US doctoral programme rankings

Of potential use to students contemplating graduate study, to universities contemplating their own doctoral programmes, and to university administrations considering changes (including but by no means limited to cuts).

The National Research Council has released data (from stats up to 2006) “to give readers,” as the Chronicle of Higher Education puts it, “a unique and sophisticated way to compare programs in all 62 fields covered by the research council’s rankings. Comparisons by faculty publications, grants, citations, graduate students’ time to degree, GRE scores, and reputation of programs will be a mouse click away, along with many other features. Readers will also be able to do their own analyses of programs using all key NRC data.”

Now, I’m not claiming for a minute that this is the be-all and end-all of rankings, nor that it is flawless, nor that the idea itself is flawless. But as rankings go, it’s not unsophisticated. So: to be weighed up along with the other recent rankings, in a comparative way. (See end of post for a reminder of other recently-released rankings, and some commentary thereon.)


Back to the NRC data:

For anyone: the R- and S-rankings are the most obviously useful things, and the first things many people have looked at (see for example Princeton University’s 2010-09-28 news item and the Daily Princetonian’s article from 2010-09-30); but see also the range of factors taken into consideration.


For students researching programmes with a view to applying (and parents and other Concerned and Affected Parties): see GRE scores, a variety of quality of life features, proportions of international students, provision of health care, whether or not a university keeps data on things like completion and intention to pursue an academic career (this provides some idea of whether or not an institution cares about its graduate students … ). Look attentively at time to completion. As with any spreadsheet, you can move around and selectively hide columns, to see all programmes in your chosen field (e.g. History); and make further selections and so on for further desirable criteria.

Note that the definitions of RA and TA support vary from institution to institution. E.g. my own doctoral programme looks like it offers 0% of either, when in fact I had one of each, and their equivalent of the TA-ship—an Assistantship in Instruction equivalent to quarter-time teaching—is the usual state of affairs.

So if you are considering a PhD, do check directly with the institutions concerned. The NRA materials should provide you with intelligent and useful questions to ask. For further questions to ask, points to ponder, and issues to consider, see: The Roughest of Rough Guides to the PhD


For departments and universities meditating on their doctoral programmes, and especially those outside the US: see methodology and questionnaires.

For the whole thorny issue of weighing publications (see earlier posts on here re. the ESF rankings controversy): most illuminating to see that citation indices are regarded as “not applicable” for the humanities. I note also that a distinction is (very sensibly, and Medievally-sensibly) drawn between the humanities and the social sciences (under the “taxonomy of fields” appendix).

Here are the documents (Excel spreadsheet downloaded in MacOSX format; see main website for other file formats; and do consult the aforementioned page for their very useful FAQ for each file):


Reminder of the other recent rankings:

Comment and commentary (plus another official policy document–bonus!):


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