A graduate degree can be the ticket to a six-figure salary for some students, but leave others drowning in debt. Several factors determine which camp a grad student will fall into, including degree choice, graduate school savings, and the school itself.
Students who earn a master's in bioengineering, for instance, typically earn more than those with an advanced degree in student counseling, and an MBA grad from Harvard University is more likely to snag a $100,000 starting salary than one from a less prestigious b-school.
The U.S. News 2014 Best Graduate Schools rankings, released today, can help students sort through the myriad options available to them. The rankings evaluate programs in business, law, medicine, engineering, and education—including specialties within each discipline. This year's updated rankings also include graduate programs in the social sciences and humanities and library and information studies.
Ranking methodologies vary by discipline, but admissions selectivity and expert opinions on program quality are part of the equation for most programs. Job-placement statistics were also used to gauge the effectiveness of business schools and law schools, and salary data factored into the b-school rankings.
U.S. News recognizes that a part-time receptionist gig doesn't hold the same weight for a newly minted J.D. as a full-time junior associate position at a law firm, and the law school rankings methodology was updated to reflect that. Now, to receive full weight in the placement success indicator, a school's graduates must have full-time jobs in which bar passage is required or a J.D. gives them an advantage.
Business: The top business schools held firm this year, with Harvard and Stanford University sharing the No. 1 spot again and University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School at No. 3. University of Chicago's Booth School of Business fell out of a three-way tie for 4th, dropping to 6th, leaving Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management and Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management tied for the No. 4 spot. Several of the top 50 schools shifted places, but few climbed higher than University of Washington's Michael G. Foster School of Business, which jumped from 35th to a tie at 23rd.
The Kellogg School fell from first to third in the part-time MBA rankings, making way for the Haas School of Business at University of California—Berkeley to claim the No. 1 rank. Georgia State University's J. Mack Robinson College of Business jumped 15 places, improving its rank from 32 to 17, tied with Rice University's Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business. On the other end of the spectrum, Babson College's F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business dropped from 16th to 46th in the part-time rankings.
Law: Yale University retained its top billing in the 2014 Best Law Schools rankings, and Harvard Law School regained ground lost last year, moving up one slot to tie Stanford for second place. Big changes in this year's law rankings include the University of Washington, which fell from 20th to 28th, and Washington University in St. Louis, which improved its rank from 23 to a tie at 19.
Part-time law programs shook things up a bit. Brooklyn Law School's rank sunk from 3 to 21 and Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law dropped from 4th to 12th, allowing Fordham University, George Mason University, and the University of Connecticut to slide into the 3rd, 4th, and 5th spots, respectively. Loyola University Chicago, which slipped from 16th to 33rd last year, recouped its losses, moving into a tie for 6th with Loyola Marymount University and University of Maryland's Francis King Carey School of Law. The part-time programs at Georgetown University and George Washington University held onto their No. 1 and No. 2 ranks, respectively.
Medicine: Stanford climbed two spots to take over as the No. 2 medical research school, behind Harvard. Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University, previously tied for second with the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine, dropped to third. Penn is now tied with the University of California—San Francisco for fourth.
In this year's primary care rankings, the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill traded places with the University of Washington to claim the top spot. Little changed among the top 10 schools for primary care, but the Baylor College of Medicine and Mayo Medical School each made significant gains, joining the top 25 by improving their ranks from 49th to a tie at 24th and from 31st to a tie at 19th, respectively.
Engineering: MIT, Stanford, and UC—Berkeley maintained their top three spots in the engineering schools rankings. The California Institute of Technology climbed one position to claim fourth place, and Carnegie Mellon University jumped two spots to a tie for fifth with Georgia Institute of Technology and University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign. There were no significant changes within the top 50 engineering schools.
Education: Vanderbilt University's Peabody College of Education and Human Development continued its reign as the top-ranked program in this year's Best Education Schools rankings. But there is a new No. 2: Johns Hopkins University continued its upward momentum—the school leapt from a tie for 18th to a tie for 6th last year—to take second place. The move bumped Harvard and the University of Texas—Austin each down one position, to No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, and pushed the Teachers College at Columbia University to just outside the top 5.
Searching for a grad school? Get our complete rankings of Best Graduate Schools.