WILLIAMSTOWN -- From English to economics, anthropology to astronomy, chemistry to the classic languages, Williams College is known as one of the country's top educational institutions.
But for the first time in three years, Williams is officially No. 1. The renowned liberal arts college recently earned the top spot in Forbes Magazine's seventh annual ranking of the country's top 100 colleges.
Williams had held the top spot in 2010 and 2011, dropped to second behind Princeton in 2012, then tumbled all the way to ninth in 2013 when Forbes tweaked its rating system.
In this year's rankings, Forbes has focused on five categories -- student satisfaction; postgraduate success, which tracks alumni salaries and leaders in their chosen fields; an analysis of student debt load; four-year graduation rates; and alumni academic success. Those first three categories make up almost 80 percent of each school's score.
Stanford, which earned the top spot in 2013, is ranked second. Swarthmore, Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, respectively, make up the rest of the top five. Pomona College in California, which was ranked second last year, fell to eighth.
"It's impossible to know what changed," said Williams spokesman James Kolesar, regarding the fluctuation in the rankings. "Relative to the others, our data changed a bit and the others did as well.
"Being consistently ranked among the top colleges in the country clearly makes a difference in terms of prospective student interest," he said. "But there's no evidence that being ranked one, two, three or four makes a noticeable difference."
Each private school on the list is also given a financial grade based on nine fiscal factors. Three quarters of each school's financial grade is based on the institution's balance sheet health (40 percent) and operational soundness (35 percent). Williams received an A plus along with 21 of the other colleges that make up the top 25.
According to Forbes, yearly student tuition at Williams is $61,850, higher than any other college ranked in the top 10, and more than all but five schools that are listed in the top 25. The University of Chicago, ranked 24th, has the highest tuition fee among the top 100 schools at $64,988.
Despite the high tuition figure, Williams has the lowest student debt ratio of any college in the country, and the lowest student to faculty ratio (7-to-1) of any liberal arts college, according to Kolesar.
At graduation, only 29 percent of the Class of 2013 had borrowed, according to Kolesar, and the cumulative four-year average of those who did borrow was $12,500.
"We take the affordability of Williams very seriously," he said.
Amherst College, Williams' archrival, is ranked 10th in this year's rankings, but also received an A plus financial grade. Amherst was ranked 13th in the Forbes' rankings in both 2012 and 2013.
Where they stand...
The top 25 in Forbes Magazine's 2014 rankings of the nation's top colleges:
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology*
8. Pomona College
9. U.S. Military Academy
16. Carleton College
17. Notre Dame
21. Cal Tech
24. University of Chicago
*Located in Massachusetts
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