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The Limits of College Rankings

Dave_BerryDave_Berry 492 replies2527 threadsCC Admissions Expert Senior Member
"Last week, Forbes released the 2019 Top Colleges rankings. Although college rankings can be useful for students when deciding which schools to apply to or attend, there are limits to how useful and flaws in any system. Here are some things to keep in mind when trying to interpret these lists:" ...

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Replies to: The Limits of College Rankings

  • privatebankerprivatebanker 5187 replies74 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Forbes is a very good place to start and the combination of large and small is interesting. It’s a very good ranking.

    Its like being the top 50 of anything. Pro Golf. Running back. Gymnasts. Dancers. Singers. Law. Medicine. It also applies to both genders. So it’s like the top 25 in each sports or skill analogy.

    To the outside observer It’s really hard to tell the difference and it’s matter of personal preference. Sure the top ten are Tiger Woods etc. but on any given day anyone in that top 25 group can win. To the novice or vast majority of people on the planet it’s indistinguishable excellence.

    All are “reaches for all” type schools. I would proudly attend any in the top 200 gladly.
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  • TheGreyKingTheGreyKing 2109 replies100 threadsForum Champion Williams College Forum Champion
    edited August 22
    Forbes is always fun because it combines all colleges in one list, whereas US News separates out not only big and small schools but also regional vs. national schools.

    I noted this quote in the article, where the author also praises that combo, but then notes that a disadvantage is
    extreme variance year over year that I attribute to algorithm changes.

    A good case study for this is Williams College, which, in 2017, when Forbes revamped its algorithm, went from being in the #1 or #2 spot for six of the prior seven years to #13 (then #11 in 2018 and, this year, #19). Pomona College went through a similar shift, from #1 in 2015 to its current rank of #13. An education from Williams and Pomona certainly hasn’t dropped so far in value in that time. These shifts lead to an inconsistent understanding of where top liberal arts colleges rank among all undergraduate institutions.

    Rankings are lots of fun to study (and gratifying when your favorite schools do well). They also may be good as an initial search method, as a general indication of student quality and college reputation, and they sometimes help in finding new colleges to look at that are at a similar level of admission difficulty in terms of student quality to others at which you may be looking already. But the spread of numbers definitely exaggerates differences. I would say that the quality and character of education at Vassar (#61), attended by some of my family members, and at Williams (#19), attended by other members of my family, are very similar.

    Therefore, it is important to spend time studying each college and examining it for personal “fit,” and to keep rankings in perspective, without placing too much importance on them.
    edited August 22
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