Kiplinger's Best Value Colleges: Rating The Rankings

Each fall, a variety of publications release their lists of school rankings, the most ubiquitous of which comes from U.S. News & World Report. So why is Harvard University #1 according to U.S. News, while Forbes thinks it's Williams College and Washington Monthly claims U.C. San Diego is the best in the land?

School size and type aside, publications use different measures of quality when assigning rankings. Furthermore, publications may use the same measure (for example, retention rates) but value them in different ways (e.g. 15% at U.S. News but 6% at Forbes) when assigning ratings.

The most common measures used for school rankings in 2011 were test scores, retention/graduation rates and the student/faculty ratio. And the similarities pretty much end there. Publications use all kinds of measures and many of them don't overlap. So who does what? We decided to take a look behind the rankings....

Today's School Rankings: Kiplinger

Who It's For:

Students who want the best academic quality at a lower price

What They Look At:

Total Expenses to Student

Average cost for students with or without need (subtracting grants)

Average Percent of need met by financial aid

Average amount of debt per student before graduation


Their interactive table allows some level of custom ranking. You can adjust the listings according to in or out-of-state costs, average debt at graduation or admission rates. You can also filter your lists by state.


Although Kiplinger does an excellent job of taking into account both academic and economic factors, most of thier academic evaluations rely on measures such as admission rates and standardized test scores.

Their Top 5 Private Universities:

Princeton University

Yale University

California Institute of Technology

Rice University

Duke University

Thier Top 5 Private Liberal Arts Colleges:

Swarthmore College

Pomona College

Williams College

Washington & Lee University

Davidson College

Their Top 5 Public Universities:

UNC-Chapel Hill

University of Florida-Gainesville

University of Virginia

College of William & Mary

University of Maryland-College Park

Choosing a college is about much more than rankings. Find out which schools are a good match for you with our College Wizard!

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Get the scoop behind other rankings:

U.S. News & World Report's Best Colleges

Forbes Top Colleges

Washington Monthly

Wall Street Journal

Times Higher Education