Rankings: Not the End-All-Be-All

As humans, we love to rank things.  Anytime I plan to buy something important I always do a Google search that goes something like this…”Top 10 *insert item* brands”.  Then I spend countless hours stressing over expert reviews compared to customer reviews trying to find out which brand I’m going to spend my hard earned money on.  Rankings are everywhere and they are important.  It’s an easy (and quick) way to help narrow down your search and make your decision process a little easier.

College rankings are no different.  These rankings help families narrow down their search by a few “important” factors and qualifiers.  Rankings can be helpful but shouldn’t influence your entire decision, especially when you’re looking at schools that are only a few numbers away from each other in a particular ranking.

As a school that is consistently highly ranked, we encourage prospective students to understand the rankings and not just take them at face value. You get a much fuller picture of a school when you understand the statistics and characteristics that lead to a particular ranking. The more you know about how the ranking is determined, the better you will be able to utilize it effectively in your college search. You may even uncover some really valuable information about a school that you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.

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Though we believe in the usefulness of rankings, we do want to give you a few things to keep in mind while considering them in your search for the right college:

Different things are important to different people. The weight of the different criteria used to determine “quality” of an institution tend to be very subjective.  For example, US News and World Report even states in their description of methodology that “Each factor is assigned a weight that reflects U.S. News’ judgment about how much that measure matters.”  So what matters to someone at US News and World Report vs. what matters to a 17 year old high school student may be very different.  Using a “cookie cutter” method to find schools can be helpful when trying to figure out which schools excel in certain areas or just to help you narrow down your search, but just because a school is ranked #1 doesn’t mean it’s the #1 best fit for you.

The methodology isn’t perfect.  What would happen if we totally removed one of the criteria for these rankings?  The results could change drastically.  Often rankings change year to year anyways.  The variance from source to source and year to year can be so drastic that it’s hard to know who is “right” and who is “wrong”.  Consider “Financial Resources”. Grove City College works hard to keep its cost of attendance reasonable for all students and therefore has a “built in” scholarship instead of discounting tuition for some students and increasing it for others (a method called tuition discounting which is widely practiced by most other institutions). Because we don’t “award” students a scholarship but instead offer a low tuition to begin with, we end up being hurt in certain rankings.  Is the amount of money being provided on a per-student basis a true indicator of academic quality?  I’m not so sure it is.

Another criteria that seems subjective is the “Alumni Giving” criteria.  US News claims that it is used as an “indirect measure of student satisfaction”, however, there are far too many factors that influence someone’s ability to give back to their school.  Many alumni are quite pleased with their experience at their alma mater but, for whatever reason, are unable to give. So does alumni satisfaction provide an indication of the quality of education they received?  Again, I’m not so sure it does.

While rankings can be a handy tool to help narrow down your search and to see common information all in one place, it shouldn’t be used as the “end all be all” of your decision process.  Going to a school ranked #1 is great, but finding the school that is the best fit for you is what will make or break your college experience. So take some time to visit schools you are interested in and get to know them. Then you’ll be able to form your own ranking based on criteria that is important to you.

For more information on finding your fit, check out the “finding your fit” section of our blog!


Picture source: http://www.library.illinois.edu/sshel/specialcollections/rankings/

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