The top five US colleges as of January 2015 are Williams College in Massachusetts, Stanford University in California, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, Princeton University in New Jersey, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Massachusetts. These rankings are calculated by Forbes and the Washington, D.C.-based Center for College Affordability and Productivity.
The above rankings are based on what students get out of college, rather than on high school class rank, SAT scores and other metrics. Research is gathered from a variety of sources, and rankings are calculated based on the categories of student satisfaction, post-graduate success, student debt, graduation rate and academic success.
The category of student satisfaction, which accounts for 25 percent of the final score, looks at student evaluations, actual freshman-to-sophomore retention rates and predicted vs. actual freshman-to-sophomore retention rates. Analysis of post-graduate success, accounting for 32.5 percent of the ranking, is based on salary of alumni. Considerations of student debt, also accounting for 25 percent of the final ranking, analyzes average federal student loan debt load, student loan default rates and predicted vs. actual average federal student loan debt load. Only accounting for 7.5 percent of the final score, the analysis of graduation rate considers the actual four-year graduation rate and the predicted vs. actual four-year graduation rate. The final category of academic success, which accounts for 10 percent of the ranking metric is based on nationally competitive student awards and the number of alumni receiving PhDs.
Other sources also provide rankings based both on college experience and metrics, notably U.S. News & World Report. Its system uses quantitative and qualitative measures, with 16 indicators of academic excellence including assessment by administrators at peer institutions and retention of students. The top five US colleges according to U.S. News & World Report as of January 2015 are, in order, Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Stanford.