Nurturing Nobelists, Turing and Fields Medalists

Source: QZ, Sep 2015

Our goal is to create a ranking among US colleges, but of course one could broaden the analysis if desired. The first level included all winners of the Nobel Prize (physics, chemistry, medicine, economics, literature, and peace), Fields Medal (mathematics) and the Turing Award (computer science). The second level included individuals elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), National Academy of Engineering (NAE) or Institute of Medicine (IOM). The National Academies are representative of the top few thousand individuals in all of STEM.

One intriguing result is the strong correlation (r ~ 0.5) between our ranking (over all universities) and the average SAT score of each student population, which suggests that cognitive ability, as measured by standardized tests, likely has something to do with great contributions later in life. By selecting heavily on measurable characteristics such as cognitive ability, an institution obtains a student body with a much higher likelihood of achievement.

The identification of ability here is probably not primarily due to “holistic review” by admissions committees: Caltech is famously numbers-driven in its selection (it has the highest SAT/ACT scores), and outperforms the other top schools by a sizeable margin. While admission to one of the colleges on the lists above is no guarantee of important achievements later in life, the probability is much higher for these select matriculants.

Rank Nobel, Fields or Turing prize Frequency Per capita ratio below top school
1 California Institute of Technology 11 1
2 Harvard University 34 2.82
3 University of Chicago 15 2.92
4 Swarthmore College 5 3.72
5 Columbia University 20 4.06
6 Massachusetts Institute of Technology 14 4.45
7 Yale University 13 5.44
8 Amherst College 4 5.51
9 CUNY – City College of New York 13 7.52
10 Carnegie Mellon University 7 7.66
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