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Picking the right college can feel like finding the needle in a haystack. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that there are 7,253 Title IV post-secondary institutions nationwide. That’s a lot of colleges for young freshmen to sort through and research. Many instead turn to rankings to relive anxiety in the college selection process. Each year, several publications like the U.S. News and World Report, Forbes, and Princeton Review issue rankings to recognize the country’s best and brightest universities. Rankings are important sources of information that can help new students determine which college is the right investment.
How Rankings are Formed
Some critics compare college rankings to beauty pageants where only the most popular, prestigious schools are chosen. But publications generally follow a clear ranking methodology, rather than simply picking favorites. For instance, the U.S. News considers selectivity, retention, faculty resources, and graduation rate. The Washington Monthly judges “contribution to the public good” based on social mobility, research, and service. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine ranks America’s best college values by measuring academic quality, tuition cost, and indebtedness. Publications use drastically different methodologies to crunch the numbers because students prioritize different factors.
Importance of College Rankings
Consulting with several rankings is beneficial for students to develop a good sense of prospective colleges’ reputation. In 2013, a survey by Art & Science Group discovered that 66 percent of students consider rankings in their college application decision. It’s convenient to weigh several significant statistics into one number. Rankings give students unbiased insights into the academic and financial worthiness of colleges that can’t be gathered on a school’s slanted website. Students can clearly see how universities stack up against one another. Tracking how a college’s rankings have improved or dropped over the years could indicate important educational trends.
Choosing high ranking universities can give students a future edge on competition. Rankings help you determine the college’s brand value in the marketplace. Earning a diploma from a well-recognized university can more quickly open employers’ doors for a job interview. That’s crucial since inflating college tuition leaves most students in debt. Students aren’t the only ones reviewing rankings either. Top-ranked universities are more likely to impress world-class faculty and researchers who bring tremendous strengths to the collegiate classroom. Rankings can also be eye-opening and introduce students to great schools they’ve never heard of before.
Potential Drawbacks of Rankings
A college’s ranking is a superb indicator of its merit, but it shouldn’t be the only digit factored in. Not everyone is the right fit for top-ranking Ivy League schools like Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. Choosing a college is a subjective decision where one size doesn’t fit all. Rankings are limited, and sometimes misleading, because they only calculate data, not actual educational experiences. Nothing can compare to visiting a campus and getting a firsthand feel of the college’s community. Rankings aren’t able to weigh how colleges fit with certain interests and personalities. Some rankings might outright ignore criteria that’s important to you.
Millions of other students will be perusing the same rankings. Highly ranked universities obviously draw in more applications than lesser-known schools. The Hechinger Report found that colleges landing in the Princeton Review’s top 20 for “Happiest Students” had an average 2.9 percent increase in applicants. Therefore, the admissions process is noticeably more competitive. That’s disconcerting for average students who don’t have high SAT scores or grade point averages. Colleges may feel pressured just like applicants too. Many elite universities devote resources to maintaining a high ranking for publicity. Unfortunately, some schools like Claremont McKenna College have been caught submitting false data for rankings.
Best Ways to Use Rankings
Rankings hold a wealth of pivotal facts for students who know what to look for. It’s essential that you determine exactly what type of college experience you want. For example, if eco-friendliness is important, you should review Princeton Review’s “Guide to 353 Green Colleges.” For extroverts wanting a happening social science, the list of “Party Schools” may be more fitting. Students should also remain realistic about their academic credentials when reviewing rankings. Dig deeper than large, top 50 universities with rankings like the U.S. New’s National Liberal Arts Colleges. Creating a range of dream, match, and safety schools is recommended for a successful application season.
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