Rather conveniently for the purposes of this discussion, Forbes has their rankings out. Now, ordinarily I pay VERY little attention to these things, but Forbes does use quite different inputs-- they are strictly outcome focused. In part because quite a few schools have been caught actively lying to improve USNWR rankings and related metrics.

They use a series of factors to determine placement:


The only one of those that I argue fairly vehemently with in terms of basic methodology is the first one; student satisfation via "rate my professor" data. Quite frequently, students rate faculty negatively if they expect to earn a poor grade in the course, which of course makes this one (potentially) a better source of information on grade inflation rates at various institutions or watering down of material than anything else.

The second thing that makes me a little reluctant to use their results as a personal mandate is that they measure "success" in a way that I'd argue isn't necessarily what my family considers "success" to be. They use career factors, but probably not the ones that I would choose-- they chose earnings, and being a 'mover-and-shaker' of some kind. In other words, they're selecting for assertive/aggressive extraverts.

Still, all in all, I think this set of rankings has a lot more to do with reality than most of them do. Also interestingly, the Ivies don't do THAT well.

The complete rankings list from Forbes

The other thing that I want to point out is what I have (repeatedly) stated in this thread. You essentially have three choices if your child is headed to college in the next few years: a) pay about 50-60K a year for a college which is of highly variable quality, b) pay about 30-45K a year for a college which is not-quite-so-good quality, or c) determine the quality of your in-state college options, which are LIKELY to run in the 18-30K range.

Now take a look at the sticker prices associated with the top 100 in Forbes' list. Okay, now take a look at 200-300. 400-500 Notice anything? Second tier isn't really much less expensive, right?

Elmira College (NY), at number 556 on Forbes' list, has a sticker price of 50K. Princeton (number 3) is 55K.

One thing which separates a college education from any other consumer purchase (save medical) is that you can't "do it different next time" if you regret that purchase.

Well, sure-- you can transfer out, I suppose. You can stop attending. But you can't trade one degree in for one at a better institution. You can't get the time back, either.

It's why it is so important to get it right. There is also not any one "best" school for every student-- not even any one "best" kind of school.

Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar. And doesn't.