The Problem with College Rankings

From the U.S. News and World Report to the Obama administration’s new College Scorecard, college ranking systems exhibit one universal flaw: an inability to capture the impact an institution has on its students’ earnings and lives.


A recent New York Times article highlights the problem with rankings, noting that MIT and Harvard graduates do not necessarily earn more money because of their alma mater, but rather because of their own intrinsic traits. These colleges accept students with high test scores and high school GPAs, which reflect their intelligence and work ethic. Studies show that these students are likely to succeed regardless of college choice, as long as they attend a reputable four-year institution.


While return on investment is absolutely important when choosing a college, there is more to an undergraduate education than post-graduate earnings. MIT engineering majors are almost certain to earn more money than music majors as Julliard, but that does not mean that one program is better than the other. They are simply incomparable.


Ranking systems that include postgraduate earnings are not statistically reliable, as the data does not represent the overall student population. The Scorecard system only includes data from students who received federal aid, excluding high-income students who are likely to earn more after graduating. The ranking system rewards colleges that focus on highly-paid skills, placing Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in its first spot, whereas the U.S. News and World Report’s top positions are held by Ivy League institutions.


The Brookings Institution developed its own college rankings to improve upon flaws in other lists, using a system that calculates the “value added” and the nature of a college curriculum, although it has been criticized for undervaluing liberal arts degrees and overemphasizing STEM fields.


Choosing a college is much more complex than a ranking system. While a top-ranked college may provide a certain status and connections, it does not guarantee a good education or success. Contact us to learn more about how our coaches can help you narrow down your college options and get accepted to your top choice.

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