College & University Rankings Matter

Each university is ranked each year by various ranking entities.  Some of the most common ranking entities are and These sites rank universities in comparison with each other along several criteria, decided by the entity conducting the ranking service.  In the end, they produce a list of universities ranked from 1 into the thousands.  They also often rank universities by specific subject area.

In general, the large and heavy research universities rank at the top.  Down the line, some smaller institutions and liberal arts colleges make the list.  It would be a mistake to believe these rankings are irrelevant to the quality of your education, and your potential quality of life after graduation.

The higher the university ranking, generally the more difficult the academic experience at the particular institution. The lower the ranking, the easier the classes are likely to be.  Any path you decide to take through your university experience is fine; you just need to understand that each path carries certain characteristics, expectations, and end results.  You may believe easier classes are better for you.  Maybe you don’t want to work too hard, and you simply want a degree to hang on your wall and satisfy your parents.  On the other hand, maybe you want your education to help you reach higher heights.  Maybe you want it to open up a world of possibilities you didn’t know existed.  Maybe you want it to give you the tools you need to change the world.

If you want your education to count more in your real life after college, including your ability to conceptualize innovative ideas, you need to attend a better institution.  The better universities are much more difficult than the lower-ranked universities.  Courses are much more difficult, course concepts push more deeply into the abstract, and the cognitive demands upon you as a student are much higher.  You will be expected to take full advantage of support systems offered on campus, such as writing centers, math labs, and organized study sessions, as the best students get to the top only with this type of support – they need it.  Good grades will be much more difficult to earn, and there will be no room for sloughing off.  It is a difficult road.

The payoff from attending a high-ranking university is immense and immeasurable.  With the education offered by top universities, you are poised to think through problems at higher levels than your peers from lower ranked universities, and to be more creative and innovative.  Your cognitive skills will be much higher and your ability to offer real contributions to the greater good will surpass theirs.  You are more likely to sail up the ranks of any company you choose, at the envy of those with “the same” degree.  An added bonus is that you’re more likely to get the job when you carry the name of a prestigious university as your own alma mater.

High-ranking universities are also much more competitive.  This means that your peers will be the cream of the crop, and will exact high expectations of themselves and their peers, which includes you.  This type of peer pressure will only make you better.

Whatever type of university you choose as right for you is a personal choice.  It would just be a mistake to ignore the university’s ranking, as this directly correlates to your educational experience and the type and level of skills you gain from your education.  The road of a high-ranking university is very difficult indeed – and the reward may very likely be worth every difficult step.

Michele Poff, Ph.D.
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