Each year after we publish our America's Best Colleges rankings, we study ways to improve them so they continue to reflect current developments in higher education. As a result of the most recent evaluation process, U.S.News & World Report in spring 2008 for the first time ever asked high school counselors for their views on undergraduate programs at American colleges and universities. The High School Counselors' college rankings are based solely on this academic reputation survey.
The high school counselors we asked to participate were all from the 1,600 public high schools nationwide in 40 states that made the December 2007 U.S.News & World Report's America's Best High Schools rankings. One survey to rate colleges in the National Universities ranking category was sent to one counselor at each of 800 of these high schools nationwide, and a separate survey to rate colleges in the Liberal Arts Colleges ranking category was sent to one counselor at each of the other 800 schools. Each state's ranked high schools were divided in half, so the high school counselors surveyed in each state and across the country were able to give a geographically and state-balanced assessment of the nation's colleges and universities.
We asked the high school counselors to take into account the insights they use to direct students to particular colleges in addition to their knowledge about these schools in general. Also, we asked them to consider what they know about each college's academic record, curriculum, faculty, programs, and graduates. The counselors rated the quality of a school's undergraduate academic programs on a scale from 1 (marginal) to 5 (distinguished). Those who didn't know enough about a school to evaluate it fairly were asked to mark "don't know." Scores for each school were totaled and divided by the number of counselors who rated that school, and then they were ranked in descending order based on the average high school counselor reputation score. Schools receiving the same rank and average reputation score are tied. Of those who received the High School Counselor National Universities survey, 27 percent responded; in the High School Counselor Liberal Arts Colleges survey, 26 percent responded. These results were not incorporated into the America's Best Colleges rankings methodology for the 2009 edition. Synovate, an opinion-research firm based near Chicago, collected the data.