Newsweek College Rankings Methodology

By Bernstein, Peter | Newsweek, September 12, 2010 | Go to article overview

Newsweek College Rankings Methodology


Bernstein, Peter, Newsweek


Byline: Peter Bernstein

How we evaluated the schools on our lists and where our data came from.

We began with the notion that there is no single "best" school, but instead that different students look for different things in choosing a college. We wanted our rankings to cover as many different educational, social and other aspects of college life as possible. Third, when possible and appropriate, we wanted to consider "outcomes," that is what happens to students after they graduate: Is a college successful in preparing its students for life after college (understanding that these rankings should be primarily useful to students who are seeking an undergraduate education--and their parents). And, finally we wanted our rankings to be fun to read and intriguing--perhaps to spur prospective students to consider an aspect of their coming college years in a fashion that they might not have before.

Our Methodology

Ranking colleges and universities--or anything else for that matter--is, at best, an imprecise business. (There is a philosophical, but legitimate, question about whether colleges can or should be ranked, at all. For one view of that question, you can turn to Reed College president Colin Diver who explains why rankings are so unpopular among academic institutions.)

Most college rankings, including ours, are measuring things that can't be precisely measured. They consider things like the quality of education, "good" teaching, the intelligence of students, etc. There are data that speak to many of these things--standardized tests, admissions statistics, awards and scholarships for academic achievements, and opinion polls. And this is what we used to compose our rankings. But we would be the first to admit that the data is not perfect but rather statistical proxies that serve as rough indicators.

Data sources: We used a wide variety of data sources to compose our rankings. The specific sources are listed with each of the rankings. Most of them are available online.

Our universe of schools: There are nearly 3,000 four-year colleges and universities in the United States, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (College Navigator) , and not all of them are considered in our rankings. We narrowed our focus to schools meeting three criteria:

1. The school must be listed in one of the three leading college guides currently published--Fiske's Guide to Colleges, the Princeton Review's Best 371 Colleges, and U.S. News & World Report's America's Best Colleges. This ensured that the schools meet a baseline of standards and recognition.

2. The school must have relatively high academic standards. We defined high academic standards as schools in which the 75th percentile SAT score (critical reading and math) for the incoming freshman class is 1,150 or higher (or 75th percentile ACT score of 25 or higher). Note, some schools listed in the top college guides do not report standardized test scores, but were nonetheless retained in our universe.

3. The school must offer a range of different degrees. Seminaries, art schools, engineering schools, cosmetology schools and others like them were not considered.

This process yielded a universe of 747 schools.

Weighting of data points: Different data points are weighted differently in each of the rankings. The weighting of each data point is disclosed and briefly discussed for each set of rankings. Generally, the more important data points in the rankings received larger weights; the less important data points smaller weights. But, in considering the various weightings, we also took into consideration the quality of the data source. For example, data based on student surveys with fairly low response rates were giving a lesser weighting than more objective data, such as a school's student-faculty ratio or the yield rate for admitted students.

The "Most Desirable" Rankings:

The 25 Most Desirable Schools (Overall)

The 25 Most Desirable Large Campuses

The 25 Most Desirable Small Campuses

The 25 Most Desirable Urban Schools

The 25 Most Desirable Suburban Schools

The 25 Most Desirable Rural Schools

We considered a school "desirable" based on the academic credentials of admitted applicants and how hard it is to get into as well as the quality of the academic and non-academic experience at the school.

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