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

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.

Thank you for the summary. Was 12) Pomona College meant to be Claremont McKenna or Pomona was an exception to the alphabetical list?

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.

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).

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

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

It’s refreshing to have a ranking system that sticks to basics, doesn’t get wrapped up in a lot of bells and whistles – and agrees with me. :smiley:

Having a ranking system at all is in direct conflict with the purpose of such a publication.

“Let’s help you find the right college for you…and by the way, here are the BEST colleges.” ?

Just feeding the sorry obsession with status that seems to have taken over in the last 20+ years.

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.

@Publisher How does the book determine the number of academic pens each college gets? Does it say at the beginning of the book somewhere?

@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.


Ok, that’s refreshing. ??

@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.”

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.

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?

@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?

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.

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.

“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.

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.

@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.