U.S. News & World Report today announced the 2018 Best Colleges rankings to try and help prospective students and their families research more than 1,800 U.S.- based universities. Princeton University is No. 1 for Best National Universities for the seventh year in a row. For the 15th consecutive year, Williams College takes the top spot for Best National Liberal Arts Colleges.

California schools and military academies perform strongly in this year’s top public universities rankings. For the first time, the University of California—Los Angeles moves up to No. 1 for Top Public Schools among National Universities, tying with the University of California—Berkeley. The United States Military Academy ranks No. 1 for Top Public Schools among National Liberal Arts Colleges.

U.S. News says the rankings methodology focuses on academic excellence, with schools evaluated on hundreds of data points and up to 15 measures of academic quality. Overall, the rankings emphasize student outcomes–such as graduation and freshman retention rates – which carry the most weight at 30 percent. The top National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges have significantly higher graduation and freshman retention rates than other schools:

  • The average six-year graduation rate is 96 percent for the top 10 National Universities and 92.5 percent for the top 10 National Liberal Arts Colleges.
  • The average freshman retention rate is 98.3 percent for the top 10 National Universities and 96.5 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 71.7 percent, and the average freshman retention rate is 87.2 percent.
  • For comparison, the average six-year graduation rate among all numerically ranked schools on the National Liberal Arts Colleges list is 75.7 percent, and the average freshman retention rate is 85.7 percent.

“Before taking out student loans or writing a tuition check, families should research graduation and retention rates. These are important indicators of how well a school supports its students both academically and financially,” said Brian Kelly, editor and chief content officer of U.S. News, in a statement. “Colleges that saddle students with debt but do little to support them through graduation are contributing to a vicious cycle – without that valuable degree, students will have a difficult time landing well-paying jobs and repaying their loans, which puts them in a precarious financial situation early on in their careers.”

New This Year

For the first time, U.S. News is offering postgraduate salary information on 1,000 schools. Using data provided by PayScale, U.S. News is displaying alumni salary information on school profile pages. Subscribers to the U.S. News College Compass, which provides access to the complete rankings and data, will also see salaries broken down by major per school. Additionally, the Compass tool includes salary data U.S. News collected directly from colleges on the 2015-16 graduating class. Salary was not a factor in determining the rankings.

“We’ve previously provided rich information on college location, size, academic programs, student life, cost, diversity, campus safety and more, but families and students have increasingly asked for more data on salary and potential earnings,” said Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News, in a statement. “We wanted to make this information easily available to them, but stress that it should be considered as one factor among many when deciding where to attend college.”

Also, U.S. News made a slight change in the methodology for National Universities to try and better predict graduation rates. In determining whether a school is graduating students at the expected level, U.S. News incorporated the proportion of degrees awarded in the STEM fields. This was done to better reflect research showing that students in STEM fields generally graduate at lower rates compared with those in other majors.

Finally, U.S. News altered the methodology for the Best Colleges for Veterans rankings to try and more accurately capture the schools that serve veterans and active service members in making college more affordable. New this year, a school must have enrolled a minimum of 20 veterans and active service members in the 2016-17 academic year to qualify for the rankings.

Beyond the overall rankings, 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 Value Schools, 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: The 2018 best colleges)


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