Stanford Church on a cloudy day. Image from Pixshark.

In 1983, when U.S. News started publishing its first college rankings, it did so with the intention of updating the list once every two years. With peer assessment being the sole metric, one could hardly call the methodology comprehensive. Now, over three decades later, the U.S. News College Rankings have become (for better or for worse) a staple of the college admissions culture. They serve as a quantitative analysis of qualitative, subjective criteria, and therefore have become just as controversial as they are influential.

With the exception of a few colleges which have historically dominated the top of the U.S. News National University Rankings (looking at you, Harvard/Princeton/Yale), institutions of higher learning tend to shift up or down a spot between years. Not only has the ranking methodology changed drastically since the list’s conception, it continues to be modified to this day in order to bring into consideration more factors that may indicate college quality.

Though peer assessment reputation is far from the only consideration in determining the rankings today, it remains a significant contributor to the overall ranking of an institution by comprising 15% of the total score given to a college (scores are not made available to the general public by U.S. News). Being that the rankings never stay entirely stable, below is a compilation of colleges’ long-term performance on the U.S. News National Universities Rankings starting from the year 2000 and ending with the most recently published rankings.

College Median U.S. News Ranking Since 2000 Average U.S. News Ranking Since 2000
Princeton University 1 1.3
Harvard University 1.5 1.5
Yale University 3 2.9
Stanford University 5 4.8
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 5 5.3
University of Pennsylvania 5 5.6
California Institute of Technology 5 5.9
Duke University 8 7.4
Columbia University 9 7.6
University of Chicago 9 9.2
Dartmouth College 9.5 9.9
Northwestern University 12 12.3
Washington University in St. Louis 12.5 12.9
John Hopkins University 14 13.5
Cornell University 14 13.7
Brown University 15 15.2
Rice University 17 16.3
Vanderbilt University 18 18.4
University of Notre Dame 19 18.5
Emory University 18 18.8
University of California–Berkeley 21 20.6
Carnegie Mellon University 22.5 22.5
Georgetown University 23 22.5
University of Virginia 23 23.1
University of California–Los Angeles 25 24.8
University of Michigan–Ann Arbor 25 26.1
Wake Forest University 27 27.0
Tufts University 28 27.9

In general, schools like the University of Southern California and Vanderbilt have been steadily climbing the rankings during the past decade or so, while schools like Yale University have seen little deviation, if any. Columbia and the University of Chicago have also recently ranked higher than they ever have historically, perhaps indicating either a change in the ranking methodology or an increase in performance in one or several of the metrics used by U.S. News to determine its rankings. The shifting positions of colleges on the list can also be attributed to any combination of factors, including standardized test scores of incoming freshmen, graduation rate, guidance counselor score, peer assessment score and giving rate of alumni.

Schools which are considered “up-and-coming,” but are not included in the aforementioned list include the University of Central Florida, Northeastern University, Clemson University, Tulane University and Drexel University. Not only have these schools seen increases in performance on the U.S. News Rankings, they have been nominated by their peer institutions in a peer assessment survey dedicated to naming colleges “that are making improvements in academics, faculty, students, campus life, diversity and facilities.”

As U.S. News continues to evolve is ranking methodology, the relative positions of schools on the list will keep changing. Who knows what the future may hold? All said, it must be emphasized once again that U.S. News chooses arbitrary factors which are then combined to create a ranking system that is not necessarily indicative of actual college quality. In fact, I highly recommend using U.S. News as a source of information regarding colleges’ tuition, selectivity, endowment, faculty-to-student ratio and undergraduate and graduate programs. In no way should these rankings indicate the superiority of one college to another–remember, a college can’t be defined by numbers alone. Find the college that fits you, and I hope this information proves helpful in your search!

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the author

Nelson Dong is an incoming freshman at the University of Pennsylvania and hails from North Hunterdon High School. Born in a state overrun by loud, tan New Yorkers (yes, they're all from New York with the exception of Pauly D), he holds great disdain for the shore. He dabbles in dancing, singing and writing, among other artistic ventures and plays tennis to stay in shape. However, it must be noted that he absolutely does not lift because he doesn't have time.

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