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Rita Neumann

Top Universities in the U.S.

The U.S. News & World Report just released the 2015 edition of their Best Colleges ranking report. This is a popular and much-awaited annual analysis of U.S. universities – one that university administration, college students, and prospective students highly respect.


This year, Princeton University alumni and current students have a lot to brag about. For the second year in a row, Princeton won the coveted title of Best National University. UC Berkeley (the alma mater of many Magooshers in the office) took the Best Public University title.

What’s in the report?

The Best Colleges rankings report ranks universities in several categories: best national universities, best national liberal arts colleges, best public universities, best public liberal arts colleges, best value universities, and best value liberal arts colleges.

The full report contains information on 1,800 universities, with the goal of providing the most important information to prospective students and their parents. If you’re applying to college in the near future, this is a great place to find information on academics and campus life.


The most heavily weighted measures of academic excellence, in the ranking system, are metrics such as graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, and student selectivity.

The report considers both quantitative measures of academic excellence and qualitative factors, such as student happiness and campus feel. Factors that don’t affect rankings, but that are available in the full report, include crime statistics and security information.

Who Made the List?

Here’s a sampling of the report’s findings:

Best National Universities

        1. Princeton University (NJ)
        2. Harvard University (MA)
        3. Yale University (CT)

Best National Liberal Arts Colleges

        1. Williams College (MA) —> #1 for 12 years running!
        2. Amherst College (MA)
        3. Swarthmore College (PA)

Best Public Schools:

National Universities
        1. University of California–Berkeley
        2. University of California–Los Angeles
        2. University of Virginia

Liberal Arts Colleges
        1. United States Naval Academy (MD)
        2. United States Military Academy (NY)
        3. United States Air Force Academy (CO)

Best Value Schools:

National Universities
        1. Harvard University (MA)
        2. Princeton University (NJ)
        3. Yale University (CT)

Liberal Arts Colleges
        1. Amherst College (MA)
        2. Williams College (MA)
        3. Pomona College (CA)

What does this mean for you?

To start, it means that you have a great new resource for college info. But, if your alma mater or top prospects aren’t on the list – don’t fret! Sure, it’s nice to have bragging rights, but reports like this are highly subjective.

I mean, how does one systematically rank the best universities in the country? It’s like ranking the best pizza – everyone has an opinion, everyone’s tastes are different, and there’s no objective way to declare a winner.

universe pizza downloadL6548

To be fair, the US News & World Report is very well-respected for its fair analysis and inclusion of diverse criteria. However, each year different reports come out with similar lists, citing similar criteria, and getting wildly different results.

I tend to favor Washington Monthly magazine’s annual ranking, which found the University of California, San Diego (Go Tritons!!) to be the best college in America, based on its contribution to public good. Princeton didn’t make the top 30. No argument here. 😉

How are Ivies a Good Value?

One really interesting piece of this report is the Best Value category. On first glance, you might think – are they crazy!? How can Ivy League schools possibly be considered “affordable” by most peoples’ standards?

Think of it this way: these “Affordable Elite” schools provide an above-average, amazing standard of education to their students. They are incredibly selective, but university selectivity is all about who applies, and how prepared and impressive they were before college.


University selectivity is not about the work of their current students. At these elite schools, the current students tend to be students who come from more affluent backgrounds and believe that, if accepted, they will be able to afford the tuition.

Many qualified students don’t apply because they believe that they wouldn’t be able to pay for the education. These days, with financial aid, scholarships, and grants, impressive students are often able to offset a significant amount (if not all) of their tuition costs.

If you are a high-achieving student, you can still consider these incredible institutions. Just apply to some target and safety schools (that you know you can afford) as well.

Still Not For You? Join the Club.

Not everyone is destined for an Ivy League education. In fact, statistically few are. If you have great academics – but not Ivy League great – and you don’t think that you’d both be accepted and receive scholarships, then consider top public universities in your state.

(Check out this infographic for help interpreting your SAT score report – it’s helpful to know how you stack up to the competition–percentile-wise at least.)

Californians are lucky that our top state schools score very highly in this report. UC Berkeley and UCLA are incredibly competitive (and actually affordable) programs. UC San Diego, UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Irvine also rank very well on the US News & World Report’s list – they rank 8th – 11th on the list of Top Public Schools.


If you’re outside of California, look at the rankings of public universities in your state. Not only is in-state tuition significantly lower than private tuition, your state might also provide scholarships to top students. If necessary, you could even live at home during college, and offset the cost of dorm living (dining hall meals can be crazy expensive).


If you are looking for a comprehensive report of college statistics, look no further!

The full 2015 edition of this report includes info on ethnic and economic diversity, campus offerings, professors, safety – you name it. If you’re trying to decide between two schools, you’ll find the data for your pro/con list here. In all, this is a great resource to use as you decide where to apply to school, and when it comes time to decide where to spend the next four years of your life.



About Rita Neumann

Rita helps high schoolers find Magoosh, improve their SAT/ACT scores, and get into their dream schools. She earned both her BA and Master of Pacific International Affairs from UC San Diego, where she also studied Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Rita loves education and marketing, just as much as she loves vinyasa yoga and baking chocolate chip cookies.

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