Do College Rankings Matter?

by Heather Nelson

Every year, the start of the fall semester coincides with the release of exhaustive lists ranking the nation’s best colleges and universities. Students (and parents) across the country typically look at the ratings as a starting point in their search for the right school—but do college rankings matter? Do these annual lists really have all the information college-bound students need to make the right decision about higher education? The short answer is yes . . . and no.

Examine All That’s Considered

If you’re a student who’s set on attending a top-tier academic institution, then the lists put out by U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, and The Princeton Review offer a good place to start. More likely than not, you’ll find some crossover in the top schools on each list. Harvard. Yale. Stanford. MIT. When it comes to academic excellence, you can’t go wrong with any of the top-ranked schools on the list. If you’re not interested in the Harvards and Yales of the academic world, take what you can from the rankings but look beyond them to find the best fitting college for you.

In fact, the rankings data varies from list to list, making it difficult to compare schools equally. In the U.S. News & World Report rankings, nearly a quarter of a school’s score comes from “Undergraduate Academic Reputation,” a category based off of data collected from subjective sources like university heads and high school counselors. Meanwhile, Forbes’ rankings take student debt into consideration, accounting for 20 percent of a school’s score. Neither U.S. News & World Report nor The Princeton Review consider this. Accordingly, comparing schools by simply scanning these lists can feel like comparing apples to oranges.

You Are a Piece of the Puzzle

Do you know what these lists can’t take into account? You! College rankings are just one piece in the puzzle of finding the right college for you. Only you know what academic field you want to pursue and what type of campus will make you feel most at home. Only you know how to best reach your goals.

So use college rankings as a starting point to see what interests you—and then dig deeper. Schedule a few campus tours. Sit down with admissions counselors. Learn about the average class size, teaching styles, and internship opportunities at each school you’re considering. Afterward, check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling. When all of these pieces come together, you’ll have a better picture of which school is the right one.

Finding Your Perfect Match

Forbes recently released its 2018 list of “America’s Top Colleges,” which included Azusa Pacific University. Due to its high ratings for academic success, student experience, debt, graduation rate, and post-graduate success, the school was recognized among the top 20 percent of all undergraduate institutions in the U.S. and as one of the Best Value Colleges.

While Azusa Pacific continues to be recognized as one of the nation’s top universities, of equal or greater importance is each student who finds their fit at APU and goes on to become a difference maker in their field. When deciding where to invest in your education, it’s important to remember that finding the perfect match takes more than just knowing a school’s ranking on an annual list. More than anything, it takes knowing yourself.

So, do college rankings matter? They’re definitely part of the puzzle—but not the only factor to consider in your search.

Interested in attending college in Southern California? Want to become part of the APU community? Explore the school’s website to learn more and apply today.