US News & World Report last month released its highly anticipated 2014 Best Graduate Schools ranking. The article followed the magazine’s Best Colleges ranking in September. So the big question is, how will rankings influence your decisions? Below are three important factors to keep in mind when considering rankings:
1. Rankings are not the absolute authority on quality. School rankings are based on many factors, some of which are irrational and subjective. Some rankings weigh peer schools’ opinions of one other, some look at yield (which can be manipulated by admissions offices), and some won’t disclose their methodologies. While rankings are useful to some extent, they are not the only barometer of a program’s rigor or value.
2. Rankings are general. Depending on what’s most important to you in a school, one source’s assessment may not be relevant. For example, a school that successfully places graduates in certain fields may look like a terrific investment. But if the school has a limited ability to place graduates in your field of interest, it’s not a good investment for you. Also, if you dislike rural settings, you should not attend a school in a small town, even if it is highly ranked. If the case method of instruction doesn’t appeal to you, then you should avoid schools that offer this academic environment, no matter how prestigious. The bottom line is, you have to consider your particular interests when selecting a school.
3. Rankings are ephemeral. Rankings change from year to year. This year’s #1 school may be next year’s #5.
When considering rankings please remember: the highest-ranked school may not be the best school, and more importantly, it may not be the best school for you. It can be difficult to disregard external and internal pressure to choose the school with the most name recognition. But you are more likely to have a positive experience if you select a school based on your personality, goals and interests, rather than its rank.