Are International College Rankings Dangerous?

International college rankings might seem like a reliable source of information about an individual learning institution. However, there are some important details that might remain hidden.

International College Rankings

When choosing what college you wanted to go to, I'll bet you checked its ranking in magazines and online. You checked the average test scores, the student-teacher ratio and how that college ranked to similarly sized colleges. Now, keeping in mind the information you got there, how does it compare to your college experience?

Chances are, it really didn't tell you much about how studying at your particular college would be. It didn't tell you what the clubs or extracurriculars were or how difficult your classes were going to be. It didn't talk about college traditions, the Greek system or anything at all to do with the college's social or political atmosphere. In short, that school ranking didn't tell you a whole lot. Honestly, those rankings don't tell anyone a whole lot.

value of university rankings college rankings

Misleading Data

The fact is that college ranking systems are not an effective means of judging a school. The numbers only give you a small glimpse into what a college is like, and may even seem misleading. Judging a school based on cold numbers can make a place seem academically weak, even though it has a strong program in your interest area or great clubs and organizations. Judging by cold numbers can also make a school seem great when it is really on the brink of disaster.

Let me use my own college as an example. I was told, coming into a small liberal arts college, that it was a high ranking school with great student-to-teacher ratios and academic test scores that rivaled Harvard's. While all this was true, and I greatly enjoyed my college career, those rankings did not tell me that my school was in financial crisis and was selling off some of its art and properties to make ends meet. It didn't tell me about the internal political struggle among the people in charge and teachers, or that one of my language classes would soon be canceled because they were removing German from the curriculum.

In short, that college ranking gave me no idea what my life would be like at this college, and even misled me to think the place was stable and strong. Only a little over half my graduating class was there by the time I graduated, because they left after seeing what the college was really like.

How Rankings Affect You

On a very basic level, rankings influence your decision on where to go to school. They influence how your parents see your college and how their money is spent, and how others see you by association. But the school ranking system also influences you indirectly in a rather unnerving way.

When schools drop on the charts, they can lose funding from the state and investors, which begins a vicious spiral. Less money means bigger and fewer classes. Bigger and fewer classes can often mean lower test scores and make it harder to graduate in only 4 years. So, to make ends meet, colleges have to up tuition in order to maintain their classes and campus. In short, the students and their parents sometimes end up footing the bill caused by rankings.

Alternative Judging of Schools

Now, as long as colleges are ranked in a numerical way, it's going to be impossible to effectively rate a college against others similar to it. You can't put a number on student happiness and you can't rank the power of a volunteer student club that helps build houses in Mexico.

Because of this, the best thing students can do is to ignore college rankings. They must study a college's curriculum, student organizations and get honest opinions from students already there on what college life is like. Poll students that are about to graduate to see if they already have plans for life after college and if they feel prepared. Make sure the school you look at is financially sound. And perhaps most importantly, choose a school where you feel you can succeed.

Studies have shown that it's not about what school you go to, but instead how you do there and what your major is that determines success. Ultimately, it's up to the student to succeed. So, pick a place you feel you can excel, regardless of the ranking.

Perhaps, if students begin to do this, then donors may begin to do the same. They might disregard rankings when choosing who to give their money to and judge on a case-by-case basis. Maybe then we can finally put college ranking charts where they belong: in the garbage.

One college learning experience is getting a pet. But ask yourself, is it worth it?

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