New Tool Ranks Colleges Based On Your Personal Preference

New Tool Ranks Colleges Based On Your Personal Preference

What do you want in an undergraduate college? A new tool from the New York Times uses your preferences to find schools that best fit you.

What’s the best college for you?

You, a high school student in Georgia interested in a school that will offer a great return on investment with a low sticker price and high earning potential. You, who’s bringing a solid package of financial aid and grants to help defray costs.

According to a new tool released by the New York Times, the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta might be a good fit. It has an average cost after grants and aid of about $15,000 a year for in-state students. Georgia Tech graduates also have an average debt of $22,250, significantly lower than the $37,000 the average borrower now carries in student debt. Alumni average about $88,196 in income 10 years after graduation.

The tool, “Build Your Own College Rankings,” was launched this week and allows aspiring college students to find schools that excel in the criteria most important to them. Think cost, academic profile, and future earning potential — of course. But the tool also allows students to find schools based on factors much less likely to show up in a typical ranking: The party scene, strong athletics, and campus safety, for example.


These days, you can find an undergraduate college ranking for almost any preference. WalletHub ranks the best and worst college towns for the financially conscious. PitchBook ranks the top universities for student founders. And Wall Street Oasis – a job search platform for the financial sector – each year compiles a list of the top feeder schools for investment banking.

Each list is tailored to appeal to the publication’s targeted readers (and advertisers).Even our own proprietary ranking – Poets&Quants’ Best Undergraduate Business Schools – is designed to speak loudest to prospective business majors, our bread-and-butter readers.

School seekers will also inevitably go to the prestige rankings like U.S. News & World Report and Forbes which typically spit out the same five to 10 big brand schools atop their lists. But, not every aspiring student is getting into Stanford or Harvard or Yale. Not every student wants to.

That’s the beauty of this new tool: It generates rankings based on what individual students deem important.

“For almost a decade now, I’ve been writing about and railing against the way in which so many Americans, especially affluent ones, approach the process of applying to colleges, which at some point over the past quarter century devolved into a scholastic version of ‘ Hunger Games.’ I’ve lamented its toll on mental health. I’ve rued its emphasis on credentials over character and on a rigid, cautious script for education over an organic plot of genuine discovery. I’ve bemoaned its conflation of brand with worth,” writes Frank Bruni, author of “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be,” in an NYT introduction to the college ranking tool.

“But beyond all that, the process too often fails to do precisely what a new tool that Times Opinion is introducing today does: encourage college-bound students to pause, reflect deeply on what sort of experience they truly want, factor in what’s logistically and financially realistic for them and consider a list of colleges assembled along those lines, with fuzzy and subjective metrics like prestige eliminated from the equation.”

New Tool Ranks Colleges Based On Your Personal Preference

A ranking generated by New York Times’ new college ranking tool based on preferences for high earning potential, low sticker price, and an average package of grants and aids. Source: The New York Times


In choosing criteria by which students can rank schools, the NYT used a survey it conducted with Morning Consult of 4,000 people between the ages of 16-19 and 22-30, looking at the criteria they deemed most important in college selection. Students can rank schools by any combination of criteria – such as high earnings + low price, or racially diverse + low price + economic mobility – and then winnow the results from there.

The tool spits out a list of schools that fit students’ preferences depending on how much weight they give each of the search criteria. Students can then dive into school-specific data for every college on the generated list.

Say you’re looking for schools whose alumni earn the highest salaries 10 years after graduation. The top 10 includes the usual suspects – the Stanfords, the Harvards, the MITs. But it also includes some surprises like Stevens Institute of Technology, a medium sized private university in Hoboken, New Jersey, whose alumni average $98,159 per year.

The NYT tool also lets you narrow your list by school size, location, and a number of filters such as public/private, STEM, historically Black, admit rate, and more.

Now say you’re looking for a racially diverse school with a low net price and a solid academic profile. And, you’d like to attend a medium-sized school with an admit rate above 25%. Take a look at University of Washington’s Tacoma or Bothell Campuses, SUNY College at Old Westbury, or Farmingdale State College. Also want to stay in the South? Check out Midwestern State University, Francis Marion University, or William & Mary.

Of course, if you’re one of the lucky high schoolers who already know what they plan to study in college – whether it be engineering, art or business – this tool won’t be a lot of help in finding schools that excel in your major of choice. But you can compare your top schools on price, diversity, earning potential, and even athletic prowess – whatever it is you, in particular, are looking for in a college.

After all, it’s your ranking.

Try out NYT’s Build Your College Rankings tool here.


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