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Articles / Applying to College / New Rankings Reveal the Top Colleges in 50 Categories

New Rankings Reveal the Top Colleges in 50 Categories

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Oct. 6, 2020
New Rankings Reveal the Top Colleges in 50 Categories

Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash

College rankings keep on coming. Have you ever encountered Stacker's rankings? They're interesting and the presentation is colorful and informative. They have a connection to Niche, a set of rankings I reviewed previously. You may want to add Stacker to your college search resources.

The title of Stacker's rankings reveals their uniqueness: Top college in America for 50 different rankings. If you're looking to see who, in Stacker's opinion, is the best college in over four dozen categories, then here's your chance to find out. For example, Stacker ranks this important category:

Public College with the Best ROI: Maine Maritime Academy

  • Location: Castine, Maine
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 958
  • Student-to-faculty ratio: 11:1
  • Acceptance rate: 55%
  • Graduation rate: 76%
  • Six-year median earnings: $95,600
  • Two-year employment rate: 96%

Mariner, the Maine Maritime Academy's publication, has rightfully hyped a 2019 Washington Post article on the school's notable return on investment. With an impressive $95,600 six-year median earnings rate, publications like Washington Monthly, U.S. News and World Report and Money Magazine all list MMA among the very best values in higher education, beating out even Harvard.

That's a particularly interesting category because some high schoolers are looking for a college that will eventually repay them in some way for their college-cost investment and help them pay down their loan debt.

Rankings Evaluate 50 Metrics

Take a look at the rationale behind Stacker's rankings: The phrase "quality education" means different things to different people, and with the sheer number of colleges and universities to choose from, finding the right needle in the endless haystack of postsecondary schools can be daunting, to say the least. That's why it's so important for students to ask themselves what, exactly, they want to get out of college from the moment they start trying to narrow the incredibly crowded field of options.

Some students are concerned mostly with their field of interest and are drawn to schools with great engineering, science or journalism programs. Others are more concerned with the location of their school of choice, like those in big cities, near beaches or in mountain regions or small towns. Others vet their options by looking at practical criteria like graduation rates, post-graduation employment percentages and alumni networks, while many are forced to narrow the selection first by value and cost.

Ultimately, every prospective student measures potential colleges, universities and trade schools with a different yardstick, which is why it's so important for them to choose a few categories that matter most and then apply to the very best schools therein that correspond to their qualifications.

Stacker used rankings and categories from Niche's 2021 Best Colleges in America list, as well as rankings from past Stacker college stories, to compile a list of the top schools for 50 different metrics. These metrics range from student population (such as best HBCU) to academics (such as the best school for studying education). While there are a few repeat appearances, no single school appears more than five times.

So, what are those 50 categories? Which may be of interest to you?

  • Best private college
  • Best public college
  • Best small college
  • Best big college
  • Best student life
  • Best value
  • Best community college
  • Best trade school
  • Best college on the West Coast
  • Best college in the South
  • Best college in a major city
  • Best college in the Midwest
  • Best college location
  • Best college for outdoor activities
  • Best college near the beach
  • Best college for veterans
  • Best college for international students
  • Best college for low-income students
  • Best college for adult learners
  • Best women's college
  • Best Hispanic-serving institution
  • Best men's college
  • Most diverse
  • Best of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities
  • Best for student athletes
  • Best college athletics
  • Most liberal
  • Most conservative
  • Best Christian college
  • Best Catholic college
  • Best Jewish college
  • Hardest to get into
  • Best college with no application fee
  • Best fully online college
  • Best college food
  • Best campus
  • Best Greek life
  • Best college dorms
  • Safest college
  • Best party school
  • Best academics
  • Best professors
  • Best liberal arts college
  • Best college for Biology
  • Best college for Business
  • Best college for Education
  • Best college for Communications
  • Best college for Performing Arts
  • Public college with the best ROI
  • Private college with the best ROI

Check These Category "Winners"

As with all rankings, you must keep subjectivity in mind. Also, this list touts "The Best," which, in many categories, carries with it the hurdle of "very tough to get into." Some of the best-in-category winners are surprising, such as:

Best Christian College: Duke University

Originally founded by Methodists and Quakers in the early 19th century, Duke now places its Divinity School at the center of the university's Christian heritage. It's also home to nearly two-dozen Religious Life groups that focus not just on Duke's founding sects but also religions like Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, Adventism, Episcopalianism and Judaism.

For many, Duke University does not immediately come to mind as a leading Christian college, when other schools, such as Houston Baptist University, Liberty University, Regent University and Calvin College, for example, are also highly ranked in that category. Another less obvious "best" would be:

Most Diverse: Lynn University

U.S. News and World Report listed Lynn University as the #1 most international school in the region in 2016, a distinction it has held consistently ever since. Its commitment to diversity is reflected not only in the number of international students it receives, but also the number of domestic students it sends abroad. More than 100 Lynn students participate in the Center for Learning Abroad initiatives, which includes 80 programs in 28 countries.

Again, we see an example of a "road less traveled" school that competes with the likes of the highly diverse student bodies of Swarthmore College, CUNY – City College, San Jose State University, San Francisco State University and Nyack College.

Consider a Variety of Lists

Speaking of diversity and how it might apply to the world of college rankings, keep in mind during your search for college candidates that it's good to consider a wide variety of ranking lists. This will provide you with two main areas of knowledge: (1) a broader selection of schools, some of which you may have never encountered before, and (2) a consensus among the lists where certain colleges frequently appear at or near the top of the rankings.

Of course, there's always that group of usual suspects that seem to top ranking lists year after year. Don't allow these schools to program your thinking. There are a surprising number of hidden-gem colleges that often get passed over because of the high profiles of the perennial list toppers.

If you are truly motivated about your college search and want to leave no stone unturned, cross-check your ranking lists with those highlighted in Colleges That Change Lives. The advantage of using CTCL's information to augment your search comes from CTCL's mission to "educate students, families, counselors and the public about the accessibility of a quality postsecondary educational experience and helps students find a best-fit college that develops a lifelong love of learning." CTCL can add an element of objectivity to help balance the subjectivity of other rankings.

Here's an example of the kind of insight CTCL offers about schools you may have never noticed, in this case Juniata College in Pennsylvania:

One little group of upper-class students felt so strongly about the quality of their Juniata experiences that they asked me, 'What's the difference between Juniata and Amherst?' My answer was that Amherst has more very bright, more sophisticated, and more well-to-do freshmen than Juniata, but by the time they're seniors the situation has been reversed. The Juniata seniors' talents have been doubled and sharpened, and they have been better equipped to cope, to adapt, and to take risks — things they will have to do in this new world.

The bottom line for your college search is: You are the ultimate ranking source. What others think should be just one component of how you decide which schools will receive your application. If you haven't already read them, check my previous ranking reviews here and here. There's a vast universe of colleges from which to choose. Your perfect-fit school awaits. Find it!

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Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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