Ultimate Guide to College Rankings

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Worried about the quality of education? Too many college options are confusing you? Well, you’re not alone. Most of the students usually have the same feeling. College ranking provides a way out of this situation. However, they are even confusing. 

To make it easier for you, we have prepared the ultimate guide to college rankings. It will help you understand the nitty-gritty details of ranking systems and how to use them for your benefit. 

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Ultimate Guide to College Rankings  

College rankings are usually released annually as per the previous year’s data. There are many ranking systems that can give you an overall idea of the college’s credibility and current status. However, it’s vital to understand the factors behind these rankings to make the most out of them.

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The following are some of the best college ranking systems that can help you make an informed decision:

Value Colleges 

Value Colleges’ ranking system is highly credible as it utilizes various educational and other databases before placing a university at a higher rank. 

This ensures that students get the best quality of education, a diverse environment, and a great return on investment. Its interface is pretty straightforward, allowing students to quickly find the best colleges by ranking, state, and discipline. On top of that, it provides comprehensive guidance to understand and comprehend different rankings. 

The data for best-value universities is collected from the College Scorecard and the database of the Department of Education’s federal student loan program. Also, the business institutes listed on Value Colleges are AACSB accredited, further authenticating the ranking of this platform. 

Key Metrics for Ranking Determination

The key metrics that Value Colleges use for ranking universities vary based on discipline to ensure students can find the best relevant institute for higher studies. The following are the key metrics Value Colleges use to rank colleges:

  • ROI: Covers tuition costs, potential earnings post-graduation, and overall career advancement. Value Colleges take data from Payscale College Salary Report and the US Dept. of Education’s Scorecard data to help students evaluate the long-term benefits and financial outcomes of going to a particular university.
  • Cost: Tells the affordability of attending a university, encompassing tuition fees, living expenses, and available financial aid. IPEDS and online per-credit rates sourced from schools are useful in presenting the cost of a university.
  • Reputation: Involves factors like academic excellence, faculty expertise, and overall institutional prestige. This gives the students an understanding of the university’s reputation within the academic community and beyond. 

Princeton Review

The Princeton Review provides 62 different college rankings. Their ranking methodology involves asking around 80 questions from students about college life, academics, environment, fellow students, and their personal experience. 

For instance, the Princeton Review’s Best Law Schools rankings for 2021 depend on data from 14,000 students attending 164 law schools and administrators at the schools.

The students review each section on a scale of 1 to 5, which helps Princeton Review come up with its list of 380 top colleges globally. Exploring these rankings is easy as students can quickly filter the best colleges by region, environment-friendliness, and the quality of libraries available. 

Key Metrics for Ranking Determination 

The following are the key metrics that help Princeton Review create their rankings:

  • Academics: Information about the advanced programs, esteemed faculty, and robust support services.
  • Campus Life: Highlights the dynamic student life, diverse activities, and engaging events.
  • Facilities: Availability of modern infrastructure, amenities, and well-equipped libraries.


Forbes offers a comprehensive list of 650 universities and colleges. Their ranking considers various factors like the overall success and satisfaction of students. 

The rankings can be filtered by region, country, state, private or public. Forbes makes the college selection process easier, assisting students in finding the best college globally. 

Key Metrics for Ranking Determination 

Let’s look at the key metrics Forbes considers when ranking colleges:

The front view of a library building
  • On-Time Graduation Rate (12.5%): Assesses the percentage of students graduating within four to six years.
  • Academic Success (12.5%): Considers alumni achievements in winning prestigious awards and scholarships such as Rhodes and Fulbright.
  • Alumni Salaries (20%): Combines early and mid-career salaries for comprehensive financial evaluation.
  • Student Satisfaction (20%): Includes Niche Surveys and freshman retention rates to gauge overall contentment.
  • Debt Category (20%): Involves student loan metrics and default rates for financial health assessment.
  • American Leaders (15%): Check the Forbes database to recognize successful individuals, including billionaires and leaders in public service.


Niche provides students with information about college rankings by collecting survey responses on 20 topics from around 300,000 current students and alumni. In addition, it collects data from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation to make the rankings more credible. 

Safety is an important part of Niche college rankings, considering 21,200 criminal incidents in post-secondary institutions

Niche rankings are classified into categories like best campus food,” “best academics,” “best party schools,” and “safest campus.” Students can select the category that resonates with their interest and explore the shortlisted college options. 

Key Metrics for Ranking Determination 

The following are the key metrics Niche considers to rank colleges:

  • Academics (40%): Involves acceptance rates and alumni surveys to assess academic performance.
  • Value (27.5%): Considers student loan amount and alumni earnings from a financial perspective.
  • Professors (7.5%): Incorporates faculty awards and student-to-faculty ratio to evaluate teaching quality.
  • Campus (5%): Covers food quality, housing options, and student facilities for the overall campus experience.
  • Overall Experience (5%): Student survey data, providing ratings on a scale of 1-5, contributes to the overall perception of the college experience.
  • Local Area (2.5%): Median rent, crime rates, and access to amenities in the surrounding area are considered.
  • Safety (2.5%): Student surveys on health and safety resources, along with local crime rates, are factored into the evaluation.
  • Diversity (5%): Ethnic composition and the proportion of international and out-of-state students play a role in the evaluation.

U.S. News & World Report

The US News & World Report is indeed one of the best college rankings systems. They provide students with information about 1,800 colleges and universities in the United States. Students can easily navigate these rankings by searching their area of expertise. For instance, engineering students can simply search “Best Undergraduate Engineering Colleges.” 

The results can help them narrow their options. The US News uses the Carnegie Classification to organize colleges and universities based on their mission, size, structure, etc. This classification system uses empirical data from colleges and universities starting in 1973, with updates every five years. 

Key Metrics for Ranking Determination 

Here are some metrics that The US News uses to rank colleges: 

  • Outcomes (35%): Measures graduation rates within six years and the frequency of student transfers to other institutions.
  • Faculty Resources (20%): Evaluate factors such as faculty salary and class size to assess the resources available for teaching.
  • Expert Opinion (20%): Peer review involves surveying provosts, deans, and presidents to gauge the reputation of peer colleges.
  • Financial Resources (10%): Assesses research capabilities and available student experiences by considering financial resources.
  • Student Excellence (10%): Takes into account standardized test scores and high school grades as indicators of student excellence.
  • Alumni Giving (5%): Considers the number of graduates who contribute to their universities after obtaining their bachelor’s degrees.

Money Magazine

Money Magazine is another platform that serves as an ultimate guide to college rankings. They use 1900 data points to find and organize a variety of colleges and universities. This ranking system aims to give students high-quality college options with affordability as a key factor. 

Key Metrics for Ranking Determination

Money Magazine follows the given metrics to rank colleges:

A woman wearing eyeglasses is sitting and reading a book next to a table with a laptop and books on top of it
  • Quality of Education (33.33%): Evaluation factors include six-year graduation rates, standardized test scores, student-to-faculty ratio, and outcomes for Pell Grant recipients.
  • Affordability (33.33%): Considerations encompass tuition costs, debt, affordability for low-income students, and the ability to repay debt.
  • Outcomes (33.33%): Factors in graduate earnings and employment outcomes to provide insights into post-education success.

Top College Ranking Metrics 

After reading about all the ranking systems, you might still be unsure how to proceed. Although the college rankings metrics vary for every magazine or publication, there are some common metrics that almost all of them use. Considering these factors can ease your search for the best colleges. 


This metric assesses the college cost, including tuition, fees, and other associated expenses. It considers the financial burden on students and their families. Students get to know the debt or financial burden of obtaining an education from a particular institution. 

Graduation Rate

Graduation rate is the percentage of students who successfully complete their degree within a specific timeframe, often ranging from four to six years. A higher graduation rate presents the success of a college. It shows that the college has the ability to provide the necessary support and resources for students to complete their academic journey successfully.

Pay Scale

This metric shares how much a student can potentially earn after completing their desired degree from a particular college. For instance, bachelor’s degrees at MIT and Princeton University usually enjoy an average potential salary of $189,000. On the other end, Great Lakes Christian College’s bachelor’s has mid-career pay of around $63,000.

Student Engagement

Student engagement is another common college ranking metric. It’s students’ level of involvement, participation, and interaction in their academic and extracurricular activities. If a college has a high student engagement rate, it shows that students enjoy a positive and enriching college experience.


This metric is quickly becoming a part of many college-ranking publications. It tells students about the college’s various backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives. It also shows that the college allows a diverse exchange of ideas and promotes equality. 


The endowment is a financial metric. It reflects the total value of investments and assets of a college or university. A higher level shows that the college is financially stable. This means the institution has the ability to invest in various things like scholarships, faculty recruitment, and campus infrastructure.


The sports metric evaluates a college’s athletic programs. It takes into account the achievements in collegiate sports, the popularity of athletic events, and the level of student engagement in sports-related activities.

Things to Know about College Rankings 

College rankings can be confusing if you don’t know what they mean and how to keep track of various college positions in top publications. The following points help you understand a few things about college rankings:

  • Consistency: College rankings provide insights into a college’s consistent standing over time. Consistency in rankings suggests stability and reliability in various aspects. These include academic reputation, education quality, and overall student experience. As per the University World News, 57% of students look at academic reputation when searching for a university. 
  • Changes: Over time, a college may move some positions or get down on the list. Observing these improvements or declines offers valuable information about the college’s adaptability and commitment to enhancing its offerings.
  • Longevity: Top publications complete many surveys before adding a college to their list. The collection requires time, and therefore, new colleges may not be able to appear on the list. However, it gives students an idea that the listed colleges have been in the field for a long time, boosting their credibility.
A view of a library with tables and chairs and some computers on top

Pros and Cons of College Rankings

Any ultimate guide to college rankings is incomplete without thoroughly understanding the pros and cons of these ranking systems.  

Pros of College Rankings 

The following reasons explain why college rankings are useful for a student:

Shares Extensive Information about Colleges 

College rankings consolidate a wealth of information about different colleges into a single platform. This information spans aspects such as academic programs, faculty credentials, campus facilities, extracurricular offerings, and overall campus life. Students get to know the ins and outs of different institutions, helping them make informed decisions. 

Students Can Compare Different Colleges 

College rankings are in a structured form. Students can leverage these rankings to conduct meaningful comparisons among various institutions. These comparisons may include academic reputation, acceptance rates, availability of financial aid, and student-to-faculty ratios. 

Universities Can Attract New Students 

A positive placement in college rankings can impact a university’s image and appeal. Higher rankings often translate to more visibility and enhanced credibility, attracting attention from prospective students. This heightened recognition serves as a valuable marketing tool for universities. 

Cons of College Rankings

Indeed, the benefits of college rankings are plenty. However, there are some drawbacks that a student must consider before finalizing a college. 

Too Many Different Lists

One drawback of college rankings is the sheer abundance of different lists and methodologies that various publications use. Each ranking system may prioritize different factors or metrics. This leads to inconsistencies and confusion for students.

Possible to Cheat One’s Way to the Top

In some instances, colleges may manipulate certain metrics to boost their rankings artificially. This practice, often referred to as “gaming the system,” can lead to inaccurate representations of a college’s true qualities. This raises suspicions or doubts in students’ minds, and they may end up going to the wrong institute.

How to Choose a College Based on Rankings?

4.1 million students graduate annually in the US. If you also want to add to this number, you must choose the right college for higher studies. 

The following points guide you about how you can opt for the right college:

Choose by Discipline

We agree that getting admission to the top-ranked college may be tempting. However, it’s not the right approach. Different colleges excel in various academic fields, so prioritize those with strong programs and faculty in your area of interest. 

For this, you should look beyond the overall ranking and explore the subject-specific rankings or departmental strengths like the one Value Colleges offer. This ensures you find the college that aligns with your academic and career goals.

Value for Money

Another thing we believe is crucial is to assess the value of money each college offers. Consider the overall return on investment. Take into account things other than the tuition fees, like potential financial aid, career services, and long-term benefits like mid-career pay. 

Don’t overlook any university, even if it’s lower-ranked. It’s because sometimes small institutions are the ones that can tick all your boxes. 

Campus Culture and Environment

The campus culture and environment of prospective colleges are also very important. Thus, you should look into things like the size of the student body, diversity, social activities, and the overall atmosphere. 

Check if the college promotes an environment that suits your preferences and values. Remember, a positive campus culture can significantly contribute to a fulfilling and enjoyable college experience. Hence, it influences your personal and academic growth.

Always Have a List of Alternatives

It’s essential to have a list of alternative colleges, even if you initially have a top choice in mind. Rankings can provide valuable insights; however, they don’t capture the entirety of a college experience. 

There are things like campus culture, personal fit, and specific program offerings that may vary widely. Therefore, having a list of alternatives ensures flexibility in case your first-choice college doesn’t meet your expectations. It’s also useful if unforeseen circumstances arise during the application process.

Top Colleges Based on Different Ranking Systems

The list of some top colleges based on different ranking systems is given below to make your selection process easy:

Five student writing on a whiteboard

Harvard University

Harvard is one of the most prestigious colleges in the US. It was founded in 1636, and the undergraduate enrollments are around 7240 as of fall 2022. The university is over 5076 acres and has a top-notch library, labs, and classrooms. 

This is why it’s at #4 in the QS World University Rankings 2024. Harvard is popular for high research activity (R1) and comprehensive doctoral programs across the arts, sciences, engineering, and medicine. Attending Harvard can cost you around $54,269 for the academic year 2023-2024. 

Stanford University

Stanford University is a private institute founded in 1885. The campus stretches over 8180 acres and has 8094 undergraduate admissions as of fall 2022. 

This university is known for its excellence in various fields, especially technology and computer science. It ranks #3 in the 2024 edition of Best Colleges is National Universities. Students can expect to pay a fee of $58,416

Princeton University

Princeton University is another top-notch college for fresh high school graduates. It was founded in 1746 and has undergraduate enrollments of around 5604 as of fall 2022. The campus size of Princeton University is 690 acres with access to all amenities and facilities. 

It’s ranked #17 in QS World University Rankings and is famous for the incredible amount of resources available for research. Its fee revolves around $59,710 per year

Related Questions

What is the Difference Between Qs and Times Ranking?

QS and Times Higher Education (THE) differ primarily in ranking methodologies. QS places a significant reliance on reputation surveys, whereas THE aims for a more balanced approach, considering various factors beyond reputation, such as academic research quality and citations.

What is the Most Accurate College Ranking?

QS, Value Colleges, and Times Higher Education are among the most credible ranking systems for colleges. These rankings are usually created after collecting the latest data from various credible sources.  

Which Country Has the Most Universities in the Top 100?

According to THE (Times Higher Education) ranking, the US has the highest number of universities (36) in the top 100. Even the USA occupies 7 of the top 10 positions in THE 2024 ranking. 


This ultimate guide to college rankings is important for students looking to pursue further education. Some top platforms to view university rankings are Value Colleges, US News & World Report, Money Magazine, Princeton Review, and Forbes. Students can leverage this data to find the most suitable and reputable institutions for their higher education journey. 

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Aya Andrews


Aya Andrews is a passionate educator and mother of two, with a diverse background that has shaped her approach to teaching and learning. Born in Metro Manila, she now calls San Diego home and is proud to be a Filipino-American. Aya earned her Masters degree in Education from San Diego State University, where she focused on developing innovative teaching methods to engage and inspire students.

Prior to her work in education, Aya spent several years as a continuing education consultant for KPMG, where she honed her skills in project management and client relations. She brings this same level of professionalism and expertise to her work as an educator, where she is committed to helping each of her students achieve their full potential.

In addition to her work as an educator, Aya is a devoted mother who is passionate about creating a nurturing and supportive home environment for her children. She is an active member of her community, volunteering her time and resources to support local schools and organizations. Aya is also an avid traveler, and loves to explore new cultures and cuisines with her family.

With a deep commitment to education and a passion for helping others succeed, Aya is a true inspiration to those around her. Her dedication to her craft, her community, and her family is a testament to her unwavering commitment to excellence in all aspects of her life.

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ValueColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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