Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
SUBSCRIBE
By Jordi Lippe-McGraw

It’s back-to-school time. And for those starting their senior year of high school, applying for college is very much top of mind. But with so many choices, deciding where to go can be overwhelming. Luckily, U.S. News & World Report just announced its 2020 list of the best colleges.

And to better help families with choosing a college, U.S. News updated its ranking criteria this year to include some important factors. In addition to focusing on academic quality, they emphasized outcome measures such as graduation rates, retention rates and social mobility. In fact, outcomes were given the most weight in terms of ranking factors, making up 35% of each school’s overall score.

“For more than three decades, we’ve collected and analyzed data on thousands of colleges and universities across the country and helped put schools on the map,” said Kim Castro, editor and chief content officer of U.S. News, in a statement. “We’ve found the best institutions to be ones committed to academically and financially supporting their students through graduation. They draw in high-quality professors and set students up for postgraduate success.”

So, which schools topped the list? Out of the nearly 1,400 colleges and universities ranked, Princeton University held on to the No. 1 spot among national universities. Harvard came in second while Columbia University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale all tied for third.

For top public schools, California dominated the list. UCLA maintains its top spot with the University of California, Berkeley in second. It was the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor that rounded out the top three.

U.S. News also added new rankings this year, including top performers for social mobility. In this category, the publication evaluated which schools were best serving underrepresented students. Using Pell Grants as a proxy measure, the ranking took into consideration the enrollment and graduation rates of low-income students. Overall, public schools in California, Florida and New York topped the list in terms of enrolling and graduating large proportions of low-income students.

The University of California, Riverside ranked No. 1 for national universities in the area of social mobility.Getty Images

Eight additional new rankings were added this year under a section called "academic programs to look for," including categories such as study abroad (Elon University in North Carolina came in first), first-year experiences (Agnes Scott College in Georgia was No. 1) and co-ops/internships (Northeastern University in Massachusetts topped the list).

Check out more rankings below.

Top National Universities

1. Princeton University (New Jersey)

2. Harvard University (Massachusetts)

3. Columbia University (New York) (tie)

3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (tie)

3. Yale University (Connecticut) (tie)

Top National Liberal Arts Colleges

1. Williams College (Massachusetts)

2. Amherst College (Massachusetts)

3. Swarthmore College (Pennsylvania) (tie)

3. Wellesley College (Massachusetts) (tie)

5. Pomona College (California)

Top Public Schools National Universities

1. University of California, Los Angeles

2. University of California, Berkeley

3. University of Michigan in Ann Arbor

4. University of Virginia

5. Georgia Institute of Technology

Top Public Schools National Liberal Arts Colleges

1. United States Naval Academy (Maryland)

2. United States Military Academy (New York)

3. United States Air Force Academy (Colorado)

4. Virginia Military Institute

5. St. Mary’s College of Maryland

Top Performers on Social Mobility, National Universities

1. University of California, Riverside

2. University of California, Santa Cruz

3. University of California, Irvine

4. Howard University (Washington, D.C.)

5. Rutgers University, Newark (New Jersey)

Top Performers on Social Mobility National Liberal Arts Colleges

1. Cornell College (Iowa)

2. Agnes Scott College (Georgia)

3. Houghton College (New York)

4. College of Idaho

5. Salem College (North Carolina)