College and University Rankings 101

Did you know that Northeastern University is ranked in approximately 50 national and international college and university rankings?  This does not include the 100+ — and growing – college and program-specific rankings where you will find Northeastern listed.  Some of these rankings are produced by organizations whose name you are probably familiar with…US News & World Report, Times Higher Ed, Forbes, New York Times, and the Princeton Review, to name a few.  Some of these organizations are a bit more niche and field-specific, such as the National Jurist (specific to Law) or CSMetrics (specific to computer science).

How do these rankings work?  You may be surprised to learn that the university does not always voluntarily elect to participate in all of these rankings.  Many of them are based on publicly available data from IPEDS or elsewhere, or surveys of academia or industry that the ranking organization conducts on its own.  This is the case for many of the subject-specific rankings that are released by organizations like US News, which are almost entirely based on reputation surveys.  Some of the more prominent national or international rankings, however, do require voluntary participation and submission of university data.  UDS submits data annually to US News national rankings, Times Higher Ed international rankings, QS international rankings, and the Princeton Review, among others.  Some of these ranking submissions are in-depth and lengthy and require many data points and metrics.  Our annual submission to US News is more than 100 pages long!

Our university-wide rankings submissions typically include many different data points, many of which you can find in our annually published Common Data Set, which is maintained by UDS analysts and updated each Fall.  Of the ~150 rankings mentioned above, UDS partners with colleges, departments, and other units to voluntarily provide data for around half.  Each of these submissions undergoes several rounds of review, including final review and approval by President Aoun and the university’s senior officers.

When we are given a choice, how do we pick and choose when to participate in a given ranking?  A university-wide task force tackled this very question a few years ago and produced criteria for prioritization of our rankings participation.  When making a decision, we keep in mind the audience for the ranking; whether or not we feel it would enhance the university’s reputation; whether it has a publisher who is willing to engage with higher education to improve methodology over time; whether our peer institutions participate; the history of the ranking; and whether the methodology is openly available, stable, fair, and clearly explained, among other criteria.

You can find more information about some of our more prominent university rankings, including our past and current performance, on UDS’ new rankings dashboard, which was featured in a previous version of this newsletter (if you do not have access, but would like access, please email  If you would like more information about the university’s rankings participation or how rankings work, please reach out to Mindy Anastasia, Director of Institutional Research. (