Can you Help Explain Tiers?

<p>Our son is a senior in high school. Average student (3.0 GPA), average ACT (24). We've applied to a variety of schools...big, small, etc. and our son doesn't really have a preference. He will most likely major in business - with the possibility of Architecture.</p>

<p>In an attempt to compare one school to the next, I've been perusing the US News website for college rankings. I think I'm more confused now than ever...their ratings are segmented by National Universities, Regional Masters, Liberal Arts, and Baccalaureate - each with tier 1-4 ratings.</p>

<p>How does one compare, say, a tier-4 National, with a Tier-1 Regional? Case in point, Northern Illinois is a tier-4 National, and Loras (IA) is a tier-1 Regional. He's also considering Eastern Illinois which is a Tier-1 Regional.</p>

<p>I'd sure appreciate any guidance.</p>

<p>"Tiers" are just US News' way of cutting their lists into quarters. Completely arbitrary choice by them. In general, National Us and National LACs are best-known and attract students from across the country. Regional Masters level institutions tend to have a more regional student body, and accordingly, a more regional reputation. The regional Baccalaureate colleges, frankly, tend to be pretty invisible.</p>

<p>Is a top regional school better than a second or third tier National U? It's your call - kind of like asking if a top-rated compact car is better than a better than average SUV. It all depends on what you're looking for. It may be helpful to compare the credentials of the student body at each to determine the achievement levels of the peers that would be your son's models.</p>

<p>Also, double check the US News rankings. Last time I looked, there is no tier 2. gadad was right to call it arbitrary. I'd add deceptive. </p>

<p>The raw data are useful in doing your own research and comparisons. But, take the rankings with a grain of salt.</p>

<p>I don't think the tiers mean much at this level. I don't know anything about Loras, but Northern Illinois and Eastern Illinois are in many ways pretty comparable schools. Both draw their students almost entirely from in-state. Northern is ranked with "national universities" because it has more graduate programs, including Ph.D. programs, but that won't matter to your S as an undergrad. Northern is a bigger school in a bigger (but not especially large) town, and my impression is it has a bigger intercollegiate sports scene, sometimes very good in football. Those could be positives, negatives, or simply non-factors depending on your S's personal preferences. Neither is a knock-your-socks-off stellar academic school, but neither is a bad school, and both are reasonably well respected within the state of Illinois. I think your S should have a pretty decent chance at admission to either. So it comes down to personal preferences and "fit" including both academic factors (e.g., the particular programs at either school, about which I know nothing) and non-academic factors. </p>

<p>Middle 50% ACT scores:
Northern 19-24
Eastern 19-24</p>

<p>Average HS GPA:
Northern 3.1
Eastern 3.0</p>

<p>Acceptance rate:
Northern 58.2%
Eastern 69.5%</p>

<p>Number of undergrads:
Northern 18,431
Eastern 10,261</p>

<p>Percent of undergrads from out-of-state:
Northern 2%
Eastern 2%</p>

<p>The tiers are not to be taken as dark lines not to be crossed. It just gives you some idea as to how certain colleges are perceived within like groups. To take it too literally would really be a shame since you would be getting the wrong idea.</p>

<p>My kids have always looked at Catholic schools that tend to be in a number of categories and it is indeed difficult to evaluate unknown schools when they are in those "other" categories. I find it useful to try to find a recognized name within that category and compare where a unknown school falls in comparison. If it is waaaay far apart, it tells you that there may be some lackings. Otherwise, it is comparable. For example, Villanova, Fairfield, Providence are some known entities that I feel are great schools within that Masters category and schools ranked near them in that category are some to truly consider.</p>

<p>As a rough estimate I'd compare the SAT or ACT scores or the percentage in the top 10% and see how they line up across the categories. I don't actually pay any attention to the tiers.</p>

<p>"Tiering" allows more schools to be ranked number one, more schools to be ranked in the top ten, and fewer to be ranked # 437. It makes everyone happier and doesn't seem to hurt anyone. </p>

<p>It also keeps Williams and others from being ranked ahead of a lot of much larger universities who wouldn't like that.</p>