Princeton, Williams Top 2022 U.S. News Best Colleges Rankings

·8 min read

Shaken by the coronavirus pandemic, many American families have been thrust into uncertain times. But one thing the pandemic and resulting economic shake-up made clear is that higher education pays off.

Unemployment has remained lowest for workers over age 25 who have a bachelor's degree and higher since the pandemic began in the U.S., according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Though the value of an education seems evident in these unprecedented times, making a call on where to go to college remains confusing. Families must grapple with unease about college costs, student debt loads and how long it will take to see a return on their investment. These concerns are balanced alongside other factors such as academics, location, campus culture, safety and more.

To help students and their families address these challenges and enable them to make the right college choice, U.S. News has released its 2022 Best Colleges rankings. Now in its 37th edition, these rankings were first released in 1983 and have evolved over the decades to add more schools and data points to help college-bound students make informed decisions.

Readers will find rankings for 1,466 colleges and universities. More than 1,850 schools reported most of the data to U.S. News in an annual survey and were instructed to confirm the accuracy of their data.

Schools are ranked separately by categories such as National Universities, institutions that are often research-oriented and offer bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees; and National Liberal Arts Colleges, which emphasize undergraduate education and award half or more of their degrees across liberal arts fields. Additionally, regional colleges and universities are split into eight categories dependent on geographic location and whether master's degrees are offered.

[See: Explore the 2022 Best National Universities.]

U.S. News measured academic quality using 17 metrics, with the most weight placed on outcomes, including not only the ability of a college to retain and graduate its students from different socioeconomic backgrounds but also their graduates' average indebtedness. Class size, undergraduate academic reputation and how much colleges invest in instruction and student services are among the other data points U.S. News collected to develop the latest set of rankings.

Changes to the Best Colleges Rankings

As with much of higher education itself, the ripple effects of the pandemic prompted changes to the U.S. News rankings. Last year marked the inclusion, for the first time, of test-blind schools -- institutions that do not factor the SAT or ACT into admissions decisions -- as COVID-19 drove widespread changes in standardized testing policies.

The data collected by U.S. News for the latest rankings comes from schools surveyed in spring and summer of 2021, and ACT and SAT scores mostly reflect testing periods from 2019 to early 2020, prior to pandemic disruptions in the U.S.

However, to reflect the growth of test-optional policies among colleges, U.S. News has slightly adjusted how ACT and SAT scores are reflected in the 2022 rankings rubric.

Also new this year is the introduction of undergraduate nursing program rankings, based on the ratings of deans and senior faculty at programs that offer the Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or BSN. Nursing joins other discipline-specific rankings at the undergraduate level that U.S. News computes, including computer science, engineering and business. In total, 694 programs are reflected in the new nursing rankings. This additional ranking arrives amid a surge of interest in the health fields and enrollment in nursing programs ticking up in 2020.

How Colleges Performed in the 2022 Rankings

The top 10 National Universities remain largely the same with some minor fluctuations and one new entrant. Princeton University in New Jersey is again No. 1, and Columbia University in New York, Harvard University in Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are tied at No. 2. Columbia moved up one spot from No. 3 last year, while MIT improved from a tie at No. 4. Yale University in Connecticut moved down from a tie at No. 4 last year to No. 5 for 2022.

Stanford University in California and the University of Chicago remain tied at No. 6. The University of Pennsylvania stayed at No. 8, and four colleges are tied at No. 9: California Institute of Technology, Duke University in North Carolina, Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and Northwestern University in Illinois. While ranks for Caltech, Johns Hopkins and Northwestern are the same as last year, Duke is the only new school to crack the top 10, moving up from No. 12 in the prior edition of the rankings.

The top 50 National Universities bear resemblance to last year's, with no school moving up or down by more than three or four spots. For schools in the top 100, the greatest jump was shared by Indiana University--Bloomington and Yeshiva University in New York, both moving up eight spots from a tie at No. 76 to a tie at No. 68. The University of Denver saw the largest drop within the top 100, slipping 13 spots from a tie at No. 80 to a tie at No. 93.

Looking beyond the top 100 schools, other examples of dramatic shifts include Touro College in New York climbing 71 spots from a tie at No. 284 to a tie at No. 213, and Georgia State University dropping 33 spots from a tie at No. 206 to a tie at No. 239.

The rankings of National Liberal Arts Colleges also held mostly steady at the very top, with Williams College in Massachusetts at No. 1, Amherst College in Massachusetts at No. 2 and Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania at No. 3 -- all retaining the same spots as in the prior edition of the rankings.

[Explore: See the 2022 Best Liberal Arts Colleges.]

Rounding out the top 10 are Pomona College in California still at No. 4; Wellesley College in Massachusetts at No. 5, down one spot from last year; Bowdoin College in Maine and the United States Naval Academy in Maryland again tied at No. 6; Claremont McKenna College in California at No. 8, a slight dip from a tie at No. 6 last year; and Carleton College in Minnesota and Middlebury College in Vermont once again tied at No. 9.

Two schools previously tied at No. 9 exited the top 10 this year, with Washington and Lee University in Virginia falling to a tie in the No. 11 spot, and Hamilton College in New York moving down to a tie at No. 13. Overall, the biggest move up the National Liberal Arts Colleges rankings came from Principia College in Illinois, which climbed 34 spots from a tie at No. 93 to a tie at No. 59. The biggest drop came from the College of Idaho, which fell 16 spots from a tie at No. 120 to a tie at No. 136.

Little changed among top Regional Universities, which are schools that offer bachelor's degrees, some master's programs and limited options at the doctoral level. In the North, Providence College in Rhode Island solely claimed the No. 1 spot, while Bentley University in Massachusetts dropped from a tie at No. 1 to No. 2 this year. Elsewhere, Rollins College in Florida retained the No. 1 ranking in the South as did Butler University in Indiana in the Midwest and Trinity University in Texas in the West.

Among Regional Colleges, schools that focus on undergraduate education but award fewer than half of their degrees in liberal arts fields, the United States Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut remains No. 1 in the North, as do High Point University in North Carolina in the South and Carroll College in Montana in the West. The Midwest is the only category with a new No. 1, with College of the Ozarks in Missouri and Taylor University in Indiana displacing Cottey College in Missouri in a tie at the top. Taylor University was previously No. 2 and College of the Ozarks was tied at No. 4. Cottey College is now No. 4.

Additional College Rankings to Consider

Beyond geographic location and institutional type, U.S. News ranks colleges in other groupings, such as Top Public Schools.

Rankings for these colleges and universities -- operated and partially funded by state governments -- did not change for the top three National Universities. The University of California--Los Angeles is again the No. 1 top public school in its category, followed by the University of California--Berkeley at No. 2 and the University of Michigan--Ann Arbor at No. 3.

[Read: How to Use the Best Colleges Rankings Wisely.]

U.S. News also ranks Best Value Schools, which weighs a college's academic quality alongside the net cost of attendance for a student who received the average level of need-based financial aid. A reshuffling of the ranks finds Yale at No. 1 among National Universities, up from No. 4 last year, followed by MIT at No. 2 and Harvard -- last year's No. 1 -- now at No. 3. While these highly selective schools may appear expensive on paper, Yale, for instance, offered need-based grants to 57% of students, bringing the average cost of attendance for those recipients down to $18,826 in 2020-2021, well below the sticker price of $57,700 that year.

Other rankings include the Best Colleges for Veterans, schools that award federal financial aid benefits specific to veterans and active service members, and enrolled a critical mass of such students; and Top Performers on Social Mobility, colleges that enrolled and graduated large proportions of economically disadvantaged students who were awarded federal Pell Grants.

U.S. News also offers tools to search and compare colleges and explore a vast range of data available on school profile pages, including detailed information on tuition, application fees and deadlines, popular majors and financial aid. College-bound students and their families can also compare postgraduate salary data collected by PayScale, which is displayed on many U.S. News school profile pages. Other tools include a free College Admissions Calculator and Scholarship Finder.

Looking for full rankings information? Access the U.S. News College Compassto find all published data points, including student debt and employment statistics.

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