Why College Rankings Are Important

The Importance of College Rankings

In a Niche survey of more than 800 users, 93 percent reported a college’s reputation being somewhat to extremely important.

Poll: "When it comes to the college search, how important is a school's recognizable name/reputation to you?

Over the past 20 years, the reputation of a college has grown in influence thanks in part to the rise of college rankings. When Art & Science Group first published research on college rankings in 1995, they discovered that such standings had little impact on students’ college choice. The top three most influential information sources at this time included: Catalogs, Parents, and Admissions Reps (Internet was dead last). By 2002, Art & Science Group discovered that one-fifth of 500 college students looked at college rankings.

However, 2012 marked a big change, with two-thirds of students saying college rankings had helped them determine where to apply to college.

Why Have College Rankings Risen to Prominence?
Quote: "The growing prestige of college rankings parallels inflating college tuition."The Information Age has given rise to more data transparency, and in turn, has helped people make small (“Where should I eat lunch?”) and big life decisions (“Where should I live?”).

Naturally, college rankings fall on the “big” part of this scale. People want to know where a school stacks up against others, what it’s known for, and whether attending for four years will be beneficial to their career. After all, college is an investment, and college rankings give people some insight into whether making this investment will be profitable. It’s no wonder the growing prestige of college rankings parallels inflating college tuition.

College Cost by Year

Year
Average Cost of Attendance
(Tuition + Room & Board)
1995–1996$8,800
2002–2003$12,014
2011–2012$19,339

Trends taken from the National Center for Education Statistics.

What’s the Best Way to Use Rankings?

  • Figure out what’s important to you. Are you looking for a strong social scene? A long history? Eco-friendliness? Think about what you want and where you want to go, and allow the rankings to help you narrow down your prospective colleges list.
  • Don’t assume that only the “No. 1” schools are worth attending. Rankings are also helpful in giving you a glimpse at lesser-known schools, especially when it comes to small liberal arts colleges.
  • If you’re an international student, college rankings give you more of an idea about U.S. reputations, other than that of the Ivy League. It’s a big world out there, and not everyone has to be a Harvard graduate to be successful.
  • Once you’re a college student, college rankings can be utilized more as a source of pride (“I attend the No. 10 college with the Smartest Guys.”) and are often employed by colleges and alumni networks to reconnect former students to their alma mater with boastful fun facts.
  • Once students graduate from college and are looking for a job, a potential employer can look at a candidate’s alma mater and predetermine performance quality based on where the college stands in rankings.
  • Should a student decide to go on to graduate school, college rankings can help them figure out which institutions have what they want.

How Rankings Have Changed
Since 1983, U.S. News & World Report has released its annual list of the best colleges and graduate schools, but since then, the face of college rankings has changed drastically. Today, there are numerous lists based on more specific or niche criteria. Everyone knows the Ivy League, but does everyone know the 5Cs in California? There are many high-quality institutions in the United States, and the emergence of college rankings highlights that not everyone needs to attend Harvard or Yale to have a brag-worthy claim.