How to Consider University Rankings When Deciding Schools

IIt’s March Frenzy season, but if you’re a high school senior, another type of March Frenzy is underway. University admissions decisions are announced and students will have until early May to choose a school.

Many students and families consult university rankings to find the best place to go. since 1983 US News and World Report published the most famous list. It now competes with the charts produced by Financial. Times and Wall Street Daily, and Princeton Review. The Princeton Review ranks everything from campus dinners to the best party schools.

But attitudes towards these school rankings are changing – including some of the schools themselves. 2022-2023 university admission decisions, USA News especially the rankings have been subjected to considerable scrutiny. Columbia University mathematics professor Michael Thaddeus found inaccuracies in the data presented by the school, causing the school to drop from second to 18th. Columbia later withdrew completely from the rankings.

Many top law schools, including Yale and Harvard and Stanford, said they would stop bowing to the United States. USA News Nearly a dozen top medical schools, from Mount Sinai to the University of Pennsylvania, will stop submitting data to their top medical school rankings. And a federal judge sentenced a dean of Temple University’s business school to jail for giving false information about programs. USA News This would increase the ranking of the school.

But it’s not just USA News and the World report rankings. College administrators have long criticized other university rankings, arguing that they often contain subjective criteria for some rankings.

Does this debate mean that students should stop considering rank when deciding which college to attend? Complicated. TIME spoke to several college guidance counselors who said they had pushed students and parents away from the rankings for years because they felt that some of the factors used to compile the lists — such as donation numbers or low acceptance rates — weren’t helping students.

But they say the rankings won’t disappear anytime soon as society continues to judge students by where they go to college.

How did university rankings become so important?

In the last 40 years, USA News college rankings have helped many colleges and universities with only regional reputations gain national name recognition. According to Colin Diver, its author Ranking: How the Ranking Industry Manages Higher Education and What to Do About It The first rankings in the early 1980s came at a time when colleges and universities were becoming more competitive. Transportation costs were falling, making it easier for people to take a plane to college. The economy shifted from blue-collar manufacturing and commercial jobs to knowledge-based white-collar jobs, and university was deemed essential to participate in the new global economy.

“Many of us who were in the education business in the 1980s saw rankings as a kind of educational version of ranking. sports illustrated Swimsuit Edition,” says Diver. “But then it became clear that the pool of potential applicants and their mentors, mostly high school seniors and seniors, took them pretty seriously. So we had to start taking them seriously.” Diver was President of Reed College, which made headlines in 1995 by pulling out of the US News rankings because he believed the methodology was flawed.

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Adam Nguyen, who used to review applications for Columbia University, confirms that colleges and universities focus on rankings. “All colleges used to say that the rankings didn’t really matter, but behind the scenes, when Columbia moved up in the rankings, we celebrated it,” he says. “It helps raise money. It helps get graduates excited.”

Colleges and universities figured out how to play to rise in the rankings. For example, Nguyen explains that colleges will wine and dine with polled voters because part of the US News methodology includes a survey of how colleges are viewed by officials at other schools. To support the metric that values ​​small classes over time for rankings that emerge at the beginning of the academic year, administrations schedule smaller seminars in the fall term and larger introductory classes in the spring term.

But rankings have also become incredibly important to students after they graduate. “Rankings are important because graduate schools use them to evaluate undergraduate applications, and employers consider which school you went to,” Nguyen says. “Now, is that always true? No. And future employers know that too. They interview you. They look at your grades. They look at your resume. But they put some weight on the name brand of the institution.

“And in the real world, there will always be a set of schools that are better than other schools. You can’t have all things being equal. So that’s the reality we have to live with.”

Despite criticism of its methodology, US News and World Report “We expect schools to report their data accurately and that administrative and academic leaders not only verify this data but also act transparently and be accountable for their actions.” Claiming that the publication provides a service to students, “We believe that with admissions more competitive and less transparent and tuition fees increasingly expensive, students deserve access to all the data and information necessary to make the right decision.” rankings, USA News “It should be one of the components in the prospective student’s decision-making process,” he says.

How should you consider university rankings when choosing a school?

Shereem Herndon-Brown, who has helped high school families navigate the college admissions process, points out: USA News college rankings do not accurately reflect the prestige of historically top Black colleges and universities, such as Howard University (89), Morehouse College (124), and Spelman College (51). Black families enter the process by thinking: USA News The rankings are “a bit skewed” because “there are no HBCUs in the top 50,” he says. “So I think they know how to go into the process, ‘this is [list] it wasn’t really written for us.”

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Herndon-Brown encourages college applicants to focus on four factors: costs, location, academic major, and career opportunities.

Along with another college admissions specialist, Timothy L. Fields, Herndon-Brown interviewed more than 200 families to co-write the 2022 guide. Black Family’s College Admissions Guide and found that only one focused on university rankings. Fields summarizes most parents’ primary concerns: “Everyone else seemed to want my child to be close to me. I want my child to be in a safe place. I should also take into account, will they get a scholarship? Does this institution have accommodation for learning differences?”

Stacy Richardson, Director of University Counseling at the Potomac School in McLean, Virginia, outside of Washington, DC, has seen that factors important to students and parents change during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, campus visits are becoming more important than ever.

“I do not know this [the U.S. News rankings] it’s useful for students right now,” says Richardson. “There were many students who felt closed during the pandemic. They didn’t feel like they were having a normal high school experience. And nationwide, we’re hearing more about students with mental health issues. With this in mind, I think it will be important for students to be comfortable where they are and know what their resources are when talking to them. I think this is more indicative of the type of experience they want to have, rather than rankings regarding the salaries of the professors they employ.

More school rankings based on the quality of the college experience would be welcome. “The system is broken,” says Nguyen, who, as the founder of Ivy Link, advises families going through the college admissions process. “There has to be some sort of sequencing that should reflect what is important and what makes students successful when they do. [to college]and we are not there yet.

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Summer Olivia B. Waxman at [email protected]