• P.O. Box 2061 Princeton, New Jersey 08543
1.609.608.6258 Contact Us
December 1, 2019

What Makes a Good College Anyway?


College application season is in full swing. High school seniors from around the country and around the world are gearing up to begin writing their college personal statements and narrowing those college lists. But, what constitutes a good college? There are numerous ranking lists, US News, Forbes, Times Higher Education, NICHE and QS to name a few. The US News was the first and is by far the most popular college ranking platform. So let’s take a look at several of these college ranking methodologies and find out what makes a college good, or even better, what makes a college great?

Key Points

US News

Beginning with the most popular brand on the market, US News. They were the first, established in the 1980’s. It started as merely an article in a magazine. Yet, the concept caught on like wildfire. The concept of college rankings has evolved into a full-fledged stand-alone magazine. There are over 4000 colleges and universities in the United States. US News currently ranks the following at the top:

1. Princeton University

2. Harvard University

3. Columbia University

3. MIT

3. Yale University

6. Stanford University

6. University of Chicago

6. University of Pennsylvania

US News uses the following criteria to rank the colleges on its list.

  • Outcomes
    • Freshman retention rate
    • 6-year Graduation rate
    • Social Mobility: Pell Grant recipient’s graduation rate
  • Faculty Resources
    • Small Class Size
    • Faculty Salary
    • Faculty with the highest degree in their field (i.e. PhD)
  • Expert Opinion/Peer Assessment
    • High school counselors
    • College presidents
  • Financial Resources
    • Generous per-student spending on instruction, research, student services and related educational expenditures, excluding sports, dorms and hospitals
  • Student Excellence
    • Accepting students that perform well in rigorous academic/scholarly environments
    • High GPA/scores
  • Alumni Giving

US News ranks numerous categories, including National Universities, Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional, Global and Public Universities. It is the most popular ranking service. It’s arguable whether it is the best. Another interesting point is that each of the rankings has a different list. Some are similar and some are vastly different.

The Big Picture

The take home message is that colleges rankings are not perfect, and are not the gospel. While they may be a nice place to start, too much emphasis cannot be placed on them. I can cite two students that regretted their decision to attend “great” universities. One young lady from Atlanta, Georgia earned an acceptance to Harvard. She accepted. However, the frigid New England Winters and homesick being far away from family and friends, she suffered greatly choosing to go to Harvard for the prestige and not because it was the best fit for her. Another teenager dropped out of NYU because she could not adapt to the impersonal, frantic “big city” environment and the amorphous campus of NYU. Student satisfaction is more about finding the right fit than some organization’s ranking list. Be careful what you ask for!

If applying to premier colleges appeals to you, give us a call at Ivy Bound. We can help!