How Much Should I Consider US College Ratings When Choosing a University?

Are college rankings making your head spin? Perhaps you need to consider a few other options first before you begin to choose a school through college rankings. You might learn that college rankings comprise just one tool in your college search toolbox.

  • First, you must have some idea about what you want to study in college. If you want to become a political science graduate, the school you’ll want to graduate from might be far different than the one that a future veterinarian might want to attend. While some larger universities offer a vast number of specialties, sometimes a smaller school will focus more on your chosen subject.
  • Beyond rankings, you can research schools through library books, including old college yearbooks. You can get a feel about the school by noting what seemed important to that school over the years and how that school might have changed.
  • Additionally, if you plan to sink large sums of money into your education, it makes sense to visit the school before you apply. Do you feel comfortable in that environment? Do you like the people you meet? Do the students seem content, or do they seem stressed? Of course, your visit might occur during finals – everyone might seem stressed then, so consider your timing.
  • Ask questions. Seek out alumni and ask them if they liked the school and if their attendance at that school helped their career. Send letters or emails to professors to ask them about what they expect and if your area of interest is important to them. Don’t be shy – your future is at stake. On the other hand, don’t become a pest. Once you start college, you’ll understand time constraints and you don’t want to become known as a pest before you start classes.
  • Decide whether you want to attend (or can afford to attend) a private or public school. While private schools often are known to be among the best academic institutions, public schools are more affordable – especially if you’re an in-state student. Often, public schools are better for athletes or artists such as painters or musicians, especially at the Division I level. You might find scholarships at the latter institutions, whereas a private school might not care about your basketball prowess.
  • Think about other issues, such as the town or city where that college is located. How will travel to and from that area affect finances or time constraints if you want to visit family? The size of the city and of that institution’s student body may affect your choice as well. Do you like large groups, or will you feel lost in the shuffle?

Other issues, such as single gender or co-ed living situations, diversity within the student body, religious affiliation and financial aid all may affect your college choice. While college rankings can – and, in many cases should – help you with your choices, the ultimate decision is up to you.

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