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.

Featured Colleges

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has a CollegeNavigator tool that we used to help us gather some of the top ranked colleges in the U.S. with programs that can be completed entirely online. Below is a list of accredited schools that have a wide selection of online certificate, undergraduate, and graduate degrees for students to choose from (source: NCES.ED.gov: CollegeNavigator, data 2018).

American InterContinental University
American InterContinental University
American InterContinental University — "Serious about success? With your busy schedule and the desire to move your career forward, at AIU, the Serious U™, you can earn an accredited associate, bachelors or master’s degree at a pace that works for you anywhere, anytime, 24/7. American InterContinental University® is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission."
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Antioch University
Antioch University
Antioch University — "Serious about success? With your busy schedule and the desire to move your career forward, at AIU, the Serious U™, you can earn an accredited associate, bachelors or master’s degree at a pace that works for you anywhere, anytime, 24/7. American InterContinental University® is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission."
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Colorado State University - Global Campus
Colorado State University - Global Campus
Colorado State University - Global Campus — "At CSU-Global, our mission is to provide academically authoritative, career-focused online degree and certificate programs in an adaptive environment beyond traditional higher education models. Designed for working adults, our professionally relevant degrees undergo continual evaluation to ensure alignment with fast-changing market and industry practices and innovation."
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Florida Institute of Technology
Florida Institute of Technology
Florida Institute of Technology — "What we are is a private, coeducational, residential, research-intensive, doctoral granting university located in the beautiful City of Melbourne on Florida’s sunny “Space Coast.” We are a community of researchers, scholars and learners hailing from all around the world. We are engineers, aviators, innovators, leaders, educators, athletes and astronauts. We are Florida Tech."
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Grantham University
Grantham University
Grantham University — "Grantham delivers a high quality, relevant education and offers exceptional flexibility, accessibility and affordability to deserving, working adults trying to better their lives. You do your part by working hard to earn your degree. And we do ours by providing you an exceptional Grantham experience that leads to an even more amazing career."
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Johnson & Wales University
Johnson & Wales University
Johnson & Wales University — "As a student at Johnson & Wales University College of Online Education, you’ll benefit from competitively priced tuition, small class sizes, personal advising, financial assistance options, flexible credit transfer policies and the opportunity to learn from faculty who bring years of expertise, experience, and mentorship to your education - all in our convenient online format."
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Northcentral University
Northcentral University
Northcentral University — "Northcentral University is a premier online graduate university and a global leader in providing unprecedented access to U.S. regionally accredited higher education. We hold all members of our community to the highest ethical standards of professional and academic conduct and the rules and regulations of U.S. higher education."
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South University
South University
South University — "South University is a private academic institution that offers focused and balanced curricula at the associate’s, baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral levels. A broad-based core curriculum is offered, promoting critical thinking, effective verbal and written communication, and skills for life-long learning."
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University of Wisconsin Colleges Flex
University of Wisconsin Colleges Flex
University of Wisconsin Colleges Flex — "The UW Flexible Option is a self-paced, competency-based education format that allows busy adult learners to start any month, study at their own pace, and earn credit using their existing knowledge. To maintain rigorous academic standards, distinguished UW System faculty oversee all aspects of UW Flexible Option programs. Several programs are available in this flexible format, and more are on the way."
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Walden University
Walden University
Walden University — "As a student at Walden, you can participate in online courses on a weekly basis whenever it’s convenient for you; gain practical experience through in-person academic residencies or virtual field experiences; collaborate with expert faculty and fellow students around the corner or around the world; and find the support you need when you need it 24/7."
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