Should You Use College Rankings to Make Your Decision?

College Rankings De-Mystified

As college acceptances are coming in for seniors, you might be tempted to check out the popular college ranking sites for insight on what the best college for your student is. A simple Google search for college rankings will pull up sites like US News,,,,​, to name a few. But do these sites and rankings truly provide the best insight on what the best fit for your student will be?

What are Rankings Based On?

When you take a closer look, you might find that the rankings are based on criteria that isn’t the most important criteria for you or your student. Perhaps the most popularly consulted college rankings site, US News, bases its ranking on the following information (the percentage is how much weight that category has in determining the college’s overall ranking).

  1. Alumni Giving (5%) – The percentage of alumni who make a regular donation to the school
  2. Graduation Rate Performance (7.5%) — Is the graduation rate higher or lower than what US News predicted for the school?
  3. Financial Resources (10%) – The amount of money per student spent by the college
  4. Student Selectivity (12.5%) — Determined by the SAT/ACT scores of applicants, the percent of enrolled students who were in the top 10% of their class, and the acceptance rate
  5. Faculty Resources – 20% — Determined by class size and faculty pay
  6. Undergraduate Academic Reputation (22.5%) — Determined by surveying the top academics (“presidents, provosts and deans of admissions”) to ask about “intangibles” such as faculty dedication to teaching etc., and based on the opinions of high school counselors across the country
  7. Graduation and Retention Rates (22.5) — based on % of first-year retention and 6-year graduation*

*(information from:

As you can see, some of these categories are completely subjective (such as asking faculty at the institution to rank the quality of education at the institution), while others are irrelevant (such as the percentage of alumni who make a regular donation).

US News Scren Capture

What to Look For Instead

At College Planning Source, we recommend that you take a different set of criteria into account altogether: one that puts your student’s needs first. Below are some relevant criteria to consider when making this very important decision.

  1. Visit colleges – check out the feel of the college and speak with representatives at the department that you are interested in studying in. Ask questions such as:
  • How many students are in this major?
  • How many students graduate in 4 years with this major?
  • What are students doing after this major? Are they going to graduate school? If so, where?
  • Where are students working after graduating with this major?
  • Is there a job fair for students here?
  1. Ask the university, either during a visit or via phone or email:
  • What career development programs does this institution offer? This is especially important for students who are still deciding on their career path.
  • Does this school provide opportunities for internships? If so, at which companies?
  1. Consider your long-term goals.
  • Are you planning to go to graduate or professional school after your undergraduate degree? If so, is it the best idea to be in a highly competitive environment?
  • Are you planning to work full-time directly after graduating? If so, what internship and job opportunities are there close to campus?
  1. Consider your student’s needs. Contact the schools and ask:
  • What is the social atmosphere of the campus? Would your student feel comfortable there?
  • What is the housing like? Are there options for singles and doubles, or would your student have to live in a triple room as a freshman?
  • If your student needs special accommodations, for example for a learning disability, ask the school what accommodations they provide.

In selecting the best college for your student, it is critical to keep your student’s goals and needs in mind over what rankings such as the US News rankings might claim. Acknowledging this, US News admits, “Many factors other than those spotlighted here will figure in your decision, including location and the feel of campus life; the range of academic offerings, activities and sports; and cost and the availability of financial aid.” ( Congratulations on all of your student’s acceptances! Wishing you the best of luck making an informed decision on what the best course for your student will be.


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