Do College Rankings Matter?

6 mins read9.4K Views Comment
Piyush Kohli
Study Abroad Expert
Updated on Apr 8, 2020 13:47 IST

Do college rankings really matter? Do the prospective students really consider them while making their decision about a particular college or university? Have you ever gave a thought to rankings while applying to the colleges or universities? How you made your decision or how you are going to advise about a particular institution? In this article, we’ll answer all these questions which come to your mind when you hear about the college rankings.

There are always two schools of thoughts on this matter. Understanding the college or university rankings is a tricky affair. Do they really tell you about the real worth of a degree from a specific college? For some, these rankings are not perfect as different evaluating bodies use different methodologies for giving ranking to the colleges. For others, it gives a neat list which makes it easy to select the one where you want to apply. So, what is actually behind these numbers?

In a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), students listed some important factors which should be considered while taking into account the ranking of the colleges/universities:

  • Chances of getting a good job after completing the degree/course
  • Admissions potential for top colleges/universities
  • The overall cost of attending the school
  • Size of the school and the student body
  • Details about the Campus

Types of Rankings

There are two types of Rankings:

  • College-based
  • Course-based

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Ranking Methodology

Some of the Factors/criteria adopted by various reputed ranking agencies while evaluating the college/university:

Faculty of the Institution: This foremost factor is taken into account while deciding the goodwill of the college. This indicator is given a great amount of weight while assessing any school. How many students are comfortable with their professors while attending the classes or how much they are satisfied with them is a critical factor. Student-faculty ratio or prominent work of the professors or the highest degrees they hold in their field or their remuneration, all these factors are considered in different proportions while deciding the prestige of a college.

Student Selectivity: Accessing higher education is one of the key aspects, as today, even nations want to promote their higher education institutes. The acceptance rate of students admitted in comparison to the total number of applicants. How can colleges improve their selectivity? They can make the application process easier for students or they can also upgrade their technology so that the number of students can apply.

Economic Strength: One of the most important indicator to assess the higher education scenario of a country or higher education institutions. For measuring the state of higher education in a country, it’s spending in the education sector against its GDP is looked at. Whereas, the institutions having a large budget whether they earned it or the money has come through endowments generally rated higher in comparison to schools with less financial resources. However, large funds do not directly impact the learning of the students. What counts is actually how the institute is utilizing this money so that students can be benefitted from it directly.

Performance of the Graduates: This is the most important aspect of measuring the academic excellence of any institute. The difference between ‘predicted graduation rate’ and ‘actual graduation rate’ of an institution plays a crucial role in deciding the ranking of a particular university/ college. For instance, the predicted graduation rate of Caltech is 99% whereas only 85% are able to graduate successfully with a degree from the university. According to Former Stanford President Gerhard Casper, this problem arises due to the fact that many students find the curriculum of Caltech too rigorous. The preset parameters that are applied to predict graduate rate fail to consider this point.

Research: This is one of the most important factors as it can be used to assess the universities’ role in spreading knowledge and ideas through which one can find the research excellence of an institution. To measure this, one can count the number of papers published in the peer-reviewed journals. If the university has a great reputation for its research work, then it adds to the university’s income by getting a research grant from various sources (like government, industry). Apart from this, the influence of the research work can also be measured by its research work’s citation i.e. how much its research work is cited by the scholars worldwide.

Teaching: This aspect is perfect for looking at how successful an institution in nurturing the next generation of leaders and academics. Some ranking bodies consider the doctoral awards bagged by an institute, however, this is not an optimal criterion of measuring the academic success as it does not consider the institution’s subject or course mix. One can also get the true picture of the university’s infrastructure and resources and their utilization. 

International Outreach:  Any university’s ability to attract students as well as faculty from across the world is an indicator of its presence on the global platform. Apart from this, any university’s industrial collaboration and its international associations are also accounted for.

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Strengths of going through Rankings

Broad Overview: For some people attending a reputed college is paramount. There can be numerous factors related to it. For them, it might open an array of opportunities, while for others it is a matter of gaining extensive knowledge in their field of study. If this matters to you, then evaluating some of the top schools which will appear at the top in different lists will make the selection process comparatively easy for you.

Easy Evaluation:  One gets assurance about the schools which are featuring at the top of various lists that you will get the quality education there. Faculty, research-oriented approach towards learning and even the student professor's ratio (receive personal attention from faculty) are some of the factors which are taken into consideration while giving rankings. This sets a baseline for selecting the college where students can achieve academic excellence and give them an idea that which school will live up to their expectations. 

Drawbacks of relying just on Rankings

One-size-fits-all approach: The rankings are based on some set parameters which may not cater to a large set of students as they lack diversity.

Set your priorities: If a school features in the list of prestigious schools that does not mean that it is perfect for you and is best suited for accomplishing your goals. Like if any survey gives more weight to ‘income after placements’, whereas the other one completely ignores it, then it becomes difficult to believe in them.

After going through various aspects of selecting the top-most colleges/universities, we have come to the conclusion that the colleges ranking matters. However, this should not be considered the sole criteria for selecting the colleges, as some colleges are good but they don’t make to the Rankings due to multiple factors. With college rankings, one can evaluate if you are a good fit for the college or not but does not establish whether the college is a good fit for you. As just one list cannot give a complete story of a college.

About the Author
Piyush Kohli
Study Abroad Expert

With a plethora of knowledge of the education domain, Piyush Kohli has been involved with study abroad for over 5 years and counting. He comes with prior experience on the complexities of the study abroad applicatio... Read Full Bio


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