US News published its Best Colleges rankings yesterday. And the list of Top Ten Universities is:
1. Princeton University (NJ)
2. Harvard University (MA)
3. Yale University(CT)
4. Stanford University(CA)
5. University of Pennsylvania
5. California Institute of Technology
7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
8. Duke University(NC)
9. Columbia University(NY)
9. University of Chicago
For other lists and more data, please visit US News.
How much should you use the above data? Very little. The rankings themselves are fairly meaningless. What do they measure? What is the difference between #1 and #2 or #1 and #9. Do the criteria of the rankers match your criteria? Without the answers to these questions, you shouldn’t use the rankings at all.
The rankings are even more suspect this year. One key premises is that its rankings reflect the opinions of leading educators, namely college presidents. Leading educators are increasingly disenchanted with the US News rankings and fewer are completing the survey. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education:
"Among liberal-arts colleges, the percentage of institutions that completed the U.S. News reputational survey dropped to 56 percent from 69 percent. Over all, 51 percent of the colleges and universities completed the peer-assessment survey, a drop from 58 percent last year. As recently as 2000, the rate was 68 percent."
While the overall rankings may be fairly useless, the statistical data included with the rankings can be helpful. First of all, they give you an indication of whether you qualify for particular programs. Some of the specialty rankings may help you if they measure factors of importance to you. They also allow you to compare programs on a limited set of criteria.
But no one can rank the schools for you. No one.