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Articles / Applying to College / Verifying College Claims of Top-Ranked Programs

Nov. 2, 2007

Verifying College Claims of Top-Ranked Programs

Question: Some colleges boast that they are "3rd in the world" or "1st in the nation" for such and such a program. How can I verify these claims, and how can I see who else is on the list?

There is no official worldwide list of the best academic programs .... or the best anything ... when it comes to college quality. Most references to school rankings stem from US News and World Report's annual "America's Best Colleges" issue. If you read US News, you can find potentially helpful statistics that compare class sizes, retention rates, average SAT scores, etc. But don't take the rankings hierarchy as gospel truth. Make your OWN assessments of which schools are right for you.


Some institutions that make boastful claims, especially the ones that trumpet their #1 status, have nothing to go on except their own high opinions of what they're offering, with the hope of roping in applicants who may be a tad less cynical than you are. (Since there's no official way to disprove what they're saying, why not say it, right?) Others may be basing their proclamations on any of the myriad lists that emerge each year. Princeton Review, for instance, publishes "Best" rosters that cover everything from "Best College Library" to "Best Campus Food" to "Great Schools for Biology Majors" (or "Accounting Majors," "Engineering Majors," "Education Majors," and so on).

If a college you're considering is touting their superiority in any area, you should feel free to write to admission officials and ask about the source of the claim. If you do it in a curious and friendly way--and not so you sound like you're putting admission officials on the defensive--you may get a helpful reply. If you receive a response that cites the origins of the ranking, you can then look to see what other colleges and universities earned similar accolades. Chances are good, however, that you won't receive any answer at all. But, if you do, you may have made a useful contact in the admission office--someone with whom you can continue to correspond as you go through the application process, as other, unrelated questions arise.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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