Few things both irritate and exhilarate college admissions professionals more than college rankings. In an another post, we discussed everything that’s wrong with college rankings. Yet, there are many ways rankings can prove useful tools when wielded appropriately by college-bound students. Here, we offer a brief tutorial.
4.) Keep your eye on the prize.
As always, keep sight of the ultimate goal: finding an institution that meets your academic and social needs. Few people can buy pants from a catalog that fit perfectly upon arrival. Few students can choose a college straight from a list of college rankings that perfectly meets their needs. Yes, both of those things are possible but altogether unlikely. We all realize this intuitively, and yet- putting something in an ordered list inspires in students (and of course, parents) an almost rabid pursuit of the “best” schools. The “best” school is the one that fits.
3.) Examine methodologies.
Your first order of business is to read the fine print. With a skeptical eye, examine the criteria for particular ranking schemes. You may find you don’t care a whit for the method one organization employs, yet another organization uses information you find particularly compelling. To give you a sampling of the widely variant methodologies used, see below:
U.S. News and World Report admits that most of the information comes directly from reports the schools themselves provide (while some schools, in boycott of the rankings, opt out of this process entirely). 22.5% of a school’s overall ranking is gleaned from the school’s reputation as determined through surveys of peers at other schools and high school counselors.
Forbes bases 25% of their college rankings on responses found on the website www.RateMyProfessor.com. Another 25% comes from the number of a school’s graduates found in the Who’s Who in America. The other 50% comes from the average amount of student debt at graduation among those who borrowed, the four-year graduation rate, and the number of students earning prestigious awards such as the Rhodes Scholarship.
Washington Monthly ranks colleges based on their commitment to service as determined by several factors. These include: recruiting and graduating low-income students (using the number of students receiving Pell Grants and graduation rates), strength of research program (using dollar amount of total research expenditures and number of students progressing from BA programs to PhD programs), and service (the number of students serving in the Peace Corps, ROTC, as well as if schools give scholarship for service, among other considerations).
2.) Use rankings as a finding tool.
Early in your search, rankings provide a broad outline, a sweeping “lay of the land” that can help set the search process in motion. First, rankings can help identify schools students had previously not considered, including alternatives to some of the “big name” schools you might not have found on your own.
Second, rankings often compile data not easily procured or organized elsewhere. Many of the rankings include an online component that allows students to directly compare multiple, say, graduation rates at different colleges with ease. Be wary of lists such as the “Top Ten Party Schools” etc. and instead aim to soak up the measurable data available in rankings reports.
You should, however, use rankings less and less as your college search progresses and you gain more personal insight (through tours, visiting a class, meeting with a counselor, etc.) into a particular school. Your personal experience trumps rankings any day.
1.) Look for points of consensus.
One would be remiss to consult only one set of rankings. That some schools consistently appear on multiple rankings list is not a coincidence: there is something special occurring there. It’s time to schedule a visit and add your own ranking to the pile.