North America is the third largest continent with an area of over 9 million square miles. Upwards of 500 million people call North America home, making it the fourth most populous continent. It has 23 countries and 4,276 universities. With this many higher-ed choices, it can be difficult to find the best university in your geographic area. With this article, TheBestSchools.org spotlights the best university in each country in North America.
The flagship university of the United States is Harvard. Founded in 1636, Harvard University stands as the oldest and one of the most influential institutions for higher education in the United States. There are approximately 21,000 students enrolled and 47 Nobel Laureates who are faculty and/or alums. Virtually all rankings of the world’s universities place Harvard at the very top.
At the same time, El Salvador, the smallest country in North America, is home to the Universidade de El Salvador, a school twice the size of Harvard! This university was founded in 1841 by President Juan Lindo, making it the oldest and the most prestigious institution for higher education in El Salvador. Its programs are organized into nine main academic faculties with three additional multidisciplinary faculties. Over 53,000 students are currently in attendance.
BahamasThe College of the Bahamas
Being a tropical island country consisting of 700 islands, cays, and inlets in the Atlantic Ocean, it is of little surprise that a strong tourism and finance economy has made the Bahamas one of the richest countries in the world per capita. The local population, however, remains smaller, estimated around 321,000 persons. The western colonization of the Bahamas started in 1492 with the first landing of Columbus. The country became an independent Commonwealth realm in 1973.
The main campus of the College of the Bahamas is located in the capital city of Nassau on the New Providence Island. Founded in 1974, the College came from the merger of four separate institutions: the Bahama’s Teachers
College, the San Salvador Teachers College, the C.R. Walker Technical College, and the Sixth Form Program of the Government High School.
The current college is organized into eight academic units including one Institute and seven schools. A total of 66 programs of study are offered at the Bachelor and Masters levels. There are seven major Institutes and Research Centers including the Abaco Center, the Exuma Center, and the Confucius Institute.
BelizeUniversity of Belize
Belize, formally known as British Honduras, is the only country in Central America with an official language of English, though Spanish and Kriol are also spoken. Bordered by Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean Sea, this small country is only 8,800 square miles. With a population of just under 350,000, Belize has the lowest population density in Central America and one of the lowest in the world. Well known for its coral reefs, marine species, and other diverse ecosystems, Belize has played a significant role in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.
The University of Belize was established in 2000 with the merger of five institutions: the University College of Belize, the Belize Technical College, the Belize Teachers’ Training College, the Belize School of Nursing, and the Belize College of Agriculture. The main campus of the University is in the capital city of Belmopan with three other locations across the country and two marine field stations at Calabash and Hunting Caye. Associates through Masters degrees are offered. International programs have been established with 45 institutions worldwide.
CanadaUniversity of Toronto
The world’s second largest country by total area, Canada’s 3.86 million square miles is divided into 10 provinces and three territories. This northern neighbor of North America has an estimated 36 million citizens. The government is a bilingual federal parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy following the lead of Queen Elizabeth II.
In 1827 King’s College was founded with the mission of expanding knowledge and research to the general community. Today King’s College has become the renowned University of Toronto with three campus locations and over 84,000 students in attendance. The 14,000 international students represent 161 countries worldwide. In addition to the 700 undergraduate programs, the University offers 222 Master’s and Doctoral level studies.
Other facilities for academics and research include 152 Institutes and Centers and the third largest library system in North America with 44 libraries and 22 million holdings. One of the leading institutions of the school is the University of Toronto Press Inc., one of the most respected scholarly publishers in North America. Overall, the University contributes $15.7 billion to the Canadian economy yearly.
Notable Alumni: Lester B. Pearson (Canadian Prime Minister and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957); Frederick Banting (Nobel Laureate in Medicine and the first person to use insulin on humans); and John Charles Fields (mathematician and the founder of the prestigious Fields Medal)
The year round tropical country of Costa Rica is a rapidly developing nation. The 19,000 square miles, once heavily dependent on farming and agriculture, now include an economy of finance, pharmaceuticals, and ecotourism. San Jose, the capital city, is home to a quarter of the 4.5 million citizens. Costa Rica is known for being one of the few sovereign nations without a standing army, which was permanently abolished in 1949.
The University of Costa Rica traces its history back to 1843 and the founding of the University of Saint Tomas. In 1940 the schools of Law, Agronomy, Fine Arts, and Pharmacy were merged to create the beginning of the University of Costa Rica.
Today the school operates three museums, five campuses, 13 faculties, 47 schools, 33 centers and 13 institutes of research, 21 libraries, and 1001 laboratories. The University also maintains 109 cultural outreach programs and 302 international agreements. UCR is home to over 260 international students with a total enrollment of more than 40,000 students.
Notable Alumni: Óscar Arias Sánchez (President of Costa Rica); Laura Chinchilla Miranda (President of Costa Rica); and Sonia Marta Mora Escalante (Costa Rica’s Minister of Education since 2014)
Comprising over 42,000 square miles, Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean and the second most populated with over 11 million citizens. The country was colonized by Spain in the 15th century and remained so until the Spanish-American war of 1898. In 1962 the country was involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis during the Cold War. The country was then taken over by the Communist Party of Cuba in 1965. Today Cuba continues under the Marxist-Leninist one party republic.
The University of La Habana was founded in 1728 making it the oldest institution for higher education in the country. Originally named the Royal and Pontifical University of Saint Jerome of Havana, the school dropped its religious affiliation and became known as the Royal and Literary University of Havana in 1842. Today the school operates 15 faculties, 14 research centers, and offers 25 specialties. The University is home to over 24,000 students.
Notable Alumni: Fidel Castro; Phan Thị Kim Phúc Oont (the Napalm girl – the nine-year-old child depicted in the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph taken during the Vietnam War on June 8, 1972); and Bernard Leon Barker (Watergate burglar)
Also known as the ‘Nature Isle of the Caribbean’ for its natural beauty, the small island country of Dominica, located in the Caribbean Sea, is still being formed by volcanic activity. Colonized in 1493 by French Europeans, the 290 square miles currently holds a population of just over 72,000. In 1763 the island was taken by Great Britain after the Seven Years’ War and English was established as the official language. In 1978, Dominica gained its independence.
The Ross University School of Medicine is a private school founded by entrepreneur Robert Ross in 1978. Though located in Dominica, the school has administrative bases in the states of New Jersey and Florida in America. The main campus in Dominica maintains a medical and anatomical imaging laboratory and a simulation center, in addition to the regular classrooms. There are no traditional dormitory housing options, and, unlike other medical schools, the Ross School of Medicine does not own or affiliate with any particular primary teaching hospital. The University relies on contracts with United States hospitals for clinical rotations.
Notable Alumni: Michael R. Williams (president of the University of North Texas Health Science Center) and Dr. Oleg Gusakov (one of the first responding physicians to care for the victims of the Boston bombings)
El SalvadorUniversidade de El Salvador
With just over 8,000 square miles and a population of 6.38 million citizens, El Salvador has been ranked as the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. Conquered by the Spanish Empire in the 16th century, El Salvador has a history of political and economic instability. The country gained independence from Spain in 1821 to become part of the First Mexican Empire, but then further divided in 1823 as part of the Federal Republic of Central America. The political upheaval came to fruition during the Salvadoran Civil War between 1979 and 1992, since then a multiparty constitutional republic has been established.
The Universidade de El Salvador was founded in 1841 by President Juan Lindo making it the oldest and one of the most prestigious institutions for higher education in the country. The main campus in the capital city of San Salvador has endured many student uprisings and military occupations. The school also claims to be the only public university in the country. The programs are organized into nine main academic faculties with three additional multidisciplinary faculties. Over 53,000 students are currently in attendance.
Notable Alumni: Elías Antonio “Tony” Saca González (former President of El Salvador; Fernando Llort Choussy (internationally recognized Salvadoran artist); and Norman Noel Quijano González (Mayor of San Salvador)
GrenadaSaint George’s University
Grenada is a small tropical island country consisting of the mainland and six lesser islands in the southeastern Caribbean Sea. The total land space is only 133 square miles which holds a population of approximately 110,000 citizens. Known as the ‘Island of Spice’, Grenada is the world’s largest export of nutmeg and mace, though tourism remains the driving force behind the economy. As a Commonwealth realm, Grenada holds Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State.
Saint George’s University was founded in 1976 as a private independent School of Medicine. There are 48 degree programs with a focus on mainly Medicine, Veterinary Science, and Public Health, available to more than 6,000 enrolled undergraduates and 14,000 post graduates. Both the students and professors combined represent over 140 countries. Saint George is affiliated with over 70 teaching hospitals and centers located in Ireland, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.
GuatemalaUniversidad Rafael Landívar
Once the focus of the Mayan Civilization in Central America, Guatemala was conquered by Spain in the 16th century. In 1821 independence was attained and Guatemala became part of the Federal Republic of Central America. Political and economic instability plagued the 19th century, however today Guatemala maintains a relatively stable representative democracy. The 42,000 square miles are known for a rich culture and biological diversity. There is an approximate population of 15.8 million persons making Guatemala the most populous country in Central America.
The University of Rafael Landivar was founded in 1962 as a private institution for higher education managed by the order of the Jesuits. The first classes taught at the university were divided into three faculties with a total of 138 students in attendance. Today the academic classes are organized into nine faculties over five campus locations with over 1,500 students enrolled. The main campus is located in zone 16 of Guatemala City. There are also three headquarters locations and 32 operational research laboratories.
Just over 10,000 square miles in size, the country of Haiti can be found on the island of Hispaniola in the archipelago of the Caribbean, a space it shares with the Dominican Republic. With a total of 10.6 million citizens, Haiti is recognized as the most populous country in the Caribbean Community. Historically the land of the native Taino people, Haiti was discovered and claimed by Spain in 1492. After a successful slave revolt, the land was declared a sovereign nation in 1804 making it the first independent nation in Latin America.
In the 1820’s a series of medicine and law colleges were established in Haiti and by 1942 many of the faculties had merged to create the University of Haiti. In 1960 the school was brought under government control after a student strike. Finally in 1983 the University of Haiti became an independent institution. The school is comprised of 19 constituent schools and colleges. Many of its buildings were destroyed or damaged in the 2010 earthquake; however a consortium from the United States has formed to help rebuild the campus.
Notable Alumni: François Duvalier (former President of Haiti); Jean-Bertrand Aristide (Haiti’s first democratically elected president); and Dr. Garry Conille (former Prime Minister of Haiti)
Historically, the 43,000 square miles of Honduras were the home of several Mesoamerican cultures, the most notable of which is the Maya. Discovered and conquered by Spain in the 16th century, Roman Catholicism and the Spanish language were blended into the culture. In 1821 Honduras declared its independence from Spain and endured a period of much political and economic turmoil. Though known for the many rich natural resources such as coffee, tropical fruit, and sugar cane, the country remains one of the poorest in Central America and the Western Hemisphere.
The Central American Technological University is a private institution founded in 1986. The school controls seven campus locations, one graduate school, and three major faculties: Management and Social Sciences, Engineering and Architecture, and Health Sciences. Over 20,000 students are currently enrolled in the 20 undergraduate and 12 Master’s programs. The University is a member of the Laureate International Universities group and maintains eight major international alliances including one with Disney International Programs.
As the fourth largest island country in the Caribbean Sea and the fourth most populous, Jamaica consists of just over 4,000 square miles and contains the states of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The land was brought under Spanish rule in 1494 until England conquered Jamaica in 1655. Independence from the United Kingdom was achieved in 1962 though the nation continues to be a Commonwealth with Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State. There are approximately 2.8 million citizens in the country.
The University of the West Indies was founded in 1984 originally as an external college of the University of London. Now a public university system, the school serves 18 countries and territories in the Caribbean with 45,000 undergraduate and graduate students currently in attendance. The 120,000 alumni include one Nobel Laureate. There are three main campus locations with seven faculties and four enrollment options in addition to an Open Campus for distance learning.
Notable Alumni: Derek Walcott (Nobel Prize for Literature); Bruce Golding (former prime minister of Jamaica); and Kamla Persad-Bissessar (first female prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago)
Bordered by the United States, the Pacific Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico, the county of Mexico is comprised of 760,000 square miles divided into 31 states and one Federal District, making it the fifth largest country in the Americas by total area. With a population of over 120 million citizens, Mexico is also recognized as the most populated of the Spanish-speaking countries. The people are governed by a Federal presidential constitutional republic.
The University of Mexico is the largest institution for higher education in Latin America. The University was preceded by the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico which was originally founded in 1551. The current model of the school was established in 1910. The University encompasses six National Schools, 20 faculties, and also manages several high schools. There are over 324,000 students in attendance making the school one of the worlds largest by enrollment. Additional facilities affiliated with the University include the Colonial Palace of Mining, the Chopo University Museum, and the National Astronomical Observatory.
Notable Alumni: Carlos Salinas de Gortari (former President of Mexico); Alfonso Cuarón (film director); and Abel Pacheco (former President of Costa Rica)
In the 16th century the Spanish empire conquered what is now the country of Nicaragua. Consisting of 50,000 square miles in the Central American isthmus, it is the largest country in the area. The country was able to gain its independence from Spain in 1821, however much political and social unrest followed concluding in the Nicaraguan Revolution during the 1960’s and 70’s. Today the six million citizens are governed by a representative democracy with Spanish as the official language of government and trade.
The National Autonomous University of Nicaragua traces its history back to 1812 making the school one of the most prominent state funded, public institutions for higher education in the country. The current facilities consist of three campus locations, nine faculties, and the Polytechnic Institute of Health. Additionally, there are eight Centers and Institutes of research, including a Biotechnology Laboratory. There are more than 40,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students in attendance.
Notable Alumni: Rosario Murillo (poet and revolutionary who fought in the Sandinista revolution in 1979); Sergio Ramírez Mercado (Nicaraguan writer and intellectual); and Yolanda Blanco (Nicaraguan poet)
Located in Central America, the 28,000 square miles of Panama were historically inhabited by indigenous tribes until the land was conquered by the Spanish Empire in the 16th century. In 1821 Panama broke from Spanish rule and joined the Republic of Gran Colombia. The country seceded from Colombia in 1903 and the construction of the Panama Canal began in 1904. Home to nearly four million citizens Panama has maintained a unitary presidential constitutional republic.
In 1975 the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Panama sought to create an independent entity from the main institution. Following the leadership of Dr. Victor Levi Sasso, the Technological University of Panama was established. Today the school is organized into seven region center locations with six faculties. There are 127 programs of study offered to more than 21,000 students including four PhD tracks and 69 Master’s programs. Additional facilities operated by the University include five major research Centers. The school maintains international agreements with institutions in 29 other countries.
Saint Kitts and NevisWindsor University School of Medicine
Saint Kitts and Nevis comprise a two-island country located in the West Indies. With only 54,000 citizens in a total area of 104 square miles, the country is the smallest in terms of both area and population in the Americas. Historically, it was also one of the first islands to be settled by Europeans in the Caribbean who were overthrown in 1629 by the Spanish Empire. The islands achieved independence in 1983. Divided into 14 parishes, the land is governed by a parliamentary democracy with Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State.
The Windsor University School of Medicine is a private institution on the island of Saint Kitts in the city of Cayon. Founded in 1998, the school offers a 10 semester MD program, with three semesters completed per year. There are approximately 1,500 students currently enrolled. The school is affiliated with one hospital on the island, the Joseph Nathaniel France General Hospital, as well as three clinical education campuses in the United States of America.
Trinidad and TobagoUniversity of the West Indies, St. Augustine
The twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago occupy an area of just under 2,000 square miles off the northern border of South America. Under Spanish rule since the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1498, Trinidad and Tobago declared independence in 1962 and established a republic in 1976. The country is well known culturally as being the birthplace of steelpan, limbo, and other musical styles. Economically the islands are the leading producers of oil and gas in the Caribbean.
The University of the West Indies located in St. Augustine is part of a public system of higher education open to 18 other countries and territories in the Caribbean. Founded in 1948 the school achieved university status in 1962. There are three major campus locations in addition to an Open Campus for distance education. More than 45,000 students are enrolled within seven faculties and over 800 programs. The alumni network includes one Nobel Laureate.
Notable Alumni: Patrick Manning (former prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago) and Kamla Persad-Bissessar (first female prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago)
United StatesHarvard University
Comprised of 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the third largest country in the world by total area. The federal republic is composed of 50 states and five major territories. Home to more than 320 million people, the land is also the third most populous in the world. Originally inhabited by Paleo-Indians, European colonization began in the 16th century. In 1776 the original 13 colonies declared independence from Britain following the American Revolutionary War. After World War II the States emerged as a global superpower.
Founded in 1636, Harvard University stands as the oldest and one of the most influential institutes for higher education in the United States. The academic programs are organized into 10 faculties and the Radcliffe Institute for Advance Study. Additionally the University operates the largest private library system in the world with 79 individual libraries. There are approximately 21,000 students enrolled and 47 Nobel Laureates affiliated with the faculty and alumni. Harvard is also the richest university in the world, with an endowment that routinely oscillates upwards of thirty billion dollars.
Notable Alumni: Barack Obama (President of the United States); Ban Ki-moon (Secretary-General of the UN); and John F. Kennedy (former President of the United States)
Famous Drop-outs: Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg