How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

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Our counselors answered:

How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

Rankings--A Marketing Tool, Not An Educational One

Rankings are a great way to sell books and magazines, but as an educator for almost 30 years, I believe deeply that the most important aspects of an education, college or otherwise, cannot be quantified, and efforts to do so only trivialize their real value. One can generally determine if a school is good or bad—and even then programs can vary widely--but to try and declare, as our society so often demands we do, which is number one or to try and rank order schools that have distinctive institutional personalities is pure folly. Students should seek to go to the best school for them, the place that offers what they need, that is responsive to who they are and who they want to be. The numbers are about marketing, the education is about teaching and learning. Rankings may impress those on the outside, but have little impact on what goes on inside the campus gates. Yes, one can put a school name on a bumper sticker for all to see—until the time comes when it eventually peels off and fade. Meanwhile the fruits of a quality education reside in the heart and mind of the recipient--forever.

Nicholas Umphrey

How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

I find them interesting and informative, but there is a degree of subjectivity to any ranking. Why? Because the rankings change each year when colleges have limited change. I believe that any college choice should be because you as an individual like it. If you are going because of its rank, then I don't think it is the right reason.

Annie Reznik
Counselor/CEO College Guidance Coach

Focus on Your Rankings, Not Someone Else's

The other day I asked a student, "What is the best college in the country?" Predictably, she responded, "Harvard." We opened the Princeton Review's "The Best 376 Colleges," and learned that for the "Professors Interesting" rating, Harvard earned a lowly 71. The student and I both knew that "interesting, engaging professors" was high on her list of desired characteristics in a future academic home. For her, Harvard University is not the most highly ranked college, despite earning a top ranking from various publications. Identify your 5 most important characteristics and rank colleges for yourself. Don't rely on rankings that may not include factors of importance to you.

Tam Warner Minton
Consultant College Adventures

College Rankings

How important are they? Not very. Some of the best colleges in America are not even ranked because they do not require SAT or ACT. Some colleges and universities "embellish" their numbers a bit, or they count administrative employees in their teacher/student ratio, or they do not report scores from students who clear the waitlist, athletic recruits, and legacy students. Why? Because those scores are usually weaker. I guarantee you there are colleges you have never heard of that are absolutely awesome. Take a look at rankings, but don't take them as gospel. My opinion on rankings:

Trevor Creeden
Director of College and Career Counseling Delaware County Christian School

How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

I am going to say to take rankings with a grain of salt. It also depends on the colleges you are applying to. A lot of these rankings have to do with national and regional reputation, percentages, how many professors do research, how long the school as been around, etc. There are so many good colleges out there that have professors with great experience and are experts in their field. Colleges like to see their name in the rankings but it will never define them as a school. You have to see the school for yourself. It also depends on the major you may want to pursue because certain colleges have better programs in certain majors but that may not show up in any rankings.

Tim Haley

College Rankings

College rankings are unimportant. They are like college football and basketball rankings. They mean nothing and are based on completely subjective criteria. What is the difference between number 1 and number 20? Take 2 students from the same college, how do you rank a school when one student had a great experience and the other had a lukewarm one.

Mollie Reznick
Associate Director The College Connection

How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

College rankings should be taken with a LARGE grain of salt. These rankings are based on things that you likely wouldn't care about as an incoming freshman: for instance what the president's annual salary is and what percentage of alumni are donors. These rankings do not in any way assess the *quality* of the education you would receive or how happy and successful you would be at any given school.

Chip Law
Co-founder Managing Director Educational Avenues

Hype, hype and more hype!

College rankings are informative: they tell you what schools have maintained their rank or even more importantly, did they move (or God forbid relinquish a spot or two); they tell you the percentage of those that got accepted out of all those seeking admission (the less accepted, the higher the ranking in theory; and among other things they tell you that for the creme de la creme schools the SAT or ACT scores of their incoming class averages in the 99th percentile. None of this hype should matter to you when you seek to find the best place to spend the next four years building skills you need to be successful in college and life. If you look at the way much of the public views the rankings, their charm comes from bestowing on those that are accepted into their hallowed halls, a patina of prestige, pride and elitism ostensibly earned by the student's overall excellence in achievement to date. (I won't even begin the discussion of these student's parents take on this subject.) While I'm being a bit cynical in my description, the reality of ranking envy can cause you look at schools for the wrong reasons. Develop your list of likely choices for college FIRST. Choose them on the basis of fit, affordability, having your possible major, offering a social environment that works for you, has the right size student body and location that is desirable to you. THEN look at the rankings: maybe some of your choices will be at the top: whoopee! The important thing is that you did your homework and picked your schools based on THE most important criteria for you.

Cheryl Millington

How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

Rankings are great to help you narrow your choices. But it’s important to know the methodology of the ranking; how number one versus number 100 was determined. If you had access to the raw numbers, you’ll be surprised to know that sometimes there are very small differences in scores, for example, between number 15 and 20. Also, try to determine how the information was gathered. Who supplied the information? When was the research conducted? The answers to these questions can change the results of the rankings. Some of the factors considered may not be important to you or be as heavily weighted if you were to come up with your own ranking. You may have noticed that different rankings have different results, so look for consistency. I like to divide rankings into quarters and then see if a school consistently falls in a particular quarter. Not every school participates in every ranking, so don’t assume if they are not listed, they were below the lowest university on the ranking. Therefore, use the information carefully and wisely.

Michael Szarek
Director and Founder College Counseling for the Rest of Us

How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

They can play a role in your initial search to identify colleges that have a strength in one of your areas of interest. But, once you've identified your top choices, go with your own eyes, your own research and your own conclusions.