For the fourth straight year, Yale finished third in the popular and controversial U.S. News & World Report national college rankings, behind Princeton and Harvard.

Yale’s ranking was due largely to the differential between the three schools in the faculty resources rank, which takes into account a number of different factors, such as class size and faculty salary, said Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News & World Report. While Princeton and Harvard garnered totals of 100 and 99 points respectively in the overall count, Yale was right behind with an overall score of 98. The California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University tied for fourth place in the rankings, each school receiving a total score of 94, four points fewer than Yale.

Yale President Richard Levin said he does not place much significance on the rankings.

“The rankings are affected by small variables,” he said. “This is not something of great concern to us. It’s hard to put too much on it.”

Morse said Princeton and Harvard finished second and third in the faculty resources rank, respectively, while Yale ranked sixth.

“It’s a very slight differential [between Yale and the two top schools],” Morse said. “That’s the most significant factor. There’s also a slight difference in graduation rate, but the difference in faculty resources is the biggest factor.”

Morse said he believes the significance placed on the rankings — which generally receive much attention from students, educators and others — differ depending on the university.

“At more selective schools like Yale, the importance [of the rankings] is probably much greater than the U.S. averages, which studies have shown is low,” he said.

But admissions deans at Harvard and Yale downplayed the emphasis placed by their universities on the survey.

“Along with virtually all of our peer schools, we believe the formulas used by ranksters such as U.S. News are virtually meaningless with respect to the differences among the country’s best institutions,” Yale Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel said. “There is no question that Harvard, Princeton and Yale are all superb and distinctive schools, and it would be silly to think someone could distinguish them by a rigid formula.”

Brenzel said that while he does believe Yale offers the best undergraduate college experience in the world, he thinks each of the schools in the list’s top 50 offers a plethora of opportunities.

“My own sense is that high-achieving applicants and their parents spend far too much time and energy obsessing over rankings and choice of schools,” he said.

Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of admissions at Harvard, said Harvard doesn’t “set much store” by the rankings.

“We doubt that students are helped at all by the numerical rankings,” she said in an e-mail. “That said, of course we would prefer to be well-regarded (and ranked highly) rather than the opposite! But we don’t fool ourselves into thinking that numerical rankings have significance.”

Morse said that while the methodology behind the rankings has been the same for the past four years, the editors of U.S. News are considering changing the weight of high-school class standing in the rankings.

“We’re going to look at the validity of high-school class standing and try to figure out to what degree the validity of that number is being reported and graded,” he said.