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  • College rankings can be a helpful guide for researching colleges, but they should not be the ultimate tool in deciding where to go to school.
  • When reviewing colleges, it’s important to do independent research such as exploring social media pages and taking a tour of campus.
  • Look for schools that will fit your personality and interests. That should factor into your decision more than how each school is ranked.

Various publications rank colleges on an annual basis. Some incoming first-year students consider college ranking lists to be an important factor when considering narrowing down their college options. Recently, however, the value of college rankings has been called into question, as a handful of big-name institutions have pulled out of the rankings process altogether, claiming the methodology used doesn’t truly reflect the academic experience.

So how important are college rankings? And to what extent should they rule your decision-making when it comes time to choosing a school? To answer that, we break down how you should (and shouldn’t) use college rankings to guide your choices.

Use rankings as a guide

When first putting together your college list, school rankings can help you find institutions that you might not have heard of previously. These lists can help give you an early sense of which schools have the best reputation in your intended major, and can give you a decent snapshot on things like class size and culture. But remember it’s only that: a snapshot.

Look at the program, not the school

A school may have a high ranking overall, but that doesn’t mean that they have a robust department in the area you’re interested in majoring in. Dig down into what resources might be available in the areas you’re most interested in studying. Look for things like internship partnerships, professional networks, and leadership opportunities.

Do your own research

Rankings won’t tell you things like what percentage of classes are taught by teaching assistants, or whether there are clubs that align with your particular interests. Explore some of the social media pages for the colleges you’re interested in, as well as any campus clubs or groups. Don’t be afraid to reach out to current students and alumni for an inside look into life on campus. If you can, take a college tour so you can get a flavor for the campus culture in person.

Think about ROI

Cost isn’t always factored into college rankings. As college is a big investment, it’s important to think about whether the degree you get will help pay off any debt you might accrue. My College Plan lets you compare different schools, majors, and careers, and shows you how they can affect your potential salary and student loan debt.

Look for fit, not ranking

A school can top the rankings list and still be a bad fit for you personally. Think hard about what will make you happy at a college you attend, and use those factors to make your decision. Some things to guide you:

  • What setting is best for you to learn?
  • Are you looking to attend a smaller or larger college?
  • Does a college offer the courses of study that you are interested in?
  • How important are school-affiliated clubs and organizations?

College ranking lists, as well as your own criteria, can help you determine what schools you want to visit and eventually apply to.

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Visiting college campuses can provide insights that you may not get from a website or brochure.

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