Every year, new batches of annual college rankings are released and, in some cases, they receive a significant amount of publicity. Their releases are usually met with anxiety over admissions chances and bewilderment over how some schools managed to improve so much while others plummeted rather dramatically. However, we strongly encourage you to exercise caution you and look beyond the rankings as you develop your list of target schools.

For better or worse, the more prestigious college rankings, such as US News & World Report, in particular do make significant impacts on the ranked colleges and universities. A high ranking always gets touted by the school’s media and communications department, produces a spike in applications for the next season and always gets cited in grant applications. While many high school seniors rely heavily on these rankings to identify their A-list schools, selecting the best college for you should always remain a deeply personal decision. By all means, feel free to use the rankings as a guidepost, but remember that ultimately you will be embarking down the path you choose on your own. And just as college admissions committees look beyond standardized test scores and GPAs when assessing applicants, so should you look beyond the bare rankings so many publications use to grade these same schools.

It is important to remember that most prospective college students value program attributes that carry no weight in the college’s ranking determination. Some of these attributes may include location, ethnic diversity, cost and the availability of specialized classes, study abroad options and degree programs. So remember to focus on what is important to you when selecting your schools and don’t put too much emphasis on rankings that can – and will – fluctuate every year.

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