It turns out the constant claim made by many college presidents and admission deans that the U.S. News Best Colleges rankings are the main reason that students choose one school over another is just a myth. The recently released "UCLA Freshman Survey: Fall 2007" provides scientific evidence to disprove the notion that the rankings are what drive student choice. The report says:
[The survey] data indicate that incoming college students might be reacting to the national debates on measuring the quality of college education and accountability by weighting related factors more heavily in their admissions decisions. If they are, national rankings are not playing a large role in their thoughts. While the importance of rankings in national magazines increased by 1.3 percentage points in 2007, it's still the case that only a very small percentage (17.6 percent) of college freshmen report that the rankings are 'very important' in their decision.
The rankings placed 10th out of the 21 reasons students base their school choice on. So, at least using a nationwide sample of freshmen, students are using the rankings responsibly—as one factor in the college search process.
Here is the actual UCLA Survey question and top 15 reasons that this conclusion was based on.
Q. Reasons noted as "very important" in influencing a student's decision to attend this particular college:
- College has very good academic reputation 63.0%
- This college's graduates get good jobs 51.9%
- A visit to the campus 40.4%
- I was offered financial assistance 39.4%
- Wanted to go to a college this size 38.9%
- College has a good reputation for social activities 37.1%
- The cost of attending this college 36.8%
- Grads get into good grad/professional schools 34.1%
- Wanted to live near home 19.2%
- Rankings in national magazines 17.6%
- Information from a website 17.0%
- Parents wanted me to go to this school 13.0%
- Admitted early decision and/or early action 11.4%
- Could not afford first choice 9.7%
- High school counselor advised me 9.0%