US News and other rankings

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Discus: College Search and Selection: August 2004 Archive: US News and other rankings
By Arthurd (Arthurd) on Monday, August 09, 2004 - 01:36 pm: Edit

I have my own opinions of the usefulness of US News and other rankings magazines in the college application process, but I'd like to know what all of you think.

I, personally, think these ratings should be taken cum granis salis (with a grain of salt) but are often relied on too heavily by some. Much of the criteria used in rating colleges/universities is based on facts and figures that don't always show the school for what it is.

Selectivity is a factor in these ratings systems, but is this really a factor that should be used as a basis for choosing a school? There are many excellent schools that simply don't generate many applications, so called "niche schools". Some schools also have huge advertising campaigns that generate thousands of applicants for only a few hundred seats.

Should SAT averages be used in rankings? I don't think this is a valuable tool in measuring the greatness of a school. It is not the average SAT of the students that measures how great the education is at a school, but the backgrounds and dedication of the faculty.

IMHO, alumni giving rate is one of the worst factors that is used. Some say that this shows how happy a student was with his/her college, but I don't see this as so. It is mainly a way of showing how wealthy the alumni tend to be. And when you look at a large number of the highly rated schools, many of the students tend to be wealthy from the moment they enter the school, so it is not always a success factor. This factor does not take into account the larger population, who were happy with their education, but simply could not afford to donate.

Peer assessment accounts for approximately 25% of the US News rankings. Do you really care what the president of Princeton thinks of Yale? Even if you do, is this a factor that should be considered when choosing a school for YOU?

Yes, there are good components in these rankings such as faculty resources and class sizes, but these factors are far too few, and when these numbers are close, lesser significant factors like peer assessment are weighed far too heavily. I would think that factors like these are best viewed as piece by piece data. The things that matter most TO ME (and I would assume to anyone looking at the future) would be job placement figures, starting salaries, and things that affect EVERYONE at that school.

Please don't get me wrong! I am certainly not attacking US News or any of the other rankings, but I do think that when they are used as a key component in college selection it has gone too far. Many people tend to rely on US News as their "bible" for selecting schools.

Too often I've come across someone cutting out a school because it's not in the top 5 or what have you. Fact is, that the #9 school very often has just as good a program, and students miss out on a school that could have been an even better fit for them.

If a school slips from #7 to #11 for some reason or another, is it any less of a school? It's no longer in the top 10, so many people are apt to disregard it totally.

I didn't mean to rant, but I probably ended up doing that. I'd just like to hear some other opinions on the matter.

By Jonw222 (Jonw222) on Monday, August 09, 2004 - 02:58 pm: Edit

US News and other ranking systems can be used as effective guidelines when looking at schools. They can be used to add another school that one might not have previously considered. The problem becomes when people assume that a #5 school is "better" than a #6 school or even a #16 school. Most people can't even articulate why they think a school is better than another school.

But even the figures that you cite would make rankings that aren't accurate either. For instance, job placement figures would favor certain schools, starting salaries would favor others but wouldn't necessarily tell you about the quality of the school. Schools in cities with connections to corporations would be favored against rural schools that might give a better education. I'm not sure what "things affect everyone at that school" exactly means.

I haven't found any rankings which I have found satisfactory. For graduate school the National Research Council is too old and has too many errors. The Gourman Report (for undergraduate and graduate departments) doesn't have the weight of the criteria that Dr. Gourman uses to assess the "quality" of various departments.

Basically, you have to answer the question of what you want out of a school yourself. Do you want a small or large school, a large research University or a small Liberal Arts College, a school in an urban, or rural enviornment, etc.

Then visiting the schools, preferably when a semester is in session, to see if it seems like a fit for you (in other words, can you stand four years at this school.)

From my personal experiences, I have seen too many students at NYU who are there not because they think that the school is a great fit for them, but because it was the "best" school [read: highest ranked, most prestigious] that they were accepted to. Sometimes they transfer after the first year saying "I don't like really like urban environments." To which I reply, why did you apply to this school, let alone go to it if you knew you didn't like the environment the school is in?

A lot of research needs to be done to select a good fit for a student. The criteria shouldn't be "Top 10" or "Ivy League" (since the Ivy league schools are all very different.)


By Arthurd (Arthurd) on Monday, August 09, 2004 - 04:59 pm: Edit

Good points, JW. Anyone else?

By Benzinspeicher (Benzinspeicher) on Monday, August 09, 2004 - 05:16 pm: Edit

a few points

top tier means top tier: they're all top notch schools and shouldn't be further divided

SAT average is a good indicator: high student quality means better reputation

peer assessment is totally useless, it's heavily biased

acceptance rate shouldn't be used because some schools have higher acceptance rates due to known reputation and higher standards to even apply (compare the acceptance rate of Rensselaer Polytech, a top tier tech school, w/ UMASS Amherst, a second tier state school: the former accepts about 80% because of its high and specific requirements to even apply, UMASS Amherst accepts something around 50% because several underqualified ppl apply)

Also, top ten percent is biased-some schools have students who went to competetive high schools

By Alan5 (Alan5) on Monday, August 09, 2004 - 05:28 pm: Edit

Not to split hairs with you, but UMass accepts 82%:<ID=1

But your point is well taken since RPI's average SAT score of 1310 is nearly 200 points higher than that of UMass(1137).

By Jonw222 (Jonw222) on Monday, August 09, 2004 - 05:32 pm: Edit

The question, in some people's minds anyway, is what consitutes top tier.


By Arthurd (Arthurd) on Monday, August 09, 2004 - 05:33 pm: Edit

Collegeboard states that UMASS Amherst accepts 58%... big difference from PR, but I'd go with collegeboard over PR at this point.

By Alan5 (Alan5) on Monday, August 09, 2004 - 05:44 pm: Edit

The stats in the college board are from the prior year. UMass saw a twenty percent drop in applications last year.

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