U.S. College Rankings and What They Mean or Don’t Mean

Every year, organizations like Forbes, Kiplinger and U.S. News & World Report rank colleges with their own formulas, leaving students more confused than ever. How do they know which colleges are the best to attend? And does it even matter?


One of the powerhouses in the industry, Forbes has released its rankings with two big surprises: two non-Ivy schools (Stanford and Pomona College) have taken the top spots, and it's the first time two California schools have done so. Using a system of high retention rates, high starting salaries after graduation, the number of interesting classes, likelihood of graduating within four years, and graduating debt load, Forbes has assembled U.S. colleges into a list of the top 100. Although non-Ivy schools took the top spots, all eight Ivies made it into the top 20.


Factoring in competitiveness, graduation rates, academic support, cost and financial aid, and student indebtedness, Kiplinger looked at over 600 private institutions and formed a list of the top 100 colleges and universities based on quality and affordability. At number one is Yale because of its quality and high percentage of need-based financial aid that offsets the $58,550 annual tuition price tag. Their 7% admission rate is one of the toughest and most competitive in the country, but its $20.8 billion endowment lets it meet the financial needs of all 100% of students.

U.S. News & World Report

U.S. News updated how they calculate the quality of U.S. colleges, taking into account factors like graduation and retention rates deserving more weight. Without much surprise, they ranked Princeton as the top school in the country, Harvard as second, and Yale as third. Also coming as a non-surprise was Williams College tightening its stranglehold as the top liberal arts college in the country.

College rankings typically don't include many surprises, it's because the top schools have worked so hard at maintaining quality and competitiveness. If you get into a university that's consistently ranked in the top 10 of all credible sites, you know you're getting a great education that'll pay dividends in the future. But one thing to watch out for, and a reason to still do research before you apply, is that the top-ranked schools don't get lax as a result of staying in the top spots for so long