With the end of summer comes the start of college application season and an onslaught of college rankings from all the big-name publications. But which rankings really matter? Do any of them? And how can you use them in the college application process?
Let’s start by breaking down three types of college rankings.
1. Alumni Clickbait
These rankings are created less for prospective students and more for current students and alumni. They’re cleverly designed to pray on school pride and nostalgic college memories. You know the ones:
- Hottest Student Body (“I knew I looked good in college”)
- Best Tailgating (“Woot our football games rocked!”)
- Most Celebrity Alums (“Oh yeah, I totally went to school with Jack Nicholson’s daughter.”)
Do these college rankings matter? Not remotely.
2. Fodder and Fluff
We don’t think we need to tell you that you shouldn’t pick a school based on the school mascot or food… but considering how much of this kind of fluff is all over the Internet, let’s talk about it for a minute. Consider titles like:
- Most Insta-Worthy Campuses
- Best Dining Hall Food
- Swankiest Dorms
- Happiest Students
Not only is this stuff irrelevant, the research isn’t solid. So even if in theory knowing which campuses have the best dorms might give you some insight into the quality of student living, there’s no way to know how accurate the information is. We all know from Top Chef that judging food is completely subjective, and how do you even begin to unpack an idea like “happiness”? Like cotton candy, it may be a delicious read, but there’s no real substance there. It’s just fluff.
Even rankings about Financial Aid and Future Career Earning, while these may seem more substantial than other Internet fodder, it’s hard to know where the information is coming from, so be careful there. After all, you never know what you’ll get in financial aid until after you apply, and no one, no matter how many numbers are crunched, can predict the future.
Do these college rankings matter? Nooooooope.
3. Real Deal
The U.S. News & World Report College Rankings are easily the most recognized rankings in the business… and when we say business, we mean it literally. College rankings are a business, which means these rankings can be gamed. So take ‘em with a grain of salt. Whether or not the rankings are accurate, they do provide great information. Average standardized test scores and acceptance rates can give you a good idea of the kind of students that apply as well as the level of competition you’ll face in the application process.
Do these college rankings matter? We wouldn’t say that they “matter” but they are a valuable resource to compare stats and find information to assess your chances of acceptance. For example, rankings are helpful in organizing school into competitive tiers, which is key for college admissions strategy. You can use their data on average test scores, GPA, and similar stats to approximate your “level”, how competitive you are based on your profile. This will help you determine the list of schools you should apply to (we walk you through this whooooole process in How to Beat Low College Acceptance Rates).
The college admissions process can be overwhelming, especially given all the clickbait and fluff floating around the Internet. Put on your blinders and focus on what matters. Even reputable college rankings can be skewed and manipulated, so use them as a source of information, but don’t let them make your decision for you.