College rankings are often the first exposure that many students have to the concept of a “college list.” It’s easy to become familiar with a few “name brand” colleges after seeing them at the top of a list, but what does that number actually mean? And should college rankings play a part in your college list research?
Ranking Lists Don’t Count “Fit”
It’s impossible for a rankings list to take into account “fit” because it differs for everyone! For many students, a highly-ranked college can seem prestigious. Or they assume because it’s highly-ranked it’s the best education out there for them. What students forget is that while a college might be number one on a list, it might not necessarily be a good fit for them. This is the most important argument against considering rankings when building college lists. Students need to think about how schools stack up against their own personal needs and goals.
What You Should Pay Attention To
· ROI: Things like financial aid awards, graduation rates (consider Harvard’s graduation rate, for example), post-graduate job placement rates, salaries, and more.
· Student body: SAT/ACT scores, average GPA, and other “hard factors.”
· Selectivity: Admit rates, yield rates, transfer rates, and more.
· Atmosphere: Some rankings lists will use student or peer (i.e., other professors and people in higher education) surveys as part of the rankings calculation. What do students have to say about the schools in surveys? What do other professors and academics have to say about the educational opportunities there in their evaluations?
· Miscellaneous: Average class size, number of research papers published every year, the average time it takes to graduate, and any other information that is important to you.
It can be tempting to base your college choices off of how they stack up to other institutions on a college rankings list, but it wouldn’t do much to help you determine whether a school is a good fit or not – which can have a huge impact on your college admissions process. Instead of being lured by an impressive ranking, get excited about what’s behind the number. Learn everything you can about that college’s stats, atmosphere, educational opportunities