Psychology is a varied field that encompasses such diverse disciplines as cognitive psychology, industrial and organizational psychology, social psychology, behavioral neuroscience, and developmental psychology. Many of the best-known universities in the world offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology, poising students to work in a broad range of positions in medicine, government and academia upon graduation.

Stanford University

According to the 2012 "U.S. News & World Report" rankings, Stanford University is the top school in the nation for graduate study in psychology and third for undergraduate study worldwide. Many of its faculty are fellows of the prestigious Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as of the National Academy of Sciences. Stanford's psychology program is a leader in both undergraduate and graduate research, and offers a packed schedule of talks, colloquia and conferences during the academic year. The infamous 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, led by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo, still contributes to the department's reputation as well.

Cambridge University

"The Guardian," a leading United Kingdom news source, and "U.S. News" both recognize Cambridge University as another top-three program for psychology. In addition to offering graduate degrees in a variety of research focuses from autism to visual cognition, the department has two undergraduate courses of study. The Psychology and Behavioural Sciences curriculum combines psychology courses with coursework in social sciences, computer sciences, philosophy and linguistics, while the Natural Sciences curriculum emphasizes the physical and life sciences along with psychology coursework.

Harvard University

Also ranked in the top three on many lists of the best psychology schools, Harvard University has been home to luminaries in the field such as its founder, William James, B. F. Skinner and Stanley Milgram, who conducted the controversial Milgram Experiment and originated the idea of "six degrees of separation." The psychology faculty are organized into four main areas, researching cognition, brain and behavior; developmental psychology; clinical science; and social psychology. However, faculty and student research crosses freely among these categories, and interdisciplinarity both at the graduate and undergraduate levels is one of the program's marketing points.

Considerations

When deciding which psychology programs to apply to, students consider not only the school's fame, but specific factors that they value in their educational experience. For example, those seeking an undergraduate degree benefit from looking at schools with particularly strong teaching reputations, which the National Survey of Student Engagement can help them quantify. Prospective graduate students consider which subdiscipline they want to pursue and identify specific faculty members who would be good dissertation advisers. Although the number of times a faculty's publications are cited and the overall reputation of a program are important metrics for student funding and job placement, such factors don't guarantee the quality of an individual student's' education.