College rankings are ranked lists of colleges and universities. While each company uses its own standards to create a list, statistics such as student to faculty ratio and graduation rates are typically combined with survey data to create a snapshot of a school's level of quality. Rankings exist for entire schools, particular subject areas and specific aspects of the college experience, and a single list can consist of anywhere from five to 100 universities.
A high ranking can mean bragging rights for a school, but it can also bring in increased college applications and a higher caliber of student. Students often view graduating from a highly-regarded college as an essential step to future success.
Popular Ranking Systems
U.S.News & World Report
Each fall, U.S. News & World Report publishes a highly-anticipated edition of its magazine devoted to the best colleges and universities. An online version is also available with free access to many listings, but a premium paid subscription is required to access expanded rankings, school profiles, and other features. Although students and universities tend to pay most attention to the top overall national or regional rankings, the publication also offers specialized lists for topics like studying abroad.
The Princeton Review
The Princeton Review publishes The Best Colleges and its related rankings website. Visitors can view profiles of all 361 schools and 62 college rankings lists covering topics far beyond standard academic concerns. Who cares about the best engineering programs when you can find out which schools have the best college radio stations and learn about the dungeon-like dorms you should avoid? (Free registration is required to view individual lists.)
- StudentsReview.com offers a collection of general reviews submitted by students. Data from these reviews is then compiled into dynamic rankings.
- The Campus Squirrel Listings argue that a school's squirrel population is an indicator of overall quality. While not a serious college ranking service, it does offer an entertaining way to evaluate the atmosphere of a campus.
Rankings Versus Accreditation
While rankings are numerical in nature, with one school deemed "better" than another, an accreditation process simply means a college or degree program meets a pre-determined set of professional standards. Some accreditations are subject-specific; if you're looking to become a librarian, you need to attend an ALA-accredited library science program. Others are applicable to an entire university, like accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Some may argue about the value of a particular ranking, but accreditation is considered vital in most professional fields. You will also need to attend an accredited college to receive most scholarships and loans.
Do College Rankings Matter?
Beyond fulfilling a competitive desire, do rankings really matter? Some controversy exists on the matter, with scholars and universities alike finding the lists artificial and misleading. Some schools have even refused to participate in ranking studies and surveys. It's still hard to argue against the prestige of saying you attended the number one undergraduate business program. You can also use rankings to your advantage in selecting a college. You don't need a survey to tell you Harvard is a top university, but rankings can give a lesser-known school a chance to shine because of a notable program or stellar atmosphere.
Ranking lists are best considered from the proper perspective. They are simply an aid, a single resource to use in your quest to find the best college for your needs. It won't do you any good to attend a top-ranked school if you're miserable and drop out after your first semester. Likewise, an aspiring poet won't find much inspiration at a top-ranked engineering school with a floundering English department.