Rank This: Understanding the Differences in College Rankings

April 05, 2016

For many parents and students, starting the college search is a daunting experience. With so many choices out there, it’s nearly impossible to know every detail about the schools right off the bat. While one school might be a great academic fit, it might not be the best personal fit.

Luckily, one of the most popular resources for prospective students is the US News and World Report college ranking. Every year, the publication releases its famed ranking list, featuring the top schools from top to bottom. Though it’s a reliable resource, it’s not the only one - and it only measures based on certain metrics. Even US News and World Report’s website says so:

“Many factors other than those spotlighted here will figure in your decision, including location and the feel of campus life; the range of academic offerings, activities and sports; and cost and the availability of financial aid. But if you combine the information on usnews.com with college visits, interviews and your own intuition, our rankings can be a powerful tool in your quest for the right college.”

 

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So what’s the difference between their rankings and all other rankings out there? US News and World Report focuses on academic value for the money, but doesn’t take into account the other factors that might make a college decision. Specifically, the focus is on academic reputation, student retention rate, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, graduation rate, and alumni giving rate. Forbes, on the other hand, looks at student satisfaction, post-graduation success, student debt, graduation rates, and academic success. Niche has a longer list of factors, but also considers professors, athletics, campus quality, surrounding area, and safety.

Consider this: Williams College is ranked #2 on Forbes’ top colleges list and is #1 on US News’ list of top liberal arts colleges, but isn’t found until #19 on Niche’s list. On College Factual’s list, Williams is ranked #50. With all those numbers and pieces of information, where would you rank Williams on your list? For some, it would absolutely be #1, while for others, it’s not even a consideration.

As Jeffrey Brenzel, former Dean of Admissions at Yale, said: “there are many excellent reasons to apply to Yale, but Yale’s position in the rankings is not one of them.” And that’s the importance of comparing different lists to each other, and then thinking about it yourself. While these lists are all objective in their own way, they all provide different data and come to different conclusions. There are lists for best dorms, best food, and even best college towns - all of which might play a huge role in where you decide to apply.

Sources: US NewsNicheForbesCollege FactualYale Admissions.

About The Author

Drew Evans
Drew Evans

​Drew is a content and social media guru. When he’s not working, he loves to photograph, play music, play sports, and travel. He is also weirdly obsessed with Thai food, Girl Scout cookies, and learning new languages (even though he’s not fluent in any). For any editorial ideas, contact info@admitsee.com.




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UT Austin ‘19


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I'm from the SF Bay Area, but I'm betraying my roots by attending The University of Texas at Austin as a chemical engineering major. I like music, science and eating!
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