Simply put, as head of content for the Princeton Review and author of our book The Best 373 Colleges, I'm a self-diagnosed rankings snob. Why? The reason is singular: I despise a hierarchical ranking list. Lists of one to 413 colleges, or others from one to 713 colleges or still others from one to 1,013 colleges are those I define as hierarchical and cumulatively register as useless for one simple reason: they forgot their audience. They forgot that college rankings and their kissin' cousins, college ratings, should serve to demystify the confusing and often overwhelming process of finding a school that is the best fit for them.
That well-intentioned notion of creating tools and resources for those college bound students so that they'd actually have a clue in finding that "best fit college" is a fine one, but in reality one handled so poorly by so many ranking outfits. Case in point(s), the many hierarchical lists that have hit newsstands and web crawlers alike since the Ides of July near all do a big ol' disservice to prospective students (their parents and guidance counselors, too) because most no longer promote useful information to those trying to make sense of the college research process.
While I'd wager that I've personally visited more college campuses, chatted up more faculty, more college presidents and more deans of admission than any other thirty-something on the planet for my job, I still yield in every way to the opinions of current college students.
So, there lies the not-too-secret secret behind the Princeton Review's methodology. The biggest difference between the Princeton Review college rankings and every other college ranking: Our ranking lists are entirely based on our surveys of current college students (about 325 per campus on average, 122,000 in the new edition of The Best 373 Colleges). Those current college students rate their schools on various topics and report on their experiences at them.
As you might imagine, we create lots of different ranking lists based on that student opinion; not one of them hierarchical...or useless. We simply ask current students questions that college bound students want and need to know. Like, "are your professors good teachers?" Do they encourage class discussion? Are they accessible outside the classroom or do they scram after class ends never to be seen again? We have lots more rankings covering food, LGBT issues, awesome career services, exceptional financial aid, etc.
And all are there for the one reason that others forgot; to provide useful tools to help college bound students find that best-est fit school for them.
We list complete and detailed info on all the criteria we collect to generate our eight ratings, as well as all of our top 20 ranking lists at: http://www.princetonreview.com/college/college-rankings.aspx