Students to Colleges: Rankings Not-So Important

Research proves that students care more about a college's "academic reputation" and "social activities" than its ranking.

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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:

  1. College has very good academic reputation   63.0%
  2. This college's graduates get good jobs   51.9%
  3. A visit to the campus   40.4%
  4. I was offered financial assistance    39.4%
  5. Wanted to go to a college this size   38.9%
  6. College has a good reputation for social activities   37.1%
  7. The cost of attending this college   36.8%
  8. Grads get into good grad/professional schools   34.1%
  9. Wanted to live near home   19.2%
  10. Rankings in national magazines   17.6%
  11. Information from a website   17.0%
  12. Parents wanted me to go to this school   13.0%
  13. Admitted early decision and/or early action   11.4%
  14. Could not afford first choice   9.7%
  15. High school counselor advised me   9.0%