Is it time to ignore college rankings? Experts weigh


There are many factors that need to be taken into account when deciding where to pursue higher education. You’ll need to look for colleges and universities that offer the degree program you plan to take to begin with, and you’ll also need to think about the accommodation and lifestyle you’ll experience during your stay.

Then there are college rankings, which are usually based on factors like the breadth of programs offered, SAT scores, student retention rates, and graduation rates. In some cases, college rankings are also decided by academic elites who may or may not have ulterior motives when selecting the best schools.

With that in mind, some experts say college rankings aren’t as important as they claim. Many also claim that rankings are not as important as the cost of education, as well as the amount of college debt you will have when you graduate.

You might not want to ignore college rankings entirely, but there are plenty of reasons to consider other details of the school first. I interviewed a range of academic experts to hear their thoughts on the importance of college rankings, and here’s what they said.

College rankings are based on limited criteria

According to Katie burns, an Admissions Advisor at IvyWise College and a former Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at MIT, reviewing a wide range of rankings from a variety of sources can be a useful way for students to navigate their initial college research. University rankings can also help a student refine the types institutions that could meet their educational needs.

For example, a student might look at the best colleges for a particular major, the best colleges for affordability, and the best colleges for employability after graduation and consider the overlap of those three categories, Burns explains.

However, it is far too easy to fall into the trap of relying on a single ranking list and deciding that a school outside of the best options is not worth considering. Burns says college ranking methodologies are generally quite limited. Not only that, but sometimes a big part of the ranking is the opinions of a few high-ranking people at universities across the country.

For these and other reasons, Burns says she finds it difficult to assess the value of college rankings, at least from a potential student’s perspective.

A good ranking is not equal to a good fit

Pierre Huguet from Education CH agrees that the choice of a college should be more than the name of the brand. Students need to make sure they will be happy on a campus that meets their extracurricular, academic and personal needs, he says.

For example, a student who lives for hiking, canoeing, fishing, and other outdoor pursuits may not be happy in an urban college, regardless of the rank.

“On the other hand, if you like to visit museums and write a food blog, a school in New York or Chicago may be right for you,” Huguet explains.

High rankings do not guarantee quality education

Amrit Ahluwalia, who is Director of Strategic Insights at Modern campus, a higher education technology company, says a school’s ranking has no real relationship to the quality of education it offers or the likely success of its students.

Instead, Ahluwalia believes that the quality of education is generally defined by institutional efforts in areas that are not measured or assessed by the rankings of the most popular colleges, including flexibility of schedules, alignment programming with employer demand, availability of tutoring and coaching, etc.

“These are factors that indicate how much an institution is focused on its students,” notes Ahluwalia.

Meanwhile, most rankings are structured to rank institutions based on their focus on their own reputation, he says.

Some rankings can be influenced by money

Brady Norvall, MA, Founder of FindaBetterU, says students shouldn’t weigh in on college rankings unless they can confirm that the best schools are chosen regardless of any financial influence they might have.

Unfortunately, it is almost impossible for students to gain access to this information. They only know what they are told or what they are able to read in any academic grade ranking or study. Not only that, but there are plenty of affiliate-type websites out there that create internal college rankings based on fuzzy metrics, and potentially even how much they can earn by enrolling students in certain schools.

“We know that money creates higher rankings and then higher rankings make more money,” he says. “Therefore, the ranking system is just a judgment on an institution’s ability to fundraise and spend its money on the shiny aspects that rankings identify as valuable.”

The quality of education is based on the programs within a college

Diane Gayeski, Ph.D., professor of strategic communication at Ithaca College in New York City, says that students looking at college rankings should remember that some schools do well in some areas and not in others.

Most colleges have outstanding programs and others that are mediocre, Gayeski says. For example, a university may not rank very well overall, but may have a fabulous psychology department or a reputation for great STEM programs.

“The quality of education and the connections established with peers and alumni of a large department would be much more important than the overall ranking of the institution,” she said.

Additionally, undergraduates will need to determine whether a university ranks highly for its graduate programs, undergraduate programs, or both.

The professor says she has seen many students choose a top-notch school in their field only to find they were taught by graduate students who could barely speak English because esteemed professors only taught doctorates. students.

Rankings do not usually take costs into account

Finally, everyone should remember that college rankings don’t even attempt to measure affordability, and they sure don’t take into account your unique financial situation. With this in mind, students should try to determine what they can afford to pay for college, as well as what their return on investment will be after graduation.

If you need to borrow $ 150,000 to attend one of the top-ranked schools for your major, but attending that school won’t necessarily lead to a higher income, for example, then choosing a cheaper school probably makes more sense.

Michael Lux from Sherpa student loan also stresses that rankings cannot include financial aid.

“Going to a somewhat less prestigious school with a large scholarship is often the best choice,” he says.

The bottom line

If students shouldn’t give too much credit to college rankings, then what should they base their decision on? According to many experts we’ve spoken to, an important factor to consider is one that can also be difficult to quantify – “fit”.

Brian Galvin, Director of Studies for University tutors, says finding a school where you are likely to thrive is more important than rankings, although that factor isn’t as easy for students to assess right away.

Before choosing a school, students should think about what they want to learn and why they are pushing for higher education.

“It’s fine not to have declared a specific major, but it is very helpful to choose a school that offers majors or high placement rates in a few career paths that you are likely to consider, or that offers organizations or research opportunities in areas you want to explore further, says Galvin.

Meanwhile, class size and campus size are also important. Galvin says you should ask yourself if you will be successful on a large campus or if you will feel overwhelmed and underachieving as a result.

As we mentioned before, you should also consider the cost of attending all the schools on your list. Yes, there are a lot of reasons to go to college to get together, explore new subjects and all kinds of other egalitarian reasons, but it’s very important to remember that college is a costly investment in your life. future and you will need to be able to repay and enjoy the experience, notes Galvin.

College might only last four years of your life, but the student debt you incur can impact your life for decades to come.

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