General Education

Forbes’ Top Colleges: Rating the Rankings

Forbes’ Top Colleges: Rating the Rankings
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Noodle Staff February 8, 2019

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Each fall, a variety of publications release thier lists of the best schools, the most ubiquitous of which comes from U.S. News & World Report. So why is Harvard University #1 according to U.S. News, while Forbes thinks it's Williams College and Washington Monthly claims U.C. San Diego is the best in the land?

School size and type aside, publications use different measures of quality when assigning rankings. Furthermore, two publications may use the same measure (for example, retention rates) but value them in different ways (e.g. 15% at U.S. News but 6% at Forbes) when assigning ratings.

The most common measures used for school rankings in 2011 were test scores, retention/graduation rates and the student/faculty ratio. And the similarities pretty much end there. Publications use all kinds of measures and many of them don't overlap. So who does what? We decided to take a look behind the rankings....

Today's School Rankings: Forbes

Who It's For: Students who are concerned with their post-graduate career success and making a profitable long-term investment in their education.

What They Look At:

Student evaluations of faculty from

Freshman- Sophomore retention rates

Number of alumni listed in Who's Who in America

Salary of alumni from

Alumni in Forbes/CCAP Corporate Officers List

Student Loan debt load

Student loan default rates

Number of students receiving nationally competitive awards

Test Scores

Retention/Graduation rates

Student/Faculty ratio


Forbes gives a great deal of attention and weight to the satisfaction and accomplishments of current students, while still factoring in financial issues like careers and loan default rates.


Considering that the rather amorphous category of "post-graduate success" counts for a full 1/3 of a school's ranking, it's disappointing that their measurement of success so strongly favors corporate executives. In their analysis, the financial gains of alumni are more important factors than the intellectual or cultural contributions of the institution itself.

Their Top 5 Colleges

Williams College

Princeton University

United States Military Academy

Amherst College

Stanford University

Choosing a college is about much more than rankings. Find out which schools are a good match for you with our [College Wizard!]()

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Get the scoop behind other rankings:

U.S. News & World Report's Best Colleges

Wall Street Journal

Washington Monthly

Kiplinger's Best Value Colleges

Times Higher Education](


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