I have not, and will probably never be, a fan of Forbes college rankings. I could have made their list with less time and money by matching up selectivity and endowment per student to come up with a set of “best colleges.”

The exception that I might have had to consider would have been the schools that I would consider to be Forbes best in their college rankings: the United States Military Academy, aka “West Point,” and the United States Naval Academy, aka “Annapolis.”

These two military service academies are exceptionally selective; less than 10 percent of the men and women who apply are accepted. The admissions processes are more rigorous than they are at more traditional colleges. Prospective students must not only secure a Congressional nomination; they must also hope that they have the opportunity to attend summer leadership programs sponsored by the academies during the summer before their senior year. They need to be more physically fit as a class than students at practically any other college in the country. And, of course they need very strong academic and leadership credentials as they would need to be considered for admission to any other exceptionally selective college.

What other reasons, besides selectivity, would qualify West Point or Annapolis to be America’s best colleges in these, or any other, college rankings?

Both academies have to be considered in college rankings versus National Liberal Arts Colleges. US News already ranks them that way.  While each has approximately 4,500 undergraduates, more than any other national liberal arts college in the US, neither academy grants advanced degrees. The Army War College, which offers advanced academic programs to Army officers, is based in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The Naval Postgraduate School is based in Monterrey, California. The mil

When considering either academy against a “top” or “elite” liberal arts school such as Williams (#2 in Forbes rankings) or Amherst or a Patriot League sports rival such as Bucknell, Colgate or Lafayette, I find out that:

  • Admission is not tied to family income. There’s no such thing as “need aware” admissions at either military academy. No one pays for their education.
  • The academies are more “STEM-driven.” Every first and second-year student takes the equivalent of the first two years of an undergraduate engineering curriculum. Nearly half of West Point graduates go on to earn a degree in a STEM subject, as do more than half of Annapolis graduates. By comparison, a student who is fortunate to be accepted to Amherst or Wesleyan has their run of the college catalog. Only Lafayette, which competes with Bucknell and Lehigh to recruit students, and Union College (NY) come close to being as STEM-driven as West Point or Annapolis.
  •  The academies offer leadership training that no college can match. It’s easy to see why. The risks of inadequately training future officers to lead are quite real.
  • The academies are more “equitable” in some ways. These are not places where students show off social status. Fitness and leadership traits must be proven. So must academic prowess.
  • The network is as impressive as it is at “elite” private schools. A graduate of either academy becomes part of a network that not only survived academy life but also military service. The education as well as service carries tremendous respect in the civilian business world.

The culture of West Point or Annapolis, as well as military service, will not be for every college-bound high school student. However, the academies attain the distinction of being exceptionally selective without being regarded as elite, when elite is tied to family income. They also demand more of their students than traditional colleges do. And they deliver more for those who fit the culture.


2 Comments on “The ‘Best Colleges’ in Forbes College Rankings Might Be…

  1. Can’t disagree directly with anything said in this article, but why was the United States Air Force Academy not mentioned? Applicants go through the same rigorous selection process, only the successful applicants have higher mean scores than its sister Academies. The only reason Army and Navy have a lower acceptance rate is they get more applications; the standards are higher at Air Force.

    • Wesley, I agree with you about the Air Force Academy. Unfortunately, Forbes did not agree in their article.

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