Ranked: America’s Best Universities

The latest ranking of America’s best universities is here, perfectly timed for the approaching admissions season.

“Best” is of course subjective, and U.S. News and World Report has compiled 19 metrics on which they evaluated more than 400 national universities. Some of them include:

  • Graduation rates & performance: A four-year rolling average of the proportion of each entering class earning a bachelor’s degree in six years or less. Performance is measured against predictions made by the publishers, and when beaten, the university gains a higher scoring.
  • Peer assessment: A two-year weighted average of ratings from top academics—presidents, provosts and deans of admissions—on academic quality of peer institutions with which they are familiar.
  • Financial resources: The average per student spend on instruction, research, student services and related educational expenditures in the 2021 fiscal year.
  • Debt: A school’s average accumulated federal loan debt among borrowers only.
  • Pell graduation rates & performance: the same calculation as stated above, but focused only on Pell Grant students, adjusted to give more credit to schools with larger Pell student proportions.

The website’s methodology section details how they sourced their data, the weights assigned to each metric, and their changes over the years.

From the hundreds assessed come the nearly 50 best universities that offer a variety of undergraduate majors, post-graduate programs, emphasize research, or award professional practice doctorates.

Which are the Best Universities in America?

At the top of the list, Princeton University is the best university in the country, known for its physics, economics, and international relations departments. Notably, it’s a rare Ivy league university that does not have a law, medical, or business school.

Here’s the full ranking of America’s best universities, along with annual tuition requirements.Search:

RankSchool NameStateTuition
1Princeton UniversityNew Jersey$59,710
2Massachusetts
Institute of
Technology
Massachusetts$60,156
3Harvard UniversityMassachusetts$59,076
3Stanford UniversityCalifornia$62,484
5Yale UniversityConnecticut$64,700
6University of
Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania$66,104
7California Institute
of Technology
California$63,255
7Duke UniversityNorth Carolina$66,172
9Brown UniversityRhode Island$68,230
9Johns Hopkins
University
Maryland$63,340

Showing 1 to 10 of 57 entries

MIT places second, and Harvard and Stanford tie for third. Yale rounds out the top five.

Private universities, including seven Ivy League colleges, dominate the top of the rankings. Meanwhile, the highest-ranked public schools are tied at 15th, both state schools in California.

For affordability, since the higher ranks are populated by private universities, there tends to be a broad correlation of better universities being more expensive. That said, the most expensive school in the top 50 ranks is actually the University of Southern California, tied at 28th, for $68,237/year.

As it happens, also tied at 28th, the University of Florida is the most affordable public school for in-state students ($6,381/year) and Florida State University tied at 53rd, is the most affordable for out-of-staters at $21,683/year.

However these costs are tuition-only, and don’t account for other necessary expenses: accommodation, food, and textbooks.

Best University versus Best “Fit”

Finding the best university for prospective students is more than just perusing a long ranking list.

Aside from the numerous schools present within each university—which can often be the best for specific majors—factors like location, proximity to family, campus culture, the non-academic pursuits (sports, extracurriculars, internships) are also taken into consideration.

In fact, research has found that just attaining a university degree improves future earnings potential and employability.

Furthermore, individual engagement at college (irrespective of the rank of the school in question) plays a far bigger role in learning and general well-being than simply attending a highly-ranked school.

However, for low income and minority students, attending a top-ranked school does improve future earnings considerably. For women, it also often results in delaying marriage and kids, which results in more work-hours and as a result, more pay.

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