US News University Rankings 2012

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College rankings are a great way to learn a little more about some of the schools you’re considering. While they are just a start when deciding which college is best for you, they can be helpful as you’re narrowing your list. One of the most prominent lists used for rating colleges is compiled by US News and World Report.

US News was founded in 1948, and this magazine has been publishing their college list since the mid-1980s. They publish their rankings in an annual college issue of their magazine, as well as on their website, and studies show that this list is the most-quoted rankings published. In addition, they also publish books to help students make decisions about college, making this one of the best sources for students to use when learning about schools.

The college rankings published by US News divide all schools in the country based on the types of degrees they offer. So, there are actually multiple lists you can use to research schools. They are as follows:

  • National Universities
  • Liberal Arts Colleges
  • Universities – Mater’s
  • Baccalaureate Colleges
  • Specialty Schools

These schools are rated on a number of factors, which they call “indicators of academic excellence.” These factors include the following:

  • Peer rating
  • Number of freshman graduating within six years
  • Class size
  • Faculty degrees and salaries
  • Acceptance rate
  • Average spending per student
  • SAT/ACT scores of students
  • Percentage of alumni who donate money to the school

In addition, an important part of the rankings is the graduation rate performance. This factors is the actual number of students who graduated within six year versus the magazine’s prediction for the school. They make their prediction based on test scores, number of scholarships, and other factors that are important to student retention.

The totals for each school are calculated based on weighted grades in each category. Some factors are more important that others and therefore contribute more to the overall score. This list, like many others, has been criticized in the past for including peer assessment as part of their methodology. To get a peer assessment score, colleges are asked to rate a number of other schools with which they are likely to be familiar. There’s no way to ensure that these ratings are honest, as schools may strategically rate certain schools with very low scores to hopefully increase their own rank. However, as a student looking at this list, it is important to remember that peer rating is only part of the overall score, so including this factor doesn’t invalidate the list completely.

It does mean that you should take what you read with a grain of salt. No college ranking list is perfect, and although the one compiled by US News can give you valuable information about the school, this should only be a place to start as you’re researching which college to attend.

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