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?

Alison Almasian
Director of Admissions St. Lawrence University

College rankings can be helpful if used appropriately...

College rankings use data provided by colleges and can provide prospective students and their families with useful information.  Students must understand how formulas determine rankings and whether the guide books’ ratings use criteria important to the student.  For example, does the formula focus on data about incoming students or does it emphasize the outcomes of graduates? Choosing a college is about finding a good fit between the student and the institution. Rankings can be one tool that students use early in the search process, but personal visits and interactions are the best way to find the “match.”

Andrew Dworak
Sr Counselor St. Ignatius High School

Best Fit vs. Best Rank...

The question of wanting what is best goes without saying.  College choice is hard to distill into a chart of numerical listings.  I have used a number of resources.  Each offers a kernel of truth and reality.  Each is incomplete. Every one of the 4000 or so colleges has a series of characteristics that make up the college experience. I honestly believe a college is as good as its teachers and the courses chosen. Each student needs to sample broadly and choose his or her best “fit”. A visit goes a long way in finding the ideal or best college.

Betsy Morgan
Founder College Matters LLC

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.

Bill Roberts
Director of Instructional Systems Design Innovative Academic Solutions

College Rankings Can Be Useful In Many Ways...

University rankings are a myriad of data that some consider as useful as Morse code in our ever changing world. Just as you evaluate which smart phone you’d like to make an investment in for your daily use – you need to evaluate a college you plan to attend. The rankings of a college will assist you in choosing a school that meets your needs in teacher preparation or in your engineering degree. Use them as an evaluation tool as you do the Net with your choice of Phones. What will you get for your hard earned money you’re about to pay to your future alma mater.

Carol Stack
Principal Hardwick Day Inc.

Rankings -- the least valuable tool you can use...

I know they are seductive – appearing to make choosing a college as easy as using Consumer Reports to find the “best” dishwasher.  In the case of a dishwasher, it’s easy to isolate features – noise, reliability, price –  to test and rate performance.  College is complicated – a 24/7 experience – in which you will grow intellectually, emotionally, socially and maybe even spiritually.  No ratings list covers all these variables.  My preference: create your own list of important factors, use College Navigator to collect facts, and assess colleges’ performance against what’s important to you.  More work?  Yes.  More effective?  A double yes.

Christine Greb
Dean of Enrollment Management Philadelphia University

What is your #1?...

Selecting a school based solely on rankings leaves out an important element -- FIT.  Rankings and rating scales use a common set of criteria and specific methodology to determine “the best.”  But what if the criteria used isn’t important to you?  Make a list of the things that matter and utilize a variety of sources – family, college guide books/websites, current students and faculty to determine if schools meet your needs.  And most important – VISIT!  Touring campus, sitting in on classes, meeting faculty and students, and even trying the food all can help you determine if it gets your #1 ranking.

Christopher Kaiser
Associate Dean Seton Hall University

Rankings and the College Admission Process: How important are they?...

Throughout my 16 years of working in Higher Education, 10 of which was in an Admission office, this question has always haunted the many families with whom I worked.  When searching for a college that would provide the “right fit” for a student, there are many questions that are more salient than “what rank is the college”.  Although college rankings might be able to provide answers to some of these question, each and every student is different and should approach the College Admission process in kind. Within the US it is reported that there are over 3000 institutions of high education. And believe it or not, there is a school that is “right” for you. As a student, the best advice is to look within and ask yourself the right questions and decide for you and those family members around you which School is right for you. Students cringe at this next statement and parents rejoice when I mention it at recruitment events – “Believe it or not, your parents know you a lot better than you think, they only raised you since birth, and it may be advantageous to get their opinion.” You must visit all the Schools you are applying and determine the right fit. Enjoy the process.

Elizabeth Zucker
College Admissions Consultant NACAC

Rankings are only a rough guide....

It’s the match not the name.  Rankings are mostly about the name.  As Malcolm Gladwell has recently written, ranking results are pretty arbitrary and differ according to the weight given to any one category.  Cost may matter to some; alumni loyalty to others.  Rankings provide a rough guide for the level at which to pitch a search.  But the true definition of a good school is one that meets the needs, interests, and personality of the student, one that helps a kid identify what he or she wants to be or do and supports the effort of getting there.

Eric Delehoy
Founder, College Counselor Delehoy College Counseling

Students should concentrate on individual fit, not the criteria of others...

I tell my students not to trust college rankings. Rankings speak little to the individual needs of each student and they place false value on an institution based on criteria determined by others. Instead, I encourage students to look at colleges that fit—basically finding a list of colleges that meet their academic and social needs equally. There is some useful data used to determine rankings, such as retention and graduation rates, and alumni giving rates, but one doesn’t need to buy US News & World Report to find that information.

Frank Leana
Author Pathfinder: An Action Plan - Making the Most of High School

Trust your own instincts and observations beyond any ranking...

A ranking is just one assessment of a college based upon set criteria.  Most rankings do not consult students on campuses, who are best qualified to comment on quality of life and teaching.  Instead, they are largely based on statistics, such as median SAT or ACT scores, providing only a limited impression of a college. However, rankings seem to be taken quite seriously by many parents and in the professional world because they provide easy handles to grab onto. For me, it’s all about the match not the rankings.