Forbes’ America’s Best Colleges

Is college worth it? Forbes says, most of the time, no. Unless you happen to make it to the top of their America’s Best 650 Colleges annual list.

Forbes’ America’s Best Colleges list is annually updated and one of the many ‘best college’ lists available to prospective undergrad student. It looks to answer the simple question of “What schools are worth going to?”

Forbes looks at the economics of being an incoming student and ranks the top 650 American universities by their expected return, i.e., how much your degree is likely to give back compared to the amount of money it cost. The specific values which are evaluated are quality of professors, career prospects and post-graduate success, graduation rates, student satisfaction, and student debt. A schools reputation is not directly taken into account, though it could influence the other values, but the student reputation (measured by the frequency of winning prestigious and competitive third-party awards and percentage of students continuing on to earn a Ph.D.) is considered.

The specific measurements and methodology was created and conducted by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity on behalf of Forbes. The complete methodology is available in a detailed 16-page document (PDF).

The big problem “best” lists have is how frequent they change.


College Being decided to compare this year’s Forbes list with the list from five years ago to see how the rankings have changed and which colleges continue to make the top of the list.

The Ivy League: Princeton University continues to be at number 1. Yale University and Columbia University have each moved up a few spots and are in the top 10, Brown and University of Pennsylvania moved up a lot and are now in the top 20. Dartmouth College and Cornell University improved a lot and are at 34 and 51, respectively. Harvard was the only Ivy League school to drop in ranking.

Honorable Mentions: MIT, Stanford, and University of Chicago also hugely improved their rankings and are now all in the top 20.

Notable Schools

Hampden-Sydney has been high on the Forbes rankings since 2008. Hampden-Sydney (about 1,000 students) is a small men’s university in Virginia and has been around since 1775, before the American Revolution. Hampden-Sydney College courses include sciences, fine arts, English, foreign languages, government, religion, math and computer science. The school ranked 4 in Forbes 2010 Best Private Colleges in the South list.

Boston University has improved its ranking and is now in the top 100 American schools. BU is a large private university in New England. Its strengths include a core curriculum of education, a varied program of study with 18 different schools or colleges, a diverse student population, and Division I sports.

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