Rankings, Academic Departments: Private Elites vs Publics

Editor’s Note: This page was updated on April 4, 2016, to reflect revised rankings. The U.S. News academic reputation rankings are shown as a third point of comparison.

On this page, we compare the aggregate ranking of 15 disciplines in both private elite universities and public universities. (Example: Harvard has 14 disciplines that are ranked, and the average national ranking across all 14 disciplines is 5.93, with Harvard having only one department ranked lower than 20th in the nation.) All universities below have aggregate departmental rankings of 52nd or higher.

Each university listed below offers business or engineering undergraduate majors and/or enough ranked graduate programs in other disciplines to qualify for at least 11 of the 15 ranked departments. Dartmouth, Caltech, Georgia Tech, Georgetown, Wake Forest, Tufts, and a few other outstanding universities are not listed below because they are too specialized or do not have at least 11 rated departments.  The departments ranked are business and engineering (undergrad); biology, chemistry, computer science, earth sciences, economics, education, English, history, math, physics, political science, psychology, and sociology (graduate level).

(See list below.)

There are many elements that make a university strong, and U.S. News assigns a significant weight to academic reputation; but its rankings of academic departments, mostly on the graduate level, are not a part of the widely-read “Best Colleges” report each  year. The departmental rankings, while still subjective, are probably a better measure.

On the other hand, the departmental rankings are based largely on the research reputation of the departments. Most parents and prospective students tend to assume that in the private elite schools with high departmental rankings, undergraduate students still have significant contact with leading professors.  In practice, the amount of such contact varies.

In the case of public research universities, which of course have many more students, the access that non-honors students have to top professors and undergrad research opportunities may be quite limited.  But for honors students, this kind of access is often a deliberate feature of the honors college or program.  Therefore, honors students could benefit from paying close attention to comparing the rankings of academic departments, especially when the costs of attending a private elite are a major issue even after need-based aid is available.

It may come as a surprise that the updated information below shows that public universities compete very strongly against leading private institutions when it comes to the rankings of academic departments. Some of the private schools have lower overall rankings because they offer courses in engineering and education disciplines–traditionally more established in public universities. For example, the aggregate ranking for Harvard would be 4.3 if engineering (ranked 27th) were excluded. Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) would have an aggregate ranking of 28.08 if education (ranked 78th) were excluded.

On the other hand, universities such as Chicago are not penalized because they lack programs in engineering or education.

Twelve of the 53 schools on the list below have no academic department ranked lower than 30th in the nation.  The private elites in this group are Stanford, MIT, Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, and Johns Hopkins; the public universities in the group are UC Berkeley, Michigan, Wisconsin, UCLA, and UT Austin.

Below is a list of 53 national universities that have an average departmental ranking of 52 or better.  Universities are listed in rank order according to their average departmental ranking, followed by the academic reputation ranking, and then followed by the U.S. News overall ranking.

 UniversityDep RankRep RankUSN Rank
1Stanford2.7114
2UC Berkeley3.53620
3MIT4.5817
4Princeton5.6241
5Harvard5.9312
6Michigan9.471229
7Columbia10.4674
8Yale11.3843
9Chicago12104
10Cornell12.071015
10UCLA12.071723
12Wisconsin12.332141
13UT Austin14.932452
14Northwestern17.931612
15Penn18.2129
16Illinois19.333041
17Johns Hopkins19.57710
18Duke20.85128
19Washington21.63352
20Minnesota22.133769
21North Carolina22.712430
22Ohio State25.873752
23Maryland26.074057
24UCSD26.23339
25Carnegie Mellon26.551723
26Penn State26.674047
27NYU26.83332
28Brown27.921214
29UC Davis29.53341
29Indiana29.54075
31Wash U31.642415
32Vanderbilt32.212115
33UC Irvine33.134039
34Virginia33.531726
35Rice33.752418
36Colorado36.214937
37UCSB36.874289
38USC38.449121
38Arizona38.43023
40Emory40.452421
41Purdue41.44061
42Texas A&M43.534070
43Michigan State44.074975
44Florida44.474047
45Pitt45.335766
46Rutgers New Bruns45.85772
47Stony Brook SUNY46.237089
48Arizona State46.4770129
49Iowa48.074982
50Massachusetts49.367075
51Boston Univ49.735741
52Oregon50.3666103
53Notre Dame51.773018

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