US News Rankings

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

What factors drive a university to the top of the college rankings like US News and World Report that has sparked so much debate and controversy from the eyes of the public and media every year? Why are some universities better than others?

In light of the upcoming US News & World Rankings that will come out in September of this year, we’d like to highlight some important attributes to watch out for when deciding on how to choose a university where you’ll spend the next four years.

Certainly, you can list all the Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals and the major awards a university has earned, but also factored in should be the size of the institution. And the endowment will undoubtedly play a role as it continues to attract top notch faculty, and in return, further spearhead research and more awards which will attract the brightest students in the country.

Fundamentally, because of the importance of the finances behind an institution in spearheading academic progress, in theory you could rank an institution by its endowment per capita and roughly get a sense of how strong this institution currently is or could become in the future. But that’s just the economist in us speaking 🙂

Getting into these elite universities is certainly no easy feat. At AdmissionSight, our focus has always been on helping high school students and families across the country gain acceptance to these highly coveted institutions.

And the demand in the past few years to get into these colleges has been surreal – we’ve been approached from families and students from all across the country to strategize a powerful application to get their kids in.

A top university has several attributes that ultimately feed into the low acceptance rates due to increased demand and the soaring number of applications every year.

While there are myriads of factors that define a top university that ultimately contributes to the annual US News Rankings, we’ve noted some of the most important ones here below.

Among them include:

  • Endowment: Everything begins with the endowment of a top university. With a large endowment to fund research opportunities, attract top notch faculty, and build new labs and buildings, the endowment drives a university’s operations and selectivity. Endowment per capita is also a number to watch out for – Harvard, for example, has the highest endowment of any university, while Princeton has the highest endowment per capita, for instance, which plays a role in the US News Rankings.
  • Faculty: A university’s accomplishments, from Nobel Prizes to Fields medallists, depend largely on the strength of its faculty. If a university can attract top notch faculty, then the strength of the curriculum improves and students receive better instruction.
  • Nobel Prize/Fields Medal/National Grants & Awards: A university’s prestige is often measured by the number of Nobel Prizes, Fields Medals, Wolf Prizes, Abel Prize, National Science Foundation awards, among others. University of Chicago is known for having the most Nobel Prizes in Economics, for instance, and sparking the rapidly developing field of behavioral economics.
  • Research Opportunities: Research plays an incredibly important role as it sparks original, creative thinking outside of the classroom environment. With strong research opportunities, students can gain exposure to experimentation and scientific inquiry outside of the standard curriculum.
  • Academic Curriculum: The curriculum needs to be strong and in a diverse range of fields ranging from Medieval studies to Economics to Electrical Engineering. In addition, top notch faculty who are focused on providing a high level quality of instruction are important, as opposed to merely focusing on their research.
  • Extracurricular Offerings: A strong university has excellent extracurricular offerings, ranging from dance groups to chess clubs to business organizations. These facilitate learning outside of the classroom environment to provide a well-rounded education, which boost its standing in the US News Rankings.
  • Study Abroad Programs: Often times top universities will have partnerships with other universities abroad, such as Oxbridge, Renmin University, or London School of Economics. These partnerships facilitate collaborative, international learning for students who want to study abroad.
  • Student Body: A top university needs to attract top high performing students to create an intellectually stimulating, diverse environment in which to learn. I can tell you the people you surround yourself with is just as important as the curriculum at the university.
  • Alumni Network: After graduation, the university needs to continue to do outreach to its students and alumni, as an alumni’s success is just as much the university’s success. News about alumni’s success will continue to attract top students and faculty to the university.
  • Admissions Marketing: The admissions office needs to take steps to market their university to attract students to apply. Even Harvard, which is arguably the most reputable university in the world, still sends out brochures to nearly ever high school student in the country inviting them to apply. This drives down their acceptance rate and boosts their rankings.

These are among the most important factors that would boost the university to the top of the US News Rankings and attract top notch students, faculty, and research scientists to a highly reputable university and make it an institution the general public would desire to attend.

The time-tested advice of choosing a university that is the best fit for you still rings true – ultimately, you should choose one where you believe can jumpstart your career and provide the educational opportunities that you can’t find elsewhere.

More often than not, the elite universities will provide all the opportunities you can possibly ask for, and more.


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