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Frequently Asked Questions: Rankings
Corrected on 08/28/09: An earlier version of this article misstated the publication date for the 2008 Paying for College issue. It was published Sept. 17, 2007.
- Why rank colleges?
- Are the rankings objective and fair?
- Why are rankings helpful in choosing a college?
How U.S. News ranks colleges
- In brief, how does U.S. News rank colleges?
- Does U.S. News rank all colleges and universities?
- Why does the methodology change most years?
- What changes, if any, were made this year to the methodology and the rankings?
- Does U.S. News collect important data on student engagement and programs that enhance learning?
- Why does U.S. News classify colleges into different categories before ranking them? How are the categories defined?
- What are National Universities?
- What are Liberal Arts Colleges?
- What are Universities-Master's and Baccalaureate Colleges?
- What are tiers, and why are some schools listed in tiers and not number ranked?
- What measures of academic quality does U.S. News use in its rankings?
- Where do the data used in the rankings come from?
- Which measure of quality is most important?
- How did U.S. News decide how much weight to give each indicator in its ranking formula?
- Why did my school's rank go up (or down) this year?
- Why do private schools fare better than publics in the U.S. News rankings?
- Why doesn't U.S. News rank undergraduate specialty schools in fine arts, engineering, and business?
- Does U.S. News consider economic diversity in its rankings?
Using the rankings
- What is the best way for students and their parents to use the rankings?
- How can I find the rank of a particular school?
- How can I find out a school's rank from last year (or an earlier year)?
- If a school goes up or down in the rankings, does it mean the school is getting better or worse?
- How can I compare a school in one category with one in a different category?
- How can I compare two schools in the same category but different regions?
Why U.S. Newsranks colleges
Why rank colleges? A college education is one of the most important—and one of the most costly—investments that prospective students will ever make. For this reason, the editors of U.S. News believe that students and their families should have as much information as possible about the comparative merits of the educational programs at America's colleges and universities. The data we gather on America's colleges—and the rankings of the schools that arise from these data—serve as an objective guide by which students and their parents can compare the academic quality of schools. When consumers purchase a car or a computer, this sort of information is readily available. We think it's even more important that comparative data help people make informed decisions about an education that at some private universities is now approaching a total cost of more than $200,000 including tuition, room, board, required fees, books, transportation, and other personal expenses.
Are the rankings objective and fair? We do our utmost to make sure they are. Each school's rank (within its group of peer institutions) is based on the same set of quality measures. Furthermore, 75 percent of a school's ranking is based on a formula that uses objective measures of academic quality such as graduation rates. The remaining 25 percent is based on a peer assessment survey. U.S. News asks the president, provost, and dean of admissions at each school to rate the quality of the academic programs for schools in the same ranking category, including their own. (Those unfamiliar with a particular school are asked to check a box labeled "Don't know.") Peer assessments are subjective, but they are also important—a diploma from a distinguished college can help a graduate get good jobs and gain admission to top-notch graduate programs, just as a high school's reputation can help or harm an applicant's chances of getting into a good college.
Why are rankings helpful in choosing a college? Rankings are helpful to applicants because they rate the strength of the academic program at each undergraduate institution. As such, the rankings give applicants information on a key factor to consider when selecting a college. Furthermore, the rankings are based on accepted measures of academic quality chosen after careful reporting and research on measuring quality in education. U.S. News takes pains to gather data in a uniform way and eliminate any gaps. Finally, the rankings condense a great deal of information about the quality of the education at each school, making it easier to compare institutions and select the best one for an individual.
How U.S. News ranks colleges
In brief, how does U.S. News rank colleges? To rank colleges, U.S. News first places each school into a category based on its mission (research university or liberal arts college) and—for universities offering a range of master's programs and colleges focusing on undergraduate education without a particular emphasis on the liberal arts—by location (North, South, Midwest, and West). Universities where there is a focus on research and that offer several doctoral programs are ranked separately from liberal arts colleges, and master's universities and baccalaureate colleges are compared against other schools in the same group and region. Second, we gather data from and about each school in 15 areas related to academic excellence. Each indicator is assigned a weight (expressed as a percentage) based on our judgments about which measures of quality matter most. Third, the colleges are ranked based on their composite weighted score. We publish the numeric rank of roughly the top half of schools in each of the 10 categories; the remaining schools are placed into the third and fourth tiers, listed alphabetically, based on their overall score in their category.
Does U.S. News rank all colleges and universities? Not quite. To be included in the rankings, a college or university must be regionally accredited and have a total enrollment of at least 200 students. Also, we do not rank certain schools for school-specific reasons, such as cases where the undergraduate student population consists almost entirely of nontraditional students. In addition, 58 of the approximately 1,400 accredited institutions in the United States are specialty institutions that offer most or all of their degrees in fine arts, performing arts, business, or engineering. We also have gathered information on over 450 schools that include some nontraditional and international students; these schools are not ranked. This year, however, we are ranking 437 accredited undergraduate business programs and 367 accredited undergraduate engineering programs. This information can supplement the colleges' overall rankings for students with an interest in these majors.
For the third year in a row, we have created groups of unranked schools that we have listed alphabetically in separate tables at the bottom of the category in which they would have been ranked. We have been doing this to some degree since 1990. U.S. News believes that because these schools are unable to report key educational characteristics or because they have certain other characteristics, it would be unfair to try to compare them statistically with the other schools that are part of the rankings. For the third year in a row, those institutions that have indicated that they don't use the SAT or ACT in admissions decisions for first-time, first-year, degree-seeking applicants were included in the list of unranked schools. In addition, some schools were not ranked because they didn't receive enough responses on the peer assessment survey to allow us to use their peer score as part of the overall ranking. Other types of schools have been unranked in previous years and continue to be unranked this year. They include schools with total enrollment of fewer than 200 students; schools where a vast proportion of students are nontraditional; colleges that don't accept first-year students, sometimes called upper-division schools; private universities that are for-profit; and a few specialized schools in arts, business, or engineering. (These schools are classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as "Special Focus Institutions.")
Why does the methodology change most years? U.S. News refines its methodology for one simple reason: to improve it. Yet, there is an active and ongoing debate about how best to measure quality in education. U.S. News pays close attention to that debate. When new ideas for measuring quality are proposed, we evaluate them carefully and make changes to ensure that we provide the best possible rankings to our readers. For example, over time, the ranking model has put less emphasis on input measures of quality (which look at characteristics of the students, faculty, and other resources going into the educational process) and more emphasis on output measures (which look at the results of the educational process). This shift was consistent with the increased emphasis that educators, researchers, and policymakers have placed on results when comparing and evaluating educational programs.
First, in the America's Best Colleges 2010 edition of the ranking the computations to compute the admissions test scores ranking variable now uses the combined scores of both the Critical Reading and Math portions of the SAT and the Composite ACT score for all the fall 2008 entering class. Why are we now using scores for all entering students? In order to better represent the entire entering class, we are now using a value that takes into account the Critical Reading and Math portions of the SAT and the Composite ACT of all entering students. This change in the methodology also makes for a better comparison between schools since the test scores of all entering students from one school are now being compared to the test scores all entering students from another. Another reason for the change is that more and more colleges have students who are submitting either the SAT or the ACT tests (in some cases students submit both tests to a school) and we needed to measure and compare all the students at a school not just those who were taking one test. Previously, the ranking methodology to compute admission tests scores used only the test scores—either the SAT or ACT not both—of the test that had the majority of enrolled students taking it.
As part of this change, U.S. News raised the percentage threshold of enrolled freshmen submitting test scores needed by each school in order to not get a 10 percent discounted test score in the ranking model to needing two thirds submitting SAT and/or ACT scores up from 50 percent of one score previously.
We believe that this methodology change did not impact the ranking-either up or down —of virtually all the schools in the rankings.
In our ongoing effort to make our America's Best Colleges guide as useful and informative as possible to our readers, U.S. News has introduced one new feature in the 2010 edition of the rankings and has continued publishing others.
For the first time, in the spring of 2009, U.S. News asked top academics as part of the regular U.S. News peer assessment survey to name the schools that they think have faculty which have an unusually strong "commitment to undergraduate teaching." These new rankings are the schools whose faculty and administrators have placed a special emphasis on teaching undergraduate students and are committed to teaching undergraduate students in a quality manner. How was this new rankings done? College presidents, provosts, and admissions deans were asked to nominate up to 10 colleges in their U.S. News America's Best Colleges ranking category with a "commitment to undergraduate teaching."
This item on the peer survey enabled college officials to pick schools within their U.S. News America's Best Colleges ranking category that are best known for teaching undergraduates that the public should be aware of and that are not always noticeable in a college's regular peer assessment survey results and the U.S. News America's Best Colleges ranking.
The "commitment to undergraduate teaching" rankings are based solely on the responses to this section of the peer survey. The lists, organized by U.S. News ranking categories, contain the 80 colleges that received the most nominations by top college officials for having an unusually strong "commitment to undergraduate teaching." They are ranked in descending order based on the number of nominations they received.
The for second year in a row ,in our continuing response to the criticism that the academic peer assessment survey filled out by college administrators is too slow to pick up improvements at colleges U.S. News is publishing a new list of "Up-and-Coming Institutions." How was this ranking done? U.S. News asked top academics in spring 2009 to name schools that they thought were are "Up-and-Coming Institutions." College presidents, provosts, and admissions deans were asked "to nominate up to 10 colleges that are making improvements in academics, faculty, students, campus life, diversity, and facilities. These schools are ones that are worth watching because they are making promising and innovative changes." We have published the top 77 schools that received the most nominations for being an "Up-and-Coming Institution" in their U.S. News ranking category.
We are republishing on usnews.com our first-ever ranking of colleges and universities by high school counselors that were first published on August 21, 2008. These rankings of colleges by high school counselors were not updated for this year's Best Colleges rankings. How was this ranking done? U.S.News & World Report in spring 2008 for the first time asked a nationwide cross section of high school counselors from public schools for their views on undergraduate programs at American colleges and universities. Since we started compiling the America's Best Colleges rankings more than 20 years ago, high school counselors have frequently asked why we don't seek more input from them. "We know a lot about colleges, and we play a key gatekeeper role in the college admissions process," they say. We agree. The opinions that high school counselors have about the merits of the nation's leading colleges will provide a very valuable source of information for prospective students, their parents, and our readers.
The high school counselors we asked to participate were all from the 1,600 public high schools nationwide that made the December 2007 U.S.News & World Report's America's Best High Schools rankings. One U.S. News survey to rate colleges in the national universities category was sent to one counselor at each of 800 of these high schools nationwide, and a separate survey to rate colleges in the liberal arts colleges category was sent to one counselor at each of the other 800 schools.
The responses by high school counselors produced two separate rankings, one for schools in the national universities category and the other in the liberal arts colleges category.
Does U.S. News collect important data on student engagement and programs that enhance learning? U.S. News does publish student response data from the National Survey of Student Engagement. NSSE asks freshmen and seniors at participating schools to answer questions about their educational experiences—their classroom participation, interaction with faculty, and time spent on various enriching activities, for example. The goal is to help schools see how engaged their students are in activities that lead to learning. Since the NSSE project was launched in 1999 by George Kuh at Indiana University (with the support of the Pew Charitable Trusts and sponsorship by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching), about 1,300 four-year schools have turned in answers to the 89-question survey. While most schools have not made the results available to the public, many were happy to provide U.S. News with seniors' responses to a few survey questions. The percentages we show for these answers may not add to 100 because of rounding. In spring and summer 2009, U.S. News asked 724 colleges that participated in NSSE's 2008 poll to provide seniors' responses to 22 of the survey's questions. Those colleges that have responded have their data posted on our web site. The student response rate is for both freshmen and seniors.
Also, for the eighth year in a row, U.S. News is publishing an alphabetical listing of schools with outstanding examples of academic programs that lead to student success. With the help of numerous education experts, including staff members of the Association of American Colleges and Universities who focus on quality initiatives in higher education, we identified eight types of programs that have been shown to enhance learning. The programs include internships/co-ops, senior capstone, first-year experience, undergraduate research/creative projects, learning communities, study abroad, service learning, and writing in the disciplines. We then invited college presidents, chief academic officers, deans of students, and deans of admissions to nominate up to 10 institutions with stellar examples of each. Colleges and universities that received the most votes are listed alphabetically on tables online.
Why does U.S. News classify colleges into different categories before ranking them? How are the categories defined? The purpose of grouping colleges into categories is to compare schools with similar missions. For example, schools that offer graduate programs and emphasize research are generally in different categories from colleges that focus exclusively on teaching undergraduates. To define the categories, we used the 2006 Basic classification system developed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, an accepted classification system in higher education. U.S. News collapses nine of the Carnegie categories into four: national universities, liberal arts colleges, universities-master's, and baccalaureate colleges. The universities-master's and baccalaureate colleges are placed into one of four geographic categories (North, South, Midwest, and West).
What are National Universities? There are 262 national universities—164 public, 98 private—based on the 2006 Basic categories established by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. National universities offer a full range of undergraduate majors as well as master's and doctoral degrees. In many cases, they place strong emphasis on research and receive federal money to support their research endeavors.
What are Liberal Arts Colleges? There are 266 liberal arts colleges, 28 of them public. These schools emphasize undergraduate education. To be included, colleges must award at least 50 percent of their degrees in liberal arts disciplines, such as languages and literature, biology and life sciences, philosophy, cultural studies, and psychology.
What are Universities-Master's and Baccalaureate Colleges? Like national universities, universities-master's offer a full range of undergraduate programs and provide graduate education at the master's level. However, they differ by offering few, if any, doctoral programs. Of the 572 master's universities, 254 are public. The words Universities-Master's are a U.S. News label for a category of schools. The America's Best Colleges rankings for the schools in the Universities-Master's category are of the entire school focusing on each school's undergraduate program. The rankings of schools in the Universities-Master's category are not of any the master's programs at any school and do not represent graduate level education. No master's programs are ranked in Universities-Master's category.
The 319 baccalaureate colleges, including 76 public institutions, focus on undergraduate education but grant fewer than 50 percent of their degrees in liberal arts disciplines. The baccalaureate colleges category includes institutions where at least 10 percent of the undergraduate degrees awarded are bachelor's.
What are tiers three and four, and why are some schools listed in tiers and not number ranked? Why is tier two missing? In order to focus on the best schools, U.S. News publishes the numbered rankings of approximately the top 50 percent of schools in each of the categories. The remaining schools are placed in tiers or broad groups, based on their overall score in their category (the third and fourth tiers), and listed alphabetically.
Tier 3 is approximately the next 25 percent of schools that are just beneath the numbered ranked schools in the top half in terms of their rankings in that category. In other words, schools listed in Tier 3 are ranked lower than those in the top-half but are ranked higher than those in Tier 4. Tier 4 schools are the bottom 25 percent of schools in that category in terms of their rankings. In other words, in that particular group of schools the Tier 4 schools are the lowest ranked.
Why does U.S. News no longer publish a separate Tier 2? Tier 2 schools are now part of the top half each category of schools which are numbered ranked and therefore there is no longer a separate group called Tier 2. U.S. News wants to emphasize the top half of each category and felt it was no longer neccesary to have separate Tier 2.
What measures of academic quality does U.S. News use in its rankings? Indicators used to measure academic quality fall into seven broad areas: peer assessment; retention and graduation of students; faculty resources; student selectivity; financial resources; alumni giving; and (for national universities and liberal arts colleges) "graduation rate performance," the difference between the proportion of students expected to graduate and the proportion who do. The indicators include both "input measures," which reflect the quality of students, faculty, and other resources used in education, and "outcome measures," which signal how well the institution educates its student body.
Where do the data used in the rankings come from? Schools report most of the information directly to us. Each year, U.S. News sends an extensive questionnaire to all accredited four-year colleges and universities. U.S. News is a founding member of the Common Data Set initiative. U.S. News incorporates items from the CDS and unique proprietary items on its survey. When the surveys are returned, we enter and evaluate the data, checking for possible errors and consistency with related information. For example, SAT scores must fall in a particular range, and the score reported as the 25th percentile must be less than the score reported as the 75th percentile. Where possible, we double-check the data with information from other sources. For example, statistics about faculty salaries are compared with information collected by the American Association of University Professors. For schools that don't return the questionnaires or don't answer all the questions, U.S. News uses comparable data from the Council for Aid to Education, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and the National Center for Education Statistics, data collected by U.S. News in previous years, and data pulled from those schools' own websites.
Which measure of quality is most important? First, remember that each measure that U.S. News uses in its rankings captures some important dimension of the academic program. The weight (expressed as a percentage) tells you the relative importance that U.S. News places on each measure. For national universities and liberal arts colleges, the U.S. News ranking formula gives the most weight (25 percent) to peer assessment scores, because a diploma from a distinguished college helps graduates get good jobs or gain admission to top-notch graduate programs. (Synovate, a Chicago-based opinion-research firm, collected the peer assessment data.) For these schools, the faculty resources and the graduation and retention measures are also weighted relatively highly (20 percent). For universities-master's and baccalaureate colleges, the ranking formula gives the peer assessment and the graduation and retention measures a weight of 25 percent each. Graduation and retention are given a higher weight (compared with the national universities and liberal arts colleges categories) because the ranking formula for the other categories includes an additional indicator related to them: graduation rate performance. When this indicator was introduced, it was given a weight of 5 percent, resulting in a corresponding reduction in the weight given to graduation and retention. We recommend that prospective students consider which indicators are especially important to them and look at those individual elements as well as the school's overall rank. (The website's search and sort capabilities make it simple to locate schools that are strong in a particular area.)
How did U.S. News decide how much weight to give each indicator in its ranking formula? Analysts at U.S. News have chosen the weights used in the ranking formula. Our views of the appropriate weights may differ from those of other higher-education experts. The weights were chosen based on years of reporting about education, on reviews of research about education, and after consultation with experts in higher education. Over time, we have placed greater weight on the "outcome" measures of quality (such as graduation rate) and de-emphasized the "input" measures (such as entering test scores and financial resources). This change is consistent with a growing emphasis by education experts on "outcomes" in assessing the performance of complex institutions such as colleges.
In a few cases a school's rank may have changed because its Carnegie category changed and therefore its U.S. News ranking category changed. How will you be able to tell whether a school has changed ranking categories or is new to the rankings for 2010? We have clearly footnoted schools that have switched categories since last year's America's Best Colleges or that appear in our rankings for the first time.
Also, a college's rank changes when its performance and its data (relative to one of its peers) varies on one or more measures of academic quality. In other words, a school's rank can vary because its performance on a measure changes or because the performance of other schools in the same peer group changes. You can compare the data on specific indicators from this year and last year to get some idea of the possible reason for the change. In addition, some changes in rank reflect changes in the U.S. News methodology, which have been made to improve the quality of the rankings. This may make it hard to identify the precise cause of a change.
Why do private schools fare better than publics in the U.S. News rankings? Overall, private colleges and universities do better on several measures in our ranking model, including student selectivity, graduation and retention rates, and class size. Because of their mission to serve students in their state, publics generally don't score as high on selectivity as private colleges that have more stringent admissions standards. In addition, public colleges and universities tend to have lower graduation and retention rates and larger classes. Finally, the public schools often lack the financial resources of the better-endowed private universities.
U.S. News does publish separate rankings of the top public schools in each category.
Why doesn't U.S. News rank undergraduate specialty schools in fine arts, engineering, and business? Fifty-eight of the approximately 1,400 accredited undergraduate institutions in the United States fall into a specialty category because they award most or all of their degrees in fine arts, performing arts, business, or engineering. These schools offer an important alternative for students aspiring to careers in particular fields. U.S. News provides pertinent data for each school but does not rank these institutions because there are too few in each category to allow a fair comparison and because their specialized focus would require a different system of ranking. However, U.S. News does rank 437 undergraduate business programs accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and 367 undergraduate engineering programs accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. These rankings are based solely on peer assessment surveys that were sent in the spring of 2009. The results of this survey are available on our website.
Does U.S. News consider economic diversity in its rankings? For the third year in a row, we have included the proportion of the student body receiving Pell grants in our predicted graduation rate formula. Pell grants are an important indicator of how many low-income students attend a school, and adding them resulted in a model that better captures the school's student body and improves that indicator. More about Pell grants can be found in our Economic Diversity table.
Using the rankings
What is the best way for students and their parents to use the rankings? Students can use the rankings to create an initial list of schools to consider, to narrow down that list, and to compare overall academic quality. Students can also use the data underlying the rankings to identify schools with specific characteristics that they value. However, the editors of U.S. News believe rankings are only one of many criteria students should consider in choosing a college. Simply because a school is top in its category does not mean it is the top choice for everyone. A prospective student's academic and professional ambitions, personal preferences, financial resources, and scholastic record, as well as a school's size, atmosphere, and location, should play major roles in determining a college choice. Moreover, it is crucial to remember that schools separated by only a few places in the rankings are extremely close in academic quality.
How can I find the rank of a particular school? It's easy! U.S. News publishes the rankings in three places: in the September issue of the magazine; in a separate college guidebook, the 2010 Edition America's Best Colleges (available for purchase at newsstands, by calling 1-800-836-6397, or in our Online Store); and on our website, usnews.com (with a Premium Online Edition available, too). The magazine issue contains some of the rankings of national universities, liberal arts colleges-bachelor's, and top-ranked universities-master's and baccalaureate colleges, as well as information about quality indicators used in the rankings. If you are using the college guidebook (the most complete print version of the rankings), the index, where the schools are listed alphabetically, gives page numbers of any table in which a particular school appears. The index also shows the page number for the school's entry in our directory, which is filled with facts about each college and university. The website has the most complete data and, in some cases, more extended rankings than are published in the guidebook. If you are using our website's college search, simply type in the full name of the school (make sure you spell it correctly) and click on "Search." That will take you to our online directory. The website also has search and sort features to help customize a college search. If you can't find a particular school, make sure to see that you are looking under the right category. The school may be too small (enrollment below 200) or too specialized to be ranked—although we do provide data on these institutions in the guidebook and on the Web. For those interested in the most comprehensive data on each school and the most extensive rankings in each category, the Premiun Online Edition has all of that.
How can I find out a school's rank from last year (or an earlier year)?You can look it up in a past issue. Bear in mind that changes in a school's rank may reflect changes in other schools' performance or changes in our methods and not just changes in the school's programs. For this reason, we encourage prospective students to focus on the current rank of schools they are considering. If you do want to track down a back issue—despite this warning—here are the publication dates for all the issues or online publication dates of America's Best Colleges and Best College Values/Paying for College:
|2008 America's Best Colleges||8/27/2007|
|2007 America's Best Colleges||8/28/2006|
|2006 America's Best Colleges||8/29/2005|
|2005 America's Best Colleges||8/30/2004|
|2004 America's Best Colleges||9/01/2003|
|2003 America's Best Colleges||9/23/2002|
|2002 America's Best Colleges||9/17/2001|
|2001 America's Best Colleges||9/11/2000|
|2000 America's Best Colleges||8/30/1999|
|1999 America's Best Colleges||8/31/1998|
|1998 America's Best Colleges||9/01/1997|
|1997 America's Best Colleges||9/16/1996|
|1996 America's Best Colleges||9/18/1995|
|1995 America's Best Colleges||9/26/1994|
|1994 America's Best Colleges||10/4/1993|
|1993 America's Best Colleges||9/28/1992|
|1992 America's Best Colleges||9/30/1991|
|1991 America's Best Colleges||10/15/1990|
|1990 America's Best Colleges||10/16/1989|
|1989 America's Best Colleges||10/10/1988|
|1988 America's Best Colleges||10/26/1987|
|1986 The Best Colleges in America||11/25/1985|
|1984 Rating the Colleges||11/28/1983|
|2008 Paying for College||9/17/2007|
|2007 Paying for College||9/18/2006|
|2006 Paying for College||9/05/2005|
|2005 Paying for College||9/06/2004|
|2004 Paying for College||9/08/2003|
|2003 Paying for College||9/30/2002|
|2002 Best College Values/Paying for College||10/1/2001|
|2002 Saving for College||7/30/2001|
|2001 Best College Values/Paying for College||9/18/2000|
|2000 Best College Values/Paying for College||9/06/1999|
|1999 Best College Values/Paying for College||9/07/1998|
|1998 Best College Values/Paying for College||9/08/1997|
|1997 Best College Values/Paying for College||9/23/1996|
|1996 Best College Values/Paying for College||9/25/1995|
|1995 Best College Values/Paying for College||10/3/1994|
|1994 Best College Values/Paying for College||10/11/1993|
If a school goes up or down in the rankings, does it mean the school is getting better or worse? Don't jump to this conclusion. Again, changes in a school's rank may reflect changes in other schools' performance or changes in our methods and not just changes in the school's programs. This year, a school's rank may have changed because its Carnegie category changed and therefore its U.S. News ranking category changed. How will you be able to tell whether a school has changed ranking categories or is new to the rankings for 2010? We have clearly footnoted schools that have switched categories since last year's America's Best Colleges or that appear in our rankings for the first time.
Our primary objective is to serve students searching for the best school for them. With this goal in mind, we have worked with education experts to refine and evolve our ranking system over time. For instance, our ranking model now puts less emphasis on the qualifications of students entering the school as freshmen (such as average high school class rank). Instead, we now put more emphasis on data that indicate how well each school is educating students once they enroll—such as the percentage of a college's entering class that returns for a second year. Because of such methodological changes, we suggest that college applicants focus on a school's current rank.
How can I compare a school in one category with one in a different category? You can't really compare the rank of schools in different categories, but you can compare schools by the attributes that are most important to you, such as graduation rates or class size. (The exception is the peer assessment score. Peer assessment data are not comparable because we survey different individuals about the schools in each category.) You should also consider such things as the size of each school, the degrees the school offers, and other things that are important to you.