College Advice: Importance of College Rankings

College Advice: Importance of College Rankings

Experts Expert Answers
Use with caution!
Rankings are a good source of information. I would never buy an appliance without checking consumer ratings. Appliances get put through rigorous testing before they are rated by consumer magazines, but that isn’t true of colleges. Most college rankings get information directly from the colleges. In US News and World Report the data is plugged into a formula that is completely made up. It has nothing to do with what YOU will find important in a college. So use the DATA that is published for your own comparison of things like graduation and retention rates. But IGNORE the numerical rankings. – Ralph Figueroa, Director of College Guidance, Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico
Colleges don’t change much year to year.  Why do the rankings?
After all, who would buy the magazines or guidebooks if there weren’t a new number one?  While some of the data used to derive the rankings are objective, subjective aspects such as perceived reputation are often used.  And statistics can be manipulated or misinterpreted.  Part of the problem is that the schools themselves provide much of the information going into the rankings. While many try to be absolutely accurate, some occasionally enhance their scores through creative data reporting.  Should you ignore the rankings altogether?  Not necessarily.  But take them for what they are: a very small piece of the puzzle. – Betsy Morgan, Founder, College Matters LLC
Look beyond college rankings to find a good match
Every year various companies post their annual college rankings.  Families clamor to these sources, imagining that the order of each college gives insight into its educational value.  The lower the number, the better the college, right?  What rankings do not address is this: what do you need to be happy and successful at college?  What environment will inspire you to take advantage of opportunities in and out of the classroom?  Smart students will consider factors like teacher/student engagement, active learning experiences, and student culture. It’s important to find an academic and social setting that fits your unique style. – Gael Casner, Founder, CollegeFindEdu.com
College rankings are meant to be a guide, not a bible
As more and more college put ads in magazines and on the internet, it can be confusing.  Their view books make them all sound so wonderful. Rankings can help you sort out which programs are considered the most selective and prestigious. However, are they always the right choice? And how do they choose who makes the top of the list?  Many factors go into college rankings, including alumni donations and how other institutions perceive them. Take that into account when you start to think that school #1 must be much better than school #20. What the rankings can do is introduce you to great schools you may be unfamiliar with. So check out those rankings, but remember that you will find an excellent education up and down the list.
– Lynda McGee, College Counselor, Magnets High School
College Rankings offer limited informationIf someone is consulting college rankings, it is important to know what the rankings are based on. For instance, US News and World Report rankings provide a person with a list of schools that have a strong academic reputation, have good graduation and retention rates, are selective in admission of students, and have good salaries for their faculty and smaller classes. Those rankings do not tell you about student satisfaction with teaching, the campus living environment, percentage of students admitted to graduate school, or friendliness of students. Some important factors to consider that often are overlooked by students and might not be included in the rankings are the core course requirements at different schools, quality of the teachers encountered in the first two years of college, ability in enroll as a freshman in my desired major, guarantee of on-campus housing beyond freshman or sophomore year, the presence of an Honor Code on the campus, and the extent of study-abroad options. The rankings can provide a prospective student with some limited information, but there is so much other information a student needs to learn to determine if a school is a good fit for them.
– Bob Tillman, Director of College Placement, Creighton Preparatory School
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