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By Kim Clark
September 13, 2016
The University of Michigan is No. 2 in Money's rankings, but No. 27 in U.S. News's.
The University of Michigan is No. 2 in Money's rankings, but No. 27 in U.S. News's.
Scott C. Soderberg—UM Photography

Two major college rankings—Money‘s and U.S. News & World Report‘s—agree that Princeton University is the nation’s best college in 2016. And they agree that Harvard and Stanford are among the top 10 colleges in the country.

Those three colleges rise to the top because they score well on measures that both rankings value. For example, almost all of those schools’ freshmen go on to graduate and their students have ample opportunities to connect directly with professors. In addition, U.S. News ranks them highly because they are prestigious and invest a lot in their students. Money ranks them highly because they also offer very generous financial aid, and their graduates tend to get high-paying jobs. (Amherst College also scores highly in both rankings, but U.S. News breaks liberal arts colleges out separately from “national universities,” while Money compares all colleges head-to-head.)

But because the two rankings value different things, they rank many other universities very differently. One major difference can be seen among public universities. The University of Michigan, UC Berkeley, and the University of Virginia, for example, all score higher in Money’s rankings. (Click here to see a chart comparing how the two ranking systems differ.)

The public schools tend to do better in Money’s rankings for two main reasons:

  • Affordability. Money places a third of its ranking’s weight on affordability measures such as typical student debt and the price charged average in-state students. Public colleges tend to have lower average net prices than private colleges
  • Value-Added. U.S. News bases 7.5% of its ranking on whether a college graduates more of its students than would be expected given the demographics of the student body. Money bases more than a quarter of its ranking on a combination of value-added measures of graduation rates, student loan defaults, and post graduate earnings. For example, we estimate that University of Michigan graduates earn about 12% more than the graduates of other schools with similar academic and economic backgrounds.

Here’s a chart comparing the top 10 of the latest U.S. News and Money college rankings.

Money U.S. News
Princeton University 1 Princeton University 1
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor 2 Harvard University 2
Harvard University 3 University of Chicago 3
Rice University 4 Yale University 3
Brigham Young University-Provo 5 Columbia University 5
University of California-Berkeley 5 Stanford University 5
Amherst College 7 Massachusetts Inst. of Technology 7
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art 8 Duke University 8
University of Virginia 9 University of Pennsylvania 8
Stanford University 10 Johns Hopkins University 10
Advertiser Disclosure

The purpose of this disclosure is to explain how we make money without charging you for our content.

Our mission is to help people at any stage of life make smart financial decisions through research, reporting, reviews, recommendations, and tools.

Earning your trust is essential to our success, and we believe transparency is critical to creating that trust. To that end, you should know that many or all of the companies featured here are partners who advertise with us.

Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.

To find out more about our editorial process and how we make money, click here.

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