Princeton, Williams take top spots in U.S. News best colleges rankings

The benefits of graduating from college are huge: better job prospects, higher wages and lower unemployment. The drawbacks to dropping out are just as massive: time spent outside the labor market and accrued student debt without better job opportunities to help with repayment.

Over the past 20 years, more than 31 million students have dropped out of colleges, according to a recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. That’s why choosing a college that fits academically and financially is so important.

Enter the 2015 U.S. News Best Colleges rankings, released today.

[Video: Don’t fall for these rankings myths.]

This year’s 30th edition of Best Colleges includes data on nearly 1,800 colleges and universities. Eligible schools are ranked on up to 16 measures of academic excellence, including graduation rates, selectivity and freshmen retention, to help families compare schools, narrow their searches and make informed decisions. The 2015 rankings methodology remains the same as the 2014 edition’s.

The top three schools among National Universities, schools that emphasize research and offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs, reprised their performances from last year. Princeton University remained at No. 1, with Harvard University in second and Yale University at No. 3. While a few universities shifted places, the schools ranked in the top 10 all remained the same, except that Dartmouth College, which tied for the 10th spot last year, dropped to No. 11.

There was more movement further down the list. For example, Pennsylvania State University–University Park fell 11 places, moving from a tie at No. 37 to No. 48, where it tied with four other schools. Northeastern University in Boston and the University of California– Irvine both rose seven spots, from a three-way tie at No. 49 last year to a five-way tie at No. 42 this year.

[See photos of the top National Universities.]

Massachusetts’ Williams College took the top place again this year among National Liberal Arts Colleges, schools that focus on undergraduate education and award at least 50 percent of their degrees in fields such as English, economics or sociology.

Amherst College in Massachusetts landed at No. 2 and Pennsylvania’s Swarthmore College took No. 3, both repeats from last year. There was one notable top 10 shakeup: Wellesley College in Massachusetts rose from a tie for No. 7 to No. 4, while Middlebury College in Vermont did the opposite, dropping from a tie for No. 4 to No. 7. Thomas Aquinas College in California and Spelman College in Georgia both fell 16 places to tie with other schools at No. 77 and No. 81, respectively.

Among Regional Universities — schools that offer many bachelor’s, some master’s and few doctoral programs — Villanova University in Pennsylvania held onto its No. 1 spot in the North. Nebraska’s Creighton University and Texas’ Trinity University similarly kept their top positions in the Midwest and West. North Carolina’s Elon University took sole possession of the No. 1 rank in the South after previously tying with Florida’s Rollins College, now at No. 2.

The rankings of Regional Colleges, schools that grant fewer than half of their degrees in liberal arts disciplines, saw a few changes this year. The United States Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut snatched the top spot from New York’s Cooper Union in the North. North Carolina’s High Point University retained its No. 1 spot in the South but shared it in a tie with Kentucky’s Asbury University and John Brown University in Arkansas. Carroll College in Montana and Indiana’s Taylor University maintained their grips on the top of the West and Midwest rankings, respectively.

Students concerned about whether they can gain admission to a top-ranked college — or whether they can afford to attend — can look beyond the overall rankings for help.

For students with less-than-stellar academics, the A-plus Schools for B Students list features schools that accept students without straight A’s but rank highly among the 2015 Best Colleges. Penn State ranks highest among National Universities on the list, and California’s Soka University of America ranks best among National Liberal Arts Colleges.

Families worried about cost can head to the rankings of Best Value Schools, which weigh academic quality and affordability. Harvard and Amherst, both private schools, topped the list in their respective categories, but the Best Value Schools also include public institutions, such as the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill and the University of California– Santa Cruz.

[Explore resources on how to pay for college.]

In addition to nearly 50 types of numerical rankings and lists, U.S. News publishes a wealth of data on each school’s online profile page. For the first time this year, this includes each school’s campus safety statistics and three-year federal loan default rates, as published by the U.S. Department of Education.

The safety and default data do not affect schools’ ranks. But this new information, along with the rankings, can help prospective freshmen during the college search.

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

More from U.S. News

2015 Best Colleges: Top 20 National Universities

2015 Best Colleges: Top 20 National Liberal Arts Colleges

FAQ: 2015 Best Value Schools Rankings

Princeton, Williams Take Top Spots in U.S. News Best Colleges Rankings originally appeared on

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