How to Use Our Lists Wisely

Mine the data

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The U.S. News rankings spotlight the country's academically excellent graduate programs-and in doing so, they can start you on the track toward picking the right school for you. But many other factors that cannot be measured also should figure in your decision, including the course offerings and culture of departments that interest you, the advising or mentoring you can expect to receive, and the geographical setting and campus life.

So why study our data at all? Because, for instance, you can see at a glance where your undergraduate academic record and admissions test scores might take you-and where you would rise to the top of the applicant pool. You can see how deans rate the schools in terms of academic excellence, which may matter to recruiters.

The data in the tables allow you to compare institutions on many other key characteristics and will almost certainly open up further lines of investigation. Someone interested in law, for example, can examine how successful the schools are at preparing graduates for the bar exam. Applicants to M.B.A. programs can see how diplomas from various schools will affect their earning power. Future engineers can get a sense from a school's research expenditures of how cutting-edge their experience there might be. You might even discover possible choices not on your radar screen before.

The rankings can inform your thinking-but they won't hand you an easy answer. We urge you to use them wisely.

—The Editors