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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

While flawed, college ranking systems remain necessary tools for constructing college lists

Amy Miao
Assortments of college ranking list with factors such as acceptance rate, major, ranking and cost.

With over 5,999 college options in the U.S., seniors face a daunting array of possible directions; merely choosing colleges which to apply to can feel like navigating a maze in the cornfields, blindfolded. 

From our experience in the past several months, the most critical sifting device in the decision-making process has been well-known college ranking systems, such as U.S. News & World Report and Niche. Ranking systems — while often condemned for perpetuating a culture that prioritizes prestige — nonetheless remain an essential part of the college application process. They provide useful statistics and serve as efficient tools for building college lists.

While researching schools to apply to, we found that college ranking systems are a helpful starting point to gauge the difficulty of admission and filter the schools as safeties, targets and reaches. After all, regardless of whether you believe in the value of a college’s prestige, you still need realistic estimates of your chances of admission, and this information is most easily accessible through ranking sites. 

Ranking systems, which provide the breadth that other resources lack, can be a time saving tool for generating a preliminary list. There’s an abundance of online resources readily available to help with college research, making the process more efficient than solely relying on information from a college counselor or admissions officer. Scrolling through rankings may also be more helpful than browsing individual college sites (which takes too long for initial research) or paging through glossy college brochures (which are advertising their school to you, and thus seek to persuade rather than inform). 

College ranking systems offer a standardized and comparative framework, enabling students to assess the academic reputation and resources of institutions and determine which colleges fall into these categories. This consistency allows for a fair evaluation across a plethora of colleges, aiding in the process of choosing those that align most closely with individual educational goals.

When examining college lists, it’s also reasonable to infer higher-ranked institutions have more meaningful resources for their students (such as top quality faculty and greater access to research and internship opportunities), leading to higher graduation rates and post-college job placement due to name recognition from a recruiter standpoint. Ranking sites provide plentiful statistics about job placement after graduation and major-specific rankings can aid students in determining which colleges offer the best resources and alignment with their academic pursuits. 

Moreover, these college ranking systems are useful for choosing which schools to commit to post-college decisions: In particular, we researched the engineering programs at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Michigan. At first glance, these programs are similar in terms of their academic rigor, faculty expertise and emphasis on hands-on experience like research — it would be a tough decision to choose between the two colleges. However, ranking systems provide abundant, accessible information about curriculum ranking and costs, which can help inform your decision about where to enroll for undergraduate studies with regard to demographics, class size, athletics and campus life.

When considering top schools for your major, it’s important to prioritize the quality of education and student life over just the institution’s reputation. While prestigious names such as Princeton may often dominate overall rankings, the perception can vary significantly depending on the specific field of study. For instance, if you want to pursue a nursing degree, Emory University might emerge as a top choice despite not being as prominent in overall rankings of schools. 

Despite the bad rep they sometimes get, college ranking systems offer enormous  benefits for overwhelmed seniors. It is crucial to delve into the programs offered by different universities and assess their strengths and resources in your desired major, as long as you don’t solely rely on the perceived prestige of the institution’s rankings. 

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