College Rankings: The Laissez-Faire Ranking
NOTE: While no longer actively maintained, the Laissez-Faire college ranking system continues to be of interest due to its unique emphasis on acceptee preferences.
The Laissez-Faire Ranking has been prepared for several years by newengland, who haunts the soc.college.admissions USENET newsgroup. It greatly weights selectivity in producing its rankings, i.e., how difficult it is to gain admission and how well qualified the students are.
In newengland's own words, "The Laissez-Faire Ranking identifies quality with selectivity. It takes the historical and etymological view that a college is a "chosen company" and attempts to rank colleges by the membership they attract. It lets the best applicants point to the best colleges. Bright kids pay attention to selectivity when they look at colleges because they want to go where their peers are going. With their matriculation, they help compose a superior community, thereby confirming received opinion."
In other words, these rankings are market driven - if School A attracts better students than School B, and if students who are admitted to both decide to attend School A more frequently, than School A is awarded a higher ranking. One effect this has is to weight how schools are perceived more heavily than other rankings. While one might quibble that reality is more important than perception, one could equally argue that when applying for a job or presenting one's qualifications to a client, perception is more important than reality.
Whichever camp you fall into, the Laissez-Faire rankings provide an interesting perspective on the nation's top colleges.