In September, U.S. News and World Report will publish its annual college rankings, as it has been doing since 1983. Although colleges clamor to be at the top of these lists, students and parents should be aware that the rankings have many flaws. Nearly seven years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled “U.S. News College Rankings: How Valuable Are They?” (The answer: not very.) More recently, Lynn O’Shaughnessy of The College Solution wrote a blog post called “15 Reasons to Ignore U.S. News & World Report’s College Rankings.”
Many college admissions professionals agree with Lynn and me that the U.S. News rankings are not a reliable source for evaluating colleges. If you feel the same way, you may be wondering what other sources are available. Below are descriptions of several other rankings and lists that may provide more useful information in your college search.
CollegeXpress: As explained in a recent blog post, CollegeXpress has over 800 lists of colleges based on specific (and sometimes unusual) criteria. The lists are grouped into several categories, including majors (i.e., “Colleges with Great Biology Programs”), the learning environment (i.e., “Colleges with Unique or Highly Specialized Majors”), and the student experience (i.e., “Colleges Working to Improve Race Relations”). Some of the lists say “produced by the experts.” Those experts, according to CollegExpress, are “admission representatives, high school counselors, educational planners, and other industry pros.”
Money Magazine’s Best Colleges in America, Ranked by Value: As college costs continue to skyrocket, many families are concerned about affording a college education. Money‘s rankings of over 700 four-year colleges are based on 26 factors in three categories: quality of education (including graduation rate, instructor quality, and financial troubles), affordability (including net price, debt, and ability to repay debt), and outcomes (including graduates’ earnings, employment outcomes, and socio-economic mobility). Each category was given equal weighting in determining a college’s ranking.
National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE): Since 2000, this annual survey has asked students at hundreds of colleges “about [their] participation in programs and activities that institutions provide for their learning and personal development.” In 2019, over 294,000 students at more than 500 colleges participated. The survey’s questions include, “How often have you learned something that changed the way you understand an issue or concept?” “To what extent have your instructors clearly explained course goals and requirements?” and “Before you graduate, have you or do you plan to participate in an internship, co-op, field experience, student teaching, or clinical placement?”
The Princeton Review’s Best Colleges: For 29 years, The Princeton Review has been publishing an annual edition of this book, which includes profiles of about 385 colleges. For the 2021 edition, which will be released in August, the book’s editors surveyed 143,000 college students and used their responses to compile 62 lists of “best colleges” in a variety of areas, including academics and administration (i.e., “Great Financial Aid,” “Least Accessible Professors”), extracurriculars (i.e., “Students Most Engaged in Community Service,” “Nobody Plays Intramural Sports”), and quality of life (i.e., “Happiest Students,” “Least Beautiful Campus”). You can find all of the lists on The Princeton Review’s website, using the link above.
Washington Monthly‘s College Rankings: Unlike U.S. News, which ranks colleges based on “crude and easily manipulated measures of wealth, exclusivity, and prestige” Washington Monthly ranks them “based on their contribution to the public good in three broad categories: social mobility, research, and providing opportunities for public service.” The magazine also ranks “America’s Affordable Elite Colleges” and “Best Bang for the Buck Colleges.”
As you look at these and other sources, keep in mind that all data can be manipulated, so it’s important to take these rankings with a grain of salt. Additionally, whether a college is number one on a list should be far less important than whether it’s number one for you.