Alternatives to U.S. News' College Rankings

Most students and their families researching colleges reach for the U.S. News & World Report College Rankings. Used wisely, the U.S. News lists can be helpful. But there are some other rankings, determined with differing methodologies, which are equally useful.


1.  Washington Monthly is emerging as the thinking person’s chief alternative to U.S. News. The Monthly’s rankings are based on research, service and social mobility. Top three:

  • University of California, San Diego
  • University of California, Riverside
  • Texas A&M
  • Honorable Mentions: Bryn Mawr (PA), Carleton (MN), Berea (KY)


2. The StartEngine College Index measures the Investment Per Founder (IPF) by college. Or, they look at people who have started businesses, added up how much money each entrepreneur raised from other people to start the business, and then identified each entrepreneur’s alma mater. The top three schools by median investment:

  • Northwestern (IL), $10,400,000
  • University of Maryland, $10,275,000
  • Princeton (NJ), $10,107,500
  • Honorable Mentions: Yale (CT), Stanford (CA), Syracuse (NY)


3.  The Project on Student Debt monitors college’s financial aid policies. If you plan to file for financial aid, their website is a must read. In 2010 (check for updates), colleges which meet full calculated financial need without loans regardless of parent income were:

  • Amherst (MA)
  • Bowdoin (ME)
  • Claremont McKenna (CA)
  • Colby (ME)
  • Dartmouth (NH)
  • Davidson (NC)
  • Georgia Tech
  • Harvard (MA)
  • Haverford (PA)
  • Middlebury (VT)
  • Princeton (NJ)
  • Stanford (CA)
  • Penn
  • Vanderbilt (TN)
  • Williams (MA)
  • Yale (CT)


4.  The National Science Foundation follows colleges that graduate the highest percentage of students who within 9 years earn a PhD in Science and Engineering. Top three:

  • Cal Tech
  • Harvey Mudd (CA)
  • MIT
  • Honorable Mentions: Reed (OR), Swarthmore (PA), University of Chicago


5.  Forbes magazine measures colleges by several yardsticks, including student diversity. Top three colleges for diversity:

  • Rutgers (NJ)
  • University of Houston
  • City University of New York, City College
  • Honorable Mentions: University of San Francisco, Stony Brook University (NY), St John’s College (MD and NM)


6.  Fulbright Scholars are selected each year on the basis of academic achievement, leadership, adaptability, and the strength of a project proposal. Fulbright alumni have become Nobel Prize winners (43) and Pulitzer Prizes (78). In 2013, the top three schools graduating the most Fulbright Scholars were:

Public Universities

  • Ohio State (12)
  • University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (10)
  • Texas Tech and University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (9, tied)
  • Honorable Mentions: University of Florida, University of Colorado Boulder, Oregon State.

Private Universities

  • MIT (6)
  • New York University, St. Louis University, Boston University (5, tied)
  • Honorable Mentions: DePaul (IL), Emory (GA), New School (NY)


7.  The Times of London evaluates colleges worldwide using multiple criteria. Schools judged to carry the best international reputations are Harvard (founded 1636), MIT (founded 1861) and University of Cambridge (founded 1209). Reputations are built over time. But what of schools founded more recently? The Times identified schools founded fewer than 50 years ago. Among American colleges, The Times’ top picks are:

  • University of California, Irvine
  • University of California, Santa Cruz
  • University of Texas, Dallas
  • Honorable Mentions: George Mason (VA), Florida International University, University of Illinois, Chicago


8.  PayScale tracks the median starting salaries of college graduates. Their top 20 are exclusively engineering schools; the top three are:

  • Harvey Mudd, $73,300
  • MIT, $68,600
  • Cal Tech, $68,400
  • Honorable Mentions of the top three non-engineering schools: Stanford, Lehigh (PA), Babson (MA). 
    • Note: Stanford and Lehigh have substantial engineering programs


9.  Do you have to go to Harvard College to go to Harvard Law School? No. The alma maters of students entering Harvard Law School in 2013 include:

Liberal Arts Colleges

  • Dickinson (PA)
  • University of San Diego
  • Sarah Lawrence (NY)

Research Universities

  • Tulane (LA)
  • Virginia Polytechnic
  • University of Arizona


10.  A Rhodes Scholarship is the uber-finish to a college education. This year American Scholars came from 28 colleges. Top three: 

  • Harvard (MA) and Yale (CT), 5 (tied)
  • Cornell (NY), Stanford (CA), US Naval Academy (MD), 2 (tied)
  • Honorable Mentions: Brown (RI), University of Virginia, Montana State.


11. Then there is the glee factor. Of the students I’ve worked with, the top three admissions that prompted the most hooting, hollering, incoherent but happy phone calls, tears and parent gratitude have been:

  • Carleton
  • Oregon State
  • Yale