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?

Todd Weaver
Senior Advisor Strategies for College, Inc.

How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

As American's, we love "lists" and the college ranking system is no exception. However, what is right for one student may not be right at all for another. Using the standard lists to determine a college to apply to is not the best approach. I would advise keeping the influence of a "list" to a minimum and really focus more on what type of school you are looking for and where you'll find a great match for your academic goals and personality.

Joan DeSalvatore
Owner/Director College Bound Advising Today

How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

College rankings should be a very small factor in your choice of college. There are more and more types of rankings available right now. You can select a school that has been deemed: the best value, the best dorms, the happiest students, the biggest party school, or even the best cafeteria food. Of course you can also look at the rankings that claim to tell you which is the "best" school. As unbiased as those ranking try and appear to be, they are not necessarily going to reflect your values or interests Further, there is always some way for the school to slant the information. One thing that the recent rankings are likely to be able to determine is, which colleges are going to be the most popular. Since most people do pay attention to those listings, the rankings are likely to provide a larger amount of applications for those at the top of the lists. My best advice is to take a look at the factors used to compile the lists and consider which of those is most important to you. Once you have found the colleges that seem to best match your own criteria, visit them. When you do, take along a list of questions that you will want answered during your time on campus. By asking the same questions at each, you will have your own device for "ranking" the colleges that you are considering.

Angela Conley
College Admission Expert VentureForth

How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

In my opinion rankings are only relevant within the context of your aims. If you are not interested in which is the best school for parties or celebrities, that factoid won't be compelling. I advise clients that rankings are a good way to review campuses generally, but a better way is to visit sites, such as the Education Trust which clarify pertinent concerns such as diversity, graduation and retention rates and most importantly, the approximate student debt at graduation. Rankings are fine place to begin, but the most relevant concern is what do you seek in a place to dwell or matriculate for four years? If your concerns are not addressed, the rankings only reveal popular campuses, possibly with renown faculty. Those issues may in no way reflect your desire for a mentor, life-long friends and opportunities for concentrated study in your area of passionate interest.

Danny Ellison
Career Coach ELI 360

How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

College rankings are controversial to begin with. Even presidents and chancellors of some of the most prestigious universities may tell you that it is difficult to rank a college. We live in a generation where sports rules, and ranking sports teams is commonplace. You simply rank the winning team more highly than the loosing team (with certain BCS exceptions of course :) But ranking a college is a much more difficult process. Sure, look at the rankings of the universities you want to attend, but,more importantly, look at how the university will "fit" you as a student. Look at academics, social activities, religious affiliations, etc. This is far more important than rankings, for what it's worth.

Dr. Bruce Neimeyer
CEO/Partner Global College Search Associates, LLC

How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

Rankings can be a useful guide to making a decision about whether a school is doing well in a general academic area compared with its peer institutions however, it is only one of many criteria a family should use to understand if this school and its academic program are an appropriate match. Students may use these numbers to help narrow the field but my suggestion has always been to choose from the top as well as some below because the next step would be to dig deeper into the program to understand if the faculty are interested and working on issues in the field that are of interest to the student. The program might be number one in according to a ranking agency but the faculty might be focused on topics that are of no interest to the student. In this case, the student might be well suited for a career in the field but because the faculty will use text books and examples related to their area of interest, all of that might be a deadly bore to the student and as a result may lead them to move away from a career in this area. So, making sure this is a good academic match on a deeper level is critical to the students long term career aspirations.

John Happs
Counseling-4-College

How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

That becomes a personal question. What kind of rankings are you talking about? Food, or entertainment, or professors, etc. Rankings may give you a place to start, but they have bias just as other forms of media. Use them as a place to start. Not as the only decision maker in the process.

Timothy L
Law Clerk Duke University School of Law

How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

This is a particularly loaded question, but here's the skinny: It depends. First it depends on what kinds of programs you're looking at and what kind of career path you have. If you're considering advanced degrees and continuing education in the same field, rankings will often matter quite a bit. E.g., if you want to be professor of philosophy, then you need to get into a top philosophy Phd program. In order to get into Phd program, it will help if you went to undergrad at an institution known for its top philosophy program and faculty. This is not so much because you'll end up a better philosophy student so much as the networking opportunities you'll have with other movers and shakers in the field. If you're looking to work in field that's not "specialized" (read: not a hard science) then your degree and the relative ranking of the school will likely matter much less. If you're considering a graduate school right now and are looking at an MBA, JD, Phd, MD, DO, or the like, rankings matter a lot! While I haven't give you specifics, that's in large part because it depends on where you are currently and what type of work you want to do. Don't get me wrong, if you graduate from an Ivy League caliber school, you'll probably be in a better position that someone who graduates from and unranked and unknown school. But that doesn't mean the latter won't be as or more successful than the Ivy League grad, it just means he or she may have to work a bit harder.

Katie Parks
Former Admissions Counselor

How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

College rankings can't be ignored, but they should not weigh heavily in your decision. Beyond the upper-eschelon of rankings (we're talking your Ivy leagues, or top-10 ranked schools), the schools start to run together. This is especially true of academic -only lists. Many lists also only take in to account graduate programs and the research and scholarly production of an institution. Often these lists leave out the "teaching" ability of colleges, which can be a huge factor in whether a student finds success or not in college. Some rankings done by US News and World Report offer "Best Values," which are probably the best lists to review if you are going to consider rankings in your decision. Also, many rankings miss the "fit" of an institution that can only be determined by an individual student's experience with that campus. So if and when you look at rankings, make sure you evaluate the criteria the ranking list is based off of, who the list is being put out by, and whether the schools highly ranked are even available to you based on cost and admissions requirements.

Eric Beers, Ph.D.
College and Career Counselor Air Academy High School

How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

College rankings are just a quick snapshot of a few statistics about that particular college. What a ranking cannot tell you is whether or not that college is the right fit for you. It doesn't matter how highly ranked a school is if that school does not feel "at home" to you, you won't do your best learning. I have had a number of students go visit (extremely) highly ranked colleges and they have just hated the experience. Many students are used to collaboration instead of competitiveness; and at many of the highly ranked schools, things are very cut-throat and competitive.

Patty Finer

How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

Ranking should not be a factor in the selection of a school... the FIT should be!