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Are College Rankings Still Important?

The answer is: not really. The US News and World Report generates an annual list of the top national universities, national liberal arts colleges, regional universities, and regional baccalaureate programs. The report ranks the institutions based on several categories. The greatest weight is placed on peer assessment scores (22.5 percent). The peer assessment score is a combination of the academic peer score and the high school counselor rating score. Faculty resources, the retention and graduation of students also weigh heavily. Rounding out the list of factors included in the final decision are financial resources, alumni giving, and student selectivity.

However, the categories evaluated by the US News and World Report are not necessarily the same categories that students value highly when choosing a college or university. According to the UCLA Freshman Survey, the following factors were foremost on students' minds when filling out their college applications:

  • 1. College has a very good academic reputation (63.6 percent)
  • 2. This college's graduates get good jobs (56.5 percent)
  • 3. I was offered financial assistance (44.7 percent)
  • 4. The cost of attending this college (41.6 percent)
  • 5. A visit to the campus (41.4 percent)
  • 6. Wanted to go to a college about this size (39.8 percent)
  • 7. College has a good reputation for social activities (39.3 percent)
  • 8. Grads get into good grad/professional schools (34.6 percent)
  • 9. Wanted to live near home (20.1 percent)
  • 10. Information from a website (19.2 percent)
  • 11. Parents wanted me to go to this school (18.8 percent)
  • 12. Rankings in national magazines (18.5 percent)
  • 13. Admitted early decision and/or early action (12.9 percent)
  • 14. Could not afford first choice (12.2 percent)
  • 15. High school counselor advised me (10.3 percent)

One could loosely argue that, by combining the parental influence and the ranking in national magazines, and assuming that 100 percent of the parents agreed with the national rankings, 37.3 percent of the students were influenced by national magazines. However, even a visit to the campus still outranks the influence of national magazines by 4.1 percent. According to the UCLA survey, faculty resources, the retention and graduation of students, alumni giving, and student selectivity did not even make an appearance on the list of the top twenty-two reasons that influenced students.

Students are obviously focused on the cost/benefit analysis of a college, as indicated by their responses to UCLA. A college with a good academic reputation will enable a student to find work upon graduation or enter the graduate school of his choice. Students receiving financial assistance have less debt to repay upon graduation.

Today's students are financially savvy. They understand that paying a higher tuition simply because the alumni give money to the college or because the college only admits the top five percent of high school graduates based on their academic record is not a good value for their money.