Here at the Google College Rankings we use the Google search engine to gain insights into the relative standing of colleges and universities around the world. (Read more about our approach.) As the month of May arrives, let’s take another look at one of the standard rankings many people look for: the best universities in the United States.
In preparing this ranking we always work with a “clean” web browser, because if you’re logged-in to Google with your regular browser and have Google cookies stored, the results you get may be tailored to your previous search preferences. A clean browser, with no stored cookies and not logged-in to any Google accounts, will give us more neutral information. (Even so, Google may still try to customize your results with geotargeting. They think it’s a feature; we think it’s a bug, at least if you can’t turn it off.)
Our best attempt to get a neutral and national result (necessarily filtered through our own advanced bio-neural systems, independent of Google), yields this ranking for the 1st of May:
- Harvard University
- University of Virginia
- University of Michigan
- Stanford University
- University of Washington
- Princeton University
- University of Wisconsin–Madison
- Yale University
- University of Chicago
- University of California, Los Angeles
These are all fine institutions, and a dedicated student could get a first-rate education at any of them. One of our purposes here is to encourage people not to take college rankings too seriously, and to recognize that many factors should be considered by any prospective student. Is this ranking somehow “correct” while the U.S. News ranking is “wrong”? No, but neither is our ranking here wrong; it is based on one set of criteria, while the U.S. News rankings are based on different criteria.
In selecting a university from the above list, the individual characteristics of each institution are far more important than absolute rank. Do you want to be on a giant campus in a big city? Then UCLA might be for you. Do you want to be in the cold north or the mild south? Depending on your answer you might want to consider either the University of Wisconsin or the University of Virginia. Do you want California sunshine or east-coast urbanity? Stanford and Harvard would be a contrasting pair on that scale.
The Google rankings offered here are a starting point—a good, authentic starting point—but they shouldn’t be decisive in any college search, and neither should be the rankings offered by anyone else.