[The] researchers propose a method of ranking colleges according to students’ “revealed preferences”—the institutions they choose to attend over others that have accepted them. Using survey data from a national sample of high-achieving students, the researchers determined the winners and losers of each applicant’s “matriculation tournament.” They then used those outcomes to rank about 100 selective colleges. (Harvard University topped the list, but you already knew that; the University of Notre Dame nearly cracked the top 10.)
This model enabled the researchers to approximate the odds that an applicant would choose one college over another. For instance, there was a 59-percent chance that a student considering only Harvard and the California Institute of Technology would choose Harvard. If the student were choosing between only Harvard and Wellesley College—10 spots below Harvard on the revealed-preferences list—there was a 93-percent chance that she would end up heading to Cambridge, Mass.