For the eighth straight year, Lawrence University’s academic excellence, including one of the country’s most distinctive first-year programs, placed it among the top quarter of the nation’s best liberal arts colleges in U.S. News & World Report’s 20th annual “America’s Best Colleges” report released Friday (8/18).

Lawrence was ranked 53rd among 215 leading national colleges and universities in U.S. News’ “Best Liberal Arts Colleges” category. Lawrence was the top-ranked institution in the national category from Wisconsin and Illinois.

In addition, Lawrence was again cited in U.S. News’ distinctive “First-Year Experiences” category for its signature curricular program, Freshman Studies. Lawrence has been included in the first-year experiences list every year since 2001 when U.S. News first introduced its “Programs to Look For” feature. The first-year experiences list is one of eight specialized categories the magazine uses to highlight what it calls “outstanding examples of academic programs that are believed to lead to student success.”

The specialized categories are not distinguished by institutional size or type, but include those cited as “stellar examples” most frequently in a survey of college presidents, chief academic officers and deans of admission. Institutions featured in the special categories are identified alphabetically rather than by a numerical ranking. Lawrence joined Duke, Princeton and Stanford universities, among other institutions, that were cited for distinctive first-year programs.

For the fourth year in a row, Williams College of Massachusetts earned the magazine’s top ranking among national liberal arts colleges, while Amherst College and Swarthmore College were ranked second and third, respectively.

In compiling its annual “America’s Best Colleges”guide, U.S. News & World Report evaluates nearly 1,400 of the nation’s public and private four-year schools, using data from 15 separate indicators of academic excellence such as selectivity, graduation rates, student retention, faculty resources and alumni satisfaction. Each factor is assigned a “weight” that reflects the magazine editor’s judgment as to how much that measure matters. Each school’s composite weighted score is then compared to peer institutions to determine final rankings.

Institutions are divided into several distinct categories. In addition to the best liberal arts college category that measures national institutions like Lawrence, other rankings are based on universities that grant master and doctorate degrees and colleges that are considered “regional” institutions such as St. Norbert College or UW-Oshkosh.