How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

College Search

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.

Scott White
Director of Guidance Montclair High School

How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

Useless. Its about the best college for you, not the best college. My children are at Rutgers and Swarthmore. Both love their colleges and both would have gotten into almost any college they applied to. But they would have been miserable at their sibling's college.

Helen H. Choi
Owner Admissions Mavens

Not as important as YOU

How important are college rankings? It depends on who you are. If you are a magazine like US News and make huge profits off of those rankings, rankings are very important. If you are a college, rankings are important to you if your ranking is high or is improving. If you are a college and your ranking is on the low-ish side -- well then -- they probably aren't very important to you. If you are a high school student, rankings should not be of great concern to you. Sure -- you probably have a few peers who are crowing about how they are going to apply to Stanford because its ranking is higher than that of USC, but really -- are you that shallow? You -- being the highly intelligent, strong, motivated, and deep thinking individual that you are -- are probably looking at what YOU want out of colleges FIRST and THEN look at colleges that have those characteristics, right? Right! Besides, rankings are so variable. One ranking's number 5 might be another's number 35. There are so many rankings out there now (US News, World University Rankings/Thompson Reuters, Forbes, Washington Monthly, Parade), you will probably be able to find a ranking to justify your college choice!

Deb Kalikow Pluck
Founder & Director New Path to College

Colleges can be accessed, but not ranked

The college ranking industry is clouded with controversy, fueled by mysterious formulas, and whose purposes and motivations are questioned. The rankings are loved, despised, believed, shunned, quoted and ignored. It is a murky territory because the lines between the educational and commercial values to our society are unclear. Who can best access colleges during the college search process? You, the college-seeker! Your perceptions formulated through self-reflection, based on your educational needs and goals, will always serve you best as your compass as you navigate the college process.

Tyler Burton
President Burton College Tours

Rankings are not a valuable research tool.

There is a trend among college presidents not to participate in the college rankings surveys. Reed College has never participated. Reed is a top academic institution and produces many graduate school scholars. The rankings use criteria that often do not pertain to the quality of an academic institution. The most important part of college selection is identifying the elements of a good fit. If a school is not a good fit then a student will not optimize their college experience. Fit not rankings.