Originally Published in The Hindustan Times Education Supplement
This time of year students start receiving admissions results. Many applicants have already received their UK University offers and conditions and all US colleges will announce admissions results by March 31. Once a results are out the question of which college to choose weighs on the minds of applicants and their families. You may be wondering how do I leverage my best option given all the considerations of cost, course and college. Most applicants take advice of older students, teachers, counselors and alumni, but at some point, everyone will invariably turn to published rankings as one resource to guide their decision.
Over the past years, rank tables have gained increasing popularity for applicants. The tables intend to compare universities on certain measures of quality. Each ranking has different indicators and weightings specific to what the publisher deems important. As a result, all rankings are not created equal. Some focus on just American universities, some incorporate international colleges and some concentrate on specific education paths, such as business or law. Below is a quick guide to some of the most popular rankings.
The U.S. News ranking primarily surveys a university’s academic research reputation. This translates into looking at factors such as research output, publications, and number of PhDs awarded. Such an emphasis on research means that U.S. news ranking does not assess separate undergraduate or graduate programs. Furthermore, it doesn’t look at factors such as teacher effectiveness or course caliber, which are important at the undergraduate level. While it would certainly help to see where a specific university stands on this ranking, a potential undergraduate student should not solely use it as a relevant information source for his or her personal choice.
QS World University Rankings
QS World is one of the most widely read of the international rankings, covering more than 800 universities worldwide. The four areas they focus on are research, teaching, employability and internationalization. They also have a sub-ranking in which they breakdown the rankings by subject, i.e. psychology or agriculture etc. As a popular ranking system, QS World is criticized for relying too much on opinion surveys of academics and employers (50%), rather than collecting information more objectively. Applicants consulting the QS rankings should take this subjective method into account when deciding.
Princeton Review surveys thousands of students to create its rankings. Their online survey focuses on four categories: the survey taker’s profile, life at the university, peer community, and academic experience. After student results are tallied, each university gets a chance to review the information written about them and make any changes or comments. Before final publication, survey takers are again asked to review the final write up to confirm accuracy and validity. As a ranking that weighs student opinions as most important, Princeton Review is a great source for students to get peer opinions. It covers detailed topics such as dorm life, extracurricular activities, and social scene, which can help a student get an overall picture of what it is like to live at the university. While it is a good informal source of information, a potential candidate should be careful in relying too heavily on something that is primarily peer based.
It is clear that most rankings do not provide all-round information about the quality of higher education at an institution. There can be no such things as an objective ranking because each has its own methodology reflected by whatever the ranker chooses to be important. Given that no ranking system is perfect, applicants should use rankings as a reference, but be careful in relying solely on them to make decisions.
As with anything in life, your experience at the university is what you make of it. The relationships with professors and students, your extracurricular activities, courses you choose, clubs you join, etc. will all play a role in your future. Universities have a lot to offer their students and it is up to you as a student to take full advantage of the opportunities you are given, no matter where you end up.