Ranking: Wall Street Journal’s 2024 Best Colleges In America

Princeton University was ranked the No. 1 university in the U.S. by Wall Street Journal/College Pulse’s 2024 ranking.

When it comes to ranking universities, the usual players are almost always going to come out on top: The Princetons, the Stanfords, the Yales, the Harvards. They will jockey for those first few spots on whatever ranking you happen to be looking, provided the ranking is at least somewhat reputable and not focused on any particular major or specialization.

Wall Street Journal/College Pulse’s 2024 Best Colleges in the U.S. has all the schools you’d expect at the very top: Princeton University at No. 1, followed closely by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (No. 2), and Yale University (No. 3). Stanford, Columbia and Harvard universities round out the top six. (See table of the top 10 WSJ ranked colleges in the table below.)

But, after changing up its methodology this year, WSJ’s ranking strives to look beyond the big name reputation of the Ivies and the Ivy-Pluses. It gives room for smaller, less endowed schools the chance to rise through its ranks and be measured on the impact they actually have on student success.

BABSON RISES 116 SPOTS

Take Babson College, a small private college near Boston. It ranked No. 10 of the best U.S. colleges after ranking No. 126 a year earlier. The large jump is the result of the WSJ putting more focus on value added to student success as a result of their college of choice.

Babson – a longtime powerhouse for entrepreneurship, No. 4 in P&Q’s latest MBA entrepreneurship ranking – was rewarded for its strong salary impact on its graduates’ careers. It ranked No. 10 in the Salary Impact category and had the fourth highest earnings above a high school grad’s yearly salary at $81,604. In fact, the Class of 2022 set a record for Babson undergraduates, earning $71,385 at their first jobs – a 14% increase over the previous class.

“This top-10 ranking is a clear validation of Babson’s strength in the market, not just in entrepreneurship and business education, but across all of higher education,” says Babson President Stephen Spinelli Jr. in a press school press release on the WSJ ranking. “This comes at a time when many colleges and universities are facing steep enrollment challenges and broader questioning of the value of a college degree. It is validating to see that the strategic vision that we created together as a community is yielding clear and definitive results for Babson.”

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The new methodology also allows room for some public ranked schools to rise to the top 20. University of Florida landed at No. 15 while the New Jersey Institute of Technology ranked No. 19. While public colleges are generally considered more of a deal for students, especially those that offer in-state tuition and generous aid packages – the big brand private institutions, like the Ivies, still wield outsized power in the marketplace.

METHODOLOGY

WSJ has published its college rankings since 2016 along with its research partners College Pulse and Statista. This year, it made some significant changes to its methodology.

For one, it eliminated the academic survey on schools’ reputations which rewards big brand schools superior name recognition. It also no longer rewards schools for the amount of money it spends on instruction.

Instead, it puts more weight on student outcomes such as graduation rates and graduate salaries while measuring the impact schools actually have on student success. “Some colleges doing great things for students who would otherwise struggle have previously received relatively low marks in our rankings. By contrast, some colleges doing less for students who would do well regardless of where they went to school have previously been lauded,” writes rankings editor Harry Carr in WSJ’s ranking methodology.

“For students, we believe this ranking will help them identify which colleges will do the most to help them graduate and make more money.”

As such, the rankings are divided into four categories: The full college rankings, Student Experience, Salary Impact and Social Mobility.

See the full ranking methodology here.

THE 50 BEST U.S. COLLEGES

WSJ evaluated 400 U.S. private and public universities. For its full, overall ranking, it scored each school on student outcomes (70% weight), learning environment (20%) and diversity (10%).

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It employed one of the largest independent student surveys and combined it with a “rigorous statistical analysis” of government data to calculate its school scores. It also factors cost of attendance (average net price) against student outcomes.

“As an example, consider our top performer on this metric, Baruch College, where the estimated average net price across four years is $7,744,” Carr writes.

“The additional median annual salary its graduates enjoy over and above that of high-school graduates in New York state is $45,078—so an education at Baruch pays for itself in just two months by this measure.”

Baruch College, a public school in New York, ranked No. 47 in WSJ’s overall ranking. Interestingly, it is one of just 10 public institutions in the top 50 colleges on the list. The first 14 are all private institutions which are typically more expensive, sometimes much more expensive, than public schools.

The full list of WSJ’s 2024 Best Colleges in the U.S. are shown in the table below. The full list is available here.

NEXT PAGE: How colleges rank on salary impact, school experience, and social mobility

Babson College ranked No. 10 in the Salary Impact category and had the fourth highest earnings above a high school grad’s yearly salary at $81,604.

SCHOOLS RANKED BY SALARY IMPACT

Here, three of the top 20 schools are public institutions, including No. 7 Missouri University of Science & Technology.

Still, the Ivies and big brand powerhouses still dominate. Think Stanford, Harvard, and Princeton. University of Pennsylvania comes out on top with a salary score of 99.1.

The salary impact rating looks at the impact the school has on its graduates’ salaries in relation to the cost of attending. While the schools at the top generally have high price tags, the salaries their graduates earn 10 years later make up for the high cost. As one example, a graduate of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania earns an average starting salary of $100,665 three months after graduation, and up to $111,902 with bonuses, according to Poets&Quants most recent undergraduate business school ranking.

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Below, you can see the 20 schools with the highest salary impact from WSJ’s ranking. More detail and the full list can be found here.

STUDENT EXPERIENCE AND SOCIAL MOBILITY

The WSJ/College Pulse Student Experience ranking looks at the schools where students enjoy waking up to go to class.

Student perceptions were measured by an independent survey of verified college students and recent graduates. In this category, public schools have the edge claiming 13 of the top 20 spots.

Dalton State College in Georgia has the best score in this category at 75.6. It also scored a 77 in community and social life and 81 in diversity. The average net price of attendance is $5,240 with a value added to graduate salaries of $14,230.

See the top 20 schools for student experience in the table below. For the full list and more school detail, click here.

For social mobility, WSJ looked at how much schools enhance students’ social mobility after graduation. Institutions with the highest proportion of students that come from lower-income families, high graduation rates, high salary impact for graduates, and lower costs do the best in this metric.

Again, public schools dominate here with 16 of the top 20 spots.

California State University – Los Angeles is the best school for social mobility at 99.6. It scored a perfect 100 in salary and a 99 in graduation rate. It has an average net price of $2,037 with a value added graduate salary of $26,419.

A table with the top 20 schools for social mobility is presented below. For the full list and more school detail, click here.

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