find out more about the requirements, but you should certainly be taking multiple sciences to guarantee entry.

Consider getting in touch with one of our Engineering Tutors to get the support you need to reach those grades.

Is Imperial as Good as MIT?

Imperial College London is in some respects a British equivalent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in both its specialism and prestige. However, MIT has been named by QS as the best university in the world for almost ten years running whilst Imperial currently sits at seventh.

The two aren’t always in competition though; they operate a student exchange programme. So, if you are lucky enough to get into Imperial, you may get the opportunity to spend a year abroad at the world’s leading educational institution.

University of Bath

Though small and specialist, the University of Bath has a big impact in terms of the research it creates. It is currently ranked ninth in the UK in The Times’ Table of Tables.

Bath University’s Top Ranking Subjects

SubjectUK Position (The Guardian 2021)UK Position (The Complete University Guide 2021)
Sports Science2nd2nd
Mechanical Engineering2nd7th
Accounting & Finance5th8th
Civil Engineering5th5th
Business, Management & Marketing6th7th
Chemical Engineering6th9th

What Is Bath University Known For?

Whilst not as exclusively Science-based as Imperial, Bath only has a small selection of humanities courses – notably omitting History and Classics despite the ancient city’s rich heritage.

As the table shows, Bath specialises in Engineering subjects, Social Sciences, and Sports Science.

How is Bath University For Psychology?

Of the Social Sciences, Bath excels in Psychology, second in the UK only to the University of Cambridge. Due to the vast majority of Psychology courses being accredited by the British Psychological Society, there is often little that really separates them – as the Society requires certain aspects of the subject area to be covered.

What sets Bath apart, however, is the opportunity to choose from modules that relate to current research expertise amongst the senior academic staff at the university. With this system in place, undergraduates benefit from exposure to the most innovative, field-leading research in Psychology.

If you are looking for a more vocational Psychology degree, Bath is also best. Unlike other top Psychology universities like St Andrews and UCL, Bath offers placements in which you can apply the theory you have learned.

Is it Hard to Get into Bath University?

Bath has an extremely low acceptance rate of 15%, the same as Imperial and lower than Oxford, meaning it is highly competitive. In Bath’s case, this is partly due to its small size relative to its popularity.

For their top subject of Psychology, A level students are required to get A*AA. You are also better placed to receive an offer if you take both numerically-based subjects and essay-writing subjects.

Reach out to one of our Maths or Psychology Tutors to help you achieve your required grades in your A levels or finesse your UCAS application.

University College London (UCL)

Ranked eighth in the world and fourth in Europe according to QS, with 29 subjects in the top ten in the UK, UCL is a major force in academia on the world stage. Though perhaps its international reputation precedes its domestic renown, as we can see in the table, it competes for the top spots across a large range of subjects.

UCL’s Top Ranking Subjects


SubjectUK Position (The Guardian 2021)UK Position (The Complete University Guide 2021)
Business, Management & Marketing3rd3rd
Mechanical Engineering4th10th
History of Art5th4th
Accounting & Finance6th
Computer Science6th7th

What is UCL Known For?

Despite The Complete University Guide’s anomalous ranking, UCL is the best place in the UK to study Education according to The Guardian, and is ranked as the best university in the world for Education Studies by QS – and has been for eight years running.

UCL’s Education Studies BA sets itself apart by drawing on sociology, psychology, history and other areas of study (which are in themselves top-ranking departments at the university) to create a broad picture of education as a force that operates far beyond the classroom.

Is it Hard to Get into UCL?

With a very low acceptance rate of only 15.6%, UCL is one of the most competitive universities for gaining entry despite having the second largest number of enrolled students.

For the Education Studies BA, UCL requires only AAB in A level, whereas many of their courses require up to A*AA.

Check out our handy guide here for all you need to know about getting into UCL.

Should I go to University College London or King’s College London?

Both part of the University of London and the ‘Golden Triangle’, King’s College and University College are prestigious schools with top credentials. However, for almost every subject, UCL outranks KCL – for both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. KCL also has 13 fewer subjects in the top ten than UCL.

KCL does outrank UCL in Philosophy, Communications & Media, and Dance & Drama in certain league tables.

KCL’s reputation overseas, however, is much better than its domestic reputation. So if you are likely to be working abroad after university in Britain, the difference isn’t quite as big.

University of Bristol

Bristol University is an original member of the Russell Group and one of the ‘redbrick’ universities. Unlike many UK universities, it also has significant international influence as a member of both the Coimbra Group and the Worldwide Universities Network.

University of Bristol Top Ranking Subjects

SubjectUK Position (The Guardian 2021)UK Position (The Complete University Guide 2021)
Civil engineering1st3rd
Mechanical Engineering3rd4th
Veterinary Science6th7th
Film & Photography6th

What Does Bristol University Specialise In?

As we can see from the table above, Bristol has something of a specialism in vocational science courses. It is the best UK university for Civil Engineering, and the third best for both Mechanical and General Engineering. They also train dentists, doctors, and vets better than most other universities.

Bristol is also noted for being a top place to study Education.

Is Bristol University Good For Education Studies?

Whilst most universities offer BAs in Education, Bristol is different in that students will graduate with a BSc. This means Education Studies at Bristol has a greater scientific emphasis than elsewhere, which is unsurprising given the South-West university’s pioneering science-based degrees.

In practice, greater scientific emphasis means more quantitative data analysis and a deeper dive into the psychology and sociology behind the philosophy of education. In your second and third year at Bristol, there are optional modules in Educational Statistics.

This is in contrast to UCL, which is ranked top for Education, but offers it as a BA, as we discussed above.

Whatever your preferred course in Education Studies, our expert Education Studies tutors can help you craft an application that could significantly boost your chance of getting an offer.

University of Glasgow

Glasgow has 31 subjects ranked in the top ten in the UK and was named The Times’ University of The Year in 2020

Glasgow’s Top Ranking Subjects

SubjectUK Position (The Guardian 2021)UK Position (The Complete University Guide 2021)
Accounting & Finance1st4th
Sports Science1st1st
Film & Photography1st
History of Art2nd9th
Nursing & Midwifery3rd2nd
Veterinary Science5th1st
Religious Studies & Theology6th10th

What is Glasgow University Known For?

Glasgow is another one of the universities that provides academic excellence across all fields of study.

Glasgow is ranked in the top five in the UK for Economics and currently first for Accounting & Finance according to The Guardian. It also offers a particularly wide range of joint honours degrees, joining Economics with History, Geography, Philosophy, and even Theatre Studies.

Is Glasgow University Hard to Get Into?

Glasgow has the 4th highest entry tariff in the UK. Perhaps the high grade requirements are the reason for their moderate acceptance rate of 70%.

For Scottish students, places at Glasgow are actually more competitive given the cap on free places to Scottish nationals.

Glasgow generally requires ABB- AAA for entry. Their BAcc in Accounting & Finance and BFin in Finance both require AAA- ABB and their four-year MA in Economics requires surprisingly low A levels at AAA-BBB.

Want to study Finance but struggle with Maths? Contact one of our expert Maths tutors or university admissions tutors to get the help you need.

The University of Edinburgh

Ranked 12th in the UK and 16th in the world, the University of Edinburgh has received domestic and international acclaim.

The University of Edinburgh’s Top Ranking Subjects

SubjectUK Position (The Guardian 2021)UK Position (The Complete University Guide 2021)
Nursing & Midwifery1st1st
Veterinary Sciences1st2nd
Biomedical Sciences, Anatomy & Physiology2nd9th
Design Crafts2nd14th
Chemical Engineering7th4th

What is Edinburgh University Known For?

Edinburgh has the oldest medical school in the UK and continues to be recognised as one of the best places to study Medicine. It was ranked 3rd in the UK in 2013 and 2014 by all three university guides, and is currently ranked 1st by The Guardian, up from 2nd last year.

Edinburgh also ranks in the top three across different league tables for Nursing & Midwifery, Anatomy & Physiology, and Veterinary Sciences.

The prestige of Edinburgh’s Medical School has had an international impact: its graduates went on to found five of the seven US Ivy League Medical Schools and Canada’s McGill University Medical School.

Should I Go to Edinburgh University or St Andrews?

For STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics), Edinburgh is generally best, although St Andrews is 2nd in Maths and Physics in the UK. For the Humanities, as we have seen, St Andrews is far superior.

St Andrews, though, may not be the best place to get a taste of the ‘uni experience’. Located in a small seaside town, it offers a perfect location for study, but not necessarily much of the excitement of a major city like Edinburgh.

Is Edinburgh University Hard to Get Into?

Edinburgh has a moderate acceptance rate of around 51%, given that it has a lot of spaces (being one of the biggest universities by enrolment in the UK) and that it is also very prestigious and popular, the two factors balancing each other out.

For its prestigious Medicine course, only 11.1% of applicants are offered a place, making it extremely competitive. At A level, applicants must get AAA in Chemistry and one in Biology/Human Biology, Mathematics or Physics.

If you want help getting into the UK’s best medical school, read our guide on applying for Medicine, or get in touch with our expert medical admissions team for support.

Interviews are standard for all Medicine courses. Explore our extensive guide to help you prepare for the unique challenges of a medical admissions interview.