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

October 7 2016

The new US College Rankings by The Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education provide an entirely new perspective on which universities in America offers the best student experience.

Unlike rankings that reward universities for selectivity in admissions and indicators of prestige, the methodology is designed to measure how good universities are at endowing students with the knowledge and skills that they need to succeed.

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

They address the types of concerns that both parents and prospective students will have when choosing a college to attend.

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 an institution really is.

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

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


Faculty per student


Research papers per faculty



Does the college effectively engage with and challenge its students?

Student engagement


Student recommendation


Interaction with teachers and students


Number of accredited programmes



Does the college add value to students’ lives?

Graduation rate


Value added to graduate salary


Value added to the loan repayment rate


Academic reputation



What is it like to study at the college?

Proportion of international students


Student diversity


Student inclusion


Staff diversity


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