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However, over the past decade, U.S. News and similar ranking systems (e.g., Forbes, Princeton Review), have been constantly criticized by their over-reliance on inaccurate and obsolete variables, such as the number of library volumes and titles housed on each respective campus. In addition, over the past year, several schools—such as George Washington University, Claremont McKenna College, and Emory University--were found to have fabricated their data so that their rankings would improve.
Therefore, I strongly suggest looking at particular variables within these ranking systems, and leave the rankings themselves at the door. Some useful variables include class size, graduation rates, retention rates, strength of the faculty (meaning the proportion of professors with the highest degree in their fields, and the proportion of faculty who are full-time), and the student-faculty ratio.
Other factors you might want to think about include: the range of academic offerings, activities, and athletics; the location and feel of the campus; and the cost and availability of financial aid. For more information about important factors to consider when thinking about colleges, refer to my blog: What is the Best College for You?
A few more notes:
1. While I am skeptical of the rankings themselves, it is useful to use rankings lists to identify new schools that you might not yet be aware of.
2. To learn about critical student characteristics, such as student learning, program participation, and extracurricular activities, I suggest contacting the office of admissions at your respective colleges and asking to talk to alumni or current students about their experiences.
3. If you want to learn about other colleges that meet your criteria, continue perusing the national government’s College Navigator database: http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/. But beware, the results can be quite overwhelming (read: lengthy) if you don’t specify location, institution type, major or program, and degree.
Spark provides customized guidance to help you get into your top-choice schools.