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?

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.

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.

William Chichester

Rankings Are Important - Employment Prospects!

Depends on what you want to get out of college --Graduate School or Full-Time Employment. I recruit college students for a living for my firm. My firm only goes to the top 30 schools in the country for it's full-time/internship programs. My company is not alone. Therefore, if getting employment matters to you, make sure you're going to a top tiered program. Ask the college's career center who are the employers that are recruiting at that school. You can find this usually on the career center's website.

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.

Owner Ellen Richards Admissions Consulting

Similar schools have vastly different rates of success with similar students.

Investigate your college of choice before you decide. Before you send off your May 1 post marked letter to the college of your choice, know this: schools have vastly different rates of success with students. For example, among the Ivies, Harvard actually graduates the most students. What does it mean for students? The highest overall retention rates rank over 95% while some dip as low as under 10%. Many factors contribute to an individual's decision to remain in college, including: economic, personal, academic, social and environmental. In fact, retention rates of groups that fall within the range of the overall retention rates shows the success rates of specifics group of students - for example Native Americans. Therefore, not only should one examine the overall retention rates, but the groups within the schema. The manner in which a student interacts with an institution and the degree to which she feels accepted causes her to develop a set of attitudes about herself & herself in relation to the college. The more validation a student feels, the more likely she will remain in college. Therefore, the more a college validates, supports and believes in student success, the more likely students will stay. It's time to look beyond view books and the facade and examine the inner working of an institution.

Erin Avery
Certified Educational Planner Avery Educational Resources, LLC

Rank and File

Rankings are comprised of a combination of criterion and each ranking system, whether it be US News and World Report or others, relies on a different set of criterion. Look closely at how each ranking system uses the data it gathers to set one institution above another. 

Laura O'Brien Gatzionis
Founder Educational Advisory Services


Think of college rankings as yet another tool in your college application toolbox. They are useful but not all-encompassing. Most college counselors would like to ignore them all together but we understand that they are ubiquitous. Look at the rankings and then set them aside and start to research colleges for yourself.

Suzan Reznick
Independent Educational Consultant The College Connection

College rankings should not be a factor in choosing colleges.

Colleges sadly are not ranked on how successful the education is at a school. They are often ranked on relatively unimportant factors such as: alumni giving, faculty salary, SAT scores of incoming freshman,and what presidents of competing schools think. None of these factors would in any way impact your college experience! The best comparison that I can offer is one that I read many years ago in a newspaper article. The author stated that using college rankings to judge schools is the same as a restaurant reviewer making his judgments based on the silverware on the tables!