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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

January 20, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Do college rankings really matter? Yes — in some surprising ways

Whether you’re a fan of them or not, the college rankings published by U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review have some impact.

Recently, researchers from New York set out to determine how much — and in which ways.

Some of their findings surprised them —  and may also surprise parents and students who use the guidebooks.

Some highlights:

1. Making the Princeton Review list as a party school, a stone-cold sober school or a jock school didn’t affect the number of applicants a school receives one way or another. But ranking high among schools with happy students or beautiful campuses coincided with application increases of 2 to 3 percent.

2. When it comes to academics, what seems to matter most is ranking among the very top schools. A top 25 ranking in the U.S. News’ guide was associated with a 6 to 10 percent increase in applicants. A top 20 ranking in the Princeton Review was followed by an increase as well, although just 2.3 percent. Outside of those top lists, researchers didn’t see a significant change in the number of applicants.

3. If a college’s close competitors experience a drop in the Princeton Review’s quality-of-life rankings, the college’s applicant pool decreases, even if its quality-of-life ranking stays the same.

The New York researchers joined the many critics who question the validity of college-ranking guides.

In a prepared release,  they mentioned the Princeton Review in particular, calling its ratings haphazard and based on “unscientific administrative survey data.”

The full study is entitled “True for Your School? How Changing Reputations Alter Demand for Selective U.S. College.” Authors are Randall Reback, an associate professor at Barnard College and Molly Alter, a research analyst at New York University.

Comments | More in News | Topics: college rankings, higher ed, Princeton Review

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