US News

How Important Are College Rankings?

Written on September 13, 2011 at 4:07 pm , by


Today U.S. News and World Report released their 2012 college rankings. Recently retooled, they’re based on a number of factors, including the schools’ undergraduate academic reputations and student selectivity.  I’m currently a graduate student at NYU. As I read the rankings, my thoughts were, in rapid succession:

  1. Oh, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are in the top 3 slots? Who could have seen that coming? (Please note the sarcasm.)
  2. Sweet – my undergrad and graduate schools got really respectable rankings!
  3. Um…bragging rights aside, I’m not sure this means anything

The way I see it, the rankings are a good place to start your kid’s college search, but they can’t be the only – or the most important – selection criteria. Instead, use them as a jumping off point. Note what they say about academics, class size, diversity, prevalence of Greek life and school setting, but understand that no collection of statistics can really capture the college experience.  Rather than relying on a ranking, have your kid talk to a current student or a recent alum. (College admissions offices will be happy to help you out with that.) Take your teen to the campus and see what vibe she gets.

I knew I wanted to go to Tufts University, my undergrad alma mater, when I first visited and saw the pathways covered in chalk. Amidst landscaped lawns and brick buildings, the colorful chalk announced club meetings, advertised events or just displayed pictures. I figured that a school that was academically respected and yet able to not take itself too seriously was the place I wanted to be. The ice cream in the cafeteria and the five-hour train ride that stood between there and home were draws, too. To this day, I’m not sure the percentage of women vs. men on campus or my average class size, but I remember eating pizza in the library foyer at 3 a.m. during finals week with some friends. My school isn’t in the U.S News top 5 (or 20), but I could not imagine having a better experience anywhere else.

Another reason not to rely on ratings too much? Your kid’s college experience will largely be shaped by what he puts into it—and therefore, what he gets from it. If he works with inspiring professors, tries new things, makes friends and comes away having grown and changed, it may not matter whether he went to an ivy league institution or the University of What’s-It-Called. College is about finding the right fit, then making the most of it.

Readers, what do you think? Are you and your kid combing over the ratings or ignoring them all together? Do you find them useful in your college search? Share your thoughts below.