The U.S. News and World Report has published its 2021 Best Colleges, and Southwestern has tied for the #1 National Liberal Arts College (NLAC) in Texas. The university is also tied for the #102 spot in the nation among institutions of the same classification.

SU also ranks as the #2 liberal-arts institution among Best Value Schools in Texas; it is the #76 NLAC Best Value School in the nation.

Last year, U.S. News introduced a list of Top Performers on Social Mobility. Schools are ranked according to how many students awarded federal Pell Grants (those typically coming from households whose family incomes were less than $50,000 annually) graduated within six years. This year, Southwestern again ranked #2 among NLACs in Texas and tied for #123 NLAC in the U.S. on the list.

Southwestern is categorized as a National Liberal Arts College based on the Carnegie Basic Classification of Institutions of Higher Education; other classifications include National Universities, which offer graduate programs; Regional Universities (North, South, Midwest, and West); and Regional Colleges (also sorted into North, South, Midwest, and West lists). NLACs include private and public institutions that focus almost exclusively on undergraduate education and award at least 50% of their degrees in the arts and sciences. The editors of the popular college guidebook group schools into these 10 different ranking lists to more fairly compare schools with similar missions.

The U.S. News and World Report evaluates institutions based on varying measures of academic excellence, such as admissions selectivity, student retention, average class size, per-student spending, the strength of the faculty, graduation rates, alumni employment outcomes, and alumni giving. It also rates schools in categories such as first-year experiences, internships, learning communities, service learning, study abroad, undergraduate research and creative projects, senior capstones, and writing in the disciplines. Unlike other college-ranking organizations, they do not rely on opinions garnered from residence hall tours, student polls, or recruiter interviews. The publication has been ranking colleges and universities since 1983.