For the fourth consecutive year, U.S. News counts high school guidance counselor opinions in ranking the schools in the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges categories as part of the Best Colleges rankings.
There's little doubt that high school counselors often have a considerable amount of firsthand knowledge about colleges and universities in their regions – and the experience and expertise needed to assess academic quality and give prospective students smart direction.
Over the years, high school guidance counselors have asked many times that U.S. News take account of their opinions in preparing the Best Colleges rankings. We've listened.
This means that in the 2014 edition of the Best Colleges rankings, public and private independent school counselor ratings are used as a separate indicator of academic reputation for National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges, in addition to the ratings by college admissions deans, provosts and presidents.
The ratings by high school guidance counselors are weighted 7.5 percent in the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges rankings. The separate peer assessment rating factor of academic reputation by college admissions deans, provosts and presidents is weighted 15 percent in the rankings of the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges. Both sets of weights are unchanged from the 2013 Best Colleges rankings.
[Read more about category weights in the 2014 Best Colleges rankings.]
The high school counselors we asked to participate were from 2,202 public high schools nationwide in 49 states and the District of Columbia. They were a sampling of gold, silver and bronze medal winners in each state from the U.S. News Best High Schools rankings, published in April 2013.
This year we included 400 additional counselors in the survey's sample from the largest private independent high schools in each state, bringing the total number of public and private high school counselors surveyed in spring 2013 to 2,602.
The entire sample was divided in half, and each state's high school counselors surveyed were also divided in half. That meant that 1,301 counselors nationwide were sent a survey to rate the colleges in the National Universities category, and another 1,301 high school counselors nationwide were sent a survey to rate the colleges in the National Liberal Arts Colleges category.
The result of this process was that the sample was both balanced geographically nationwide and evenly distributed by state.
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. This year, for the second consecutive year, the two most recent years of survey results – spring 2012 and spring 2013 – were averaged to compute the high school counselor reputation score used in this ranking.
This was done to increase the number of ratings each college received from the high school counselors and to reduce the year-to-year volatility in the average counselor score. The academic peer assessment score continues to be based only on the most recent year's results.
Schools receiving the same rank and average reputation score are tied. Of those who received the high school counselor National Universities survey and the high school counselor National Liberal Arts Colleges survey in spring 2013, 11 percent responded. These results were incorporated into the Best Colleges rankings methodology for the 2014 edition.