#College Essays and Applications

Every year, the US News and World Report publishes its rankings of the top National and Liberal Arts universities in the country. These schools represent some of the most prestigious institutions in the United States and enjoy the benefits of being ranked highly, including low rates of admission and high application numbers. 

The metrics used to rank these individual institutions, however, do not always have the student experience in mind. Below, we’ll cover how US News and World Report ranks institutions, what metrics are important to them—and how you can create your own rankings based on your student’s and family’s needs. 

US News Ranking Metrics

Digging into the data that US News provides shows what the publication values highly in its National College rankings. There are 19 different factors US News uses to calculate a college’s ranking. The data institutions report will determine the weight of each factor: colleges with over 50% of their incoming classes reporting SAT and/or ACT scores follow one weight of the metrics, while metrics for institutions with under 50% have different weights to the same factors. 

US News revised its ranking scheme this year beyond its already edited version from 2020 during the onset of test-optional policies forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. This round of factor revisions was meant to “place greater emphasis on student outcomes” and showcase how each institution helps its students cross the finish line. Indeed, US News added factors like “First-generation graduation rate” and “[Percentage of] college grads earning more than a high school grad,” as well as increasing the weight of factors involving Pell Grant recipient graduation rates. Rather than measuring factors like admission rate, number of applications, or yield rate (how many admitted students eventually enroll), US News is valuing factors that measure student outcomes. However, the biggest factor may be the least relevant to you and your college list. 

Weighted at 20% of the overall ranking, the “Peer Assessment” ranking is the biggest factor in US News’ rankings. Each year, US News sends a survey to top administrators at participating institutions and asks them to rate other schools’ academic offerings on a scale of 1 to 5. If a participant does not know enough about another school’s offerings, they can opt not to respond. For the most recent rankings, 30.8% of the nearly 5,000 academic administrators responded to the survey, meaning that the biggest factor in a college’s ranking comes from others’ opinions, not factors or metrics it can directly influence. 

What Does This Mean for You?

Knowing that rankings have some helpful (and less than helpful) factors, it’s important to view them with a grain of salt. Combined with the idea that the college process is highly personal, coming up with your own list of “Best Colleges” will help you determine what school is right for you

Just because Princeton University is ranked #1 on the National Universities list, it may not be your #1 (or on your list at all!) if you don’t think you’ll like a school with under 6,000 graduates. Meanwhile, a school further down the National Universities list may jump to your #1 spot because of how you connect with its location, community, or academic offerings. 

Creating the factors that play into your own rankings can help you narrow down and prioritize your college list. What are the factors that are important to you? Are factors that US News and World Report measures, like graduation rates or first-year retention rates, important to you? Or are other factors like weather, social fit, distance from home, or the presence of a water polo team taking priority? Remember that you’ll spend four years not just going to class but living in these places, so there’s no right or wrong answer when creating your personal college rankings. 

When in doubt, you can talk to people you trust about how to consider what factors are important to you. People like your family, your counselor, and your essay coach can be helpful in pointing you in the right direction on how to create your own college rankings. If you’re ready to get started with us, click here to begin the process