RegisterSign In

Do College Rankings and Online College Reviews Really Matter?

May 21, 2010 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Every year, the US News and World Report releases its rankings of the top colleges in the US.

Grad Key

A single positive or negative online college reviews shouldn’t be a deciding factor - but if many different individual reviews say similar things about a college, it should be something to take into account. 

The colleges it judges are traditional schools—you won’t find any 100% online schools such as the University of Phoenix or DeVry University on the lists—but you’ll find some schools that also offer online programs. Some of the schools you’ll find in the Top 50 list that offer online degrees include Boston University, Champlain College and Drexel University.

So the online college rankings may affect the decisions of online students as well as the traditional kind when it comes to choosing a school. And there’s no question the rankings matter to colleges. According to a study in the journal Research for Higher Education cited in the New York Times' Economix blog, the rankings invariably affect the next year’s admissions—in terms of higher quality of applicants, higher numbers of applicants, and more selective admissions.

But do the rankings tell students anything useful? Do Harvard and Yale—both often found in the top three nationwide—really provide better instruction than, say, Champlain College in Vermont?

According to CBS Moneywatch, the college ratings are less useful in this area than you’d think—and this has to do primarily with the way the schools are judged. 25% of the ranking is derived from a school’s “reputation”—which may or may not be deserved. In addition, the schools are peer-reviewed—administrators in schools across the country assign grades to other schools. There are no exhaustive investigations and evaluations of the schools’ instructional quality—the rankings are mainly based on the administrators’ existing opinions.

Another problem with the rankings, according to many educators, is that the US News and World Report often adjusts its rankings methodologies—leading to inconsistent and, some would say, unfair results.

So when it comes to actual instructional quality, the rankings may not be getting the whole story. However, instructional quality is only one of a number of factors that determines how “right” a school is for you as a student. Reputation may or may not be deserved at some schools—but it can get you in the door at your next job. And for some students, that’s more important than anything else.

However, other things are also taken into account when it comes to judging a school. These factors include the average SAT scores of admitted students—which gives you an idea of the academic quality of students the school attracts. The amount of money the school spends per student also makes a difference in its ranking—schools that can afford to spend, say, $10,000 per student per year presumably offer better facilities and instructors than schools that can only spend, say, $3,000 per year on each student. In addition, the education of faculty is also weighted—the more faculty with terminal degrees online in their field, the higher the ranking.

The factors that comprise your college experience go much farther than what the rankings encompass. They don’t judge your interaction with the school, the way the school’s culture fits with you, extracurricular opportunities, overall administrative support courses and quality of interaction with instructors, or even quality of instruction. These things are much more difficult to judge on a large scale than simple things such as the SAT scores of incoming freshmen and the amount of a school’s endowment.

Because of this, online college reviews—particularly reviews of exclusively online schools, which typically don’t get included in the rankings process—may be more useful to you, as they give you a picture of what an individual’s experience at the school is like. Of course, a single positive or negative review shouldn’t be a deciding factor—but if many different individual reviews say similar things about a school, it should be something to take into account.

School rankings may make a difference for you—particularly if you want to go to a school with a well-regarded reputation. But they can’t tell you which school will be better for you. Use them in your decision-making process, but take them with a grain of salt. And put in the time to get to know the colleges on your short list. Talk to other students or those in grad school, check out our college reviews of online universities, and visit the school if you can. If you do, you’re more likely to choose the right school for you.



blog comments powered by Disqus