In many countries, national rankings are the best way to learn about top colleges and universities; however, the United States is very different. Rankings are not developed by the US government or Department of Education, and each ranking system looks at different variables. How do US rankings work and how can you use it to help pick the best college or university for you?
There are several private companies that produce their own versions of national and regional rankings, including popular lists developed by Forbes and US News and World Report. When ranking institutions, these companies look at information such as tuition, type of university, number and diversity of students, number and types of programs, research and internship opportunities, student to faculty ratio, graduate success rate, scholarships, and much more. Each ranking system is unique in which variables it uses and some companies do not disclose how they choose to rank each institution.
If these lists are done by private companies and are made with so many different variables, how can you use them to help decide which college or university is best for you? Start by thinking about what type of institution you want to study at: public versus private; large or small; research versus professional programs; etc. Or maybe there is a specific region you would like to live in or specialty program in which you want to enroll. Consider what values and experiences are most important to you in your education, and make a list.
Once you narrow down some of these factors, look at ranking lists that suit your needs and wishes. Research the institutions that are on these lists and use it as a guide. Study their webpages and programs. Reach out to their admissions officer and ask questions. Look at photos and videos. Visit campus if you can. Try to imagine yourself spending the next four years on that campus, because at the end of the day, you want to be somewhere that fits you and supports your future.