Everyone loves looking at rankings, especially when it comes to USA Colleges. The fascination with college ranking lists has been around for over 30 years, ever since the U.S. News & World Report debuted its list in 1983. There are quite a few college ranking’s lists out there, but which ones are the best ones? Which ones should you look at? And should you base your decision off them?

Overall, the college ranking lists are flawed, and you should spend more time researching and visiting colleges than obsessing over college rankings to determine which college you should attend after you finish high school.

Furthermore, colleges are motivated and influenced by the rankings. Colleges understand that these rankings are popular and influential. They’ll spend money on things the lists consider important or aggressively recruit students who have little chance of gaining admission just to raise their selectivity rating to increase their rank.

However, below we list some benefits of using these rankings and also why you should avoid them. You can obtain some worthwhile information from these lists, so don’t completely dismiss them.

The Benefits of Using College Ranking Lists

From looking at college ranking lists, you can discover colleges you may not have been familiar with that could be a good fit for you based on your academic, athletic and financial needs. By looking at these lists, you may find a school that matches what you’re looking for in a college.

College ranking lists provide extensive data in one place for you to compare schools. In one list, you can see statistics for different colleges like average class size, high school GPA requirements, SAT scores, and cost of tuition to name a few.

Also, these lists give you a rough idea of the reputations of different colleges. While these lists are subjective, they do tend to reflect how colleges are regarded in the academic and professional worlds. There is probably little difference between a #1 and a #5 school in terms of reputation, but the #1 school in a list is going to have a better reputation than #100.

Finally, these lists can give you an idea of what you need to do to make yourself competitive for admission to a specific college. These ranking lists often give you the average GPA, standardized test scores, and the percentage of students who graduate in the top 10% and 25% in their high school classes. From these numbers, you can determine what you should accomplish to make yourself a qualified applicant. Your numbers should compare favorably to those of the average student at a particular college if you want to give yourself a realistic shot at gaining admission to your chosen school.

Why You Should Avoid Basing Your College Decisions on the Rankings

Some of the criteria these lists use to compile their rankings are highly subjective and are based on survey responses. “Quality of life” and “academics” can be major factors for rankings and both are often based on opinions from surveys. The primary problem with these survey results is that they don’t seem to be representative; they suffer from voluntary response bias and nonresponse bias.

For example, Princeton Review ranks colleges in 62 categories. Often, a college alerts the student body that the Princeton Review surveys are available online and then students choose to complete the surveys. Those students who volunteer to take the surveys are likely to not be representative of the student population as a whole. Typically, those who would volunteer have stronger opinions than those of the average student.

Similarly, U.S. News & World Report determines the academic quality of an institution based on survey responses from top academics and administrators from other colleges and from high school counselors. Are those who choose to respond to the surveys necessarily representative of all college representatives and high school counselors? Some top academics and knowledgeable high school counselors who are sent surveys choose not to submit responses.

Additionally, there are some colleges, like Reed College, may have their rankings affected because they choose not to submit information because they do not want to participate in college ranking lists.

Students can get too focused on the rankings instead of figuring out which school is the best fit for them. There’s probably not much difference in the quality of education at a #5 school vs. a #10 school. The #10 school may be a much better fit for a student who could excel academically at both.

While nearly everyone starts out thinking Division I is the ultimate goal, it really comes down to what type of college experience will be right for you as a student-athlete. The good news is that with three NCAA divisions, NAIA schools and junior colleges, there’s something for every type of student-athlete. 

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