In September, U.S. News & World Reports recently released their 2022-2023 Best College Rankings, an annual list of the nation’s top institutions that is well-known to many students, parents, and alumni. The U.S. News "best college" rankings have long been controversial in higher ed. Columbia was the most recent high-profile university to cause a stir after it came out that the information they provided for the rankings was not correct. Despite the controversy, these rankings have consistently been used as a resource for prospective students and parents to evaluate which colleges they should consider.
When talking about college rankings, it is important to address the idea that an institution’s value and strength cannot be defined by a singular number. In a recent webinar about their ranking methodology, U.S. News consistently emphasized that their ranking are just one of many factors that families should consider when choosing which institutions to apply to or attend.
Over time, U.S. News has placed greater emphasis on a school’s ability to improve students' chances of social mobility, which includes factors such as the graduation rate of Pell-eligible students and average student indebtedness upon graduation. These factors make up about 40 percent of the ranking. The remaining 60 percent of the ranking are based on a variety of factors, including faculty resources, student selectivity (average test scores, GPA, and class rank) as well as the financial resources the school has available per student.
It is important to note that acceptance rate or yield rate is not included in the ranking evaluation, because these statistics reflect a school’s current popularity but does not necessarily reflect the quality of education or life that an institution offers.
Now that we know what goes into the rankings, what criteria must be met for a school to be ranked in the first place? Well, there are six factors that must be satisfied for a school to receive a U.S. News ranking. To be included in the rankings, schools must:
1) Have regional accreditation
2) Report six-year bachelors graduation rate of full time, first year students
3) Be included in Carnegie's basic classification
4) Have a total enrollment greater than 200
5) Offer some in-person education
6) Not be “unranked” because of a reporting error
Over the past few years, COVID-19 has changed many admissions policies, and we have begun to see a difference in the way applications are reviewed. A large part of this change lies in the changing norms surrounding test score submission, including ACT, SAT, and even AP scores. More colleges and universities have become test-optional or stopped accepting test-scores all together. As a result, the U,S. News rankings place much less emphasis on average scores for admitted students, which was an important factor in the past. The accountability of part-time faculty was also another aspect of the change in the ranking methodology, which was also, in part, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and changes in institutional staffing.
In the 2022-23 U.S. News Rankings, Princeton ranked #1 for National Universities, and Williams College ranked #1 for Liberal Arts school. Other top-ranking schools included less-selective colleges, like Berea College, which came in first for service learning, and Elon, which was ranked #1 for undergrad teaching programs.
The U.S. News Best College Rankings are a helpful tool for researching colleges, but they are only one of many factors to consider when researching colleges. Students should also look beyond rankings to determine if a school offers the programs, activities, and quality of life that they’re looking for in a college. Because the most important ranking to consider when applying to college is where a school falls on your own personal college list.
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