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FAQ: What is a Tier 1 University

Postit FAQ-What is a Tier 1 school? (Common list of Tier 1 Universities for 2018 is at the end of the post.)
What is a tier 1 university turns out to be a very interesting question. I never really looked into it and just assumed that Tier 1 was a school ranked in the top 50 of US News College Rankings for National Universities. Tiers 2, 3, and 4 were the next group of 50 institutions. Anything not ranked in the top 200 were considered unranked schools. I do remember at one point something about US News deciding not to do Tier 2, that those schools would be part of a larger Tier 1, or something like that.

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The reason why I’m actually using fuzzy impressions is because there really isn’t any official definition of Tier 1. I think that it is often used by those in the college search process to refer to the top 50 schools ranked by US News and therefore, the most desirable or prestigious to attend.

US News Tier 1 University Definition

However, if you go by US News’ definition, all ranked schools in a category are now considered Tier 1 schools. That’s approximately 200 universities in the National University category. All unranked schools are considered Tier 2.

Third, the colleges are ranked based on their overall scores. U.S. News publishes the numerical rank of the top three-fourths of schools in each category; the remaining lowest-ranked schools in each category are placed into a second tier based on their overall score. Schools in the second tier are labeled Rank Not Published and listed alphabetically.

Wasn’t that nice of them? Now the top 75% of schools in any category can be called Tier 1 schools.

Other Definitions for Tier 1 Universities

The meaning is furthered muddied when you considered the Texas initiative to increase the number of Tier 1 universities in the state.  According to the Texas Legislature, Texas has three Tier 1 universities in the state while California has nine.

These are schools that “are expected to bring in at least $100 million per year in research grants, plus have selective admissions and high-quality faculty.”

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But it might also include the 60 United States schools that are members of the American Association of Universities which includes five institutions that didn’t quite make it into the top 100 of US News National University rankings.

The University of Houston, one of the institutions trying to improve its status to Tier 1, states that:

there are three organizations that are generally accepted as national arbiters of an institution’s rank as a Tier One institution. They are the Association of American Universities, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Center for Measuring University Performance, which issues Top American Research University (TARU) reports. Recognition by any of these three is taken as an indication of Tier One status.

The Carnegie Foundation definition would increase the number of Tier 1 Universities to 105, including the University of Houston. The Top American Research Universities lists 73 institutions that have at least one measure in the top 50. The measures include data on research, support, faculty awards, graduate training, and undergraduate test scores.

Since there doesn’t appear to be an official Tier 1 definition, it seems to me that it’s a matter of perception. And it’s up to you to decide if the perception is based on your values and needs or of someone else’s.


Tier 1 Universities

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Name Type State US News Best College National University Ranking Top American Research University Assoc. of American Universities Members
Columbia University in the City of New York Private NY 5 1 y
Harvard University Private MA 2 2 y
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Private MA 5 3 y
Stanford University Private CA 5 4 y
University of Pennsylvania Private PA 8 5 y
Duke University Private NC 9 6 y
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Public MI 28 7 y
Yale University Private CT 3 8 y
University of California-Berkeley Public CA 21 9 y
University of California-Los Angeles Public CA 21 10 y
University of Washington-Seattle Campus Public WA 56 11 y
University of Wisconsin-Madison Public WI 46 12 y
Johns Hopkins University Private MD 11 13 y
Northwestern University Private IL 11 14 y
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Public MN 69 16 y
Ohio University-Main Campus Public OH 151 17 y
University of Chicago Private IL 3 18 y
University of California-San Diego Public CA 42 19 y
Cornell University Private NY 14 20 y
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Public NC 30 21 y
Washington University in St Louis Private MO 18 23 y
Vanderbilt University Private TN 14 25 y
Princeton University Private NJ 1 26 y
New York University Private NY 30 27 y
Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus Public PA 52 28 y
Texas A & M University-College Station Public TX 69 29 y
University of Florida Public FL 42 30 y
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Public IL 52 31 y
University of California-Davis Public CA 46 32 y
Emory University Private GA 21 34 y
California Institute of Technology Private CA 10 35 y
Rutgers University-New Brunswick Public NJ 69 37 y
Rice University Private TX 14 39 y
Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus Public GA 34 39 y
Purdue University-Main Campus Public IN 56 41 y
University of Maryland-College Park Public MD 61 42 y
Michigan State University Public MI 81 43 y
University of Colorado Boulder Public CO 90 44 y
University of Virginia-Main Campus Public VA 25 45 y
Brown University Private RI 14 46 y
Carnegie Mellon University Private PA 25 47 y
University of California-Santa Barbara Public CA 37 49 y
Boston University Private MA 37 51 y
Case Western Reserve University Private OH 37 53 y
University of California-Irvine Public CA 42 56 y
University of Iowa Public IA 78 57 y
University of Kansas Public KS 115 71 y
University of Missouri-Columbia Public MO 120 74 y
Brandeis University Private MA 34 y
Tulane University of Louisiana Private LA 40 y
Stony Brook University Public NY 97 y
University of Oregon Public OR 103 y
Iowa State University Public IA 115 y
University of Arizona Public AZ 124 y
Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis Public IN 192 y
University at Buffalo Public NY y
University of Southern California Private CA 21 15
University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus Public PA 68 24
University of Notre Dame Private IN 18 33
The University of Texas at Austin Public TX 56 33
Dartmouth College Private NH 11 38
Arizona State University-Tempe Public AZ 115 40
Tufts University Private MA 29 48
University of Utah Public UT 110 52
Indiana University-Bloomington Public IN 90 54
North Carolina State University at Raleigh Public NC 81 55
University of Rochester Private NY 34 58
George Washington University Private DC 56 59
Northeastern University Private MA 40 61
University of Alabama at Birmingham Public AL 159 62
University of South Florida-Main Campus Public FL 140 64
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Public VA 69 65
Florida International University Public FL 216 66
Florida State University Public FL 81 67
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Private NY 42 68
University of Cincinnati-Main Campus Public OH 133 69
University of Georgia Public GA 54 70
University of Massachusetts-Amherst Public MA 75 72
University of Miami Private FL 46 73
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Public NE 124 75
University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus Public OK 97 76
Georgetown University Private DC 20
Wake Forest University Private NC 27
College of William and Mary Public VA 32
Boston College Private MA 32
Lehigh University Private PA 46
Pepperdine University Private CA 46
Villanova University Private PA 46
FAQ: What is a Tier 1 University

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