Frequently Asked Questions: Best Graduate Schools Rankings

By Sam Flanigan and Robert Morse
Posted 2014

1. Why does U.S. News rank graduate schools?

The process of selecting among the various schools that offer graduate programs in your area of interest involves factors ranging from the personal to the objective. We want to help you with this process by giving you an independent assessment of the academic quality of programs in your field.

By collecting Best Graduate Schools data annually for the fields of business, education, engineering, law, and medicine, we are able to present the most current figures on enrollment, job placement, faculty, and other critical quality indicators that help you make informed decisions.

In other graduate fields, we usually gather data on a program every four years, asking the experts who teach and direct programs in these fields to evaluate their peer programs.

2. How do you rank graduate schools and programs?

There are two different ways that we rank graduate programs.

For the five graduate program areas with the largest enrollments—business, education, engineering, law, and medicine—we use a combination of statistical data and expert assessment data. The statistical data we collect include both input and output measures.

Input measures reflect the quality of students, faculty, and other resources brought to the education process. Output measures signal an institution's success in managing that process so graduates achieve desired results, such as passing the bar exam or getting a high-paying job offer.

The expert assessment data for these areas come from surveys of knowledgeable individuals in academia and practitioners in each profession. Survey respondents are asked to rate the programs with which they are familiar on a scale of 1 (marginal) to 5 (outstanding).

Statistical and assessment data are standardized about their means, and standardized scores are weighted, totaled, and rescaled so that the top score is 100 and other scores are expressed as whole percentages of the top score. Schools are then ranked by their rescaled score.

We also rank a variety of programs—including PhD programs in science and social sciences and humanities and programs in health, public affairs, and fine arts—based solely on the peer assessment data from academics involved in that particular field.

For a more general explanation, please read "How U.S. News Calculated the Graduate Schools Rankings." For specific information about how we rank each discipline, see our methodologies page.

3. Do you rank all schools in a graduate discipline?

We survey all programs in a discipline that meet generally recognized criteria for a professional program in that field. In many fields—business, law, medicine, public affairs, library and information studies, and health—we survey only accredited programs.

Because other programs generally do not have an accrediting body, when we construct surveys in these areas we use available resources, such as the most recent "Survey of Earned Doctorates," and cooperate with organizations and schools to determine which schools are currently offering graduate programs in a field.

See further below for an explanation of the proportion of each graduate discipline that U.S. News numerically ranks and the meaning of the terms "Rank Not Published" and "Unranked."

4. How do you select the schools or programs you rank, and which programs are newly ranked? What are the ranking methodology changes this year?

If an accrediting body exists for a discipline or professional preparation program, we use the list of accredited programs at the time our survey is constructed to define the population of schools or programs to be considered in our ranking.

In a very few instances, schools or programs may be excluded, usually because of restricted access, because a program is too young to permit gathering of all the data needed to compute indicators based on multiyear data, or because a program is not fully accredited by the appropriate accrediting agency.

Our list of law schools contains virtually all schools in the United States accredited by the American Bar Association. We consult the American Medical Association and the American Osteopathic Association for lists of accredited medical schools, and AACSB International, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, for accredited master's programs in business located in the United States.

For the fields of engineering and education, we use the "Survey of Earned Doctorates" and other resources to develop our lists of schools. The list of engineering schools is similar but not necessarily identical to the list of engineering schools having programs accredited by ABET. In engineering, we survey schools that offer a doctoral degree in engineering; in education, we survey schools that offer a doctoral degree in education.

The following list contains the total number of schools or programs that we surveyed in each discipline:

  • Audiology—78
  • Biological Sciences—261
  • Business—453
  • Chemistry—205
  • Clinical Psychology—215
  • Computer Science—177
  • Criminology—36
  • Earth Sciences—123
  • Economics—132
  • Education—356
  • Engineering—212
  • English—156
  • Fine Arts—230
  • Healthcare Management—75
  • History—151
  • Law—200
  • Library Science—51
  • Mathematics—174
  • Medical Schools—128
  • Nursing—467
  • Nurse Anesthesia—113
  • Nurse-Midwifery—38
  • Occupational Therapy—156
  • Osteopathic Medical Schools—25
  • Pharmacy—125
  • Physical Therapy—201
  • Physician Assistant—130
  • Physics—178
  • Political Science—119
  • Psychology—246
  • Public Affairs—266
  • Public Health—44
  • Rehabilitation Counseling—98
  • Social Work—206
  • Sociology—117
  • Speech-Language Pathology—250
  • Statistics—87
  • Veterinary Medicine—28

In addition to the new rankings in business, education, engineering, law and medicine and their specialties, for the 2015 edition of Best Graduate Schools, new peer surveys were conducted in 2013 in some of the important STEM fields. As a result, new rankings have been published online for science PhD programs in biological sciences, chemistry, computer science, earth sciences,mathematics, physics and statistics as well as key specialties associated with those disciplines.

For the second year a row, the new PhD rankings were based on the results of the two latest surveys, in 2009 and 2013.

The rankings in all the other programs have been republished from previous years and have been labeled for the year the ranking was conducted. This year's new rankings are all labeled online as "ranked in 2014." Other rankings have different years representing the calendar year that the ranking was first published.

In a change from previous years' rankings, we asked all ranked schools in the fields of law and education to supply U.S. News with names of working professionals or company contacts in their disciplines who hire their new graduates. U.S. News used a sampling of those names as the basis for creating the pool of nonacademics surveyed in those fields who were asked to rate the schools.

This means that for first time, starting with the 2015 edition of Best Graduate Schools, all the names used in the nonacademic surveys including medicine, engineering and business came from the schools themselves.

In addition, in the medical school ranking model for admissions data, U.S. News used the MCAT median total score and median undergraduate GPA instead of the average of those two factors.

5. Why does U.S. News rank certain disciplines and not others?

Because we cannot survey every area of study, we make our decisions on the disciplines to rank on the basis of how to best serve the greatest number of readers. We look at enrollment figures to determine the most popular areas of study.

The disciplines we survey every year are the areas of law, business, medicine, engineering, and education. In these areas we collect peer assessment data as well as objective data on entering students, faculty, finances, and job placement that we use to calculate quality indicators.

We survey graduate programs in other areas on a rotating cycle, collecting peer assessment data. In areas where rankings are not computed annually, we publish the date of ranking with each list. These areas include doctoral programs in the physical and social sciences and the humanities, as well as master's programs in public affairs and fine arts and a number of programs in the health sciences.

The specialty areas in a discipline that we rank are selected on the basis of trends as well as enrollment. In some instances, we may rotate certain specialties to provide a more comprehensive coverage of a field.

Specialty rankings are solely determined by the number of nominations for excellence in that area a program receives. Only respondents to the peer assessment survey in the discipline are asked to nominate programs for excellence in any specialty.

If a discipline is not ranked by U.S. News, it is not because the editors think it is unimportant. The primary determinants for selecting disciplines to rank are size of enrollment and the number of schools offering that degree program.

6. How do you rank specialties within various disciplines?

For each discipline, we identify the subjects in which schools most often offer concentrations. These areas are usually the most popular choices of specialization among graduate students. In some instances, an area of specialization may not have a large enrollment but may be of particular or emerging importance in the field.

We ask the respondents to the peer assessment survey in a field—graduate school deans, program directors, and/or senior faculty—to nominate schools that have outstanding programs in each specialty area. Each survey respondent may nominate up to 10 schools in any specialty area.

Since a directory of law school faculty is available, we survey law faculty members who are listed as teaching in the specific specialty area we rank. Law faculty are asked to nominate up to 15 outstanding programs in the specialty they teach. We publish the names of the schools receiving the highest number of nominations in each specialty area.

Specialty rankings are based solely on the number of nominations they receive in each specialty area. The number of schools we publish in any specialty area varies, depending on the statistical significance of our survey results.

By subscribing to the U.S. News Graduate School Compass, readers can access all of the schools that have received a statistically significant number of votes in that specialty. Those schools receiving the most votes in each specialty are listed and are numerically ranked in descending order based on the number of nominations they received as long as the school/program receives seven or more nominations in that specialty area. This means that schools ranked at the bottom of each specialty ranking have received seven nominations.

For engineering specialties, we worked again this year in conjunction with the American Society for Engineering Education to obtain a list of department heads and school names in each of the specialty areas that offered a doctoral degree in that field. The department heads were given a list of the schools that offered doctoral programs in their particular specialty and asked to rate them on a scale from 1 (marginal) to 5 (outstanding). The responses for each school were then averaged by the number of responses for that school. The engineering specialty surveys were conducted in fall 2012 for the latest rankings.

Engineering specialty rankings for the 2015 edition were out of 60 schools with aerospace / aeronautical / astronautical engineering; 107 schools with bioengineering / biomedical engineering; 31 with biological and agricultural engineering; 126 with chemical engineering; 145 with civil engineering; 143 with computer engineering; 177 with electrical / electronic / communications engineering; 100 with environmental / environmental health engineering; 87 with industrial / manufacturing / systems engineering; 95 with materials engineering; 171 with mechanical engineering; and 29 with nuclear engineering.

7. Are rankings from previous years still valid?

Rankings from previous years contain valid information and were accurate when they were published, but they are not always directly comparable with rankings based on data collected and analyzed this year. That is especially the case if the methodology has changed in the current ranking versus the earlier ranking.

For the disciplines of business, education, engineering, law and medicine, where we do extensive statistical data gathering, we constantly strive to improve our data-processing procedures to spot errors.

We review our statistical surveys each year to sharpen our questions so that our indicators yield results as closely comparable as possible over all schools. There may also be trends and situations, such as the economic climate, that differ and have an impact on the data points we collect.

If you are going to compare a school from year to year, we recommend that you first compare the data. Keep in mind that if a school's or program's rank goes up or down by a very small number of places, that is something that happens regularly and generally doesn't signify a meaningful change at that school or program.

This year's rankings use the data that best reflect current conditions and were collected in fall 2013 and early 2014. This year's new rankings are all labeled as "ranked in 2014."

8. Why don't the ranking lists show all the rank numbers?

Among the five most popular areas of graduate and professional study—business, education, engineering, law, and medicine—U.S. News publishes numerical rankings of the top three quarters, or top 75%, of the schools that are eligible to be ranked in those five disciplines.

We have decided not to publish the numerical rankings of the lowest-ranked schools (the bottom 25%) in business, education, engineering, law, and medicine, because the data for the schools at the bottom of the rankings is not as complete as for the schools that are more highly ranked.

U.S. News wants the rankings to highlight the best schools and programs and does not want the rankings to be used to produce lists of the worst schools or programs. As a result, we have decided that the schools that are in the bottom 25% of the business, education, engineering, law, and medicine rankings will be listed alphabetically and labeled as Rank Not Published (see below for full explanation of Rank Not Published).

For the specialty engineering rankings; PhD programs in science and social sciences and humanities; and graduate programs in many health fields, public affairs, fine arts, and library and information studies that are based solely on peer assessment data using a 5.0 scale, U.S. News has published numerical rankings for all schools with an average peer assessment score of equal to or greater than 2.0. Schools with an average peer assessment score of less than 2.0 are listed as Rank Not Published and are listed alphabetically.

9. What does Rank Not Published and Unranked mean?

Rank Not Published means that U.S. News did calculate a numerical ranking for that school/program, but decided for editorial reasons that since the school/program ranked below the U.S. News cutoff that U.S. News would not publish the ranking for that school/program.

U.S. News will supply schools/programs listed as Rank Not Published with their numerical rankings, if they submit a request following the procedures listed in the Information for School Officials.

Schools/programs marked as Rank Not Published are listed alphabetically. Rank Not Published is for the schools that are in the bottom 25% of the rankings in business, education, engineering, law, and medicine and schools/programs in peer assessment only rankings with scores of less than 2.0.

Unranked means that U.S. News did not calculate a numerical ranking for that school or program. The school or program did not supply U.S. News with enough key statistical data to be numerically ranked by U.S. News. Schools or programs marked as Unranked are listed alphabetically and are listed below those marked as Rank Not Published.

A school's numerical rank tells you how many schools garner a higher score on the U.S. News ranking model. Schools that have the same score are listed alphabetically.

For example, suppose that a single school scores higher than all others on the U.S. News ranking model. It then has Rank 1. Now suppose that three schools are tied with the second-highest score. Each of those three schools will have Rank 2. Then the next-highest-scoring school will have Rank 5.

The fifth-ranked school achieves a third-highest score, but because of the three-way tie among schools achieving the second-highest score, there are four schools that rank higher, so the third-highest-scoring school has Rank 5, not Rank 3. In this example, no school has a rank of 3 or 4.

10. How does U.S. News get peer assessment scores?

One way of getting at the quality of a graduate program is to survey the people in the best position to have an informed opinion—academics who administer and teach in these programs and people who hire or work directly with graduates of these programs.

For all disciplines we rank, we surveyed deans or program directors as well as department chairs or faculty members and asked them to rate the quality of each program in their field on a scale from 1 (marginal) to 5 (outstanding). If the respondent was unfamiliar with any program, he or she had the option of indicating "don't know."

A second survey was sent out to practitioners in the fields of business, education, engineering, law, and medicine. These people—recruiters of recent graduates from business or engineering schools; school superintendents; professionals in legal fields, including law firm hiring partners, judges, and state attorneys general; and directors of medical residency programs—were surveyed using the same survey format (a five-point Likert scale) used with academics.

All of this year's peer assessment surveys for the rankings that say "ranked in 2014" were conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs.

11. What are "input" measures of academic quality?

Input measures of academic quality reflect the relative performance of factors brought to the graduate education process. These factors include the academic preparation of the entering class measured by the GMAT, GRE, LSAT, or MCAT test, student-to-faculty ratios, and research funding.

12. What are "output" measures of academic quality?

Output measures of academic quality are measures we use to gauge how well an institution succeeds in its mission of preparing its graduates for professional life. These measures include job placement rates for law school and MBA graduates, starting salaries for MBA program graduates, and bar passage rates for law school graduates.

13. What does it mean when schools are tied?

Schools that achieve the same score in our ranking model are published with the same numerical rank. This means that, taking into account all the factors considered in the ranking model, tied schools are comparable overall.

However, tied schools may vary in their performance on certain individual factors that go into determining overall rank. Look at the detail provided in our table to see how tied schools perform on individual factors, especially those of importance to you. For example, tied schools may show differences in research expenditures or student-to-faculty ratios.

Schools that are tied are listed in alphabetical order.

14. Where do the data on quality measures come from?

Most of the information is reported to us directly by the schools. Each year, U.S. News sends an extensive questionnaire to each school for each of the disciplines of business, education, engineering, law, and medicine.

The statistical data collection for the 2014 Best Graduate Schools rankings was done in fall 2012 and early 2013. When the surveys are returned, U.S. News analyzes the data for errors, large changes, or inconsistencies. Errors and anomalies are resolved in concert with the school, which then verifies data stored in our database.

Where possible, we cross check data with other sources.

15. Why are there more rankings online than in print?

When we publish our rankings in print, there are space limitations that prevent us from going as deeply as we are able. As we do not have those limitations online, we are able to extend the number of schools we rank online to the level that we think is appropriate.

16. Our school was ranked in the 2015 Best Graduate Schools ranking. How do we obtain information on 2015 Best Graduate Schools badges?

U.S. News offers discipline- and specialty-specific badges for each of the Best Graduate Schools disciplines and specialties. These badges will be available to highly ranked schools in each discipline and specialty area for promotional purposes.

Wright's Media is handling all badge distribution and licensing for use in electronic media, print media, broadcast media, and reprints; a fee will be charged for all such uses. All badge-related questions should be directed to Wright's at or 1-877-652-5295.