College Rankings: What Do They Mean?

college rankings

Students and parents are often bombarded with information about the colleges and universities that they are looking into. Recruiting offices send out hundreds if not thousands of marketing materials that are packed full of small factoids and tidbits of information about the school’s past performance, scholastic achievements, recent happenings, and campus environment. In this mess of information, how do you decide what is important and what is not? Let’s take a look at a recent publication from a school our students regularly attend: Duquesne University.

The Duquesne Duke recently released an article, Duquesne named to list of ‘best value’ universities. In it, Alison Caracciolo explains how Duquesne’s unique culture and environment of “being more than a number” gave her and many others the foundation they needed to thrive.

The pinnacle of the article highlights that Duquesne University was recently ranked 124 among 1,374 colleges and universities in the “Best National Universities” list in the U.S. News and World Report’s annual ranking, with a six-spot increase from number 43 to number 37 in the “Best Value School” ranking.

The sheer number of colleges and universities to select from can be daunting to soon-to-be college students. For students relying on rankings for guidance, it is critical to unravel the question: what does this ranking mean and why do I care?

Although rankings are a good way to combine and summarize the information available about a college or university, rankings can fail to show the specific factors that make up the ranking and their importance.

Things like class sizes, graduation rates, retention and placement rates can go without notice because most parents and students don’t know where to look for this information or even what to look for.

All that being said, what should you look for when researching colleges?

  • If you’re in search of a school’s academic performance, you might want to look into the graduation rates along a 4-, 5- and 6-year breakdown to see the percentage of students graduating on time.

  • Placement rates are a good indicator of how deeply the school is invested in helping outgoing seniors find jobs.

  • Class ratio is a good indicator of the personal relationships you will be able to develop with professors. If you are someone who prefers one-on-one opportunities with instructors, you will want to look for class sizes of 25-40 people rather than some universities that primarily offer 100+-sized lectures for certain programs.

  • To determine whether a school is a safe option, solid match, or reach for you, it can help to look into the acceptance rate for a basic idea of its admission difficulty.

  • Another critical piece of information is the college’s financial need met, which illustrates the historical average percentage of families’ financial need that is met.

Whichever piece of information about a school is most important to you, knowing what you are looking for and what those numbers mean will make a world of difference.