Frequently Asked Questions–Rankings

Methodology FAQ.

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We survey graduate programs in other areas on a rotating cycle, collecting peer assessment data. In areas where rankings are not computed annually, we publish the date of ranking with each list. These areas include doctoral programs in the physical and social sciences and the humanities, as well as master's programs in public affairs and a number of programs in the health sciences.

The specialty areas in a discipline that we rank are selected on the basis of trends as well as enrollment. In some instances, we may rotate certain specialties to provide a more comprehensive coverage of a field. Specialty rankings are determined by the number of nominations for excellence in that area a program receives. Only respondents to the peer assessment survey in the discipline are asked to nominate programs for excellence in any specialty.

If a discipline is not ranked by U.S. News, it is not because the editors think it is unimportant. The primary determinants for selecting disciplines to rank are size of enrollment and the number of schools offering that degree program.


Back to top. 6. How do you rank specialties within various disciplines?


For each discipline, we identify the subjects in which schools most often offer concentrations. These areas are usually the most popular choices of specialization among graduate students. In some instances an area of specialization may not have large enrollment but may be of particular or emerging importance in the field. We ask the respondents to the peer assessment survey in a field—graduate school deans, program directors, and/or senior faculty—to nominate schools that have outstanding programs in each specialty area. Each survey respondent may nominate up to 10 schools in any specialty area. Since a directory of law faculty is available, we survey law faculty members who are listed as teaching in the specific specialty area we rank. Law faculty are asked to nominate up to 15 outstanding programs in the specialty they teach. We publish the schools receiving the highest number of nominations in each specialty area. Specialty rankings are based solely on the number of nominations they receive in each specialty area. The number of schools we publish in any specialty area varies, depending on the statistical significance of our survey results. This year for engineering specialties, we worked in conjunction with the American Society for Engineering Education to obtain a list of department heads in each of the specialty areas. The department heads were given a list of the schools that offered doctoral programs in their particular specialty and asked to rate them on a scale from "marginal" (1) to "outstanding" (5). The responses for each school were then averaged by the number of responses for that school.


Back to top. 7. Are rankings from previous years still valid?


Rankings from previous years contain valid information but are not necessarily comparable with rankings based on data collected and analyzed this year. For the disciplines of business, education, engineering, law, and medicine, where we do extensive statistical data gathering, we constantly strive to improve our data-processing procedures to spot errors. We review our statistical surveys each year to sharpen our questions so that our indicators yield results as closely comparable as possible over all schools. There may also be trends and situations, such as the economic climate, that differ and have an impact on the data points we collect. If you are going to compare a school from year to year, we recommend that you compare the data, not necessarily the ranking of the school. This year's rankings use the data that best reflect current conditions.
Back to top. 8. Why don't the ranking lists show all the rank numbers?


Among the five most popular areas of graduate and professional study—business, education, engineering, law, and medicine— U.S. News publishes numbered rankings of the top schools. A school's rank tells you how many schools garner a higher score on the U.S. News ranking model. Schools that have the same score are listed alphabetically.