For several years, we have kept track of U.S. News rankings of academic departments so that we can give readers some idea of which universities are strongest in 15 academic disciplines: biology, business, chemistry, computer science, earth sciences, economics, education, engineering, English, history, math, physics, political science, psychology, and sociology.
Sather Gate, UC Berkeley
We use this data for a variety of posts, including some that compare public and private university departmental rankings. In other posts we have shown the relation of departmental rankings to other factors, such as U.S. News rankings and lists based on academic reputation. In yet other posts we have listed the disciplines and then grouped universities under each discipline.
But in this post we simply list 75 public universities in order of the aggregate average of 15 academic departments. One caveat: not all of the 75 universities had a ranked department for each of the 15 disciplines. Nevertheless, for those who prioritize high quality in a university across the board, the list could be useful. Students often change majors, and it is reassuring to know that the new major may likely be as strong as the original choice.
UC Berkeley is far and away the leader with an average department ranking of 2.13 nationwide. This is all the more remarkable because many universities do not have even a single department ranked in the top 75.
Although rankings of international universities are not especially important for some academic disciplines, rankings of engineering and technology are of significant interest because so many U.S. companies who employ graduates in these fields have extensive international contacts, including multiple office facilities abroad.
Whether you are working for an American engineering or tech company at home or abroad, you will have colleagues from across the globe. At least one measure of your credibility with them could be based on the worldwide prominence of your alma mater.
Below are the top U.S. universities in engineering and technology, according to the Times Higher Ed rankings. The schools are listed in numerical order according to their U.S. ranking with their international ranking alongside. After the top 100 in the world, the rankings begin to group in increments of 25 or 50. World rankings up to 250 are included.
Yes, the title of this post is a mouthful. For years now, I have kept an updated list of the departmental rankings that U.S. News publishes so that I can add them to the biannual profiles I do of honors programs. When the 2020 rankings came out, I wanted to see whether there was any clear relationship between the departmental scores and the academic reputation scores. Then I compared the latest reputation scores with those published in 2015 to see how much had changed. Finally, the table below also includes changes in university rankings and the most recent rankings for social mobility.
(I would welcome comments on this post. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
It appears that the social mobility metric has had some impact, especially if the ranking is very strong, as in the case of many UC campuses and Florida institutions. There is no clear relationship between departmental scores and academic reputation scores. Departmental rankings do have a modest relationship to the overall U.S. News rankings, but there are many inconsistencies. Academic reputation scores do seem to show some “grade inflation” since 2015; often this is the case even when the U.S News ranking has dropped significantly.
The table below includes data for 100 public and private universities.
The cumulative rankings that I do for 15 academic disciplines requires some explanation. U.S. News only ranks graduate programs for most departments. Here are the disciplines for which I have cumulative departmental rankings, using the most recent data (2018): biological sciences; business (undergrad); chemistry, computer science; earth sciences; economics; education; engineering (undergrad);English; history; mathematics; physics; political science; psychology; and sociology.
Not every university has a ranked department in each of the 15 disciplines. I averaged departmental rankings for every university that had at least six ranked departments. For universities with, say, fewer than 12 ranked departments, the total ranking will be artificially high because only the best departments are ranked and I cannot include unranked departents. Most universities have 12-15 departments that are ranked, and so the overall average will be more useful for them. And some of the universities with a small number of ranked departments are specialized, such as Georgia Tech and Caltech. Clearly, even ranking only six or seven departments for those schools and getting a strong result is not misleading.
Universities with fewer than 10 departmental rankings: Colorado School of Mines; Georgia Tech; Miami Ohio; American; Brigham Young; Caltech; Dartmouth; Drexel; Fordham; Georgetown; and RPI.
It should be said that universities with relatively low departmental rankings can legitimately receive high rankings because of other meaningful factors, such as grad and retention rates and class size. Some excellent universities do not have an especially strong research focus or a lot of graduate programs. Dartmouth is one prominent example.
The universities below appear in rank order of their 2020 academic reputation, according to U.S. News.
Serving a major public university as president for 19 years is a strong legacy in itself, but outgoing University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft and her husband, Steven Greenbaum, also announced in May a $20 million donation to help build a new honors college building. Then, on June 1 at a retirement gala for her, they donated an additional $3 million to endow the position of Dean of the Judy Genshaft Honors College.
Together these donations should propel the university and the JGHC to even loftier status. Under Genshaft’s leadership, USF has already risen to “preeminnent” status among Florida’s universities. The status, designated and approved by the Florida Board of Governors, is based on 12 benchmarks, including graduation and retention rates. The designation leads to greater funding to attract new students, recruit faculty, and promote research. The only other preeminent universities in the state thus far are the University of Florida and Florida State University.
Artist’s rendering of new home for Judy Genshaft Honors College at USF
The major part of the donation to the JGHC will fund almost half of the total cost of a new honors building, to be built just to the north of the Muma College of Business. The five-story building will feature office, classroom, meeting, and lounge spaces for students and faculty.
JGHC Dean Charles Adams says that the gifts “will allow us to greatly enhance our programmatic and curricular offerings, and expand our enrollment,” which is planned to increase from the current level of 2,200 students to around 3,000 students in the next five years. The honors college is already known for its large number of interdisciplinary, honors-only class sections.
The College Board has developed a new data-driven tool designed to give college admissions officers the ability to evaluate test scores in light of an applicant’s educational, social, and economic background. The effort is the Board’s latest attempt to offset criticism that its tests favor the affluent, Asian students, and white students.
The new tool could also increase Latino and African American enrollment without the specific consideration of race or ethnicity, otherwise known as affirmative action, an approach that the Supreme Court might soon disallow.
So far, 50 colleges have been using the tool; it will expand to 150 later this year and be available to all schools in 2020.
The tool utilizes 15 factors (listed below) and provides a spreadsheet for admissions officers to use in analyzing the factors in relation to scores.
The new approach is certain to draw criticism, however. Students who live in relatively affluent neighborhoods, attend strong high schools, and enroll in advanced placement courses will receive low “adversity scores” and may find themselves relatively less likely to be admitted to some colleges.
Another issue: the data is based mostly on census block and other federal data, not on individual financial information. A wealthy white student might live in a gentrified neighborhood with inaccurate data indicating that it is still a lower income area. Similarly, a disadvantaged student might live just inside a census tract with high median income stats. Students will not receive a copy of the score–another area of controversy.
Students who attend highly competitive high schools in states with automatic admission based on high school class standing, such as Texas, already find it relatively harder to graduate in the top 6th or 7th percentile of their class. They are admitted “holistically” if they are not in the top percentiles; low adversity scores might narrow their chances even more. Or help them…who knows?
On the other hand, if the new tool on its own can lead to the higher enrollment of students now benefiting from automatic admission, Texas might be able to abandon the rule altogether.
High School Information–Four Factors
Average senior class size;
Average percentage of students taking the SAT;
Average freshman SAT score at colleges attended by SAT-taking graduates of the applicant’s high school;
Percentage of students at the high school who participate in the free and reduced-price lunch program.
High School AP Opportunity–Four Factors
Number of unique AP courses taught in that high school;
Percentage of the senior class who took at least one AP exam;
Average number of AP Exams taken by graduates who sat for at least one exam;
Average AP scores across all AP Exam takers and exams.
High School Percentiles–One Factor
The 25th, 50th, and 75th old SAT percentiles on Critical Reading, Math,
and Math + Critical Reading scores for graduates.
Neighborhood and High School Context–Six Factors
Undermatch Risk–Academic undermatch occurs when a student’s academic credentials substantially exceed the credentials of students enrolled in the same postsecondary institution.
Crime Risk–The Crime Risk represents the likelihood of being a victim of a
crime–not the likelihood of committing a crime.
Family Stability–Family stability is a combined measure based on the proportion of two-parent families, single-parent families, and children living under the poverty line within each neighborhood, or across the neighborhoods of past students attending that high school.
Educational Attainment–Educational attainment is a combined measure that looks at the pattern of educational attainment demonstrated by young adults in the community. ESL participation.
Housing Stability–Housing stability is a composite measure that includes vacancy rates, rental versus home ownership, and mobility/housing turnover, again based on aggregate population statistics.
Median Family Income — Median family income is based on weighted data from the Census/ American Community Survey.
Overall context is a weighted average of the individual metrics listed above. College admissions officers receive (1) bar graphs showing the applicant’s SAT score relative to others who share the applicant’s overall percentile of neighborhood
adversity and high school adversity and (2) the average freshman SAT score of entering students at the colleges that these respective groups of students attended.
“Texas CSB provides a rigorous four-year undergraduate curriculum aimed at preparing students for top technology careers. The Texas CSB offers distinct benefits for students looking toward careers in today’s tech-focused business world. University leaders anticipate that it will attract high-achieving students with strong quantitative and technical skills from across the nation. The program is a particularly attractive opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs and for students interested in data and marketing analytics, financial engineering, and leadership roles in tech companies.”
Rest assured that the selection process is extremely rigorous. The CSB will have to approximate the standards of the Turing Scholars Program and the Business Honors Program. “Turing denies 85% of valedictorian applicants. That means it’s especially important that you demonstrate a breadth and depth of commitment in computer-related activities.” The average SAT for the BHP is north of 1500; the same is true for CSB. Only about 12% of applicants gain admission to the BHP.
Turing Scholars at UT Austin
“Our top-ranked faculty push students to think outside the box and learn the varied business and computer science disciplines,” according to the website. “The curriculum is comprised of 44 classes, taken with 30-40 students, exposing students to all facets of business and computer science.
How would you like to spend four years in sunny Tampa, Florida, with beaches nearby, a major airport for travel, a new honors residence hall to live in–and extremely generous merit scholarships?
The Honors College courtyard at USF
By extremely generous, we mean a full ride for National Merit Scholars. As for the housing, Summit Hall just opened in Fall 2017; directly across the street is a new fitness center (The Fit) and pool, and a short walk down the block is The Hub, a new dining facility (seating 400) that allows advance food orders online. And in 2018, students will have no more than a three-minute walk to a new Publix market.
Summit also offers dedicated classroom and study spaces, social areas, resident counselors responsible for programming, and an Honors faculty member in residence.
Students cycling around Tampa Bay
“The Fit is located within The Village on the North side of the USF Tampa campus. A state of the art recreation facility and wellness center, The Fit serves all USF students’ recreational needs.
USF’s “Village” from the air, showing Summit Hall, The Hub, and The Fit.
“This new satellite facility is approximately 19,280 square feet and features a zero entry outdoor pool. Recreation center equipment includes indoor rowing machines, stair climbers, treadmills, elliptical cross trainers, upright and recline exercise bikes, strength machines, and free weights. The wellness center upstairs includes massage chairs and nap pods.”
According to USF, “Summit is part of The Village complex, the largest Public-Private Partnership in Florida higher education to date, featuring state-of-the- art dining and recreational facilities alongside residential halls.” Summit is home to about 500 students who live in traditional double rooms or suite-style rooms with private baths and in-room sinks.
Honors students have student mentors when they arrive.
On the ground floor is a full kitchen, gaming area, media lounge, TV lounge, multipurpose room, conference room, and large laundry room. Each floor also has an activity lounge and study lounge.
Florida students with a 4.0 weighted grade point average, and either a 1400 or higher on the SAT or 30 or higher on the ACT, will be automatically admitted into the Honors College once they are admitted to USF. Out-of-state students who win the Green and Gold Presidential Award (up to $12,000 per year) also earn automatic admission.
“All Honors College students receive $2,000 in academic scholarships. This award is paid in three installments during the students’ academic career:
$600 during the first year after completing the college’s community engagement requirement;
$600 during the second year after completing the college’s global experience requirement;
$800 during the third or fourth year after completing the college’s academic requirements.
“Most Honors College students also qualify for very generous travel scholarships to fund study abroad opportunities.
“In addition, thanks to the generosity of many donors, there are more than 30 competitive scholarships available exclusively to Honors College students.”
Students may apply for these Honors-specific awards as well as National Merit and other awards. These applications typically open in November and are due in January for new students and April for continuing students.
Honors students register for classes with the first group the entire time they are members of the college. The college has an interesting and varied curriculum, including core honors courses, 50 hours of community service, global experiences (extra foreign language credits, study abroad, or certain courses), and a capstone or thesis requirement.
Honors Dean Charles Adams describes the honors college as a “kind of mosaic. Our students come from every academic college on campus, and nearly every major. Our faculty is drawn from a wide variety of disciplines – art history, physics, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, literature, urban planning, architecture, and environmental sciences. And our interdisciplinary curriculum spans the natural sciences, the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts.
“Like a mosaic, the total Honors College experience is greater than the sum of all these disciplinary parts.”
We are pleased to announce that the USF Honors College will be included in the upcoming 2018 edition of Inside Honors, to be published this fall.
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on December 11, 2018, to state that for the class of 2020 the ACT can be used for the confirming test.
Of the 16,000 students (~top 1%) who become National Merit Semifinalists, about 15,000 become finalists, most often because some semifinalists have relatively low grades or do not have sufficient SAT confirming scores (see below). And only about 7,500 actually become National Merit Scholars.
To move from National Merit Finalist to National Merit Scholar, a student must have a very high SAT score and GPA, strong recommendations, evidence of commitment to extracurricular activities, and do extremely well on the required essay of of 500-600 words.
(Please see this post for a discussion of PSAT scores and SAT confirming scores.)
The SAT “confirming” score: In order to become a finalist, a student must take the SAT no later than December of the senior year, but taking it no later than early November is recommended. Earlier tests taken as a sophomore or later may also be used. Superscores are not allowed. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation must receive your SAT scores by December 31. This only leaves about a week after receiving December test scores to make sure of the notification.
According to the NMSC, the “SAT Program will not report your scores to NMSC unless you request it, and you cannot substitute a photocopy of the score report sent to you or your school for the official report. Send all testing and score reporting fees directly to the SAT Program.”
The ACT willcount for confirming purposes for the class of 2020. The SAT for purposes of NMS eligibility also has a selection index.
The SAT selection index differs from the PSAT selection index. Because the SAT has a maximum score of 1600 versus 1520 for the PSAT, the maximum section scores for the SAT selection index are higher. The maximum scaled section score for the SAT is 40 (versus 38) and the maximum selection index score is 240 (versus 228). (But below is the recommended “simple” way to calculate the SAT selection index (SSI).
Another difference is that, for the SAT, the confirming score is national, one SAT selection index total for everyone, regardless of state or location of residence. In the past, an SSI score that equals the PSAT selection index score for commended students has been the minimum acceptable SSI. The good news is that very high scorers on the PSAT should be very likely to meet the “commendable” threshold of the confirming SAT.
Students in states where the commendable PSAT score is the same as the seminfinalist qualify score, and who just did make the commendable score, may have to take the SAT more than once to confirm. Taking the SAT multiple times to reach a confirming score is well worth the effort given the many advantages that come with NMS status.
Example: PSAT selection index score is 2011 = commended student.
Student A has an overall SAT score of 1430, with an evidence-based reading and writing (EBRW) score of 710 and a math score of 720. (These SAT percentiles are 96 for EBRW and 95 for math.)
The simple formula for the SSI is to drop the zeros from the scores, thus making the above scores 71 and 72, respectively. Then multiply the EBRW score by 2, and add the math score.
Example: 71 x 2 = 142; 142 + 72 = 214. An SSI of 214 exceeds the PSAT SI score of 211 and should be sufficient for confirming purposes.
You can also calculate the SSI by doubling the total EBRW score (710 x 2), adding the total math score (720), and dividing the total sum by 10.
Editor’s Note: The following detailed Q & A is between editor John Willingham and Dr. Christian M.M. Brady, the inaugural Dean of the Lewis Honors College at the University of Kentucky, where almost half of the inaugural class is receiving full tuition scholarships or greater awards. Dr. Brady is the former longtime Dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State. [Emphases below are added.] Please see earlier post, Kentucky to Open New Honors College with Gift of $23 Million.
Dean Christian M.M. Brady, Lewis Honors College
Editor: Can you say what the expected test score and GPA requirement will be, at least approximately at LHC?
Dean Brady: This year’s incoming class has an average unweighted GPA of 3.86 and an average ACT of 31.4. Please note that these figures are determined after the fact. The LHC does not use standardized test scores, but rather has an holistic selection process. The formal statement on the website currently reads*: “Applicants to the Lewis Honors College typically have at least a 28 ACT or 1310 SAT (M + EBRW) and an unweighted GPA of 3.50 on a 4.00 scale.” These minimums are not guarantees of admission to the program, but act as a benchmark for consideration. All applicants should be aware that Honors admission decisions are made independently of Competitive Academic Scholarships and applications will not be reviewed until a student has been admitted to the University….[A]n applicant’s essay responses carry a large amount of weight in the admission process….The deadline for submission of the application and all required documents is December 1.
*These minimum requirements are likely to change.
Editor: In what ways will the LHC differ from the previous honors program? In what ways the same? Will the number of honors sections be significantly increased?
Dean Brady: Honors was created at UK in 1961 and has taken on various forms in its nearly 60 year history. With the establishment of the Lewis Honors College we will continue the more recent progress of a university-wide honors program with certain key features. The development of a foundational course and experience that all Lewis Honors College Scholars will participate in, the expansion of departmental honors courses, and the strengthening of the honors thesis or capstone requirement. Students are also required to do 6 credits of “honors experience,” which can be accomplished via study abroad, service learning, and research. The LHC will have up to ten lecturers who will teach the Foundations Seminar and other honors courses through the relevant departments. We will also have two endowed lectureships: one in the area of organizational behavior and the other in entrepreneurship. There is a new Career Advising Center being created, with a staff of four advisors. There will also be five Academic Advisors. These new staff positions, along with other student programing positions, will all be in place by the end of fall 2017. Staff will be housed in the new Lewis Hall.
Located directly across from the WT Thomas Library and next to “The 90,” a dining and classroom space, Lewis Hall is one of three Honors residence halls and includes 346 beds. It also has over 20,000 square feet of office and meeting space, including four classrooms and a café. There is a spacious outdoor patio venue as well. One particular concern that I think will come to the fore is the commitment to helping students from their earliest moments on campus to discern their pathway forward. (E.g., they might have always thought they should be an engineer because they are good at numbers and like creating things, but they might actually be more of a business person. Or vice versa.) This will be determined and elaborated later in this semester, once we have the opportunity to meet with students and faculty.
Editor: What is the size of the class of 2021, and anticipated size thereafter?
Dean Brady: The incoming class is predicted to be 540 and our target is to maintain 10% of total student population, roughly 2,200 LHC Scholars.
Editor: What is your personal vision for LHC, building on your long experience at Penn State and contacts in the honors community?
Dean Brady: I believe firmly that every honors college and program should reflect what is distinctive and unique about the larger university community of which it is a part…. [W]e should also have a particular distinctiveness that reflects the Kentucky identity. This does not mean that we are regional, quite the opposite. The traits I have already seen in terms of work ethic, humility, and commitment to community are those that we should seek to inculcate in all students. Over the next 5 to 10 years we will build one of the strongest honors colleges in the nation. Founded upon the strength of excellent faculty, great breadth of offerings at UK (it is one of the most comprehensive research universities in the nation, with every professional school, aside from veterinary, within 1 mile of the honors complex), and developing men and women to understand and meet their own potential while benefitting their communities. As some have put it, “doing well while doing good.” The LHC will also become a standard within the nation and the world for innovation….With over thirteen years in the honors community, I look forward to working with our colleagues around the world to continue to learn from their best practices, develop exchange opportunities for our students, and help establish new standards for honors education. We will be submitting a proposal to host the [Honors Education at Research Univerity] HERU meeting in 2019 and I look forward to working with my SEC colleagues, many of whom I have already met through HERU and Big Ten conferences.
Interior view of Lewis Hall
Editor: What are the amounts and availability of merit scholarships, and do LHC students automatically qualify for university scholarships? Does the LHC offer its own merit scholarships?
Dean Brady: I am still learning where exactly all funds reside, but this is certain: the LHC has more than $8MM in scholarships each year. Almost half of all incoming students will have a scholarship at least cover full tuition. We are also preparing to enter into a capital campaign in which developing further scholarship and grant funds (for research, study abroad, and internships) will be a priority.
Editor: Can you tell us more about the honors residence halls and the LHC administration building?
Dean Brady: I referenced the new Lewis Hall earlier. There are also two other Honors residence halls, all built within the last 5 years, that are beautifully appointed with learning spaces for the students on each floor, ground floor lounges, and located next to the library and the new, $112MM Jacobs Science Building.
Another view of the Lewis complex
Editor: Can you tell us more about the size of the LHC staff and their assignments; are any staff dedicated to prestigious awards?
Dean Brady: When fully staffed we will have over 30 staff members including an associate dean for academic affairs, a director of academic affairs, five academic advisors, and up to twelve lecturers. We will have a senior director of student affairs who will oversee a director of career advising and 3 career advisors, a director of recruitment, a director of the Residential College (student programming), and an administrative assistant for student affairs and receptionist. We will also have a budget officer, director of communications, and a philanthropy officer.
Editor: What are the levels of honors completion and the semester-hour requirements for each level; is there a thesis required; is there a limit on honors conversions (contract courses?
Dean Brady: There are some adjustments being made, but the basic requirements beginning in 2018 will be:
• Total of 30 honors credit hours
• Writing, Reading, and Digital Studies/CIS (accelerated two-semester course)
• 2 first year courses + foundational seminar
• 2 upper level courses + directed elective (“Honors students must choose at least three credit hours in HON 301 [an honors ‘pro-seminar’] or departmental Honors sections outside their general discipline of study, including declared majors, minors, and certificate programs at the time of course enrollment.”)
• 6 cr Honors experience study abroad, experiential & service learning, research
The National Science Foundation has named 2017 grantees for the prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NFSGRFP). UC Berkeley and UT Austin led all public universities while MIT and Cornell led private institutions.
Below please see a list of the 50 universities with the most NSFGRFP grants in 2017.
For the 2017 competition, NSF received over 13,000 applications, and made 2,000 award offers.
Past fellows include numerous Nobel Prize winners, U.S. Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, Google founder, Sergey Brin, and Freakonomics co-author, Steven Levitt.
Fellows share in the prestige and opportunities that become available when they are selected. Fellows benefit from a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees (paid to the institution), opportunities for international research and professional development, and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.