(Source: University of Pennsylvania)So we've finally cracked the top five in our list of America's best universities. Let's meet the pinky.
#5: University of PennsylvaniaBefore we begin, let me offer a massive disclaimer: I graduated from Penn with a B.A. in american history, so my comments may be considered biased. That said, I rank a few competitors above my alma mater, so I think I'm being as objective as possible.In any case…
Anyone who has watched U.S. News' rankings closely over the years has seen Penn rise from the teens to as high as number four, where it currently stands. A remarkable achievement, one would think, or at least a testament to the university's commitment to playing the rankings game. But I'll suggest another take: Penn is finally getting the recognition it has long deserved.
The university has always been strong in many areas. Certainly the Wharton School of Business tops that list. Its undergraduate program is the best in the business, so to speak, and its M.B.A. program is rivaled by only one or two others. The schools of law, medicine, nursing, and veterinary medicine are excellent, as is the Annenberg School of Communications. And in arts and sciences, the departments of anthropology, history, economics and psychology have traditionally been outstanding.
More broadly, Penn's reputation has been forged in two ways. First, its professional schools have outshone its undergraduate program. Second, it was for years a second or third (or fourth or fifth) option among Ivy applicants. I think it's clear that neither is true anymore. Penn is now the college of choice for thousands of students, and its undergrads are as talented as you'll find anywhere.
Why fifth? The university still has to shore up some weaknesses; excellence doesn't hold across the board. Its schools of education and engineering, while very good, aren't in the same league as some others. A few departments, such as political science, haven't measured up either. A Ph.D. from Penn will get you a faculty job, but it doesn't carry quite the same cachet as those from other elite institutions.
To be sure, critiquing the top five amounts to nitpicking, but we have to draw distinctions somehow. In my opinion, Penn has done well to merit this high ranking, but there's still room for improvement.
That's why it ranks fifth.