The day will come when high school seniors begin to understand that their next year of life will be an entirely new facet of individuality and independence. For some of those seniors their only option and goal is to attend a college or university. For other students, they might be given the opportunity to join the family business. Another portion of soon-to-be graduates may decide to attend a technical school in pursuit of a licensure or newly learned trade that can be used in their future career. With all these decisions ahead, it can seem slightly overwhelming for someone who isn’t yet 20 years old. No matter the decision made, it can be argued that those entering the route of higher education face many challenges ahead, but one of the first decisions the will be forced to make is what school to attend. This question circles the world of academia continuously in an attempt to understand which colleges are best, what constitutes a “great school” from a “good school,” and what methodology should be used to conclude the results and findings. For a teenager, this type of decision might sometimes be at the hands of a parent, teacher, or other trusted adult. For some who do not have other adults to rely on for future guidance, the decision is up to them. Picking the right school might just have a lot more to do than filtering out the top ten and going to a school that has an Ivy league title stickered to every part of their brand.
Although there are theories to the answer “Do college rankings matter?,” it can be argued on both sides by academic experts, professionals, and career guide experts that the answer is much more complicated than yes or no. First, the stigma and stereotypes that surround top universities frequently follow a mantra that goes something like “Go to the best school, pick a major with a lucrative field, and this will lead to an excellent paying job.” However, any recent college graduate can explain that type of thinking may be true for some, but not the majority. The idea that being a little fish in a big pond is better than being a big fish at a little pond isn’t always better. Although to be a little fish in a big pond and rise up to the big fish can be a much rewarded task and highly accomplished goal, that isn’t the story for many collegiate students. Data on this exact subject collected in a book by a best selling author actually suggests that when it comes the interesting world of academia, being a big fish in a little pond can actually be much better for post-graduates. The reason for this truly comes down to the situations and opportunities one is given throughout the course of their undergraduate career.
Students who are given the opportunity to attend a good university but that might not be ranked with the Ivy league schools often end up with more publications than those who attend a higher ranked school. However for some, having just one higher ranked university publication versus holding many publications from a lower ranked university means more to them.
The meaning behind college rankings has a lot to do with how students perceive the way that colleges are ranked. This can be an issue because every ranking site might base their ranking criteria on varying subject areas. For example, the quality of research and amount of education that professors have might be in the ranking variables for some, but entirely different methodologies might be required for others. This isn’t to say that both ranks are incorrect, it is just that it is different. Instead of looking at colleges as great, good, bad, worse, a better way of thinking might be understanding the differences between the two schools and their programs. One school might have an excellent STEM program with an R1 ranking while another school might have an excellent liberal arts program yet still hold that R1 ranking. It’s important that all students entering the world of academia understand the importance of research, but the type of research is highly dependent on the majors. Each department might hold different strength areas and for this reason, understanding the complexity of the college ranking system must first be broken apart by schools, publications, research, departments, majors and so on. Rather than just deciding a rank based off of arbitrary rules set by scholars, it should be viewed from a more individualistic level of the future student needs. After all of these items are considered, one of the most important understandings beyond choosing a school, is figuring out what qualifications are required to obtain a job after graduation. These qualifications often require a degree in a certain emphasis and a certain amount of experience. For many experts in the field, experience is frequently regarded as more important than what university someone attended. In one’s first interview after college they will often ask the candidate about what experience and skills qualified them for a job over why they didn’t pick a top ten school to attend.