Controversial Aspects of College Rankings

Campus grounds of Oxford University

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Studying in a top-ranked college is a dream for every student. However, only some are aware of the controversial aspects of college rankings. College rankings confuse many students searching for the best schools. While it’s ultimately up to you on how much emphasis you want to place on these rankings, it’s important to understand where the controversy might lie. 

Let’s understand college ranking and discuss their controversial aspects.

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Controversial Aspects of College Rankings

College rankings are published by the World University Rankings by Times Higher Education (THE), Academic Ranking of World Universities by Shanghai University, and Q.S. Rankings by Top Universities.

These rankings generate significant interest, excitement, and sometimes anxiety among prospective students. Students looking to pursue higher studies select schools based on these rankings, as they want to enroll in the best programs with promising careers.

Students loitering inside a university building

The outcomes of these rankings are usually predictable. Universities from the United States and the United Kingdom top the list. There are only slight variations from year to year. 

Where Does the Problem Lie in College Ranking?

Let’s examine the rankings of some leading universities across different ranking systems.

These examples highlight the variability and subjective nature of global university rankings. They emphasize the importance of considering a range of factors when evaluating higher education institutions.

How Should Students Approach College Rankings?

Every student wants to study in the top-ranked colleges in the world. However, it’s important to be vigilant and not fall prey to the rankings, as they can be deceptive.

Here are some tips that can help you approach the college rankings when selecting schools for graduate studies.

Ignore the University Popularity Contest 

The comparison between top-tier universities and the rest is like the cinematic showdown between blockbuster hits and indie films. An underrated indie film can be a cinematic masterpiece. Similarly, universities lacking the limelight can still offer exceptional educational opportunities.

These institutions might not fulfill every criterion of the ranking algorithms. Still, if they specialize in areas that align with your academic and professional aspirations, you’ve found an ideal match.

Prioritize Your Interest 

Have you ever noticed that the gap between a university ranked 1st and 30th is too massive? Meanwhile, the difference between those ranked 40th and 50th is not that big. 

The university ranking system keeps top institutes side by side, with slight changes every year. This practice highlights the controversial aspect of ignoring low-ranked universities.

Two women wearing graduation robes and caps hugging each other close

If you pick a university ranking 500th on the world ranking 2024 list, it doesn’t mean you have made the worst choice. It is a commendable decision to prioritize personal and academic compatibility over rankings.  

Difference in Ranking Criteria 

University rankings are made up after a careful analysis of multiple factors. These factors include:

  • The academic reputation of the university
  • Graduation rates
  • The # of research citations and published papers under their belt
  • The # of international students and faculty
  • Employment rate
  • Student-to-faculty ratio
  • The number of awards and recognitions
  • Scholarships and other student aid

The surprising fact is no ranking includes these factors. Each of them has specific criteria for prioritization. Thus, some rankings might help you, while others can misguide you. 

How to Pick the Best University Ranking? 

How would you know which ranking can help you among a bunch of rankings with different results? Check their ranking criteria to understand what’s best for you. Let us take you to some examples for better understanding.     

Passion Over Popularity 

A top-ranked university might be perfect for business studies, however; there is a possibility that it’s not the best for social sciences programs. Maybe their teaching is up to the mark, or the workshops you are passionate about are subpar.

Many students follow the lead and jump on the bandwagon, leaving their passion behind. The only reason for studying at a specific university shouldn’t be its top rank. After all, why would you complete an MBA from the world’s number-one university if you are passionate about studying music?

Campus grounds of Oxford University

The experience of graduating in a program that doesn’t interest you isn’t worth it. Prioritize studying what you love and pursuing your passion over the popularity of universities. Even if the university providing specialization in music is not ranked globally, go for it.

A World Beyond International Rankings

Don’t mull over getting into a top-ranked university. Students get depressed when they cannot get into the top 100 colleges in the world. There is a big world beyond international rankings. Look into other options, and you’ll find the university that meets your passion and academic goals.

If you are feeling down, chin up and follow these practices:

  • Compare academic options across the globe.
  • Read articles on the best international degrees.
  • Read students’ diaries and get first-hand experience by interacting with them via social media handles.
  • Make sure the rankings you trust focus on the discipline that interests you.
  • Leverage forums like Quora and Reddit to get the best answers to your academic queries.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Did American University Ranking Drop?

The American University’s ranking dropped because of a drastic change in the U.S. News methodology. They changed 17 to 19 factors affecting the rankings and picked unrepresentative data sources. The shift created a lack of credibility in the measures they represent.

Does College Ranking Matter in the USA?

Yes, college ranking matters in the USA. Employers check the background and evaluate your profile according to the college you’ve studied at. Moreover, graduate schools rely on rankings for assessing undergraduate applicants.

Why Is Stanford Ranked So High? 

After the Second World War, Stanford secured massive federal support for research purposes. It has made a big contribution to Silicon Valley. That’s how this university – paired with Berkeley in America’s San Francisco Bay Area – has become a top-ranked university.  


So, what do you think – can college rankings be believed? The controversial aspect of college rankings raises many questions. We cannot rely on these rankings completely. Yet, it has an impactful influence in the competitive academic world. Students should consider rankings after prioritizing their interests and passions.

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Aya Andrews


Aya Andrews is a passionate educator and mother of two, with a diverse background that has shaped her approach to teaching and learning. Born in Metro Manila, she now calls San Diego home and is proud to be a Filipino-American. Aya earned her Masters degree in Education from San Diego State University, where she focused on developing innovative teaching methods to engage and inspire students.

Prior to her work in education, Aya spent several years as a continuing education consultant for KPMG, where she honed her skills in project management and client relations. She brings this same level of professionalism and expertise to her work as an educator, where she is committed to helping each of her students achieve their full potential.

In addition to her work as an educator, Aya is a devoted mother who is passionate about creating a nurturing and supportive home environment for her children. She is an active member of her community, volunteering her time and resources to support local schools and organizations. Aya is also an avid traveler, and loves to explore new cultures and cuisines with her family.

With a deep commitment to education and a passion for helping others succeed, Aya is a true inspiration to those around her. Her dedication to her craft, her community, and her family is a testament to her unwavering commitment to excellence in all aspects of her life.

Find your perfect value college is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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