Rankings, Academic Departments: Private Elites vs Publics

Editor’s Note: This page was updated on March 21, 2020, to reflect revised rankings. The U.S. News national university rankings and academic reputation rankings are shown as a point of comparison with the academic department rankings.

The purpose of this page is to illustrate the seeming inconsistencies that emerge when overall rankings, reputation rankings, and departmental rankings–all based on the data that U.S. News publishes–are viewed side by side. Our hope is that the comparisons will help readers make decisions based on their own priorities. It is also useful to evaluate the range of academic strengths a university offers, since so many students change majors at least once.

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 5.6, with Harvard having only one department ranked lower than 20th in the nation.)

Criteria for Inclusion in This List: Each of the universities on the list has an aggregate departmental ranking better than 100th, with at least 7 ranked 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 3.9 if engineering (ranked 25th) were excluded, and Yale would have an aggregate ranking of 8.31 if engineering (34th) were excluded.

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

Eleven of the 67 schools on the list below have all academic departments ranked 30th or better in the nation. The private elites in this group are Stanford, MIT, Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, and Cornell; the public universities in the group are UC Berkeley, Michigan, Wisconsin, UCLA, and UT Austin.

Universities are listed according to their average departmental ranking, followed by the reputation ranking, and then the U.S. News overall ranking.

UNIVERSITYAvg Dept RankDept RankRep ScoreRep RankUS News
MEAN SCORES/RANKS49.9503.847.7
NAME15 Disciplines 2020Ordinal20202020Rank 2020
Stanford1.914.916
UC Berkeley2.124.7622
MIT2.734.913
Caltech4.744.7612
Princeton5.554.911
Harvard5.664.912
Michigan974.51325
Columbia1084.763
UCLA10.994.31820
Yale10.994.853
Chicago11.7114.6106
UW Madison13.1124.12646
Cornell13.9134.61017
UT Austin14.8144.12648
Penn16.3154.6106
Northwestern17.7164.5139
Duke20.2174.51310
Illinois20.6183.93248
Johns Hopkins21.9194.7610
Washington 22.2203.93262
Minnesota24.3213.74370
NYU25.62243129
North Carolina25.9234.12629
UC San Diego26.3243.93237
Carnegie Mellon26.5254.31825
Ohio St26.6263.83754
Brown27.5274.51314
Virginia27.5274.22228
Penn State27.6293.74357
UC Davis28.2303.93239
Maryland28.5313.74364
Indiana30.1323.74379
WUSTL30.4334.12619
Rice31.9344.22217
UC Irvine32.7353.83736
Colorado 33.2363.743104
Georgia Tech33.7374.31829
Vanderbilt35.4384.31817
USC35.7393.93222
UC Santa Barbara36.8403.65334
Purdue40.2413.83757
Texas A&M40.9423.74370
Michigan St42.1433.56084
Rutgers43.1443.46862
Notre Dame45.4454.22215
Arizona45.5463.653117
Arizona St45.6473.468117
Emory45.8484.12621
Pitt46.1493.65357
Stony Brook46.2503.37691
Florida48.4513.83734
Boston Univ49.1523.74340
UMass Amherst49.8533.46864
Boston College49.9543.74337
Oregon50.3553.468104
Iowa51.1563.56084
Dartmouth51.6574.41712
Rochester52.6583.56029
Georgetown54.5594.22224
Virginia Tech59.2603.74374
UC Santa Cruz59.7613.19284
Utah61.2623.283104
Georgia 61.8633.65350
RPI63.6643.56040
Brandeis63.8653.65340
UIC64.9663100132
UC Riverside65.2673.19291
NC State65.5683.28384
Northeastern66.5693.56040
Kansas66.7703.468130
Iowa St69713.37657
Florida St69.3723.37684
Nebraska69.4733.283139
Connecticut71.2743.37664
Syracuse71.4753.46854
William & Mary72.2763.83740
Case Western73.5773.74340
Tufts73.6783.83729
Col School of Mines74.8793.56084
Missouri76.3803.283139
George Washington76.5813.56070
Tennessee79823.376104
Delaware81.5833.28391
Washington St82.3843.192166
Oklahoma84.3853.192132
U of Miami86.9863.56057
Tulane89.3873.65340
Clemson90.3883.46870
Auburn94.4893.376107
George Mason94.5903.192153
Brigham Young95.1913.28377
Miami Oh98.8923.28391