General Education

U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges: Rating the Rankings

U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges: Rating the Rankings
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Noodle Staff February 8, 2019

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Each fall, a variety of publications release their 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 Princeton 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 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 School Rankings: U.S. News & World Report

Who It's For:

Students who want a general idea of where schools stand in terms of reputation, academic rigour and resources.

What They Look At:

Academic Reputation: 20%

Peer assessment by higher ed professionals: 66.7%

High School counselors' rating: 33.3%

Student Selectivity: 20%

Acceptance Rate: 10%

High School class standing in top 10%: 40%

SAT/ACT scores: 50%

Faculty Resources: 20%

Class Size: 40%

Faculty Compensation: 35%

Faculty Terminal Degrees: 15%

Percent of Faculty employed full-time: 5%

Student/Faculty ratio: 5%

Graduation/Retention Rates: 20%

Graduation rate: 80%

Freshmen retention rate: 20%

Financial Resources: 10%

Graduation Rate Performance: 7.5%

Alumni Giving: 5%


U.S. News uses the largest number of factors when evaluating schools, making their rankings the most comprehensive in terms of general academic quality.


Because reputation, alumni giving, and selectivity are all heavily weighted when evaluating different factors, their lists favor schools with high endowments, expensive price tags and well-established reputations. In addition, the higher they rank a school, the more applicants apply to it. Some critics argue that this makes their rankings self-fulfilling prophecies because greater numbers of applicants mean higher selectivity levels.

Their Top 5 National Universities:

Harvard University

Princeton University

Yale University

Columbia University

University of Chicago

Their Top 5 Liberal Arts Colleges:

Williams College

Amherst College

Swarthmore College

Middlebury College

Pomona College

Get the scoop behind other rankings:

BusinessWeek's Undergraduate B-Schools

Forbes Top Colleges

Washington Monthly

Kiplinger's Best Value Colleges

Times Higher Education

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