Comparing Graduate Programs

are college rankings important

How Much Should Rankings and Ratings Affect Your Graduate School Decisions?

Lower ranked schools typically offer greater access to a wider range of students. Higher-ranked schools, on the other hand, often limit access to students (by being more selective in who they admit), this may make it easier for the more selective programs to achieve higher marks in ranking metrics such as graduation rates, retention rates, and GPAs. By allowing greater access to students, however, and accepting even those students who don’t perform as well academically, less selective schools may be at a greater risk of housing a student population that have lower overall GPAs, graduation rates, and retention rates, and therefore, those programs are likely to be awarded lower scores on traditional ranking scales. Ultimately, lower-ranked schools often miss the mark in prescribed “areas of excellence” because they allow more people from a diverse range of educational and social backgrounds into their programs.

Additionally, many of the lower-ranked colleges have lower tuition rates, enabling a broader range of students to afford college tuition. This is great in terms of providing access, but many students who can’t afford the higher tuition rates of more expensive schools also may not have had access to the same high quality primary education as their wealthier counterparts. This means that many students in lower-ranked but affordable schools may not have the basic education that might help them perform as well academically, contributing to the school’s lower GPAs, graduation rates (keeping in mind that many students in less expensive schools are non-traditional students who work full-time and might not graduate “on time”), and retention rates. In the end, many students at lower-ranked schools may be students who haven’t enjoyed the same academic advantages as other students and also juggle work, family life, and other responsibilities with academic responsibilities.

Many schools accept students with a variety of backgrounds, skills, and talents, many of which might not be academic.

One of the great benefits of accessible schools (again, schools that often end up with a lower ranking) is the amount of social, economic, cultural, and skill-set diversity on campus. Lower ranked schools may cast a wide net when accepting students and ultimately pull in students of numerous backgrounds and interests. While many of their backgrounds and interests might not be in the realm of academia, many students will provide insight and genius to the classroom in other, equally important ways. Because people derive their brilliance from numerous sources, often times outside of academia, students for whom great grades are not a priority or option (and whose GPAs perhaps lower a school’s rankings) can contribute to the quality and depth of any given course.

Lower-ranked schools do indeed accept academically brilliant people, and high quality teachers do indeed teach at lower-ranked schools.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that a school’s lower ranking does not mean that it doesn’t have a highly intelligent student body or that quality teachers don’t provide excellent curriculum. It simply means that those super-smart and well performing students and outstanding teachers attend and work at a school that has cast a wide net to create a student body that might be more economically, socially, and academically diverse.

When considering where to attend school, consider more than a school’s ranking. Consider its environment; its social, political, economic, and cultural climate; its cost; its location; its programs; its faculty; and its student body. Determine what characteristics of a college education are most important to you and decide for yourself whether or not the school of your choice fits the bill.


About the Author: Annie Rose Stathes holds a B.A. in International Affairs and an M.A. in Political Science, from the University of Colorado, Denver. She is currently an instructor of writing at Fort Lewis College in Durango Colorado.

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