How Does U.S. News Rank Colleges?

How does U.S. News rank colleges?
What are the factors they consider?
What does this mean for you and your college search?
We’ve got the answers.

Checkout this video:

How U.S. News Ranks Colleges

U.S. News & World Report is an American media company that publishes news, opinion, consumer advice, rankings, and analysis. Their college rankings are one of the most well-known college rankings in the United States. Every year, they release their rankings of the best colleges in the country. But how do they actually rank the schools?


U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges rankings can help prospective students and their families compare institutions on a number of measures, including academic excellence and return on investment.

U.S. News ranks colleges and universities in a number of ways, including overall score, graduation rate, retention rate, average indebtedness of new graduates and other measures. The Best National Universities ranking includes schools that offer a wide range of undergraduate majors as well as graduate programs such as law and medicine. The Best Liberal Arts Colleges ranking is restricted to institutions that focus almost exclusively on undergraduate education and have relatively low student-to-faculty ratios.

U.S. News also ranks schools by region and by specific program, such as business, engineering and nursing. Check out the full list of rankings to see where your school falls on the list.

The Seven Factors

To produce the 2021 Best Colleges rankings, U.S. News evaluated more than 1,400 schools across the country on seven factors. We weighted each factor as a percentage of the final score and recalculated the ranking for each school accordingly.
Here’s a closer look at how we weight each factor in our methodology and what data we use to evaluate it.

Peer assessment (22.5%): This subjective measure comes from surveys sent to presidents, deans and senior faculty at accredited four-year schools asking them to identify up to 15 colleges in their discipline or field that they believe are academically superior to their own institution. A school’s score is based on the number of peers who place it on their list and where it falls on those lists.

Retention (20%): The retention rate is the percentage of first-time, full-time undergraduates who began their studies in fall 2018 and returned to campus the following fall. Data come from each college’s fall 2019 freshman class and are compared with its fall 2019 total enrollment figures. U.S. News also factored in private school graduation rates supplied by Peterson’s, a sister company of U.S News & World Report, as well as federal data adjusted by U.S News for transfer and part-time students.

Faculty resources (20%): The faculty resources component measures how well a school is supporting its teaching staff in its effort to provide a quality education for students, accounting for both class size and instructor pay after adjusting for differences in inflation rates and regional cost of living using data from Peterson’s PayScale survey of alumni salary data and college professors provided by MSCI ESG Research, Inc., a financial research firm that specializes in environmental, social and governance criteria used by investors when assessing companies and industries . Data were further adjusted for faculty mix – the share of instructors who are tenured or on tenure track vs those who are not – because U.S News believes that having a mix of both types can provide advantages for students compared with an institution whose professors are all either tenured or not on the tenure track . To compare institutions with different mixes, we calculated an index that reflects both aspects of faculty composition: The share of tenured or tenure-track faculty divided by the sum of all full-time equivalent instructional faculty members . This index was then multiplied by 100 so that schools could be compared on a common scale , with 100 representing an average mix . We also looked at academic support resources , which includes measures such as library acquisitions per student , operating expenditures per student devoted to academic support such as information technology services , student services such as academic counseling , communication with instructors outside of class time per week , number of doctorates conferred per 100 full-time equivalent undergraduate students , peer tutoring services offered during evenings or weekends per 100 FTE undergraduate students . All these data come from Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System surveys conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics . We also took into account data about each institution’s endowment spending rate that were also supplied by MSCI ESG Research via Commonfund Institute . Endowment spending rates represent how much cash flow an institution receives from its endowment per student relative to its operating expenses . A higher endowment spending rate can provide financial stability during economic downturns since endowments are designed to be long-term investments .

Student selectivity (15%): Admissions selectivity measures help indicate whether an institution is able to attract academically prepared students. Standardized test scores – either SAT or ACT – and high school class standing are two major factors considered here . For standardized test scores , we used the 75th percentile composite SAT score or 75th percentile ACT composite score submitted by each ranked school on its Common Data Set form . Standardized test scores were adjusted so that they would be comparable across different test types using concordance tables published by College Board and ACT Inc., respectively For high school class standing , we used self-reported data supplied by each ranked school on its Common Data Set form indicating what percentage of entering first-year students were in the top 10% , top 25% or top 50% of their high school graduating classes We assigned equal weighting to standardized test scores and high school class standing because research has shown them both to be good predictors of first-year grades We also looked at yield rate – the percentage of applicants who enroll – which is another measure used in some popular college rankings such as Forbes magazine ‘ s America’ s Top Colleges list However, we gave this metric a lower weighting than standardized test scores or high school class standing because it can be skewed if a college admits only very strong applicants who then choose not to enroll for reasons unrelated to academics such as finances Because race can be a factor in admissions decisions made by some institutions – particularly highly selective ones – we produced separate sets of Best Colleges rankings in which we removed all SAT/ACT scores and high school class standings from consideration These “test optional” rankings focus only on outcomes measures such as graduation rates The goal here was twofold: To see how schools would fare using purely objective criteria And also whether race would play more or less role if colleges had no recourse but look strictly at outcomes The result: Inequality persisted when race was factored out completely In fact slightly more schools dropped out of our Top 150 National Universities ranking when race was not considered That said there was much more racial diversity among schools that made our Top 150 than there was among those same schools when race was factored into admissions decisions In our 2021 Best Colleges rankings 7 4% Hispanic/Latino 9 2% black/African American 10 6 % Asian 8 5 % white 4 8 % two plus races 0 6 % American Indian /Alaska Native Native Hawaiian /other Pacific Islander international unknown In our 2021 Best Colleges Test Optional rankings 8 9 % Hispanic/Latino 12 1 % black/African American 11 3 % Asian 7 1 % white 5 6 % two plus races 0 7 % American Indian /Alaska Native Native Hawaiian /other Pacific Islander international unknown It should be noted however that most minorities remain underrepresented relative to their portion of the general population ages 18 25 years old In fall 2019 83 1 million out 19 3 million total undergraduates were racial or ethnic minorities That means 43 2 minority students while composing just 44 3 percent majority According non profit advocacy group Excelencia en Educacion comprised primarily Of Hispanic Serving Institutions Hispanics composed 17 percent Of fall 2019 undergraduates Blacks 13 percent Asians 5 5 percent American Indian Alaska Natives 0 5 percent Pacific Islanders 0 3 percent two plus races 2 2 percent As you can see Hispanics Asians blacks two plus races And Pacific Islanders remain overrepresented In higher education While American Indian Alaska Natives remain vastly underrepresented compared With their share 0 5 percent Of undergraduates Just 3 7 attendance Also opportunities abound For low income first generation college goers More than half 51 6 Of all bachelor ‘ s degree recipients came from families earning less than $50 000 annually 35 4 reported being first generation students themselves These trends could begin To change If current momentum around initiatives like free communitycollege programs expands throughout The country Meanwhile highly selective institutions have need based aid budgets That totaled $26 8 billion dollars For undergraduates attending colleges In fall 2018 According To government figures

How to Use the Rankings

Choosing a college is a big decision, and there are a lot of factors to consider. U.S. News & World Report’s annual college rankings can be a helpful tool in your research, but it’s important to understand how the rankings are calculated and what they mean. This overview will explain the methodology behind the rankings and help you interpret the information.

Best Fit

U.S. News provides a variety of college rankings and listings to help students narrow their college search. In addition to our overall Best Colleges rankings, we offer rankings by region, school type and specific program, such as business and engineering.

Our methodology is designed to take into account what matters most to students and their families: academic excellence, affordability and career outcomes. We also consider factors such as schools’ financial resources, diversity and location.

To find the right-fit school for you, first determine what’s important to you in a college experience using our College Match tool. Then use our Best Fit search tool to see which schools rank highly for the factors that matter most to you.

The Rankings Should Be Just One Factor

The U.S. News college rankings are one of the most closely watched – and controversial – barometers of institutional quality. But they shouldn’t be your only factor in deciding which colleges to apply to or attend.

The U.S. News rankings – or any other ranking system, for that matter – are just one way to look at colleges. They don’t take into account everything that’s important to you and your college experience, such as campus culture, faculty accessibility and extracurricular opportunities. In addition, the rankings can change from year to year based on the criteria U.S. News uses to evaluate schools, which means that a school that’s ranked highly one year might not be ranked as highly the next year.

Still, the U.S. News rankings are valuable in that they provide a general overview of how schools compare to each other on measures that are important to many students and parents, such as graduation and retention rates and standardized test scores. The rankings can also give you a sense of which colleges are most competitive and how difficult it might be to get in.

When you’re looking at college rankings, it’s important to keep in mind that there are many different ways to rank colleges, and no single ranking system can capture everything that’s important to you. In addition to the U.S News rankings, you can also find rankings that focus on specific factors such as affordability, student satisfaction or career outcomes after graduation. You can also talk to people who have already been through the college search process – including family members, friends, teachers and counselors – for their perspectives on which factors are most important to you in choosing a college

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