How to use college ranking lists

In a nation of almost 3,000 accredited four-year colleges and universities, finding and choosing a postsecondary institution that is the right fit for you can be a confusing process full of misinformation. It can be very convenient to pick your “dream” school by glancing at online rankings or heeding the advice of peers or faculty members.

Occam Education encourages you to not let public perception make such an important decision for you. Choosing a university is also choosing a home for at least four years of your life. Take a look at the following suggestions, and you can ensure that this home will surely be an atmosphere of personal growth, academic rigor, and fond memories.

Ranking lists for colleges

“Best Colleges” lists are everywhere, and can be useful in starting a search. Be aware, though, that different organizations and agencies will rank schools based on different criteria — criteria that they find important and relevant. For example, take a look at the top five universities in the USA from four popular sources in 2017. You will find they are a bit different, but all of these lists feature excellent schools:

A table shows four different news and research outlets' ranking lists for US four-year universities.
These are only four of the most prominent resources out there.

Relying on one set of rankings, without first researching the methodology behind it, runs the risk of choosing a school that either someone else, or a flawed computer algorithm, thinks is best. You wouldn’t allow someone else to order for you in a restaurant, so why let someone else make such an important decision for your future?

Don’t ignore these rankings—rather, dig deeper into the logic and reasoning behind them. Each ranking’s methodology is available on their website, and each involves complex formula in which categories such as selectivity, demographics of incoming class, faculty degrees, alumni donations and graduate jobs are weighted differently.  Examine these formulas in order to see beyond a simple list of schools that you have heard of.

How to decide on the best fit for you

The intangibles that construct the college experience are immeasurable, and ideally every student will develop a list of criteria that is important to them — using these characteristics as a lens through which to evaluate options.  Some important aspects to consider are:

Once you examine these things, create your own ranking, listing what you “need” in a school from most important to least important.  Once you can identify your “wants,” as well as your “do not wants,” we can help you move in the right direction, provide resources to narrow your search, and discern a list of schools that fits your personal palette.

Most importantly, at Occam, we encourage you to take charge of your own educational future, and make informed choices in doing so.