College rankings list has a new No. 1 and a few outliers in its Top 50

Endowments, test scores and selectivity are included in College Raptor's Top 50 list, but net cost is also a factor.

Highlighting the overall “health and quality of a college” as the driving force behind its annual rankings, the student-facing website College Raptor released its list of the best colleges and universities in the United States for 2023. Those that are conditioned well for this coming academic year and the future are also some of the most selective in the nation.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology rose two spots from last year’s ranking to earn the No. 1 spot this year to unseat Princeton, which fell to No. 2 and was the only Ivy League institution to crack the Top 5. Caltech, the University of Chicago and Stanford University all rose two positions to finish at No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5, respectively. Columbia, Harvard and Penn took the next three positions, while Duke and Northwestern rounded out the top 10.

Though College Raptor’s Top 20 looks slightly different from the National Universities list compiled by U.S. News and World Report, many elite institutions dominate. Among the biggest differences is the University of Virginia at No. 17, eight spots higher than its ranking on U.S. News, and the inclusion of the U.S. Naval Academy at No. 12. Perhaps the biggest surprise is College Raptor’s slap of Yale University, with its algorithms placing it at No. 23. It was No. 5 on the U.S. News this year.

Now in its eighth installment, the College Raptor rankings are based on a number of factors, but its top one is not prestige. Instead, first-year retention rates carry the most weight at 23%, followed by four-year graduation rates (16%) and six-year graduation rates (16%). However, selectivity, endowments and, yes, median standardized test scores are still a major part of its ratings system, garnering a combined 23% of a college or university’s total. So mainstays Dartmouth, Brown, Vanderbilt, Cornell and Johns Hopkins all crack the top 20.

Still, College Raptor’s researchers note the institutions on their top 50 list all offer students opportunities, both through financial aid and scholarships as well as high earnings after graduation. They receive high marks for faculty salary and faculty-to-student ratio. They also get them across the completion line more frequently than others.

“There’s no question that rising college costs present an additional financial challenge to families today, and, as cautious consumers, they want to make the right choice,” said William Staib, co-founder, president and CEO of College Raptor. “That’s why we continually advance our tools, so students and families are empowered to make the best decisions with regard to their preferences, academic performance and the ability to pay.”

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Though the top of its chart might look somewhat similar to others, College Raptor does note that students can “find a mixture of public and private, big and small, household names and schools you maybe haven’t even heard about.” For example, those seeking an out-of-state experience might not have considered Washington and Lee University, Pomona College, the 400-student private Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, Calif., or the Franklin Olin College of Engineering. Barnard College, Vassar College, Carleton College, University of Southern California and Colgate University also are new to the top 50 this year.

In addition to the overall rankings, College Raptor again broke down rankings into more than a dozen separate categories, including by region, though many of the same institutions that appear in the overall top 50 also lined the top spots of those lists. One unique chart is Middle Class Affordability, as the site looked beyond sticker price at net cost. Only one public institution, Kentucky State University (No. 8), made it into the top 10 as a result. Harvard actually earned the No. 1 position, followed by Caltech, Yale, Stanford and Princeton. Another is the Most Geographically Diverse campuses, or the institutions pulling students from the widest array of regions. That list was led by the University of Notre Dame and followed by Grinnell College, Vanderbilt, Dartmouth and Emory.

Here is College Raptor’s Top 50 overall:

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  2. Princeton University
  3. California Institute of Technology
  4. University of Chicago
  5. Stanford University
  6. Columbia University
  7. Harvard University
  8. University of Pennsylvania
  9. Duke University
  10. Northwestern University
  11. Dartmouth College
  12. U.S. Naval Academy
  13. Rice University
  14. Brown University
  15. Vanderbilt University
  16. University of Notre Dame
  17. University of Virginia-Main Campus
  18. Cornell University
  19. Johns Hopkins University
  20. Washington University in Saint Louis
  21. Washington and Lee University
  22. Pomona College
  23. Yale University
  24. U.S. Coast Guard Academy
  25. University of Michigan at Ann Arbor
  26. Amherst College
  27. University of California at Berkeley
  28. Harvey Mudd College
  29.  Swarthmore College
  30. Carnegie Mellon University
  31. U.S. Military Academy
  32. Georgetown University
  33. Hillsdale College
  34. Soka University of America
  35. Wellesley College
  36. College of William & Mary
  37. UCLA
  38. Emory University
  39. Tufts University
  40. Barnard College
  41. Hamilton College
  42. Vassar College
  43. Claremont McKenna College
  44. Carleton College
  45. Williams College
  46. Boston College
  47. Babson College
  48. University of Southern California
  49. Franklin Olin College of Engineering
  50. Colgate University
Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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