Rankings For Graduate Schools in the United States

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Introduction to US Graduate School Rankings

Rankings for graduate schools in the United States are used by students, professors, funding agencies, employers and other people to determine which universities have the best research, students and facilities. There are several different rankings available that emphasize different aspects of the graduate education experience. If you are thinking about applying to graduate school, use these rankings as a starting point only. For PhD students, the quality of your advisor is at least as important as the university itself.

National Research Council Rankings of Graduate Schools

The National Research Council (NRC), based in Washington D.C., regularly ranks more than 5,000 doctoral programs at over 200 programs. The NRC rankings emphasize hard data such as student GRE scores, employment outcomes and time to degree. The Council’s latest report, published in 2010, is based on data from the 2005-2006 academic year. The full report is available for purchase from the Council website (see References) but a free summary of the research is available. Data from the NRC rankings is also used to create the rankings system on the PhDs.org website.

According to the NRC quality measure, the top five computer science PhD programs in 2010 were:

  • Stanford University
  • Princeton University
  • MIT
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • University of California, Santa Barbara

The top five PhD programs in history in 2010, according to the NRC program quality, were:

  • Princeton University
  • Harvard University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Pennsylvania

Though a handful of universities like Harvard and Yale have strong graduate programs in many fields, many schools tend to have rank better in some areas more than others. MIT, for example, is well ranked for engineering and computer science but not as well ranked for other fields of study.

US News & World Report

The rankings and commentary published by the US News & World Report magazine is likely the most popular source of graduate program rankings in the United States. The magazine rates thousands of programs in several fields of study such as: Business, Education, Engineering, Law, Medical, Science, Library & Information Science, Social Science & Humanities, Health, Public Affairs and Fine Arts.

In contrast to the NRC rankings discussed above, consider the 2009 rankings of History PhD programs published by US News & World Report:

  • Princeton University
  • Stanford University
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • Yale University
  • Harvard University

There is some overlap in the rankings but the lists are not identical. The exact methods used by the magazine to create its rankings differ from the NRC rankings. For example, US News & World Report conducts a survey of deans, senior faculty and other academics to evaluate the quality and prestige of different schools. The rankings also differ depending on the field; MBA rankings include the starting salaries earned by recent graduates as an important factor.


To learn more about the data and methods used to create the rankings for graduate schools in the United States discussed in this article, review the references in this section: