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

Cost considerations are more important to students than the rankings, a survey says.

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There is now more social science research to refute the often-cited 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 2009," a highly respected national survey of 219,864 first-year students at 297 colleges, provides a scientific basis to disprove the notion. It also shows that rising college costs and financial aid are now far more important factors than rankings as students are deciding where to go to school. Another financial consideration, the question of whether graduates get good jobs, increased in importance to its highest level since the UCLA survey started in 1983. 

[Read 10 Steps to Raise $15K or More for College Now.] 

The UCLA survey asks students to rate which factors were "very important" in influencing their decision to attend a particular college. Incoming fall 2009 freshmen could choose as many of the 22 reasons listed as they wanted. The college rankings finished in 12th place, down from 11th place in last year's survey. So, at least based on this nationwide sample of freshmen from all types of colleges, students are using the rankings responsibly—as just one factor in the college search process. 

Here are the actual 22 reasons that students were offered in the UCLA survey. They are ranked in descending order, based on which factors most influenced their final selection. 

Reasons and the percentage cited as "very important" in influencing a student's decision to attend this particular college: 

1. College has very good academic reputation (63.6 percent)

2 .This college's graduates get good jobs (56.5 percent)
3. I was offered financial assistance (44.7 percent)
4. The cost of attending this college (41.6 percent)
5. A visit to the campus (41.4 percent)
6. Wanted to go to a college about this size (39.8 percent)
7. College has a good reputation for social activities (39.3 percent)
8. Grads get into good grad/professional schools (34.6 percent)
9. Wanted to live near home (20.1 percent)
10. Information from a website (19.2 percent)
11. Parents wanted me to go to this school (18.8 percent)
12. Rankings in national magazines (18.5 percent)
13. Admitted early decision and/or early action (12.9 percent)
14. Could not afford first choice (12.2 percent)
15. High school counselor advised me (10.3 percent)
16. Not offered aid by first choice (8.9 percent)
16. Athletic department recruited me (8.9 percent)
18. Attracted by religious affiliation/orientation of college (7.8 percent)
18. My teacher advised me (7.8 percent)
20. My relatives wanted me to come here (7.3 percent)
21. Private college counselor advised me (3.6 percent)
22. Ability to take online courses (2.7 percent)  Searching for a college? Get our complete rankings of America's Best Colleges.