We’ve spoken many times about the dangers of over reliance on any rankings system and the importance of individual ‘fit.’ US News themselves readily admit that there are a number of intangibles that can’t be quantified. Additionally, the rankings fluctuate and a school ranked in the top five this year could fall outside the top ten when the prospective student is getting ready to graduate with a degree.
US News has the most widely followed rankings so theirs is the one we tend to focus on.
We probably can’t overemphasize the dangers of relying too heavily on “undergraduate academic reputation,” one of U.S. News’ two most heavily weighted categories in the rankings. That category is comprised of the opinion-based ratings of presidents, deans and provosts at peer institutions. (It’s also the publication’s “secret sauce” as the rest of the rankings are based off factors anyone can independently obtain with just some basic research skills.) Simply put, we believe that basing one’s opinion of a college on someone else’s is doing yourself a big disservice.
Another measure by which U.S. News grades schools is faculty resources, giving more more weight to schools that pay higher faculty salaries. Yet, we don’t believe it’s wise for students to say, “If this school pays faculty more than the other school, the school will give me a better education.” How happy are those professors and what emphasis is placed on teaching versus grants, publishing, etc?
Student selectivity, another factor that can raise or deflate a school’s status, measures the number of students who apply against the number who are accepted. Yet, far too many schools are known to encourage applications from students who don’t have much of a shot at acceptance, just to boost their selectivity ratio. Besides, why should one assume the more selective school will automatically provide you a better education?