Princeton Is Top of the College Heap, According to Forbes

The list values metrics like alumni prominence and professor evaluations and penalizes schools for high student debt loads and default rates.

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Nassau Hall, the oldest building on Princeton's campus. Forbes ranked the Ivy League the number one college in the nation

The New Jersey Ivy League school is first in its class, according to Forbes’ criteria for top colleges. In its annual list, Forbes rated national universities based on five categories: post-graduate success, student satisfaction, debt, four-year graduation rate and competitive awards like Fulbright scholarships and Ph.D candidacies.

Such methodology produced results unlike those usually seen in those by U.S. News & World Report, which includes data on undergraduate reputation and student selectivity.

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The rankings, which were calculated by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, “focus on the things that matter the most to students: quality of teaching, great career prospects, high graduation rates and low-levels of debt,” Forbes’ Michael Noer stated in an accompanying article. “They do not attempt to assess a school’s reputation, nor are they a measure of academic selectivity and we pointedly ignore any metrics that would encourage schools to engage in wasteful spending.”

Unlike other lists, Forbes combines both research universities and liberal arts colleges onto the same chart. This, coupled with their unique methodology (but really, what survey doesn’t have a novel system?) created some eyebrow-raising results.

What were some of the surprises? The top 10 was not dramatic; it included traditionally strong institutions like Stanford (3), Yale (5) and Williams College (2). But Pomona College, a small and competitive California liberal arts school, came in at number 9, relegating Ivys like Brown and the University of Pennsylvania to low-sounding rankings in the teens.

Outside of that top tier live some more unexpected pairs of schools and numbers. These include Washington and Lee (15) Cornell (51), under-the-radar Hillsdale College (82).

The rankings’ intermittent curveballs affected some more than others. Haverford College called out Forbes for its results after the Pennsylvania liberal arts college inexplicably plunged to number 27 after being ranked seventh last year.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the drop was the result of a data entry error. Forbes will not adjust their rankings, which were already published in print, but the magazines did post a correction on its website.

Click here for the full list.

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Ditto Mr. Gibbs' comments.  Also, the profile shows lots of zeros.  If The College Board is your source, they at least show enrollment, cost and academic info.  

George Gibbs
George Gibbs

Thank you sincerely for the mention of Hillsdale College, though I was disappointed that it fell from #60 last year, including #7 in the Midwest and #1 in Michigan. It has come such a long way in such a short time, from a disadvantaged past to meeting the higher-ups on their own terms. I wonder what happened here. I trust Forbes' rankings, so hopefully things improve for Hillsdale next year.


Your sarcastic demeanor with Pomona is apparent. The school is among the most competitive in the nation and has higher SAT and ACT ranges than the vast majority of the Ivy League. It's not just a "small and competitive" school, it's a small and competitive school that outranks several of the so called "more" prestigious options. Did you know that Pomona has the third highest graduation rate of all the colleges in the nation? Or that it is more selective than Williams by far? Or that it has similar SAT and ACT ranges to Stanford? Or that nearly 35% of the class was ranked 1st or 2nd in their high school? Or that it has the fourth largest endowment per student of any school in the country?

If anything, Pomona is under-ranked on the list. Kudos on your clear misinformation for regarding Williams as a "traditionally strong" institution and Pomona as a "eye-brow raising" surprise. Pomona has always been highly regarded as the west coast's premier liberal arts college. Their position among the top 10 is definitely well deserved.