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?

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. 

Gael Casner

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.

George Mills
Vice President for Enrollment University of Puget Sound

College rankings miss what is most important ...

Your college should fit you perfectly. The people should inspire you, the location should match your interests, and the college should offer programs and activities that are important to you. Rankings favor measurable factors, such as the size of an endowment and alumni giving,  while excluding many things that ultimately will determine your college success and happiness—the availability of a major, the campus culture, the surrounding area, and the character of the people who study and work there.  If you allow rankings to distort your choice, you could risk missing qualities that are important to your happiness and success.

Hector Martinez
Director of College Guidance The Webb Schools

Ranking colleges makes as much sense as ranking people by their looks!...

Ultimately, what makes for a great college for one individual can be totally different for another. A while back one major magazine ranked Cal Tech as the #1 school in America. While Cal Tech is a great college, it’s hardly the best college for everyone. In fact, I would argue that Cal Tech would be a nightmare place to attend if you didn't like math or science. I've never been a fan of rankings, they put good colleges into groups that don't always make sense and it is virtually impossible to stick a numerical ranking to places that are appreciated in such diverse ways. What one student prefers may or may not be what another student values. Instead of paying attention to rankings when choosing a college families should pay attention to "fit" and look for colleges that are the right match for each student.

James Montoya
Vice President of Higher Education The College Board

National rankings may not capture what's really important to you...

The college search process should begin with what's important to you. Develop your own set of criteria and use that as a basis to evaluate the relevance of the many college rankings that are out there today. College rankings are not inherently a bad thing, but they are limited in scope and are all too often driven by prestige, selectivity and resources rather than high quality teaching and learning. Again, know what's important to you.

Jane Shropshire
Founder Shropshire Educational Consulting LLC

Rankings cannot indicate the right fit for an individual...

College rankings create some order out of the chaos of a confusing landscape of options.  Yet they cannot indicate the right fit for an individual.  Few read the fine print describing a ranking’s methodology; many assume mistakenly that if a publication says a college is #1 nationally, it must be #1 for all students.  Be a wise consumer. Take time to understand the weight given each category considered for a ranking; consider the importance of each for your student. Focus on what’s right for your student and interpret rankings knowledgeably. They’re one ingredient among many in a well-directed college search.

Jeannie Borin
Founder & President College Connections

College rankings are one of many factors to consider ...

College students should use rankings as one factor while researching colleges if those rankings include essential variables such as; quality of faculty, retention rate, academic programs and career placement. Too often, rankings are viewed without  consideration of  other vital factors for a successful college experience. “Reputation” of a college can be a misleading marketing tactic. Rankings frequently do not include immeasurable aspects such as; cost, financial aid, course offerings, campus life and geographic location. Rankings can be considered but should not be the sole basis on deciding where to attend. If possible, a campus visit is best.