How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

College Search

Our counselors answered:

How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

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.

Jill Madenberg
Independent Educational Consultant Private Practice

Rank is only one of many factors to consider when choosing a college...

It can be tempting to look at a list like U.S. News and World Report and decide whether or not to consider a school based merely on its rank.  However, a school's rank may not be the best indicator of how easy it is to be accepted there.  And no single number can reflect the fit between a student and the college or university.  When choosing a college, consider many variables (including its ranking).  The college process should be an opportunity for self exploration and growth.

Jim McCorkell
CEO Admission Possible

Rankings only get you so far. It’s about fit!...

At Admission Possible where we are college coaches to students from low-income backgrounds, we don’t spend much time pouring over traditional rankings.  Rankings can help you identify unfamiliar schools to research. However, they cannot capture the most important factor – YOU – and your personal fit with a college. You have to look beyond the rankings list to find the campus that will support your academic and social connection needs.  And don’t get sticker shock, especially when looking at ‘ranked’ colleges.  Just because a school appears expensive, doesn’t mean it is.  Scholarships and aid are more plentiful than you might think!   

Joan Koven
Founder & Director Academic Access

Proceed with caution when using college rankings to determine best fit...

There is no denying we are a society obsessed with college rankings. The U.S. News and World Report are the most recognized and popular of all the college rankings. U.S. News is constantly under scrutiny for their flawed methodology. The rankings can be useful as a quick guide for a wealth of statistics that compare SAT scores, class size, acceptance rates and many other statistics side-by-side for a quick overview to begin a college search. Proceed with extreme caution if you are using these rankings to determine best match and fit. Get on campuses and ask yourself, how do I feel, can I live here, can I eat here, and does it seem like a good match for me. That will be the most authentic ranking out there.

Jon Boeckenstedt
Associate Vice President for Enrollment Policy & Planning DePaul University

They can help start, but don’t rely on numbers to make your decision...

College rankings are often a good place to start a search, but usually horrible for making final choices. The biggest problem is that most tend to consider just "hard" information like admission rates, average SAT scores, and graduation rates, but don't consider equally important factors like students' political views, tendency to join fraternities or sororities, or the academic focus of the university (for instance, business, liberal arts, or engineering). These can all affect the student experience. For that reason, I like Princeton Review’s 373 Best Colleges: It starts with a good group of schools, but adds important descriptions about campus climates. Of course, you should read this book with the same amount of skepticism you’d use with any ranking system: Don’t take anything at face value, and always research broadly