College Rankings Explored and Explained: Newsweek



Newsweek is a publication that eschews a single 'best in show' ranking system in favor of several fine-grained lists. The magazine is guided by the principle that different students are looking for different academic and social qualities in a school, so it only ranks within these separate categories. Furthermore, the magazine suggests that student outcomes - how well a school prepares graduates for life after college - should also be a key factor, and rank accordingly.

Top-25 ranking lists from Newsweek include:

  • Most Desirable Schools in America
  • Most Desirable Small Schools
  • Most Desirable Large Schools
  • Most Desirable Urban Schools
  • Most Desirable Suburban Schools
  • Most Desirable Rural Schools
  • Most Diverse Schools
  • Schools for the Service-Minded
  • Schools for Power-Brokers
  • Schools for Brainiacs
  • Schools Stocked With Jocks
  • Best Gay-Friendly Schools

To a certain extent, these lists are derived from the U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review rankings. In an effort to set a baseline of 'standards and recognition,' one of the criteria Newsweek uses to narrow its pool of schools for data selection is inclusion in either one of those two lists or Fiske's Guide to Colleges. The magazine also sets a minimum academic standard based on incoming student test scores and requires a range of degrees, eliminating specialty institutions like seminaries or performing arts schools.


Now drawing from a pool of 747 schools (for its latest rankings), Newsweek weighs a set of data points collected from each school. For the 'most desirable' lists, the magazine focuses on selectivity, academic credentials of admitted applicants, student retention rate, endowment, college climate, student-to-faculty ratio and a student opinion survey. The survey covers student views on housing, dining facilities and other 'quality of life' factors.

For the diversity ranking, Newsweek measures the schools' student body for a variety of demographic factors, including gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and economic and geographic factors.

Other lists come from different data sources. The best schools for service-oriented students are actually derived from Washington Monthly lists on the same subject (a partner with Newsweek), and the 'powerbrokers' list measures how many of the school's graduates have achieved political or business success.

The brainiac colleges were ranked based on both the academic achievements of incoming students (test scores, high school class rank) and academic achievements of current students and graduates (fellowships, academic awards, doctorates). The jock schools were evaluated both on the strength and popularity of varsity sports, as well as the availability of intramural sports and the ratio of athletic spending to instructional spending.

Finally, Newsweek derived its gay friendly school rankings from the lists of gay-friendly schools published by The Advocate and, narrowing it down to 25 institutions based on broad measures of academic achievement.

For students whose special interests are explored in these lists (athletics, diversity, etc.), the Newsweek rankings offer another useful way to analyze college options. However, the magazine's academic measures are not yet as tried and true as those of U.S. News and The Princeton Review.

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