Why U.S. News Ranks Colleges

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It's a controversial question, with a simple answer: We do it to help you make one of the most important decisions of your life.

Your investment in a college education could profoundly affect your career opportunities, financial well-being, and quality of life.

This chart (pdf) uses data from the Bureau of the Census (as analyzed by Thomas Mortenson in the newsletter Postsecondary Educational Opportunity) to show average 2006 family income for many types of households that have attained different education levels. It starts with those in which the family member with the highest level of education has a high school degree and goes up to those households where a family member with the highest degree has a professional degree in such fields as medicine or law. These figures dramatically show the value in today's world of earning a college degree or going for an additional graduate degree. Those with a college degree had almost twice as much income as those with just a high school diploma. Choosing the right college is the first step in getting that degree.

To find the right college, you need a source of reliable and consistent data—information that lets you compare one college with another and find the differences that matter to you. That's what we do with our rankings.

We rank for quality, and we rank for best value as well. You wouldn't go out and buy a computer or a car without making sure it was the best you could afford given your budget. The same rule should apply for choosing a college—especially at a time when four years at some private U.S. universities can cost you more than $200,000 in tuition, room, board, required fees, books, and other personal expenses such as late-night study snacks and transportation.

Most people choose a college only once in their lifetime, so there's not much opportunity to learn from your past mistakes. Instead, you need first-rate information from the start. The 2009 edition of America's Best Colleges, in print and online, can help you by making it easier for you to sift through data from over 1,800 colleges and universities.

  • Do use the rankings as one tool to select and compare schools.
  • Don't rely solely on rankings to choose a college.
  • Do use the search and sort capabilities of this site to learn more about schools. Visit the school, if possible.
  • Don't wait until the last minute. College matters. Take your time, and choose carefully.
  • Do think long and hard about the right place for you.

As in the past, U.S. News recommends that readers use the rankings as one tool for selecting a college. We recognize that prospective students must consider their academic and professional goals, financial resources, scholastic record, and special needs when choosing a school. And we recommend that students gather information on colleges in a number of ways—by talking to parents, high school guidance counselors, and other advisers; from college catalogs, view books, and websites; and from campus visits to form firsthand impressions.