Do College Rankings Matter?

By David Wolinsky · August 14, 2023 · 4 minute read

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Do College Rankings Matter?

While college rankings matter, it can be a good idea to take them with a grain of salt, and to view them through a lens of what matters most to you about the college experience and what you’re hoping to get out of it.

Colleges and universities each have different strengths and weaknesses, and published rankings can help you learn which schools are the strongest in different areas, and whether or not a college has improved or lapsed behind other schools in recent years.

Rankings may also allow you to filter schools by selected academic and non-academic characteristics, and help you hone in on schools that may meet your specific needs.

That said, rankings aren’t everything. Even U.S. News & World Report says on its best-colleges website: “The rankings provide a good starting point for students trying to compare schools. … The best school for each student, experts say, is one that will most completely meet his or her needs, which go beyond academics.”

Here’s what you need to know about college rankings.

What Are the College Rankings?

There is no single, ultimate, college ranking. All over the world, there are entities using a wide array of criteria to appraise universities and determine which ones are “the best.”

The factors an organization or company will use to come up with their college rankings can vary, which is why you might see a school ranked #3 on one list and #9 on another. However, here are some factors list-makers will commonly consider when ranking schools:

•  Student-faculty ratio

•  Class sizes

•  First year retention rates

•  Graduation rates

•  Post-graduation employment statistics

•  Student debt after graduation

•  Acceptance rates

•  ACT and SAT scores

•  Endowment size

•  Academic reputation

•  Faculty salaries

Though college rankings typically consider a large amount of information, they won’t tell you everything you need to know about a college. As a result, you may want to use rankings as one of many factors to make your list of prospective colleges. Ideally, you want to find a school that matches your interests, needs, goals, and budget.

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What Really Matters

Although many groups rank colleges, the term “college rankings” commonly refers to the U.S. News & World Report list, which rewards graduation rates and reputation.

But there’s also The Princeton Review, which drills down on other factors like quality of life, extracurriculars, social scene, and town life. They even rank “party schools,” a list “based on student ratings concerning the use of alcohol and drugs at their school, the number of hours they study each day outside of class time, and the popularity of fraternities/sororities at their school.”

As you look at different college rankings, you’ll want to keep your own priorities in mind, whether that’s finding the best school for your chosen field, honing in on schools that have the smallest class sizes, or finding a school that is known for being a good value.

You may want to use college rankings in combination with a number of other resources, including college guide books and talking to friends and family that have gone (or currently go) to schools that interest you. College tours can also provide a wealth of information about a school.

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The Bottom-Line Question

No discussion of college would be complete without touching on what you can afford to spend. Is going to college worth it? The answer depends on how much your chosen college will cost, how much aid you will get, how much you will need to borrow, and what you plan to do with your degree.

To get a sense of what a college will cost you out-of-pocket, a good first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which considers eligibility for grants, federal student loans, and work-study programs. But even after scholarships, federal aid, and any college savings plans, many students come up short when all education expenses are tallied.

At that point, you may want to consider private student loans. These are available from private lenders, such as banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Rates and terms will vary depending on the lender, so it can be well worthwhile to shop around. Borrowers (or cosigners) with excellent credit tend to qualify for the lowest rates. Just keep in mind that private student loans don’t necessarily offer the same protections, like income-driven repayment plans, that come with federal student loans.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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