College Rankings

How does your local school stack up?

Every year, U.S. News & World Report (as well as a number of other sources) comes out with a long list of college rankings for the year. And every year, these rankings receive wide attention from media, as well as from parents and students. They are a source of pride or disdain for colleges, depending on their ranking.

What you need to understand about these lists is this: college rankings are all relative. They can be somewhat helpful to you as you search for a college, but are not something to base your entire decision on. Your best bet is to make the ultimate decision of which college deserves top ranking for your needs by doing your own research - research on a number of factors that cannot be quantified by any college ranking service. In the meantime, get to know the ins and outs of these rankings and what they can do for you:

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How Comprehensive are College Rankings?

College ranking lists are helpful because they provide a convenient document that can quantify some of the very basic aspects of each college. However, this is also one of the greatest drawbacks of college ranking guides. Often, college rankings are based on rigid views of colleges and ideas about what makes a good college. Year after year, new colleges and small colleges find it tough to break into the rankings.

College program rankings can provide a rough guide, but there's no substitute for taking a close look at schools, visiting the campus and listening to your heart as well as your head. The bottom line is you should put only limited trust in others' judgment concerning one of the most important decisions of your life. College ranking guides can be very helpful, but you need to make sure you do your own homework as well.

A Word of Caution

The community college industry is largely a "for profit" education industry. This is part of its nature, since it's so closely tied to the business world. However, this leaves it open to unique problems that you will not encounter with publicly-funded universities or colleges.

It's an unfortunate reality that many "for profit" schools care more about making money than providing a good education for their students. Some make claims that may be misleading, such as exaggerating how easy it will be to find a job once you graduate. Don't just take these claims at face value - ask to see where they get their figures from. Ask for testimonials from former students. Find out if the school is accredited. If the school can't provide acceptable answers to these questions, it's probably a good idea to move on and find another school.

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