Students Say College Rankings Aren't Most Important Part of Decision

The cost of college is far more important to students than the colleges' rankings.

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There is now more evidence to refute the myth that U.S. News's America's Best Colleges rankings are the main reason that students choose one school over another. The recently released "UCLA Freshman Survey: Fall 2008," a highly respected national survey of 240,580 first-year students at 340 colleges, provides a scientific basis to disprove the notion. It also shows that the cost of college is now far more important than rankings.

The survey asks students to rate which factors were "very important" in influencing their decision to attend a particular college. The college rankings finished in 11th place, down from 10th place in last year's survey, out of the 21 reasons. So, at least using a nationwide sample of freshmen, students are using the rankings responsibly—as just one factor in the college search process.

Other findings from the survey show that that financial considerations, such as financial aid availability and the actual cost of attendance, are becoming more important reasons why a student may attend a particular college. Also, more students (49.4 percent) said that they will get a job to help meet expenses while at college this year than at any other time in the 32-year history of the survey.

Here is the actual UCLA survey question and all 21 reasons that students were offered:

Q. Reasons noted as "very important" in influencing a student's decision to attend this particular college:

  • College has very good academic reputation   64.7 percent
  • This college's graduates get good jobs   54.2 percent
  • I was offered financial assistance    43.0 percent
  • A visit to the campus   41.4 percent
  • The cost of attending this college   39.9 percent
  • Wanted to go to a college this size   38.5 percent
  • College has a good reputation for social activities   38.4 percent
  • Grads get into good grad/professional schools   35.1 percent
  • Wanted to live near home   20.1 percent
  • Information from a website   18.9 percent
  • Rankings in national magazines   17.6 percent
  • Parents wanted me to go to this school   14.7 percent
  • Admitted early decision and/or early action   11.8 percent
  • Could not afford first choice   11.2 percent
  • High school counselor advised me   10.2 percent
  • Not offered aid by first choice 8.5 percent
  • Athletic department recruited me 8.4 percent
  • Attracted by religious affiliation/orientation of college 7.5 percent
  • My teacher advised me 6.9 percent
  • My relatives wanted me to come here 5.8 percent
  • Private college counselor advised me 3.6 percent