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MIT is one of the six best universities in the country, according to the 11th annual US News and World Report guide entitled America's Best Colleges 1998, published on August 25. The other top six national universities were Harvard and Princeton (tied for first), Duke, Yale and Stanford.
The top six colleges did a complete shuffle compared to the 1996 rankings; not one was in the same place as last year. MIT has ranked fifth or sixth for many years.
In terms of academic reputation, MIT ranked second, on a par with Harvard, Duke and Yale Universities, with Princeton and Stanford ranked first. US News determined academic reputation -- the only subjective attribute in a model encompassing over a dozen other criteria -- by surveying the president, provost and dean of admissions at each school for their opinions about their rivals.
"I am pleased that MIT has again been ranked in the very top handful of US universities, but I continue to believe that these rather arbitrary indices miss the very diversity of kinds of institutions that make our system of higher education so strong," said President Charles M. Vest. "For instance, how do really important components of MIT education such as UROP and the Freshman Advisor Seminars show up in these indicators? MIT should continue tostrive to excel in education and research, to be innovative, and do what we believe is important and let the rating chips fall where they may."
Other criteria for determining US News's "Best College" status included rates of freshman retention and graduation, faculty resources, student selectivity, student-faculty ratio, class size, percentage of freshmen in the top 10 percent of their high school class (MIT ranked third) and alumni giving rates.
"I was pleased to note how well we ranked in alumni giving, and that our listing in the 'best value' category was rather good among the top universities," President Vest said.
MIT ranked 14th in the Best College Values category, devised by US News to "provide a realistic measure of where students can get the best education for the money." Rankings related the cost of attending a college to its quality. Yale University also ranked 14th, while Harvard ranked 17th and Duke 26th. First place went to Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA.
On another fiscal note, MIT ranked 12th in the "Most Debt" category, with 66 percent of graduates leaving college with debts averaging $19,850 apiece.
US News ranked MIT 11th among national universities in a new category, "Campus Diversity." Of the top six colleges overall, only MIT and Stanford ranked within the top 20 on the US News diversity scale.
In the category of Highest Proportion of Majors in Engineering, MIT ranked 13th, according to the US News report. The actual highest concentration of undergraduate majors at MIT is electrical engineering. The most popular disciplines among American undergraduates currently are business, education and engineering.
US News and World Report has been publishing its Best College rankings since 1983, and now it is hardly alone in its niche. Money Magazine, which publishes The Money College Guide, approaches colleges from the "Best Buy" perspective, ranking what it calls "the elite values" among the country's top 100 colleges.
MIT ranked second among colleges with tuitions over $23,000, leading Dartmouth and Princeton and following Yale, and it ranked sixth among colleges charging $18,000 or more, according to the Money "Costly But Worth It" listing, which included 127 colleges nationally.
On a somewhat lighter note, The Princeton Review publishes the Guide to the Best 311 Colleges and The Complete Book of Colleges, both of which rely heavily on student opinions.
MIT ranked third in the Review's "Toughest to Get Into" category, ninth in the "Their Students Never Stop Studying" category, and eighth in the "Diverse Student Population" category.
A summary from the Guide to the Best 311 Colleges said of MIT, "Among the most selective institutions in the country, MIT's admissions operation is easily one of the most down-to-earth and accessible. Over the years they have shown both a sense of humor in admissions literature and an awareness that applying to such a prestigious and demanding place creates a high level of anxiety in students."
As for student life at MIT, the publication used one quote to sum it all up: "Pick two: work, friends, sleep."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on August 27, 1997.