What are college rankings?
In simplest terms, a college ranking is an ordered list of colleges and universities based on several different areas of interest. US university and college ranking lists are updated on a yearly basis and are conducted by magazines, newspapers, academics, and sometimes governments. Some of the most well-known sources for college rankings are US News & World Report, and Princeton Review and Forbes Magazine.
Different Kinds of College Rankings
There are several different categories by which a US college or university can be ranked. At the broadest level, institutions can be divided into one of the following categories: national universities, national Liberal Arts colleges, regional universities, and regional colleges. These rankings help define the difference between each type of college and university by the kind of programs and degrees offered. US News & World Report provides an easy-to-understand definition of each of these four types of ranking categories:
- National Universities: these are universities that offer a full range of undergraduate programs as well as master’s and doctoral degree programs. There are 262 national universities in the United States. Of these, 164 are public universities and 98 are private.
- National Liberal Arts Colleges: these are colleges that emphasize undergraduate education. They award approximately 50 percent of their graduates with liberal arts degrees and there are 266 of them in the United States.
- Regional Universities: these are universities much like national universities. They provide a wide variety of undergraduate programs and some at the master’s level, but they only offer a few at the doctoral level. There are 572 regional universities, and they are broken down further into 4 different categories based on their geographic region (North, South, Midwest, and West).
- Regional Colleges: these colleges are similar to those put in the National Liberal Arts Colleges category. They emphasize undergraduate education, but less than 50 percent of the degrees granted to graduates are liberal arts degrees. At regional colleges, 10 percent of all degrees granted are bachelor’s degrees. There are 319 regional colleges and they are broken down into the same geographical areas as regional universities.
After deciding between the above categories, rankings are also awarded within more specific criteria. For example, there are rankings based on particular programs such as Business, Engineering, Education, etc. These can help students further filter their list of prospective institutions.
The ranking categories do not stop there either. Colleges and universities are ranked by such characteristics as academics, demographics, quality of life, extracurricular activities, and many more. Such rankings can be helpful in assessing schools based on more personal preferences. Some of these other categories include, but are not limited to:
- Best Classroom Experience
- Best College Library
- Most Beautiful Campus
- Best Campus Food
- Best Athletic Facilities
- Best College Theatre
- SAT Scores
- Class Size
- Retention Rates
- Graduation Rates
All in all, each college and university is assessed and ranked from multiple perspectives. Some are very broad such as the Best National Liberal Arts College or Best Business program. Other rankings are much more personal to the prospective student such as Best Nightlife or Best Campus Housing. These lists provide valuable information and significant food for thought.
How rankings are determined and who determines them
The majority of college rankings are calculated using information from surveys completed by students at individual institutions. In other words, the rankings are determined with basic, direct feedback from students currently attending the schools in question.
Some of the rankings are also based on feedback and comments from students on websites such as www.RateMyProfessors.com. This website allows students to give their professors grades and make comments on their classes or teaching styles. This website is heavily based on opinion, much like the surveys used to calculate many college ranking lists; therefore the information may not necessarily be very reliable.
Why it is dangerous to rely on rankings alone
College rankings are without a doubt a good place to start a college search. They provide prospective students with a lot of good information regarding academics, prices, student life, etc. There are also a lot of different groups and websites that publish college rankings each year, so there is a good variety of information available about each college in the United States. However, college rankings should not be the only thing taken into consideration when deciding which college to attend.
It would be really easy for any prospective student to find a list of college rankings and to pick the #1 ranked Regional College or National University. However, these rankings are meant to be just one step in the process of consideration – one tool, but not the only tool. If you limit yourself to just the top-ranked institutions, you will certainly be neglecting to consider many other ones that may be better suited for you in other areas. In addition, not every college ranking lists schools the same way. Universities that are listed in the Top 10 for the US News & World Report review may not necessarily be in the Top 10 on the Forbes or Princeton Review lists.
There are so many factors that go into picking the right university or college. It is an enormous, and life-changing decision, so you never want to rely on any one piece of information or on any one ranking list. It is vital that you take the time to do your own additional research. Once you find a college or university that interests you, look it up. Read through all the different links on its website and do a search for the school on the internet to see what kind of articles and information are available on it. Consider its graduate employment rates, internship opportunities, and faculty profiles. Ask other people what they know about it or if they know anyone who went there. Of course, a visit to campus is highly recommended whenever possible.
When I was in the process of finding a school that was right for me, I looked at a lot of universities and colleges where people from my high school had gone. I did Google searches on each school and looked at their websites. I was able to narrow down my choices by programs, activities, unique qualities of each school, etc., and I took tours of the campuses of interest. The second I stepped onto my current college campus, I knew it was where I wanted to go and now I am in my third year there. The campus has become my home.
Remember, a college ranking, though useful, is just a number. It does not provide you with either a broad portrait or an intimate understanding of any given institution. These rankings may also be somewhat biased, and like any information based on surveys, may not offer “the full story.”