The Best College Rankings Lists

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Kristen Seikaly
Kristen Seikaly

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With so many lists out there ranking colleges, you might wonder to yourself which college rankings lists to trust. Certain colleges make it onto these lists over and over again, so it’s safe to say that those schools are worth looking at. But what about the colleges that only make certain lists? How did those colleges make the cut, and how much time should you spend considering them?

While college rankings lists are, in the end, subjective by nature, it can be worth looking at their methodology. After all, not every school works for every student! Take time to consider how you might form your own college application list.

So we’re going to take a moment now to consider such methodology to help us decide which college rankings lists are the best around.


Apples and Oranges

It’s worth noting that good college rankings lists don’t try to compare apples and oranges. A major research university offers a different experience from a small liberal arts college. The quality of education from these two kinds of institutions, therefore, can’t easily be compared. A good college rankings list will understand this. As a result, they either have separate lists for different kinds of schools, or will factor these differences into their rankings.

Payment and Impartiality

If a college rankings list admits to taking payments for listings, take caution. If the list doesn’t state that colleges cannot pay to be on their list, you also need to be careful. Either of these things indicates that the list is not a ranking list. At best, it is a directory. No list can be a good college rankings list if any sort of influence is exerted on its creation other than merit. That can mean anything from paying to be on the list to having a list created by members of a certain institution.

Listing Methodology

Similarly, look to see if a college rankings list shares their methodology. Lists that are transparent about how they arrived at their decisions can give you confidence in the list’s credibility and accuracy.

Information Offered

One frustrating aspect of researching colleges is digging deep into the school just to find a piece of information that automatically disqualifies it for you. This information can include the price, the location, or some other factor. College rankings lists that offer more information up front than the ranking alone serve their readers better than lists that don’t.


While not directly related to methodology, a college rankings list with a good reputation probably earned it with reason. If numerous college counselors or college counseling websites recommend a certain college rankings list, it’s probably a good list.

Examples of trustworthy college rankings lists

With these aspects in mind, here are some college rankings lists we enjoy and why we enjoy them:

  1.  U.S. News – Not only does U.S. News share a highly reputable college rankings list every year, it breaks down categories for different kinds of colleges, one of the few popular college rankings lists to do so.
  2.  Niche – A lesser known college rankings list, Niche lays out their ranking factors right into the list and offers quotes from real students about their experience at each school. Furthermore, Niche offers a profile for each school, allowing you to learn fundamental information about the school right away.
  3.  TIME – TIME’s list offers the best information regarding cost of attendance. Along with tuition rates, it also lists the average amount of aid a student gets, and the percentage of students receiving aid. In essence, if cost is a big factor in the college process for you, this list can help you out.
  4.  Wall Street Journal – Although you have to read through their methodology a bit to understand what each of their scores mean, the WSJ gives students the opportunity to compare schools side by side. This will allow you to consider the scoring factors that matter to you personally the most.
  5.  Forbes – While Forbes’ list only mentions the name of a school and the state its located in, the list’s reputation earns it a spot here.

A college rankings list should not be the endpoint to deciding which colleges to apply to, but rather the beginning. While certain colleges end up at the top of these lists time and time again, oftentimes they list colleges you might not have heard of otherwise. In turn, one of these colleges turn out to be the perfect fit.

By knowing what to look for in a college rankings list and having a starting point for what kinds of lists to look at, you’re one step closer to forming your own college list and getting your applications under way. For more guidance through the next step, book a consult with Empowerly today.

Questions? Let us know!