USC ranks no. 27 in U.S. News best college ranks

The exterior of Doheny Memorial Library.
Students and professors emphasized the importance of considering social fit in addition to college rankings when deciding which university to attend. (Charles McCollum | Daily Trojan file photo)

USC ranked No. 27 in the U.S. News & World Report’s 2022 college rankings, three spots lower than last year. The results, released Monday, marked the University’s first decline to the No. 27 slot since 2008.

U.S. News & World Report decided by scoring colleges across 15 academic categories including class size, student-faculty ratio, selectivity of admissions and alumni donations. 

Retaining and graduating students within six years are also considered factors, accounting for more than one-third of a school’s rank. The report also looks at faculty salary, academic reputation, financial resources and average ACT and SAT scores of existing students.

After gathering the data, the U.S. News & World Report formulates a score out of 100 to determine the rank. While USC’s overall ranking dropped, this year the University scored 79, a one-point increase from the previous year. 

The top 10 institutions listed in the report were all private universities. Non-academic elements like social life and athletics are not included.

In a statement to the Daily Trojan, USC Vice President for Enrollment Management Kedra Ishop wrote that the University is aware of the recent rankings and acknowledged that the rank is among the many factors students consider when choosing a university. Ishop also highlighted that the admissions office recently admitted the most selective and talented class in USC history.

“[Our first-year class] is a testament to our broad and sustained appeal to talented young people around the state, nation and world and one that we expect to continue as we share with a new class of prospective students why we are among the leading universities in the world and why USC might be the right place for them,” Ishop said. 

Director of USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism Gordon Stables said, while college rankings serve as a “benchmark” for students and a way to distinguish different universities, the weight the ratings carry varies by person. 

“There’s a series of different indexes that mean different things to different people,” said Stables in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “But you can use it as a jumping off point to say for a student with my academic profile, what are my odds of getting admitted [into a specific university].”

Stables said he believes students should examine the entire landscape of a school and consider their best fit when applying to college. 

“What’s the best fit in terms of student life, academic programs, opportunity mentored with faculty, community that will be supportive [and] career opportunities,” Stables said. “For me, the common element is every one of USC students has a different experience. So the idea that there’s a single USC experience doesn’t not help.”

Leslie Moreno, a freshman majoring in computer science and computer engineering, said she considered the U.S. News & World Report rankings but incorporated other qualitative factors — such as the school’s academic rigor, mental health resources and social life balance — when deciding where to attend college.

“I wanted a good work and social life balance where I would be able to unwind after being stressed from academics,” Moreno said. “A college’s social life impacts the environment of a school and its students’ happiness, so it would make sense to include it in the ranking criteria.” 

Moreno said rankings should consider mental health resources when creating rankings, as she chose to attend USC in part because of what she found to be a nontoxic environment for engineering students.

“USC in general has a lot of resources for students whenever they need help, not only mental health … but there’s a lot of resources for everything. I felt that going to Viterbi I would have a good selection of people that I can fall back on,” Moreno said.

Moreno commended the Viterbi School of Engineering for reaching gender parity in their program.

“Especially in computer science, the field can get pretty toxic when it’s not a good combination of men and women,” said Moreno. “Being the only girl in the class is always an uncomfortable feeling — so just knowing that Viterbi had a dedication for reaching 50-50 and reached 50-50 the year I came in. That was huge because I wanted to make sure I felt comfortable in my classes.”

Moreno said she was surprised USC saw a dip in their ratings, citing more selective admission statistics and the University delivering a “top-tier” education.

For Stables, he was not surprised to see USC’s rank drop, citing the U.S. News & World Report rankings’ tendency to fluctuate by year. 

“There are years it’s going to go up, there’s years it’s going to go down. I think the biggest thing is you know from talking to admissions — where the student interest is, you know from talking to the academic programs where the quality students are — beyond that some of these things are a little harder to control,” Stables said. “Unless you can tie [the rankings change] specifically to a university adding new degree programs [and having] a dramatic financial crisis, I think it’s often hard to draw causal connections between the rankings and anything else.” 

When the pandemic-related closures forced many universities to transition online, some high school students were unable to access standardized test scores. In response, USC announced it would implement a test-optional policy for students seeking admission. 

In February 2021, the admissions office announced the extension of the policy for two additional academic years. Stables said he believes the abnormal standardized testing will affect college rankings for the foreseeable future, potentially leading to shifts in the overall rankings. 

“At this moment, the biggest change in a lot of universities is what’s happening without standardized testing. I think that’s an area where I don’t even think these ratings have captured it, but I envision the biggest changes in years,” Stables said. “But it’s hard because the things that happen within a university within any given year aren’t captured.”

Stables said he encourages students to strike the right balance between finding a rigorous course program and a campus community where they feel supported.

“I would encourage folks to think about the campus culture and campus climate,” Stables said. Because your roommates, the people you’re going to be in student organizations with, the people you’re going to become friends with that support your community — that’s not going to be limited by your academic program. So you want to be in a place that has their culture that resonates with you.”