Aug. 2, 2014

College rankings do matter

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April 3, 2014

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The Huffington Post recently published an article titled “Students Don’t Actually Care That Much About College Rankings.” I find this hard to believe, especially for students attending the College of William and Mary. U.S. News and World Report ranked the College the No. 32 national university, No. 3 national university in undergraduate teaching and No. 1 small public school in the country.

Additionally, Business Insider ranked the College as having the smartest students of any public school, and plenty of other rankings placed the College among the top 50 universities in the country. Most of this information can be found on the College’s website, where many prospective students look for information about the College.

For an average high school student with an average SAT score and a median class rank, rankings probably do not matter, since top tier universities are not within their reach. However, most students at the College were among the top of their class, had high standardized test scores, and therefore had a lot of options when choosing colleges, financial considerations aside. When picking a college, rankings can be a useful tool.

Picking a college is a big financial decision, and students want to get the biggest bang for their buck. For in-state students at the College, tuition costs can exceed $13,000 while out-of-state students face price tags nearing $32,000 per year.

Just as you would review rankings for cars or computers, so students review colleges based on graduation rates, peer review assessments, retention rates and financial resources, to name a few. High rankings help colleges attract high-achieving students. Rankings can help these students find a college suitable to their academic strength and potential.

Of course, rankings are not all that students consider when applying to colleges;  social life, academic experiences and quality of life are important factors, which not all rankings incorporate.

Furthermore, specific programs at a college may not represent the college’s overall ranking. Bloomberg Businessweek ranks the College as having the best undergraduate marketing program in the nation, while the overall undergraduate program at the Mason School of Business is ranked No. 27. Students should understand that rankings could misrepresent a college but should still consider rankings a guideline.

Once students arrive at college, however, rankings do not matter so much. What defines a college experience includes more than graduation rates and peer assessments. Students will find value in the friends they meet, the classes they take, the professors they encounter and the memories they make. Nevertheless, rankings can play a significant role in choosing a college, especially for students considering spending four years at the College.

Email Michael Testa at mrtesta@email.wm.edu.

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