How We Calculate the College Rankings

By and SHARE

Just how can rankings help you identify colleges and universities that are right for you? Certainly, the college experience consists of a host of intangibles that cannot be reduced to mere numbers. But for families, the U.S. News rankings provide an excellent starting point because they offer the opportunity to judge the relative quality of institutions based on widely accepted indicators of excellence. You can compare different schools' numbers at a glance, and looking at unfamiliar schools that are ranked near schools you know can be a good way to broaden your search.

Of course, many factors other than those we measure will figure in your decision, including the feel of campus life, activities, sports, academic offerings, location, cost, and availability of financial aid. But if you combine the information in this book with college visits, interviews, and your own intuition, our rankings can be a powerful tool in your quest for college.

For the eighth consecutive year, U.S. News helps by spotlighting schools with outstanding examples of eight types of academic programs that have been shown to enhance learning: first-year experiences, learning communities, writing in the disciplines, senior capstone, study abroad, internships or cooperative education, opportunities for undergraduate research, and service learning. 

New this year is our list of schools that have demonstrated a strong commitment to teaching. We felt that it was important to highlight schools that were recognized for this, given that some large universities emphasize graduate-level research over the undergraduate student experience. In spring 2009, U.S. News asked respondents to its peer survey to nominate up to 10 colleges in their ranking category where the faculty has an unusually strong commitment to undergraduate teaching. These are the schools whose faculty and administrators have placed a special emphasis on and commitment to teaching undergraduate students. Eighty schools in nine categories made our list.

And two very popular tables from last year are appearing again in the guidebook this year. One is our list of America's Best Black Colleges. This is our exclusive ranking of 80 historically black colleges and colleges and universities that are currently designated as HBCUs by the Department of Education. The other is a list we're calling Up-and-Coming Schools, which is appearing for the second year in a row. U.S. News is running this list in response to criticism that our academic peer assessment survey is too slow to pick up improvements at colleges.

In spring 2009, U.S. News asked college presidents, provosts, and admissions deans to nominate up to 10 colleges that are making improvements in academics, faculty, students, campus life, diversity, and facilities in their U.S. News ranking category. The 77 schools in nine categories that made our list are worth considering because they are making promising and innovative changes.

Pick a category. The U.S. News rankings system rests on two pillars. It relies on quantitative measures that education experts have proposed as reliable indicators of academic quality, and it's based on our nonpartisan view of what matters in education.

How does the methodology work? First, schools are categorized by mission, derived from the basic Carnegie classification and, in some cases, by region.The national universities offer a full range of undergraduate majors, plus master's and Ph.D. programs, and emphasize faculty research.

The liberal arts colleges focus almost exclusively on undergraduate education. They award at least 50 percent of their degrees in the arts and sciences.

The universities-master's offer a broad scope of undergraduate degrees and some master's degree programs but few, if any, doctoral programs.

The baccalaureate colleges focus on undergraduate education but grant fewer than 50 percent of their degrees in liberal arts disciplines. The baccalaureate colleges include institutions where at least 10 percent of the undergraduate degrees awarded are bachelor's degrees.