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What Do College Rankings Mean?

September 18, 2012 :: Admissionado Team

What Are College Rankings | Admissionado

Question: Why do colleges get ranked? How are they ranked? And what does a school’s ranking mean for me?

Answer: College ranking is a BIG industry that’s grown up around public demand. Kids looking to go to college are just like any other type of consumer. They are going to be spending a lot of money and want to get their money’s worth. More to the point, they want to know that they’re spending their money wisely.

So, how do colleges get ranked? Or, to put it in another way, what makes for a “good investment” when it comes to colleges? Well, a few things are taken into account.

  • Reputation
  • Salary After Graduating
  • Acceptance Rates
  • Alumni Involvement And Funding
  • Graduation Rates
  • Transfer Rates
  • Application Standards (SAT and ACT scores, median GPA, etc)

First, a good college investment means that you’ll have a better chance of getting hired—or getting into a graduate or doctoral program—when you graduate. What does that translate into? Reputation.

The better a college’s reputation in the academic and industry circles, the more likely you can find work being a graduate from that school, and the higher the college ranking. Now, this begs the chicken-or-egg question… which came first, the great reputation or the high ranking? Well, in the case of most U.S. schools, they’ve been around LONG before college rankings became formalized metrics, so traditional reputation still means a TON.

Second, in purely economic terms, a good college investment means that the increased income you get with your degree will—in the long run—outweigh the costs of getting the degree in the first place. If you spend $100K on four years of college and only make an extra $20K over the entire course of your career, that’s not a very sound investment. But if you can pay off your school loans two years after graduation based solely on your increased income… well, you get the idea. So, the folks who do college rankings not only take employment rates into consideration, but average salaries as well.

What else do U.S. News, Princeton Review, and Financial Times take into account when they figure out rankings? Lots of stuff, but there are some big ones. Major criteria include acceptance rates (students applied vs. students accepted), alumni involvement and funding, graduation rates, transfer rates, and application standards (median GPA, SAT/ACT scores, etc.). It’s certainly not an easy thing to do, and many groups have built GREAT reputations making a science out of ranking colleges.

So, what does that mean for you as a college applicant? Well, it gives you a rough idea of where you have a good chance or a bad chance of getting in. If you’re got a 2.9 GPA and Harvard has an average GPA requirement of 4.0, you know that you might not have a great chance or getting in. It also gives you goals to work toward. If you know the school looks for a 32 on the ACT, you know what score you need when you go to take the test.

However, at the end of the day, while rankers have made a science out of college ranking, it’s not an EXACT science. The top-ranked school doesn’t mean that it’s the undisputed greatest school of all time… these rankings change every year, after all. It’s a useful tool for you to learn more about the schools you are interested in, and a valuable way of figuring out what schools are right for you.