Which Universities Are Ranked Highest by College Officials?

Robert J. Morse

Have you ever wondered which universities have the best reputations among college officials? To answer that question, U.S. News is publishing the reputation rankings for schools in the National Universities rankings category that placed highest in terms of undergraduate academic reputation in our Best Colleges 2013 rankings.

Reputation is very important to prospective students. In a survey of freshmen by the University of California--Los Angeles, students rated whether a college has a good academic reputation as the No. 1 factor that influenced their school choice, indicating their firm belief that reputation matters to a significant degree.

These results also support a key premise in the U.S. News Best Colleges rankings methodology, which gives undergraduate academic reputation a weight of 15 percent in our National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges ranking categories. The academic peer assessment survey allows top academics--presidents, provosts, and deans of admissions--to account for intangibles at peer institutions such as faculty dedication to teaching. Peer assessments are subjective, but they are also important because a diploma from a distinguished college helps graduates get good jobs or gain admission to top-notch graduate programs.

For the Best Colleges 2013 rankings in the National Universities category, 842 top college officials were surveyed in the spring of 2012 and 53 percent of those surveyed responded. Each individual was asked to rate peer schools' undergraduate academic programs on a scale from 1 (marginal) to 5 (distinguished).

Those individuals who did not know enough about a school to evaluate it fairly were asked to mark "don't know." A school's score is the average score of all the respondents who rated it. Responses of "don't know" counted neither for nor against a school. The higher a school's reputation, the better it scores on that one factor in the ranking model.

How should these results be interpreted? For the top-ranked private universities like Harvard University, Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and Princeton University, there is a very strong correlation between their overall rank in the Best Colleges 2013 rankings and their academic reputation rank.

However, for top-ranked public universities like the University of California--Berkeley, the University of Michigan--Ann Arbor, the University of Virginia, the University of Wisconsin--Madison, and the University of Texas--Austin there is a divergence between their academic reputation rank and their overall rank in the Best Colleges 2013 rankings. This ranking divergence shows that their reputation ranks are somewhat stronger than their overall ranks, which means the other academic data used to compute the rankings is not quite as strong as their reputations.

Universities with the highest academic reputation

The table below shows the schools in the National Universities ranking category with highest academic reputation rankings.

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