Changes and Surprises in the 2018 Rankings
Ranked lists of schools are clearly of interest to aspiring college students, but it’s also important to see how these rankings have changed over time. Here’s what’s new this year, both in U.S. News’ approach to evaluations and in the results they’ve released.
Methodological Changes and Added Information
Every year, U.S. News makes changes in its evaluation process in an attempt to more accurately assess colleges. This year is no different. For the 2018 rankings, methodologies were updated slightly in order to calculate and compare graduation rates more accurately given statistical differences between different majors. Other changes aimed to better reflect how well colleges provide access and resources to veterans.
In some areas, U.S. News collected more information than it had in past years. More data was gathered about economic diversity, expressed as the percentage of students at a college who receive Pell grants. Average post-graduation salaries were studied more closely, reflecting interest from students (and parents) in future job prospects.
Information has also been added about some colleges that offer highly specialized undergraduate programs, such as fine art schools and undergraduate schools of business or engineering. These schools are still considered “unranked,” as they can’t be directly compared to typical colleges, but they’re still included on certain specialty lists that U.S. News releases.
Major Movements in the Rankings
As usual, there hasn’t been a great deal of change in the highest echelons of the U.S. News rankings. Changes in large institutions take time, and it would be truly shocking for a major upheaval to take place among these elite schools. However, some changes have occurred, and in the competitive world of higher education, these changes matter.
In the positive direction, MIT and Caltech each rose two positions in the National Universities category, and farther down in that list, UCLA, NYU, and the University of Florida enjoyed gains. In the National Liberal Arts College list, Bowdoin, Swarthmore, and West Point made gains, but the most impressive performance in the upper ranks of the list came from Harvey Mudd, which rose a whopping nine positions.
On the negative side of the balance, Notre Dame and Tufts dropped slightly in the ranks of national universities, while Middlebury, Hamilton, and Haverford sustained losses among liberal arts colleges. Overall, the National Liberal Arts Colleges list saw more movement, both small and large.
Remember, these rankings are relative, so a lower ranking doesn’t necessarily mean that a school has gotten “worse” on an absolute scale. It may simply be that other schools in that category have improved dramatically in the past year. Ties are also possible, which can complicate the rankings.
How much should these rankings matter to me?
The U.S. News college rankings are certainly popular. They’re flaunted in admissions materials, handed out to parents, and reported upon by many other news sources, even those who also maintain their own college ranking systems. They play a large role in shaping what the average person thinks of as “good” colleges.
However, they’re far from the be-all and end-all of college advice. As you go through the process of researching colleges and compiling your application list, you’ll need to approach these rankings with a critical mind, do your own research, and consider important factors that aren’t addressed in the U.S. News analysis.
As we’ve mentioned, not all colleges are evaluated by U.S. News, and not all evaluated colleges are ranked. Some colleges simply don’t fit into this particular evaluation system very well, and their rankings may suffer for it, but it’s possible they still have attributes that make them compelling choices for you to consider.
The U.S. News rankings are only based upon a limited number of quantitative facts about colleges, so they can’t in themselves express what it really means to live and learn at that school. In order to get that perspective, it’s wise to talk to current and former students, visit campus (if possible), and seek out information about the college from a wide range of sources.
Rankings are definitely a useful tool for learning about colleges, but you can’t rely on rankings alone. To make informed decisions about your college applications, you’ll also need to do more detailed research, consider your own needs and preferences, and think about what kind of college will leave you not only well-educated, but happy and fulfilled.
For more tips on effectively evaluating college ranking lists and interpreting the data they provide, take a look at the CollegeVine blog post College Rankings, Debunked: How Ranking Works, and What it Means for Your College Decision.
This is a lot to digest, and the information avalanche doesn’t stop here — the college application process can be overwhelming. Having an experienced and trained advisor to lean on can help immensely, and that’s what CollegeVine provides. Our consultants can help you select schools, put together compelling applications, and make wise decisions along the way.
To learn more about the services we offer, visit our College Application Guidance Program.
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