THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
ust as your high school
student begins his senior
year, guess what pops up on
U.S. News &World
annual special issue
of America’s top colleges.
Started 30 years ago, this list of ranked
colleges has become a huge phenomenon
among high school seniors, their parents,
alumni, and the colleges and universities
themselves. Although newer lists now
exist, published by
and others, the
rankings are still
the most popular.
But how helpful are they? Let’s take
them apart to see how they work.
we’ll look at some alternative lists of U.S.
colleges that may be more useful in nd-
ing the right school.
Francesca Kelly is a freelance writer, editor and college application tutor. She served as AFSA
News editor from 2009 to 2012 and is a frequent contributor to the
. She is married to
Ambassador Ian Kelly, an FSO since 1985.
published, it has become enormously
rankings to include high schools, graduate
schools and other institutions, as well as a
new “Best Global Universities” list.
Education Web page receives 30 million
visits per month.
o ers a list of about 1,800
colleges and universities, which constitute
roughly half of the total number of higher
learning institutions in the United States.
ese are divided into four categories:
• National liberal arts colleges
• National universities
• Regional colleges (North, South,
Midwest and West)
• Regional universities (North, South,
Midwest and West)
What’s In the
e following factors go into deter-
mining a college’s score, and hence, its
ranking. Each factor’s weight is given as a
U.S. News & World Report
began ranking colleges back
in 1983, based on a simple questionnaire
sent to college presidents asking which
colleges they considered “the best.” In
1987, the publication became a stand-
alone, annual issue of the magazine, and
colleges began to take notice and demand
more objective methodology.
then expanded its opinion survey to
include deans and administrators, and
added criteria such as SAT scores of appli-
cants and the colleges’ retention rates.
Over the years, the magazine’s editors
have met regularly with college o cials,
guidance counselors and others in an
e ort to respond to criticism, revise their
methodology and expand their market.
Since the “Best Colleges” list was rst
HOW THEY WORK AND WHAT THEY MEAN
This in-depth look at U.S. college rankings o ers a fresh perspective on the high school
student’s college search and a wealth of resources to help find the “right” school.
BY FRANCESCA KE L LY