Some university rankings focus on factors unrelated to academic merit. Thus, some rankings of colleges and universities may give weight to attractiveness of campus, satisfaction of students and alumni, extracurricular benefits (such as top athletics programs), affordability of tuition, and expected income of graduates.
This is not such a ranking.
In contrast, if you are looking for a ranking with a focus on academic prestige, scholarly excellence, and sheer intellectual horsepower, then this is the ranking you want.
At the universities in this TheBestSchools ranking, you will be mixing with the brightest faculty and students in the world, and developing your knowledge and skills so that you yourself will be in a position to join the world’s elite academics, scientists, and thinkers.
To counteract the apparent gaming of university rankings, TheBestSchools.org contracted with InfluenceRankings.com to form a ranking based on statistical document analysis across the Web. For the present ranking, this meant selecting a representative sample of disciplines at universities (not just natural and social sciences, as with Shanghai, but also humanities and professional schools), finding the influencers in each discipline, and then pooling these influencers to see where they are on faculty and where they got their degrees. Details about the underlying methodology can be found here.
The result is a ranking immune to gaming because it is based entirely on the “footprint” of key researchers and scholars on the Web — -not just in terms of some broad popularity measure (such as number of Google search results), but by measuring their strength of association on the Web with the topics in which they are supposed to be expert.
Accordingly, the result is a ranking that focuses on the preeminent factor that ought to be used to gauge academic merit in the first place — namely, the combined influence of a school’s faculty across fields of study. Yes, this ranking is entirely Web-based. But in this day and age, if you’re alive and currently active but not influential on the Web, then you’re not influential, period!
A cursory examination of our new ranking shows that we are on to something. All the schools in the ranking clearly deserve a place here, as evidenced by their national reputations, as well as by their appearance in other existing rankings (note that are not dismissing other rankings, but merely note their acknowledged vulnerability to gaming). So our new ranking, minimally, passes a sanity check.
But our ranking also offers some genuinely new insights. All the usual suspects are there, to be sure, but their order may seem counter-intuitive. Harvard, as always, is at the top. But the University of Chicago sits at number 3 (often it is ranked around number 10). However, the University of Chicago is not just a great school for the natural sciences, which tend to get pride of place with Shanghai, it is particularly strong in economics (with a slew of Nobel laureates in that field), as well as in professional schools (such as law and medicine), and in the humanities. By contrast, Caltech, which is extremely strong in the natural sciences, is weaker in other disciplines, and thus drops from its usual perch among the top 15 down to number 38.
A lot of interesting patterns emerge as one examines this ranking. Fifty-five of the schools listed are in the United States (52 were in the US in the previous version of this ranking). Of those outside the US, 15 are in the UK, eight in Germany, three in Canada, three in Australia, three in the Netherlands, and one each in 13 additional countries.