How To Find And Interpret Online College Rankings

A number of organizations rank colleges in order to help students and their parents make good education decisions. Do you know how to find the best online college rankings? More importantly, do you know how to interpret the college rankings you do find? Every list puts someone different in the top ten, so it can be confusing to know what to believe. Here’s how to find the best lists and understand why certain colleges rank higher than others.

Start by doing searches for top-ranked lists. Remember, not every list is created equally. Is the source reliable? A nationally acclaimed source or a large organization can give you a more reliable look at colleges online than a smaller website with no real authority. Do your research, and find out if the organization really has the authority to rank colleges.

Even among organizations qualified to rank educational programs, you’ll find differences between lists. Why? Everyone has a different system used to rank these programs. Once may not be more valid than another, but it is important for you to know the differences. Here are some of the main characteristics used for ranking:

  • Average test scores of students
  • Percentage of students working within six months of graduation
  • Class size
  • Study abroad opportunities
  • Scheduling flexibility
  • Academic standards
  • Student resources
  • Cost
  • Percentage of students admitted
  • Scholarships given out
  • Alumni opportunities
  • Green initiatives and sustainability

This is not by far an extensive list. When you read any online college ranking list, make sure you understand all the characteristics used to complete the ranking. Keep in mind that organizations doing the ranking might change their qualifications from year to year.

All of these characteristics used to rank a college may also be weighted differently. For example, List A and List B might both look at cost and student resources, but List A regards cost as more important, while List B is more interested in student resources. So, make sure you understand the weight given to these lists.

How can you tell? Most college ranking lists don’t come complete with a breakdown of how they went about ranking each school. Start by reading what they do provide, however. In many cases, the list will come up with a paragraph about the top schools and why they were chosen.

You can always contact the organization that created the list as well. If you’re wondering why certain colleges rank higher than others, just talk to those who created it. Not everyone will reply, but those who do will likely be more than willing to help you. Remember, at the end of the day, you need to choose a school that is right for you. Just because one school is ranked higher than another on a list doesn’t mean that it is the better school for you.


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