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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.