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U.S. News, College Rankings, and Your Search Process

U.S. News, College Rankings, and Your Search Process

September 15, 2014

Bar ChartThis is the time of year for college rankings.

Just this week U.S. News & World Report released its annual college ratings publication, ranking Cedarville University in the Top 10 (sixth overall) in the Midwest according to its best regional colleges rankings for 2015.

Whether it's U.S.News or the Washington Monthly (where Cedarville was ranked #15 in the national Top 100 Baccalaureate Colleges list this fall), many publications are taking a look at what's happening in higher education and seeking to assign a value or ranking to educational experiences and university outcomes.

So, how should you use the rankings? What value do they have in your college search process?

First, rankings do have a place. Assuming the data used to inform the study is accurate and reasonably unbiased, at the very least, the various rankings provide an independent evaluation of a college or university and allow readers to compare various factors related to the colleges they are considering.

That said, any ranking is the direct result of the criteria used to determine the scores. For example, U.S. News assigned its rankings based on factors like graduation and student retention rates, peer assessment, financial resources and alumni giving. If these factors are important to you as a parent, then the ranking will be important as well.
On the other hand, if the criteria are not particularly relevant to your family, then the ranking isn't helpful either.

Rarely does one ranking evaluate all of the criteria that are most important to you. For example, none of the major rankings evaluate spiritual climate, and for many families who are considering a Christ-centered university like Cedarville, that is one of the highest priorities in a college choice. In addition, if you look at the rankings carefully, the difference between who is #1 on a particular list and who ranks #25 or lower can actually be very minimal. Therefore, it would not be wise to make a final college choice based simply on a ranking.

So how can rankings be helpful? Here are some thoughts to consider as you review the rankings:

  • Look for schools that show up on a variety of different lists. Because different criteria are used for each one, a school that has a consistent presence—regardless of the ranking on the particular list – is likely to be well-balanced.
  • Determine factors that are particularly important to you and use the scores to compare those specific factors at the colleges you are considering.
  • Prayerfully commit the decision to the Lord, outline the factors that are most important to your family, spend time researching options, and most important of all, schedule campus visits. No ranking, viewbook, or website will ever confirm a college decision like eight hours on a college campus!

Rankings are a tool, but the most important factor in a college search will always be "fit."


Cedarville University hosts hundreds of guests each year, and we’d welcome you and your family to visit campus this fall. For those students who are ready to take the next step… apply by October 31 and we will waive the application fee!

Posted in Academics Admissions