Students Say Rankings Aren't Most Important Factor in College Decision

A national survey says a school's academic reputation matters most to students.

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Once again, social science research is refuting the often-cited myth that U.S. News's Best Colleges rankings are the main reason that the average student chooses one school over another. That conclusion comes from UCLA's just-released "The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010," a highly respected national survey based on the responses of 201,818 students at 279 U.S. colleges and universities.

The UCLA survey asks students to rate which factors were "very important" in influencing their decision to attend a particular college. Incoming fall 2010 freshmen could choose as many of the 22 reasons listed as they wanted. The college rankings finished in 11th place, up from 12th 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.

[Learn how to use the college rankings wisely.]

These results also serve as a validation of the U.S. News Best Colleges rankings methodology that weights undergraduate academic reputation at 22.5 percent. Prospective students in the UCLA survey rated whether a college has a good academic reputation as being the No. 1 factor that influences their school choice, indicating their belief that a college's reputation matters a great deal. U.S. News's Best Colleges rankings measure the relative reputations of colleges and include this as an important factor.

Below are the 22 reasons for choosing a college that students were offered in the UCLA survey. They are ranked in descending order, based on which factors students said were "very important" in influencing their final selection.

1. College has very good academic reputation (62.0 percent)

2. This college's graduates get good jobs (53.3 percent)

3. I was offered financial assistance (45.5 percent)

4. A visit to the campus (41.8 percent)

5. The cost of attending this college (41.0 percent)

6. College has a good reputation for social activities (39.5 percent)

7. Wanted to go to a college about this size (38.7 percent)

8. Grads get into good grad/professional schools (32.2 percent)

9. Wanted to live near home (19.0 percent)

10. Information from a website (17.9 percent)

11. Rankings in national magazines (16.7 percent)

12. Parents wanted me to go to this school (13.7 percent)

12. Admitted early decision and/or early action (13.7 percent)

14. Could not afford first choice (12.2 percent)

15. High school counselor advised me (9.6 percent)

16. Not offered aid by first choice (8.9 percent)

17. Athletic department recruited me (8.8 percent)

18. Attracted by religious affiliation/orientation of college (7.3 percent)

19. My teacher advised me (6.0 percent)

19. My relatives wanted me to come here (6.0 percent)

21. Private college counselor advised me (3.5 percent)

22. Ability to take online courses (2.7 percent)

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