The Methodology Behind University Rankings

~2 Minutes / ~483 Words
Last Updated Dec 12, 2020

Methodology for Undergraduate Business Program Rankings

"The U.S. News undergraduate business school rankings are based solely on the judgments of deans and senior faculty members at peer institutions." (US News and World Report)

These judgments are obtained by asking deans and faculty of undergraduate business schools to rate the programs of other undergraduate business schools on a standardized survey. This same survey asks the respondents to nominate the top ten programs in each of several specialty areas, such as accounting or marketing. The rankings for these specialty programs are based on how often a given school is mentioned in these nominations.

Methodology for Undergraduate Engineering Program Rankings1

"The U.S. News rankings of the undergraduate engineering programs accredited by ABET are based solely on the judgments of deans and senior faculty at peer institutions." (US News and World Report)

Similarly to the business schools, these judgments are obtained by surveying deans and faculty of undergraduate engineering programs.

Methodology for Global University Rankings

"As an increasing number of students plan to enroll in universities outside of their own country, the Best Global Universities rankings – which focus specifically on schools’ academic research and reputation overall and not on their separate undergraduate or graduate programs – can help those applicants accurately compare institutions around the world." (US News and World Report)

Unlike the rankings for US best colleges, Global University Rankings do not attempt to focus on the quality of schools simply as either undergraduate or graduate institutions. Rather, the global rankings attempt to broadly assess the general reputation of the school as a whole as well as the research it produces.

The weights of ranking criteria are given in the chart below. This is the data directly from US News and World Report. Shown below are the indicators as of 2016.

A table listing US News and World Report's weighted factors for ranking global research universities.

A quick note: When the authors refer to "normalized citation impact," this means:

"The total number of citations per paper…[which] represents the overall impact of the research of the university."2

Because this particular ranking considers how institutions work to produce world-class research, institutions that are excellent at teaching undergraduate students, but that do not heavily prioritize research, are unlikely to rank highly. On the other hand, institutions that teach only or mostly graduate students, such as Rockefeller University, are eligible for ranking in the Global University Rankings, but not in the Best Colleges Rankings.

Later, we will be looking at other ranking systems and other ways to determine whether a university is right for you.


  1. Due to high demand for information on business and engineering schools, a more detailed post will follow in the future.
  2. Quote from US News and World Report