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U.S. News college rankings: not the only way to judge schools

The U.S. News & World Report annual ranking of colleges is out. But there are other rankings available, giving prospective students and their families information that may be more useful.

By Staff writer / September 12, 2012

A tour group at the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Once again, Harvard tops U.S. News & World Report's ranking of colleges and universities.

Elise Amendola/AP

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It’s a ritual for students in the throes of the college search: poring over the rankings offered by U.S. News & World Report.

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But a growing set of alternative rankings have been cropping up to give students (and parents) other angles to consider as they try to find the best fit.

Want to know how often students have chosen one school over another if accepted to both? How well a school does in serving an economically diverse student body? Or how well alumni are faring in the ‘real world’? Some of these other options may be for you.

Whichever rankings you choose to peruse, the best approach is to compare as much information as you can based on the factors most important to you, many college-guidance experts say.

College rankings “do have an impact on where students choose to go to college.… [But] just going to the best-ranked school that you got into might not be the best choice for you individually,” says Amanda Griffith, an assistant professor of economics at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem N.C., who has researched the college-selection process.

1. Student Choice

The Student Choice College Rankings are based on more than 200,000 college acceptances, so students can see where students with similar characteristics to them have been admitted and have chosen to attend.

Rankings are “often based on all sorts of input-type factors, like how selective [a school is] or how much [it] pays faculty… [and] those inputs can be gamed or selectively reported,” says Matt Pittinsky, CEO of Parchment Inc., a high school transcript service that created the ranking system last year. “What we’re doing is saying, ‘Let’s think about student choice: When a student gets into two schools, which one do they pick?’ ”

Schools are assigned points when they are chosen, with less-selective schools getting more points for beating out institutions that are very difficult to get into.

Harvard, Stanford, and Yale took the top three slots this year. The Top 10 also includes MIT, Princeton, University of Chicago, Brown, Caltech, Amherst, and the US Air Force Academy.

Student Choice creators wanted a ranking that didn’t separate schools into categories such as liberal arts colleges or research universities, since many students consider all types of schools.

Among the comparison tools available on Parchment.com is a “College Matchup” system where students can plug in two school names to see the percentage of students who preferred one over the other.

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