best colleges

U.S. News & World Report releases 2017 Best Colleges rankings

Princeton, Williams, UC—Berkeley and U.S. Naval Academy take U.S. News' No. 1 spots.

U.S. News & World Report today announced the 2017 Best Colleges rankings to help students worldwide compare the academic quality of more than 1,800 U.S.-based schools. Princeton University remains No. 1 in the Best National Universities category. For the 14th consecutive year, Williams College takes the top spot on the Best National Liberal Arts Colleges list.

California schools and military academies make a strong showing on the Top Public Schools lists. University of California—Berkeley is the No. 1 Top Public School among National Universities for the 19th year; the United States Naval Academy is the No. 1 Top Public School among National Liberal Arts Colleges.

The U.S. News rankings aim to focus on academic excellence, with schools ranked on up to 15 measures of academic quality. Overall, the rankings emphasize student outcomes–including graduation and retention rates–which carry the most weight at 30 percent. The top National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges had significantly higher graduation and freshman retention rates than other schools:

  • The average six-year graduation rate is 95 percent for the top 10 National Universities and 93.9 percent for the top 10 National Liberal Arts Colleges.
  • The average freshman retention rate is 98.1 percent for the top 10 National Universities and 96.6 percent for the top 10 National Liberal Arts Colleges.
  • For comparison, the average six-year graduation rate among all numerically ranked schools on the National Universities list is 71.3 percent, and the average freshman retention rate is 86.9 percent.
  • For comparison, the average six-year graduation rate among all numerically ranked schools on the National Liberal Arts Colleges list is 75.2 percent, and the average freshman retention rate is 85.6 percent.

“I encourage parents and students to use the wealth of data and information in Best Colleges to identify schools that suit their specific needs,” said Brian Kelly, editor and chief content officer of U.S. News. “In addition to considering factors like location and cost, families should pay close attention to graduation and retention rates. These are important indicators of how well a school supports its students both academically and financially. Getting into a good school means nothing if you cannot graduate.”

School profiles include specifics on academic life, financial aid, student body makeup and more. Students can research schools with the most Economic Diversity and Campus Ethnic Diversity, as well as the Most International Students. The rankings also encompass the Best Colleges for Veterans, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Most Innovative Schools and a list of the A-plus Schools for B Students. For students with specific career paths in mind, U.S. News ranks the top schools in undergraduate engineering and business.

(Next page: What’s new this year in the U.S. News Rankings and Methodology; Best Colleges lists)

What’s New?

New this year, U.S. News made a slight change in the way it factors class size in the methodology. Rather than using two components for class size, U.S. News created one index measure that aims to more accurately reflects the varying class sizes across campuses.

“Research has shown that smaller classes foster a productive and positive learning environment,” said Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News. “With this new index measure, U.S. News takes fuller advantage of the data schools provide, while still rewarding schools that make an effort to better serve their students with smaller classes.”

The college ranking categories are based on the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, the most widely accepted classification system in U.S. higher education. In February 2016, Carnegie released official updates–called the “2015 update”–including to the Basic Classification used in the 2017 Best Colleges. As a result, about 12 percent of ranked schools moved into different categories compared with last year. The Carnegie classification system has been used by U.S. News since the first Best Colleges rankings in 1983.

In an exclusive arrangement, the launch of the 2017 Best Colleges is being sponsored by Fidelity Investments. To learn more about the U.S. News College Compass, which provides access to the complete rankings and data, or to order a copy of the “Best Colleges 2017” guidebook (ISBN 978-1-931469-78-4), visit the online U.S. News store.

2017 U.S. News Best Colleges Rankings

National Universities

1. Princeton University (NJ)

2. Harvard University (MA)

3. University of Chicago (IL) (tie)

3. Yale University (CT) (tie)

5. Columbia University (NY) (tie)

5. Stanford University (CA) (tie)

7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

8. Duke University (NC) (tie)

8. University of Pennsylvania (tie)

10. Johns Hopkins University (MD)

National Liberal Arts Colleges

1. Williams College (MA)

2. Amherst College (MA)

3. Wellesley College (MA)

4. Middlebury College (VT) (tie)

4. Swarthmore College (PA) (tie)

6. Bowdoin College (ME)

7. Carleton College (MN) (tie)

7. Pomona College (CA) (tie)

9. Claremont McKenna College (CA) (tie)

9. Davidson College (NC) (tie)

Top Public Schools

National Universities

1. University of California—Berkeley

2. University of California—Los Angeles (tie)

2. University of Virginia (tie)

4. University of Michigan—Ann Arbor

5. University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill

National Liberal Arts Colleges 

1. United States Naval Academy (MD)

2. United States Military Academy (NY)

3. United States Air Force Academy (CO)

4. Virginia Military Institute

5. New College of Florida

For more information, visit Best Colleges and use #BestColleges on Facebook and Twitter.

Material from a press release was used in this report.