Why university rankings are unreliable
Every year, U.S. News & World Report publishes a college rankings report. This publication is an attempt to quantify the subjective, which oftentimes leads to questionable reliability. However, students, parents and universities all seem to covet the rankings. Parents and students use them to make college selections, and colleges often show off their rankings on their informational brochures to lure prospective students. But how can the U.S. News & World Report claim that there is a definitive ranking for colleges?
U.S. News & World Report supports their rankings of academic excellence by supposedly using a quantifiable system with several variables. A few of these variables are undergraduate academic reputation, student selectivity and standardized test scores. These variables are severely prone to subjectivity in what is touted as a quantified ranking.
Take undergraduate academic reputation for instance. To score this category, U.S. News & World Report surveys individuals they deem fit to judge the school. Each individual surveyed will have biases toward any particular school he or she is surveying.
Furthermore, biases could derive from sources such as college football rivalries that could influence the perception and influence the rankings. Due to these biases, it is difficult to argue that a school's reputation accurately displays a school's academic excellence.
A reputation is also very broad and to a certain extent, subjective. A school can be highly reputable, but it is very difficult to precisely rank the reputations of Columbia University's versus Yale University's academic excellence, for example.
In the case of these two schools, the difference is quite thin, yet U.S. News & World Report show a clear-cut superior. Student selectivity rates do not indicate academic excellence very well either. If a school simply advertises better and receives more applicants, they can deny more applicants and make the school seem more selective. With the internet and the Common Application, students have been able to apply to far more schools than previous generations. This only further skews the selectivity, and makes it a less effective tool to rankuniversities.
Lastly, standardized test scores of those admitted don't completely reflect the academic quality of the school. In the past, standardized testing has come under fire for being favorable toward students who come from wealthier backgrounds. Students from wealthier families have access to more resources compared to those students who come from poor families. Therefore, I don't think it's fair to judge a school using an already imperfect indicator in standardized testing. Some prestigious schools, such as Claremont-McKenna College, have even falsified their reports of standardized test scores to raise their rankings.
These rankings use flimsy statistics and partial factors. They turn around and advertise it as the one ranking to rule them all. All of these measurements are supposed to judge the academic quality of a school.
However, academic quality should be determined by the student. Everyone learns in a different way, so trying to prove one school is better than another seems useless. Individuals need to judge schools based on their own criteria. People and schools should not concern themselves with these rankings any longer. At the end of the day, these rankings are just another group's opinions. What is much more important than any set of rankings is whether you are right for the school, and if the school is a right fit for you.
Brandon Kyung is a senior at Wilsonville High School.