College Rankings: Helpful or Not?

Your education needs are as individual as you are, and finding your best college is critical to your educational success. For college applicants and their parents, popular college rankings conducted by major news organizations appear to be an efficient tool for focusing application efforts on the best schools in the country. But, will you really find your perfect school by scouring college rankings?

While they might seem like a great way to boil down facts, college rankings miss the mark on what’s really important, says Marie Bigham, director of college counseling at Greenhill School in Addison, Texas, and board director of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

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“The overall perspective of many college admissions professionals is that the rankings are plotted data points that don’t really capture the essence of what a college experience might be like,” Bigham says.

To support this point, Bigham asks her own students to consider aspects they believe are important in a college experience, which turn out to be factors that rarely correlate to the college ranking data.

“My students find the methodology doesn’t necessarily fit, and the overall attitude of counselors is that the rankings don’t calculate what an undergrad may or may not value,” she says.

Why do we continue to cling to rankings that, when released each year, create such a buzz among students and their parents?

“As a culture, we like to put things in lists. It’s just a part of how we like to view data,” Bigham says. “Also, parents think a college ranking is an easy and tangible thing to hold on to.”

Fortunately, students and parents have many resources available to create their own “best college” lists, truly based on individual needs, rather than vague ideals. Check out these sites and start your own college rankings:

National Association for College Admission Counseling:

National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator:

White House College Scorecard:

College Prowler:


– Claire Charlton