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College Rankings... How Much Do They Matter?

Every parent wants their child to attend a good school, right? Therefore, we research schools and start seeing colleges that are “ranked” by a variety of ranking systems. I have so many people ask whether or not they should select their school on these rankings, and my answer to them is… it depends on what you are looking for in a school.

Don’t get me wrong, being highly ranked by any of the national ranking systems is an honor. Schools that are ranked have earned their spotlight. However, what many parents do not realize is that these rankings systems are not solely centered around academic performance or graduation rate. There are many other factors that come into play. For example, U.S. News and World Report, one of the most popular college ranking systems, uses 17 different criteria for their ranking process, many of which do not automatically impact each student’s experience. Although the heaviest weight is graduation and retention (22%), the second highest weighted criteria is based on a subjective survey given to the universities asking them to rank other schools. This criterion, identified as Undergraduate Academic Reputation, contributes to 20% of the overall school. Sadly, these surveys may be completed by individuals who do not have direct knowledge of the university. Other heavily weighted factor that does not entirely have a direct impact on a student’s experience includes faculty resources, which combined contribute to an additional 20% of the total score. Class size and student to teacher ratio are important for your child’s experience, but that only counts for 9% of this category. Other factors in this category include the percentage of full-time faculty, faculty compensation, and percentage of faculty with a terminal degree. Finally, other factors such as student selectivity, financial resources, alumni giving rate, and graduate indebtedness, which combined make up 30% of the total score, are all important in school selection; however, they will not directly impact the instruction that you child will receive. For more information on the rankings and how the scores are calculated, please visit

There are other ranking systems out there; however, they do not appear to be as popular as the U.S. News & World Report. You can find rankings from the Wall Street Journal, Money, and Washington Monthly. They all have different methodology and focus criteria. See below for the focus of each ranking and the link to find more information:

Wall Street Journal:


Washington Monthly

So, if you are asking if rankings matter, I would recommend that you do your research. Look at the methodology and determine which of these factors are most important to you. I feel that the rankings paint a good overall picture of the schools; however, my personal opinion is that you need to consider many other factors other than a school’s rankings when selecting a school. These rankings do not factor in each student’s personality or needs (academic, social, or emotional). Just because a school is ranked high based on the criteria that these companies evaluate, it is not always the best fit for you.

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