Are college rankings still relevant?


Graphic by Evelyn Shue

Many prospective students use U.S. News and World Report to select schools they apply to.

Michaela Boeder, Senior Features Writer

On April 11, 2023, the U.S. News and World Report released its 2023-2024 preview for Law and Medical School rankings of the top 15 colleges despite boycotts. With Yale and other prestigious colleges dominating the ranking system, it sparks the question: is college rank still relevant? 

Following boycotts last year, U.S. News addressed the changes they have made for the 2023-2024 medical and law school ranking methodology. These changes include increasing the weight of faculty, reducing the MCAT and GPA scores and decreasing the weight of reputation surveys. It ranks John Hopkins, the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University as the top three medical schools respectively. 

This does not only apply to graduate programs. Universities and colleges are ranked by U.S. News annually to curate a ranked college list based on factors such as graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, expert opinion, financial resources, student excellence, standardized tests, high school standing and alumni giving. For the 2022-2023 ranking, Princeton and Massachusetts were number one and two respectively, with Yale, Harvard and Stanford tied for third place in National Universities. 

C2 Education College Prep Expert and Educator Mr. Chris Davey meets with students that possess high regards to rankings. “I would say as a professional, I would like my students to not have a high regard to the ranking because college is such an individualistic thing,” he said. 

Some students argue that the college ranking system is unfair and creates a hierarchy that affects how people view certain colleges, hindering the application process. “[The ranking] is very biased,” junior Arielle Tepelboym said. “[Students] hear lower ranking schools like Towson and think ‘oh I don’t want to go to Towson’ as though it’s a bad school, but there’s so many factors that play into rank.”  

Towson is currently ranked number 33 nationally with the U.S. News score of 68 out of 100. 

While some students negate certain colleges because of their lower ranking, others gravitate toward colleges because of their high ranking. 

“​​When I was applying to colleges, college ranking did factor into my decision, and I did apply to a lot more competitive schools,” senior Alexandra Doncheva said. 

For Doncheva, applying to top ranked schools was about more than aiming for a prestigious college:  it was about how that name would be reflected  on a resume. 

“I was banking on the fact that everyone knows that these schools are prestigious. So if I get into the school, and attend, I will have much higher chances of employment after graduation,” she said. 

This may hold some truth as both Harvard and MIT ranked in the top five national universities for 2022 and in the top three top universities for employability in 2022, according to Times Higher Education.  

“The effect [college rank] has on the college admissions process is relatively toxic,” senior Jason Altneu said. “People apply to highly selective schools and are pushed to apply to all of the Ivys hoping to get in. [More] people are applying to these schools, so [they] get more selective. This keeps going until everyone has to apply to every school in the country to make sure they get in somewhere.” 

 “The problem is that a lot of schools get prestige because they’re prestigious,” senior Scout Pollack said. “It’s a self-fulfilling cycle.”  

According to Pollack, although there is some value in ranking colleges, the entirety of it lies in looking into the program you’re interested in. 

“I did look at the ranking of the schools or colleges within the university, so how arts and sciences schools [ranked] because sometimes a school can be really good, but one of their programs is really weak,” she said.  

There are other factors for students to consider over the college ranking system. “I think campus culture is an important thing, you know how they fit in on campus. You have to live there for four years.  Class size, campus size, campus location are all important as well,” Mr. Davey said. 

While most would agree  that considering the excellence of a program at a college and the environment is vital to making a decision, the question remains: does one college’s best program outweigh another college’s prestige?

Doncheva believes strongly that the prestige of a college does not correlate with a student’s success. 

“As we’ve seen, there are scandals where parents that are wealthier will pay their kids way into college,” she said. “But at the end of the day, you can have all the money and benefits to get you into whatever school you want. But there’s no guarantee you’re going to graduate [or] get a job.” 

According to Pollack, college rank has had a strong influence on the RM community. 

“Some of the effects of college ranking, especially within the IB program at RM, is [that] people shame others for their ranking of their college. But it really shouldn’t be that big of a deal.”  In accordance with the various boycotts and some student perspectives, it seems that college rankings have lost relevance. “For a lot of people, it’s irrelevant. Look for a school that’s best fit for you. It might not always be the highest on the list,” Pollack said.