Do college rankings matter?

03/01/2020 7:45 PM IST

Some college rankings do reveal a kernel of truth about a school, but it's best to take them all with a grain of salt. College rankings should be a small piece of your college search puzzle (and a small factor in how you think about your college once you enroll).

When you're looking at college lists and rankings, it's important that you back up anything that matters to you with real facts and your research. And while you shouldn't base your college search on what these lists reveal, they can act as a starting point in many instances. For example, if you're looking for a school that's especially good in biomedical engineering or musical theater, college rankings might clue you into some top programs. But then it's up to you to investigate more.

A big problem with college rankings is they don't provide a personalized match that considers your criteria and goals. Choosing a college is a subjective decision that depends on what's best for you, not an arbitrary popularity contest. The differences between the college ranked first and the college ranked 25th might not be significant. A difference of 0.1 points might be all it takes to shift a college up or down in the rankings. Greater variation in the rankings occurs only because of the annual tweaks in the ranking formulas. College rankings are often circular in nature. The top-ranked colleges have top rankings because they have strong reputations. They have a strong reputation, in part, because they had a top-ranking last year.

College rankings also are prone to manipulation. When college switches to test-optional, only students with good admissions test scores submit their scores to the college, causing an increase in the average admissions test scores. Colleges also can improve their rankings by placing more emphasis on high school GPA and SAT/ACT test scores in their admissions criteria. This would increase the marketing and academic budgets and by networking with the presidents and provosts at peer colleges and universities. Even a change in the college's name (from "college" to "university") may have an impact. Another main factor is the percentage of a school's students who graduate within six years. But this says as much about a school's selectiveness - the proven achievement and discipline of the students it admits - as about its stewardship of them.

Ms. Shikha
Teacher BHIS Santacruz