News is to help students and their families through the college search process by providing the best available data and information as they make the important, and costly, decision of where to go to college. This is why we publish content to guide prospective students through preparing for standardized tests, paying for college, choosing a major and more, in addition to the annual U.S. News Best Colleges rankings.
Over the three decades we’ve evaluated schools, we’ve received varied feedback on the rankings – including that prospective students take the rankings seriously when applying for college. We appreciate that authority we’ve earned in the education rankings space, and we understand the responsibility that comes with that authority.
With the 2020 edition of U.S. News Best Colleges around the corner, now is a good time to clear up misconceptions that abound regarding our company’s flagship ranking. Some of the more common myths say that schools improve their rank by rejecting large numbers of applicants; that we designed the rankings to be the only factor in your college decision; that the rankings are responsible for schools submitting incorrect data; or that the rankings measure the wrong things. These are not true.
The rankings are a start, not the answer. They should be used as one tool in anyone’s college search process. We’ve always encouraged prospective students to use the rankings to help find their best fit. That’s part of why we don’t just rank the top five, top 10 or even top 50 schools. Rather, we rank nearly 1,400 schools in order to provide the most comprehensive and helpful information for students. The rankings are meant to be a jumping-off point to create an initial list of schools, narrow down that list and then compare overall academic quality.
The U.S. News Best Colleges rankings measure academic excellence. In doing so, we consider a successful school to be one that retains and graduates its students. That is why our rankings weigh outcomes at 35% of the methodology – more than any other metric. These outcomes include measures like social mobility, which rewards schools that are successful at enrolling and graduating students from low-income households. The most successful schools are those that educate and graduate all of their students, regardless of background.
Additionally, the aim of the rankings is to expose students and their families to the broad range of higher education options available. Nearly 90% of people visiting U.S. News Best Colleges are looking at schools beyond the top 10.
As of the 2019 U.S. News Best Colleges edition published in 2018, acceptance rate is not a factor in the methodology. Schools can’t rise in rank by admitting fewer students. Prior to 2018, acceptance rate accounted for less than 2% of the methodology, and reducing the number of acceptances wouldn’t have caused a school to rise in the ranking.
Misreporting is rare, and U.S. News takes it very seriously. Schools know that if they submit incorrect data to inflate their rank, they will be removed from the ranking and listed as unranked. Inaccurate data does not just hurt a school’s standing in our rankings; it hurts prospective and current students who want accurate information. U.S. News counts on schools to be honest and transparent in their data reporting.
Additionally, as better, comparable data become available, we’ve updated the methodology. Our rankings formula will continue to evolve as we obtain access to more data that are attainable and specifically related to academic excellence. And we’ll continue the work we began more than 30 years ago – providing prospective students with reliable information on the range of higher education options available to them. For more information on how we rank colleges, read our full methodology here and start your college search process with U.S. News here.