Do College Rankings Matter?

By Scott Jaschik

As they do every fall, high school students and their parents are deciding on college lists — figuring out where to apply and which colleges are on top of their wish lists. As is also the case every fall, U.S. News & World Report and others have released their rankings, suggesting which are the “best” colleges — among all and in certain categories.

Many students gravitate (regardless of what the rankings say) to public institutions close to home. But many others rely on rankings to identify potential colleges — or to convince parents that a particular institution is worth whatever it charges. And many colleges are banking on that, boasting about their scores in the latest rankings.

Educators have for years questioned the validity of the rankings, pointing out flaws with various parts of the methodologies of U.S. News and others.

A new study from researchers at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education examines all of the evidence about rankings and comes to this conclusion: the best way to find a college that is a “good fit” is to ignore the rankings.

Notably, the finding isn’t based on abstract ideas about the value of education not being something that can be measured.

Rather, the analysis is based on research about factors many students (and parents) say they take into consideration when they evaluate potential colleges: student learning, well-being, job satisfaction and future income.

If you care about those factors, the rankings will not steer you well, the paper says.

In summarizing the paper’s findings, Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at Stanford’s education school, said, “Research tells us that the most successful students, both in college and beyond, are the ones who engage in the undergraduate experience regardless of how selective a school may be. This is almost always the case whether a student attends the top-ranked or 200th-ranked college.”

Key factors in U.S. News and other rankings reward graduation rates and reputation. U.S. News has, over the years, placed more emphasis not just on raw graduation rates but “expected” graduation rates to reward institutions with higher than expected rates for students from at-risk populations.

But the Stanford study finds that graduation rates still reflect the student body being served more than the quality of the institution. And the study says there is no evidence linking reputation to anything but … reputation.

So reputation is “a self-fulfilling metric.”

Even measures that might seem inherently good — such as the percentage of class sessions that are small — may not actually mean much, the study says.

“While small classes are often seen as desirable, this metric is problematic … When schools offer more small classes, there is less space for students in those classes, meaning fewer students actually get to take them. Consider, as an extreme example, a school with 200 students where each student takes only one class. If there are nine classes with two students each, and one huge class with the remaining 182 students, the average class size at the school would still be only 20 students, and a full 90 percent of those classes would be considered ‘small’ classes.”

The report doesn’t say that it’s impossible to measure qualities about colleges that are important to students and parents. But real analysis would require examining the actual learning experience at colleges in ways rankings do not, the study says. For instance, the report cites Academically Adrift (University of Chicago Press), the 2011 book by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa that found a lack of rigor and heft in most undergraduate syllabi, and a corresponding lack of learning. The findings were based on looking at what students were asked to read and write, among other things, in their courses. (Others have disputed Academically Adrift‘s findings)

“What does correlate with student learning?” the Stanford report asks. “Time spent studying. This is true regardless of institution and for all kinds of students. In other words, a student who studies hard at a nonselective school is very likely to learn, while a student who slacks off at a selective one is less likely to learn.”

Likewise the report points to research by Gallup on the factors in one’s college experience that predict whether one will appreciate that experience and find personally fulfilling work.

According to these Gallup surveys, the key predicting factor is not prestige of institution, but whether graduates look back on their college days and remember having had a professor who cared about them, made them excited to learn and encouraged them to follow their dreams — which Gallup called being “emotionally supported” while in college. (Note: Inside Higher Ed works with Gallup on some surveys but did not play a role in this research.)

Broadly, Gallup identifies a series of practices for students to seek out at any college as likely to increase their engagement with learning — and their satisfaction. These include “taking a course with a professor who makes learning exciting,” and “working with professors who care about students personally” and working on projects across several semesters.

The Stanford report generally suggests that students looking at potential colleges focus on finding places where the right conditions exist for the students to make the most of their opportunities. And that kind of review needs to focus on concrete measures or conditions that typically aren’t what makes a college rise or fall in U.S. News.

A key point of the report is that there is no single right focus for a college search — and that the selectivity-driven measures used in most rankings may be appropriate for a minority of students, but misdirect most others.

“For some students, deciding where to go to college may depend on academic factors, such as access to cutting-edge researchers in a beloved field with opportunities to be involved in graduate-level work, or a well-established professional preparation program,” the report says. “For others, the decision might be influenced by location: a college close to home, or far away, in a small town or in a big city. Or it might have to do with extracurricular programming: a robust student activities program, intramural sports, or the arts.

“The decision might include cultural opportunities: a university with a strong international languages program, a culturally diverse student body, and a track record of successful study-abroad exchanges. The presence or absence of a Greek system or a large Division 1 athletics program might be important factors for some students. Perhaps religious denomination, institutional size, or comprehensive support for those with learning differences may sway the decision. And of course, financial aid and cost are key factors as well.”

The report adds that “rather than choosing a school based primarily on a flawed scoring system, students should ask whether they will be engaged at the college in ways that will allow them to form strong relationships with professors and mentors, apply their learning via internships and long-term projects, and find a sense of community.”

Robert Morse, who leads the college rankings effort at U.S. News, said via email that he and his colleagues were still reviewing the Stanford analysis.

He noted that the paper did not reflect the most recent changes made by U.S. News in its methodology, changes that the magazine says placed a greater emphasis than in the past on rewarding colleges that promote social mobility. (Critics have said that the change are largely cosmetic and that the rankings continue to reward colleges primarily for being wealthy and serving the best prepared and generally wealthiest students.)

Morse also noted that U.S. News does not just release annual rankings, but lists of top academic programs, colleges with good internship programs, innovative study abroad and more.

Just because U.S. News publishes rankings, Morse said, doesn’t mean it believes that’s the only way students should evaluate colleges. “We have always encouraged consumers to use the rankings as a start,” he said.

The Secret To Wealth

Rebecca Walser, a wealth management advisor who specializes in financial planning for high net worth individuals, tells CNBC Make It that the rich use plenty of tricks to build wealth, but “the most common one is something that most regular Americans don’t even know a thing about: Investing in permanent life insurance policies.” 

Permanent life insurance policies, which Walser discusses in detail in her book, “Wealth Unbroken: Growing Wealth Uninterrupted By Market Crashes, Taxes, And Even Death,” allow you to build savings in a tax-advantaged account. 

Unlike term life insurance policies, which are cheaper, temporary and have pay-outs that are only accessible upon death, permanent policies offer a cash-value component. 

Here’s how they work: You invest a lot of money into an account, basically “over-funding” it, and watch it grow, tax-free, says Walser. And that’s money you can access during your lifetime. 

There are a couple different types of permanent policies, whole life and universal life. A whole life plan is a more long-term one with fixed premium payments and death benefits, whereas a universal life plan is more flexible. There’s also an indexed policy, which allows you to invest in an equity index account. 

But the shared benefit of each of these is the accumulation of cash value. 

When it comes to withdrawals, you can take out what you’ve already put in, but if you want to touch the gains, you’ll be taxed. 

As for your beneficiary at the time of your death, his or her insurance payout is not taxable, but what happens to the cash value part of the policy can vary. Sometimes the insurer actually gets to keep it. 

Not touching the money at all allows for maximum growth. By Walser’s estimate, if you start putting $2,000 a year into an account when your child is born, by the time they are 60, they will have access to hundreds of thousands of tax-free dollars. 

On the flip side, cash value life insurance, which can either grow at a stated rate of interest set by an insurer or be pegged to the market, will likely not beat market returns these days, considering its current height. 

And because these permanent policies are significantly more expensive than term policies, they’re not always a great investment for the average American family. Other tax-deferred options like IRAs, 529 accounts and 401(k)s are all available at a lower cost. In fact, many advisors actually don’t recommend buying life insurance for children, unless you are doing it to replace a family breadwinner’s income. 

Also, for those who can afford to over-fund their cash value policy, there can be complex tax consequences. Broadly speaking, paying too much in premiums can turn the policy into a modified endowment contract (MEC). That shifts how your cash-value withdrawals are taxed and imposes a 10 percent penalty on any taxable withdrawals. 

For all these reasons, these policies might not necessarily be the best option for the average American family. For most, life insurance is a protection tool, not an investment. 

Overall, though, Walser thinks these accounts could be an under-the-radar strategy worth considering. “The wealthy have been creating a lot of wealth in life insurance,” she says. 

By Yoni Blumberg

How To Find The Right College For You

outside university pic

What’s the perfect college? Well, some of our clients would say location, while others would say athletics. Unfortunately, there’s no magical answer for you. However, according to College Board, these are the things that you should consider.

What Do You Want In A College?

Ask yourself what’s important to you, where you want to be and who you want to become. Then you can figure out what types of colleges will allow you to reach your goals.

Here are some aspects to consider:

  • Size
  • Location
  • Distance from home
  • Available majors and classes
  • Housing options
  • Makeup of the student body
  • Available extracurricular activities
  • Campus atmosphere

Which of these aspects are things you feel you must have to be comfortable at a college? Which things are you flexible on?

Also, think about what you want to accomplish in college. Do you want to train for a specific job or get a wide-ranging education? If you have a major in mind, are the colleges you’re considering strong in that area?

Keep An Open Mind

While it’s good to have some ideas in mind about what sorts of colleges will be right for you, stay open to all the possibilities at the beginning of your search.

Challenge your assumptions about what will work for you. For example, “you may not think you’re able to thrive in a large institution because you come from a small high school, but … you may actually do better in that type of setting,” notes Luis Martinez-Fernandez, a history professor at the University of Central Florida.

Talk to people who know you. Tell parents, teachers, relatives, family friends and your school counselor about your goals, and ask if they can suggest colleges that may be a good fit for you.

Don’t limit your search. At the start of this process, you may rule out colleges because you think that they are too expensive or too hard to get into, but this may not be the reality. Remember that financial aid can make college more affordable and colleges look at more than just grades and test scores.

Do Your Homework

Once you have a list of schools, it’s time to do research. To learn more about the colleges you’re considering, check out college guidebooks and the colleges’ websites. Jot down your questions and get answers by:

  • Talking to your school counselor or teachers
  • Checking out colleges’ student blogs, if available
  • Contacting college admission officials
  • Asking admission officials to recommend current students or recent graduates to talk to
  • Visiting college campuses, if possible (for more information, see the Campus Visit Checklist)

Facts about the SAT & ACT

girl with curly hair taking test

What’s the difference between the SAT and ACT?

Why Take ItColleges use SAT scores for admissions and merit-based scholarships.Colleges use ACT scores for admissions and merit-based scholarships.
Test StructureReading Writing & Language Math Essay (Optional)English Math Reading Science Reasoning Essay (Optional)
Length3 hours (without essay) 3 hours, 50 minutes (with essay)2 hours, 55 minutes (without essay) 3 hours, 40 minutes (with essay)
Reading5 reading passages4 reading passages
ScienceNone1 science section testing your critical thinking skills (not your specific science knowledge)
MathCovers: Arithmetic Algebra I & II Geometry, Trigonometry and Data AnalysisCovers: Arithmetic Algebra I & II Geometry, Trigonometry, and Probability & Statistics
Calculator PolicySome math questions don’t allow you to use a calculator.You can use a calculator on all math questions.
EssaysOptional. The essay will test your comprehension of a source text.Optional. The essay will test how well you evaluate and analyze complex issues.
How It’s ScoredScored on a scale of 400–1600Scored on a scale of 1–36

10 Lowest Paying College Majors

One of the most stressful decisions when determining a college major is job security. However, due to the astronomical rise in tuition prices, financial security is more important than ever before. Luckily, Ensphere offers ways to pinpoint a major that fits your personality while also showing you the industry pay scale. We offer services such as Kolbe, Career Cruising, OpGig, and more. This will better determine which career path would be a good fit for you. 

In addition to our services, we always want to keep you up to date on external information such as “Best Pay Lists”. I am fond of the U.S. News lists that they produce each year. This one titled “10 College Majors With the Lowest Starting Salaries”, is a great source! They used the data from PayScale to determine this list.

Here are the 10 college majors with the lowest median salaries for alumni with three years of postgraduate work experience whose highest degree is a bachelor’s. Also included for each major is the college where alumni make the highest median salary in that field. During the next few weeks, we’ll be releasing more pay related lists.

10 College Majors With The Lowest Median Salaries

10. Design and applied arts

Median starting salary: $42,727

School with alumni earning the highest salary for this major: Carnegie Mellon University (PA)

U.S. News rank and category: 25 (tie), National Universities

Median salary for Carnegie Mellon University graduates in this field: $75,700

9. Liberal arts and general studies

Median starting salary: $42,617

School with alumni earning the highest salary for this major: Biola University (CA)

U.S. News rank and category: 185 (tie), National Universities

Median salary for Biola University graduates in this field: $65,100

8. Human development and related services

Median starting salary: $42,252

School with alumni earning the highest salary for this major: Cornell University (NY)

U.S. News rank and category: 17 (tie), National Universities

Median salary for Cornell University graduates in this field: $56,400

7. Criminal justice

Median starting salary: $42,025

School with alumni earning the highest salary for this major: George Washington University (DC)

U.S. News rank and category: 70, National Universities (tie)

Median salary for George Washington University graduates in this field: $58,400

6. Psychology

Median starting salary: $41,890

School with alumni earning the highest salary for this major: University of Scranton (PA)

U.S. News rank and category: 6, Regional Universities (North)

Median salary for University of Scranton graduates in this field: $66,100

5. Criminology

Median starting salary: $41,722

School with alumni earning the highest salary for this major: University of Maryland—College Park

U.S. News rank and category: 64 (tie), National Universities

Median salary for University of Maryland graduates in this field: $50,900

4. Health and physical education/fitness

Median starting salary: $41,608

School with alumni earning the highest salary for this major: Rice University (TX)

U.S. News rank and category: 17 (tie), National Universities

Median salary for Rice University graduates in this field: $56,700

3. Animal science

Median starting salary: $39,905

School with alumni earning the highest salary for this major: Colorado State University

U.S. News rank and category: 166 (tie), National Universities

Median salary for Colorado State graduates in this field: $55,400

2. Education

Median starting salary: $39,082

School with alumni earning the highest salary for this major: Boston University

U.S. News rank and category: 40 (tie), National Universities

Median salary for Boston University graduates in this field: $53,100

1. Social work

Median starting salary: $37,035

School with alumni earning the highest salary for this major: University of South Dakota

U.S. News rank and category: 263 (tie), National Universities

Median salary for University of South Dakota graduates in this field: $49,800

Is College Really Worth The Money?

As a millennial, I am constantly bombarded with news outlets exposing the cost of college now vs. 30 years ago. According to Yahoo Finance, tuition has jumped 3,009% in just 50 years! I was born in 1987 and the cost to attend a 4-year public college was $1,490. Now, just 32 years later, the cost is $10,230. The college system has turned into big business and COVID-19 has exposed it more than before. Is college still worth it? 

The short answer is yes

The average college graduate earns a salary that is over $30,000 more than an average worker with only a high school diploma, according to new research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. On average, the rate of return, or the net gain or loss on the college investment over a career, is 14 percent. So most families are still coming out firmly ahead on their investment in higher education, though rising college costs have slightly lowered the rate of return for today’s students. 

When determining whether to go to college, the ability to get a better job was cited by nearly 85% of freshmen enrolled in baccalaureate programs as “very important,” according to the University of California—Los Angeles‘ The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2017 survey, released this April. About 72% cited the ability to make more money. But in that same survey, about 76% of freshmen said gaining a general education and appreciation of ideas was a very important reason for enrollment.

To make sure that our students graduate within the 4 years (not 6 years) we offer an array of services that can guarantee that. We focus primarily on matching the students’ personalities with the job of their choice. If they’re unsure about a career path, we have a team that will work one-on-one to find the right fit. 

Earn More Money By Attending These Colleges

Choosing a college isn’t a simple task – you want to pick a school that will challenge you intellectually and provide you with life experiences that help you grow as a person.

PayScale’s College Salary Report has ranked colleges and universities by the median salaries of their alumni. By knowing how much you can expect to earn after getting your bachelor’s degree, you can choose a school wisely and set yourself up for future financial security, especially when evaluating how much to borrow to help pay for your education.

The Best 4-Year Universities in 2018

For now, we’ll focus on learning more about the universities that came out on top in 2018 for having the highest salary potential and what makes these schools so beneficial for students.

Harvey Mudd College – Mid-Career Salary: $158,200

Harvey Mudd is consistently among the top school on our College Salary Report year after year. The small, private school of about 800 students is located in Claremont, California. HMC offers students small class sizes, and the institution has an academic focus in science and engineering, with 85 percent of graduates earning a degree in STEM.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Mid-Career Salary: $155,200

It goes without saying that MIT is one of the most prestigious universities in the U.S. Students who enter the four-year degree program at MIT can expect to perform a lot of hands-on research related to their studies. Unlike Harvey Mudd, MIT has an undergraduate population of just under five thousand, which means larger class sizes for MIT students. MIT is largely focused on engineering and research.

United States Naval Academy – Mid-Career Salary: $152,800

Military and service academies continue to be great options for students because the cost to attend is so low. The USNA campus is located near the water between the Severn River and Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis, Maryland. The curriculum at USNA is mostly focused on technology and learning skills for a career in service.

California Institute of Technology – Mid-Career Salary: $151,600

It’s not uncommon to see technology-focused universities take the top spot on our college rankings. As one of the top universities in California, CalTech has a lot to offer students ranging from university sponsored research opportunities to an athletics program that is sure to thrill. There are around one thousand undergraduates enrolled at CalTech, and ninety-six percent of those students are studying STEM-related subjects.

College Degrees With The Worst ROI

A bachelor’s degree earns you nearly $500 more per week than a high school degree, and, according to the Social Security Administration, you’ll earn a whopping $180,000 to $260,00 more across your lifetime.

But not all degrees are created equally. In fact, if you’re not careful, that bachelor’s may not give you much financial advantage at all. The true ROI of a degree depends on the college you choose to attend, the amount of aid you get, the job market you enter, and many other factors. Generally, though, the below degree programs are some of the worst investments you can make.

What’s the ROI of a college degree?

According to FOX Business, your ROI is your return on investment — the amount you made thanks to your degree vs. the costs you incurred to get it.

To calculate the potential ROI of a college degree you’re considering, you’ll need to know how much the program costs (in full, including room, board, etc.), what the projected earnings are for that career path and the exact program/school, and how much in loans/debt, if any, you’ll need to cover your costs. The interest you’ll pay will factor in, too.


Here’s a formula you can follow once you have this data on hand:

Total Career Earnings / Total Spent on the Degree * 100 = ROI

A good way to compare degree programs is to calculate the potential 10-year ROI of each program. To see how earnings measure up between programs you’re considering, see the Department of Education’s College Scorecard website.

What degrees have the worst ROI?

The true ROI of a degree depends on the college you choose to attend, the amount of aid you get, the job market you enter, and many other factors. Generally, though, the below degree programs are some of the worst investments you can make.


It’s no secret that teachers aren’t paid well. But considering the costs of their education and future projections for the industry, the picture gets even bleaker. Let’s look at Alabama A&M as a good example. A student attending the public college’s teacher education program will pay about $88,000 for four years of schooling. They’ll also come out of it with about $33,000 in average federal debt. But upon graduation, they’ll make $25,400. To make matters worse, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects virtually no employment growth for primary and secondary school educators over the next 10 years.


Employment opportunities for radio and TV professionals, as well as reporters and correspondents, are on their way down. The BLS projects a 7.3 percent decline in radio/TV announcer jobs, and a 12.1 percent dip in reporting gigs by 2028. What’s more? These media professionals often pay a pretty penny for their degrees. Journalism and media students at Auburn University leave school with a $128K bill in tow and around $20,000 in federal loans. Average earnings for these grads is $35,000.

Best Cities For College Grads

Raleigh, NC

Last year, Thrillist, introduced their “Best Cities For Grads” and this years list is a bit different. The list included cities that you may expect to be there due to popularity and population growth. Thrillist shares Zumpers list of the best cities for grads to move to in 2020.

In order to determine the ideal spots, Zumper analyzed data from the top 100 US cities on seven key metrics: The unemployment rate (as of March 2020), the price of a one-bedroom rental, the population of folks ages 20 to 34, the population of 25 year-olds with a Bachelor’s degree, the median income of those 25 years and younger, the non-married population, and restaurants per 100k people.

Here are the most popular cities for graduates in 2020:

1. Salt Lake City, UT
2. Raleigh, NC
3. San Francisco, CA
4. Columbus, OH
5. Nashville, TN
6. Minneapolis, MN
7. Boston, MA
8. Lincoln, NE
9. Norfolk, VA
10. Madison, WI

First off, even though all of this data was from before lockdown, the cities are kind of ideal for the circumstances, anyway. You’ll note that none of these cities are massively condensed, nor do they rely as heavily on public transportation as, say, New York City, where most of my non-athletic friends have crashed their newly purchased COVID-19 bikes already.

First off, even though all of this data was from before lockdown, the cities are kind of ideal for the circumstances, anyway. You’ll note that none of these cities are massively condensed, nor do they rely as heavily on public transportation as, say, New York City, where most of my non-athletic friends have crashed their newly purchased COVID-19 bikes already.

(There is also a noticeable shift away from the coasts, and an even more noticeable absence of Austin, Texas, which is apparently not weird enough for the kids anymore.)

Now let’s break this down a little bit: The winner here, Salt Lake City, earned its top spot due to having a high concentration of young people and the fifth largest single population, so it seems like the place to go to take gorgeous hikes with new lovers. You’re also more likely to get a job here, in part due to its bustling tech scene.

Raleigh, at a surprising no. 2 in the ranking, earned its spot for being well-rounded — it was in the upper half for all categories. No. 3, San Fran, had the highest median income in the nation for young folks, plus a fairly low unemployment rate, though this has obviously changed. Other standouts are Columbus, for its restaurants, Boston, for its density of single people, and Lincoln, for affordable rent. You can find all the details here on the website’s blog post

Again, we’re really sorry about these graduate circumstances. If you can’t move this year, at least go and get as much free and cheap food as you possibly can from these sympathetic companies