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Why the US College Rankings are designed for students

A guide to how the US College Rankings answer the most important questions students ask about universities

  • Rankings
  • Rankings for Students
May 11 2021
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The US College Rankings by The Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education provide an entirely new perspective on which universities in America offer the best student experience.

Unlike rankings that reward universities for selectivity in admissions and indicators of prestige, the methodology is designed to measure how well universities perform in the areas that students care about the most, such as staff interaction, graduate outcomes and course content.

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The 15 individual performance indicators are grouped into four key areas: resources, engagement, outcomes and environment.

The engagement pillar is mostly derived from a huge student survey taken by approximately 200,000 college students across the US. The questions address the types of concerns that both parents and prospective students will have when choosing which college to attend. The engagement pillar makes up 20 per cent of the final ranking. 

Such questions include: does the college have sufficient resources to teach me properly? Will I be engaged, and challenged, by my teachers and classmates? What type of campus community is there? How likely am I to graduate, pay off my loans and get a good job?

The results of the US College Rankings differ significantly from the World University Rankings because of the different metrics that are used to evaluate universities.

While the World University Rankings are a useful starting point for an overview of research and teaching excellence, and also provide an insight into university reputation, the College Rankings delve deeper into how rich the student experience at a US institution is. 

Additionally, using data from the College Rankings and responses to the student survey, THE Student will be publishing yet more cuts of the ranking to help students understand the landscape of US universities in detail. These include the best public universities in the US, the best liberal arts colleges, which colleges students are the most likely to recommend, the most academically challenging universities and the most social US universities, among many others. 

We will also be breaking down the best universities by different states (New York, California, Massachusetts, Florida, Texas among others) and areas of the country (east coast, west coast, midwest and south). This way, no matter what you are looking for from a US university, THE Student will have the information for you.

These will be paired with blogs from students at these universities, to provide even more insight into what it’s like to study in the US. All of these different cuts will be released throughout the year. 

The table below summarises the key areas evaluated by the US College Rankings. For more detail, see the full methodology

Best private universities in the US
Best universities in Texas
Best universities in New York
Best universities in Florida
Best universities in Washington DC
Best universities in California
Best public universities in the United States
Best liberal arts colleges in the United States

WSJ/THE US College Rankings methodology

Key area

Question addressed


Percentage contribution


Does the college have the capacity to effectively delivery teaching?

Finance per student

11 per cent

Faculty per student

11 per cent

Research papers per faculty

8 per cent


Does the college effectively engage with and challenge its students?

Student engagement

7 per cent

Student recommendation

6 per cent

Interaction with teachers and students

4 per cent

Number of accredited programmes

3 per cent


Does the college add value to students’ lives?

Graduation rate

11 per cent

Value added to graduate salary

12 per cent

Value added to the loan repayment rate

7 per cent

Academic reputation

10 per cent


What is it like to study at the college?

Proportion of international students

2 per cent

Student diversity

3 per cent

Student inclusion

2 per cent

Staff diversity

3 per cent


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