A look at the strengths and weaknesses of the ranking system. 

Every year, a variety of organizations release lists of college rankings. These lists are designed to suss out the best colleges and how they compare to each other. While these lists are a great place to start in your education search, it is important to note that each takes a wide range of factors into account, some that may be relevant to your education needs and some that may not. This is why they often differ from each other, and that can sometimes be a little confusing to navigate.

Colorado State University was recently named the top college in Colorado for a four-year or graduate degree by Schools.com, heading up a top five list that includes, by rank, the University of Denver (No. 2), the University of Colorado Boulder (No. 3), Regis University (No. 4), and the University of Northern Colorado (No. 5).

Another list published by BestColleges.com puts Colorado College at the top spot followed by the University of Colorado Boulder, Colorado State University Fort Collins, University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz, and the University of Denver.

And these are just two of many rankings lists that have been published in 2018. So which one do you choose a school from? Both … and neither. It all depends on your priorities.

Strengths of Rankings

It’s generally safe to say that schools that rank well will provide a good education. Rankings can give you a good baseline into what a school offers across the board. If academics are your top priority, any college that ranks higher on the list is likely a safe choice.

Maybe you are more interested in prestige and reputation? Prestigious schools tend to rank higher (think Harvard), and schools that rank higher tend to gather more prestige. If a school shows up in the top of several lists, then you might choose to put it on your college list.

Weaknesses of Rankings

No two rankings are the same, which can make it hard to decide which one to follow. They each rank different qualities of schools, some of which may matter to your education goals and some that may not.

For example, Schools.com evaluated each school on a 100-point scale for 13 criteria, including cost of in-state tuition and fees for full-time undergrads, the number of degrees and certificate programs, median debt of graduates, and graduation rate, to name a few.  

BestColleges.com evaluated each school on a similar 100-point scale, but they aren’t quite the same, with seven criteria weighing 60 percent of the total score on academic quality and 40 percent on affordability.

In addition, certain criteria may not be high on your list of important features. A ranking may place high importance on alumni engagement or alumni giving, and that may not even be a blip on your education-needs radar. 

Subjectivity can also be a weakness, as schools sometimes vote for each other as part of the ranking process (such as the U.S. News & World Report rankings), and that can lead to unintentionally biased choices.

It’s All About You

In the end, the most important piece of an education is your priorities. A college may rank high but doesn’t have a strong program in your field of interest. Or a smaller college may rank lower on the scale, in part because it doesn’t have the resources of the larger universities; however, it may have an exceptional reputation in your field of interest.

Rankings are a fantastic place to start on your higher education search, though they will not capture all of the qualities of a specific school. Colorado certainly has many topnotch higher education institutions to choose from, whether you prefer large universities or smaller campuses, so it may be beneficial to compare different ranking lists, and go from there. The bottom line is to figure out which school best fits your education goals, learning style, and personality.

And don't forget to share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

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