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November 14, 2007

Exploring the Value of U.S. News' College Rankings

Nadine C. Warner, a college admissions adviser with AdmissionsConsultants, discusses the college rankings published annually by U.S. News & World Report in a series of articles in this week's Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper of the University of Pennsylvania.

Ms. Warner urges applicants not to rely too heavily on "peer assessment," one of U.S. News' most heavily weighted categories in the rankings. That category is comprised of the opinion-based ratings of presidents, deans and provosts at peer institutions. Ms. Warner cautions that basing one's opinion of a college on someone else's "is doing yourself a disservice."

Another measure by which U.S. News grades schools is faculty resources, giving more more weight to schools that pay higher faculty salaries. Yet, Ms. Warner noted, "It's not wise for students to say, 'if this school pays faculty more than the other school, the school will give me a better education'....I think it's so important to take the ranking with a grain of a salt."

Student selectivity, another factor that can raise or deflate a school's status, measures the number of students who apply against the number who are accepted. Yet, schools are known to encourage applications from students who don't have much of a shot at acceptance, just to boost their selectivity ratio. One of the reasons, Warner noted, it's a fallacy to rely on the notion that the "the more selective school will give me a better education."

In another article in the series, which outlines the history of the U.S. News & World Report rankings, Warner and others urge students to broaden their investigation beyond the annual rankings guide. In fact, a U.S. News spokeswoman points out that sole reliance on the guide is not how the magazine would like its rankings used.

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