Princeton Review, U.S. News & World Report, and Forbes Magazine are just a few of the organizations currently offering college ranking lists. And while the jury’s still out on which ranking system is superior, one thing is clear: college rankings do matter to students.

According to a recent poll conducted by the website Art & Science, college rankings are having a significant effect on students’ application decisions. According to the poll, this is how students are factoring rankings into their college choices:

Understanding the Study

The study, which involved over 840 college-bound high school seniors, found that two thirds reported that one or more college ranking lists influenced their college application decisions.

Almost two thirds of students in the study “strongly agreed” or “somewhat agreed” that college rankings were important in helping them differentiate between schools.

Additionally, students who scored higher on their SATs were more likely to take college rankings into account than those who earned lower scores. US News was the list most frequently consulted, followed by Princeton Review, Forbes Top Colleges and the Best Colleges site.

Among ethnicities, Asian students reported valuing college rankings more than Caucasian, African American and Hispanic students. Of Asian students, 69 percent reported discussing college ranking with their parents, while only 54 percent of Caucasians, 53 percent of African-Americans and 49 percent of Hispanics did the same. Finally, 54 percent of students discussed college rankings with their friends.

Arts & Sciences estimates that the margin of error for this sample size was 2.79 percent. Additionally, because the study was conducted in November, the authors could only assess how college ranking lists affected application decisions, not actual college enrollment.

Contradicting Earlier Research

The results of the study dispute earlier polls, which suggested that college ranking lists had only minimal impact on students’ application decisions. According to the Art & Science article, collegiate institutions should avoid reading too much into the new study. While college rankings are affecting students’ decisions, other factors like value, location, campus community and academic opportunity hold more weight. Additionally, many students consider information garnered from campus visits and discussions with their parents when deciding where to apply.

In light of these findings, the study’s authors recommend that colleges focus on making organic improvements to their schools rather than on achieving a higher ranking on a list.

Rise in College Ranking Lists

These days, students have a wide variety of college ranking lists from which to choose. From lists that rank schools by region to ones that inform students about the best party colleges, the possibilities are endless. Recently, lists ranking schools by value have become increasingly popular as well.

With more than 3,000 colleges and universities in the United States, it’s easy for students to become overwhelmed. It’s imperative that prospective students consider their options carefully and avoid fixating on one particular rankings list.

Making Decisions About Your College Career

If you do choose to consult a college ranking list, you should read all the information available rather than just noting a school’s overall ranking. Prospective college students and their parents should consider all the various elements that go into calculating a school’s rank, which often include graduation and retention rates as well as faculty resources, class sizes, selectivity and the availability of financial aid.

In the end, students and parents may want to set aside rankings data and trust their own impressions of a school. After all, the most important thing is to find a college that will make you happy for the next four years while allowing you to pursue your academic and career goals.


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