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Most Elite Colleges & Universities for Academics--2020 Fiske Guide To Colleges

PublisherPublisher 9038 replies110 threads Senior Member
The Fiske Guide To Colleges is considered by many to be the most authoritative guide to the top colleges & universities in the US.

Updated annually, the 2020 edition is the 36th edition of this college guidebook.

The Fiske Guide To Colleges focuses on the top ten (10%) percent of US colleges & universities. The newest edition examines 308 US colleges & universities and 9 foreign schools.

The Fiske ratings for Academics is based on "a judgment about the overall academic climate of the institution, including its reputation in the academic world, the quality of the faculty, the level of teaching and research, the academic ability of students, the quality of libraries and other facilities, and the level of academic seriousness among students and faculty members".

The 36 colleges & universities receiving Fiske's top score (5 Pens) for academics are:

1) Amherst College
2) Barnard College
3) Bowdoin College
4) Brown University
5) Bryn Mawr

6) UCal-Berkeley
7) UCLA
8) UC-San Diego
9) CalTech
10) Carleton College

11) Univ. of Chicago
12) Pomona College
13) Columbia University
14) Cornell University
15) Dartmouth College

16) Duke
17) Georgia Tech
18) Harvard
19) Haverford College
20) Univ. of Illinois

21) Johns Hopkins Univ.
22) MIT
23) Univ. of Michigan
24) Northwestern University
25) Olin College of Engineering

26) Univ. of Pennsylvania
27) Princeton
28) Rice
29) Stanford
30) Swarthmore College

31) Univ. of Virginia
32) Wellesley College
33) Wesleyan University
34) College of William & Mary
35) Williams College
36) Yale University

While the 8 Ivy League schools, Stanford, MIT, Chicago, Duke, Northwestern, Amherst & Williams College are expected to make every list of top schools academically, it is refreshing to see several all female schools and 8 public schools make this list.

Maybe the most surprising school included in this elite group is the University of Illinois--even though always considered an elite school for engineering.

I made this list for ease of reference as the Fiske Guide does not include any summary charts for grouping schools by academic rating.
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Replies to: Most Elite Colleges & Universities for Academics--2020 Fiske Guide To Colleges

  • BelmontVABelmontVA 54 replies5 threads Junior Member
    Thank you for the summary. Was 12) Pomona College meant to be Claremont McKenna or Pomona was an exception to the alphabetical list?
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  • PublisherPublisher 9038 replies110 threads Senior Member
    The second highest rated (4.5 Pens) for academics included 34 colleges & universities including the University of Washington, the University of Texas at Austin, Harvey Mudd College, WashUStL, Penn State and several foreign schools (Univ. of Toronto, Univ. of British Columbia, University of St. Andrews, Trinity College in Dublin, McGill University, Queens University and the University of Aberdeen).

    The third highest rated (4 Pens) for academics included about 41 colleges & universities including: The University of Florida, Emory, Boston College, Carnegie Mellon Univ., Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Kenyon College, Wake Forest University & RISD among others.
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  • PublisherPublisher 9038 replies110 threads Senior Member
    edited November 2019
    Pomona College received Fiske's highest rating (5 Pens) for academics.

    (Claremont Colleges were included as a group alphabetically, but rated individually.)

    Harvey Mudd College & Claremont McKenna College both received Fiske's second highest rating for academics (4.5 Pens).

    edited November 2019
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  • PublisherPublisher 9038 replies110 threads Senior Member
    The Fiske Guide To Colleges 2020 Edition included these 35 colleges & universities in its second highest group (4.5 Pens) for academics:

    1) Bates College
    2) Claremont McKenna College
    3) Harvey Mudd College
    4) Colby College (which has recently added a spectacular new athletics & rec facility)
    5) Colgate University

    6) Davidson College
    7) Deep Springs College (a 2 year working ranch school)
    8) Georgetown University
    9) Grinnell College
    10) Hamilton College

    11) Univ. of British Columbia
    12) McGill University
    13) Queen's University
    14) Univ. of Toronto
    15) Trinity College in Dublin

    16) University of Texas at Austin
    17) Vassar College
    18) Trinity College (Conn.)
    19) University of Aberdeen
    20) University of St. Andrews

    21) Macalester College
    22) Miami Univ. (Ohio)
    23) Middlebury College
    24) NYU
    25) Oberlin College

    26) Penn State
    27) Wash & Lee College
    28) Reed College
    29) St. John's College (Santa Fe, New Mexico & Annapolis, Maryland)
    30) Smith College

    31) Tufts University
    32) WashUStL
    33) Univ. of Wisconsin
    34) Univ. of Washington
    35) SUNY-Binghamton
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  • PublisherPublisher 9038 replies110 threads Senior Member
    Fiske's Guide To Colleges 2020 Edition included these schools among its 3rd highest rated (4 Pens) group with respect to academics:

    1) College of the Holy Cross
    2) Hampshire College
    3) Franklin & Marshall College
    4) Emory University
    5) Univ. of Florida

    6) Dickinson College
    7) Case Western Reserve
    8) Boston College
    9) Vanderbilt University
    10) Univ. of Conn.

    11) Connecticut College
    12) Earlham College
    13) Union College
    14) Univ. of Iowa
    15) Univ. of Kansas (great college town as well)

    16) Kenyon College (small with elite writing programs & superb athletic facilities)
    17) Lafayette College
    18) Lehigh University
    19) Univ. of Minnesota
    20) Whitman College

    21) Mount Holyoke College
    22) New College of Florida (very small & very liberal)
    23) Texas A&M
    24) Sarah Lawrence College (some similarities to Bard College & Vassar College)
    25) College of New Jersey

    26) Skidmore College
    27) UNC-Asheville
    28) UNC-Chapel Hill
    29) Notre Dame
    30) Occidental College

    31) RPI
    32) RISD (Rhode Island School of Design has a close relationship with Brown)
    33) St. Mary's College of Maryland
    34) St. Olaf
    35) Univ. of the South (Sewanee)

    36) SUNY-Albany
    37) SUNT-Buffalo
    38) SUNY-Stony Brook
    39) Wake Forest University
    40) Carnegie Mellon University
    41) Lawrence University
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  • PublisherPublisher 9038 replies110 threads Senior Member
    The Fiske Guide To Colleges focuses only on the top 10% of all colleges & universities in the US (308 US colleges & universities in the newest edition) and includes 9 foreign schools (UBC, Toronto, McGill, Queen's, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St. Andrews & Trinity College in Ireland).

    Edinburgh & Glasgow received the lowest academic rating--3 Pens--among the 9 foreign schools.

    The Fiske academic ratings are 5 Pens, 4.5 Pens, 4 Pens, 3.5 Pens, 3 Pens & 2 Pens.

    Some schools which received just 2 Pens are the Univ. of Hawaii, West Virginia University, UNC-Wilmington & the Univ. of Maine-Orono.

    Any college or university receiving an academic rating of 5 Pens, 4.5 Pens or 4 Pens should be considered outstanding academically among all 3,500 to 4,500 US four year colleges & universities.

    Absent from the Fiske Guide To Colleges are the 5 service academies (USMA at West Point, USNA at Annapolis, USAFA at Colorado Springs, the US Coast Guard Academy & the merchant marine academy on Long Island, New York).

    It would be interesting to see the Fiske Guide's assessment of two additional Canadian schools--the University of Waterloo & the University of Victoria.

    Additionally, it would be helpful if the Fiske Guide To Colleges included a section on public university honors colleges & honors programs.
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  • homerdoghomerdog 5730 replies105 threads Senior Member
    @Publisher How does the book determine the number of academic pens each college gets? Does it say at the beginning of the book somewhere?
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  • PublisherPublisher 9038 replies110 threads Senior Member
    edited November 2019
    @OhiBro: The Fiske Guide To Colleges does not provide any summary grouping or listing of its ratings for Academics, Social Life or Quality of Life. I had to flip through the hard copy page-by-page in order to assemble groupings by academic rating.

    What is important to some may be less important to others.
    edited November 2019
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  • OhiBroOhiBro 463 replies6 threads Member
    @Publisher
    The Fiske Guide To Colleges does not provide any summaries of its ratings

    Ok, that’s refreshing. 👍🏽
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  • PublisherPublisher 9038 replies110 threads Senior Member
    @homerdog: In my first post which started this thread. I included the quote from the Fiske guide To Colleges regarding the academic ratings.

    Additionally the 2020 edition noted: "In response to the suggestion that the range of colleges within a single category has been too broad, we have introduced some half-steps into the ratings."
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  • PublisherPublisher 9038 replies110 threads Senior Member
    edited November 2019
    Edward Fiske & his staff offer very interesting insights into these 317 schools.

    Not afraid to make blunt observations (for example, comments included in the reviews of Colorado College & of Colby College with respect to usage of intoxicating substances). Should be much less of an issue, however, at Colby College since the completion of the new athletic & recreation facility. But this guide fails to address the issue at another LAC, I suspect, due to the New York Times' love affair with that school. (Edward B. Fiske was the former Education Editor of the New York Times.)

    Edward Fiske is a graduate of Wesleyan University & his wife teaches at Duke University.
    edited November 2019
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  • TheGreyKingTheGreyKing 2213 replies103 threadsForum Champion Williams College Forum Champion
    I reread the lists above that Publisher provided of four pens schools several times, sure I was just missing one particular college’s name in a fast read... but no.

    Among the ‘safer but not safety’ choices our son had explored for college admissions, most appeared here on the four pens list: Skidmore, Connecticut College, Franklin and Marshall, Lafayette. (And his absolute safety made the 4.5 pens list!)

    Conspicuously absent?
    Brandeis

    @Publisher - How many pens did Fiske give Brandeis, a small tier one research university where two professors recently received a Nobel prize for their work— and the only fully secular, never-religiously-affiliated university in the United States without a Christian majority?
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  • PublisherPublisher 9038 replies110 threads Senior Member
    Some notes:

    One school that I missed in the 4 Pen academic rating category is Indiana University.

    Edward Fiske's wife is Helen F. Ladd. They married in 1997 when she was age 51. A graduate of Wellesley College with a master's from London School of Economics & a PhD from Harvard, she has authored many books on education. She has taught at Dartmouth College, Wellesley college & Duke University.

    One of the most interesting features of the Fiske Guide To Colleges is the inclusion of "Overlaps" .

    For example, applicants to Rice University also apply to Stanford, Duke, Chicago, Cornell, Vanderbilt, Harvard, Yale & MIT.

    Applicants to Northwestern University often also apply to: Yale, Stanford, Michigan, Penn, Princeton, Wash UStL & Duke.

    Bowdoin College overlaps are: Amherst, Brown, Dartmouth, Middlebury, Wesleyan, Yale & Harvard.

    Emory University overlaps: Duke, JHU, Penn, Vanderbilt, WashUStL, & Georgetown.

    Georgetown overlaps: Boston College, Chicago, Duke, NYU, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Penn & Virginia.

    Colorado College overlaps: Cornell College (Iowa), Univ. of Denver, Univ. of Colorado, Univ. of Vermont, Lewis & Clark, Whitman College, USC & Tulane.

    University of St. Andrews (Scotland) overlaps: Georgetown, Brown, NYU, Columbia, Tufts, Harvard, McGill & Yale.
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  • PublisherPublisher 9038 replies110 threads Senior Member
    edited November 2019
    Brandeis University received 4 Pens.

    Fiske comments re: Brandeis:

    "Brandeis is virtually unrivaled in Near Eastern and Judaic studies, and Hebrew is a specialty."

    "Professors are very accommodating and are good lecturers and discussion leaders."

    "Has one of the top programs in neuroscience at a midsized research university. Competes with Tufts in the Boston area."

    Brandeis overlaps: Brown, Cornell, Tufts, WashUStL, NYU, Boston University, Harvard & Yale.
    edited November 2019
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  • TheBigChefTheBigChef 642 replies5 threads Member
    “Maybe the most surprising school included in this elite group is the University of Illinois--even though always considered an elite school for engineering.”

    It’s surprising because it doesn’t belong in that group.

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  • privatebankerprivatebanker 5780 replies84 threads Senior Member
    edited November 2019
    So the top 50 percent of the top 10 percent of colleges are either 4 4.5 or 5 pens. Whatever that means.

    So the top 5 percent of all schools in the nation are separated as to academics by a pen or they are all in the top one pen or half pen of separation levels (which I’m not sure what this means - celebrated profs, small classrooms or difficulty of material, grad rates, retention?). Is it they think it should be? It seems like a grad rate dissection to me. It’s definitely not work load, grade deflation or difficulty.

    To many factors and unprovable. It’s just opinion.

    And I can tell you first hand that many wake Forest students and others would gladly switch grading and workload with a big name ivy on this list. Lol.

    It’s all too fine of a point (pun intended).

    I also think they should have used quills.
    edited November 2019
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  • PublisherPublisher 9038 replies110 threads Senior Member
    @TheGreyKing: When I compiled the list, my focus was on those schools which received the top rating--5 Pens--for academics, so I may have overlooked a school or two with lower ratings.

    How is Brandeis University's financial situation ? I recall that Brandeis was a victim of Bernie Madoff pyramid scheme / investment scandal. Planned to sell off its art holdings due to lack of operating funds, heavy debt & lack of liquidity due to endowment restrictions & Massachusetts law.
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  • PublisherPublisher 9038 replies110 threads Senior Member
    @privatebanker: About 113 of the 308 US colleges & universities & 9 foreign schools earned a rating of 4 Pens or higher = just under 36% of the schools reviewed.

    About 113 of the 317 schools were rated 4 Pens, 4.5 Pens or 5 Pens for academics by Fiske. Fiske added the half pen levels in response to reader complaints for further refinement.

    Quoting Fiske guide To Colleges 2020:

    "In general, a rating of three pens suggests that the institution is a solid one that easily meets the criteria for inclusion in a guide devoted to the top 10 percent of colleges and universities in the nation."

    "An academic rating of four pens suggests that the institution is above average even by these standards and that it has some particularly distinguishing academic feature, such as especially rich course offerings or an especially serious academic atmosphere."

    "A rating of five pens for academics indicates that the college or university is among the handful of top institutions of its type in the nation on a very broad variety of criteria. Those in the private sector...attract students with high SAT scores and those in the public sector are invariably magnets for the top students in their states. All can be assumed to have outstanding faculties and other academic resources."

    "In response to the suggestion that the range of colleges within a certain category has been too broad, we have introduced some half-steps into the ratings."
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