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US News Best Colleges: What Makes a Top School Great in 2014?


Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and Stanford: these schools were among the top four universities in this week’s Best College rankings from U.S. News — and, albeit in a different order, they were the top-ranked universities in 1983, the first year the list was released. But that doesn’t mean that U.S. News (or any other source) is reviewing universities and colleges the same way they were 30 years ago.


(Photo Credit: fortes/Flickr)

“The first three editions of the rankings, released two years apart in 1983, 1985 and 1987, were based entirely on peer reputation,” writes Briana Boyington at U.S. News. “U.S. News mailed surveys to more than 1,300 college presidents, asking them to name the top schools in their category based on the quality of courses, professors, students and the overall academic atmosphere. More than half of the college presidents responded, and those findings were published in U.S. News & World Report‘s magazine.”

Do You Know What You're Worth?

For comparison, this year’s rankings examined seven different factors, broken down accordingly:

  • Academic reputation: 22.5 percent
  • Graduation & retention rates: 22.5 percent
  • Faculty resources: 20 percent
  • Student selectivity: 12.5 percent
  • Financial resources: 10 percent
  • Graduation rate performance: 7.5 percent
  • Alumni giving: 5 percent

The evolution of the rankings mirrors a shift in our understanding of what makes a good school. In short, it’s not enough to attend a university or college with a top reputation: you also have to be able to graduate, get a (good) job, and be able to pay off your loans.

PayScale’s College Salary Report, which comes out later today, examines the schools and majors that pay students back financially. In the meantime, here’s how the top three universities from U.S. News‘s rankings match up to PayScale’s College ROI Report. (Note: the complete list, including colleges as well as universities, can be viewed at U.S. News.)

1. Princeton University

PayScale Overall ROI Ranking: 13 out of 1312

Typical Starting Salary After Graduation: $56,100

2. Harvard University

PayScale Overall ROI Ranking: 23 out of 1312

Typical Starting Salary After Graduation: $55,300

3. Yale University

PayScale Overall ROI Ranking: 48 out of 1312

Typical Starting Salary After Graduation: $50,000

Tell Us What You Think

What makes a school great? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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