Do College Rankings Really Matter?

The U.S. News and World Report’s annual college rankings seem to be the obsession of both college seekers as well as college marketers. Conversations with parents, friends, and family about college often come back to rankings. I’ve heard comments like, “Oh, that’s a great school, I heard it was in the top 50 in the nation” many times. In addition, it’s hard to read information about any college without in-your-face promotion of their U.S. News ranking.

The question that many college hopefuls like myself ask is, “how accurate are the college rankings?” Often a school might not be your first choice, but the prestigious ranking of the university compels you to attend. Is it actually a better bang for your buck?

Well, the truth is that choosing a college based solely on college rankings could be a grave mistake.

The National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) issued a report with survey data from over ten thousand high school and college admissions counselors with damning data to the US News rankings.

Almost 70% of high school counselors believe that the U.S. News’ rankings are “misleading” about the quality of a college. Not only that, but 30% of high school counselors don’t even bother discussing rankings with parents or students.

How are These Rankings Decided?

Clearly, the accuracy of these rankings has been severely called into question for years now, but why are they so inaccurate? What are the qualifications measured by U.S. News to rank these universities?

According to the U.S. News and World Reports, the most significant ranking factors are as follows:

Graduation and Retention Rates: 22%

Academic Reputation: 20%

Faculty Resources Available: 20%

Financial Resources per Student: 10%

Admissions Difficulty: 7%

Alumni Giving Rate: 3%

Best for Whom?

One can see right away how arbitrary and trivial these rankings factors are. For example, Admissions difficulty makes up a large portion of the rankings at 7%. While admissions difficulty may indirectly project student success, it has little to do with real-world academic rigor. In fact, AsapSCIENCE believes that going to a very competitive school could even negatively impact your happiness and academic success.

In addition, a combined 33% of the rankings has simply to do with finances. While money is always helpful, the real question U.S. News should be asking is how that money is spent. Are universities spending large sums of cash on marketing and improving arbitrary ranking factors, or are they spending this money on their students? In addition, these rankings factors actually encourage universities to increase tuition since only 5% of rankings have to do with student debt.

The key to improving rankings is hiking tuition and pushing students farther into debt.

The NACAC agrees that these rankings actually serve a counterproductive role. They outlined in their report that, “The behavior of colleges at the apparent whim of their boards to increase their ranking for U.S. News creates unfriendly behaviors towards students.”

The Solution: Use Rankings in Moderation

U.S. News rankings aren’t completely useless, however. After all, they are somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, if employers believe a college educates its students better, then your resume will stand out to them.

However, other factors are arguably more important when choosing a college. Students should prioritize school fit, tuition, options for majors, student accommodations, and class sizes over rankings.

As the NACA report put it, “To have the students dehumanized by policies designed simply to increase the arbitrary rankings that U.S. News has promoted, and continues to promote undermines the mission of educating our youth.”

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