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Schools in the USA

Private College and University Rankings

In the US, a whole industry has arisen focused on the ranking of universities and colleges, with the majority of these rankings focused on bachelor's and master's degree programs. There are two main types of rankings: rankings of institutions and of programs in particular fields.

National and international organizations such as US News & World Report, The Princeton Review, The Washington Monthly, BusinessWeek and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) based in Shanghai, China, regularly publish general rankings designed to identify the "best" graduate and undergraduate institutions, regardless of institution type, according to quality and value. In some cases, however, universities and colleges are also ranked according to their institution type: for example, Forbes, in conjunction with the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP), has searchable 'top schools' lists that separate public and private institutions. Less "official" institutional rankings can also be found in Rugg's Recommendations on the Colleges, Consumer's Digest, and in student-based resources like StudentsReview.

The other type of ranking--of programs--looks at and compares the individual programs of various colleges and universities. Given that private colleges and universities offer a wide range of programs, these are also relevant to your search for rankings. The most commonly ranked programs are business and engineering, and these have rankings in additional publications, such as Financial Times and Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. And there are many more programs (such as design and nursing) for which you can also find specialty rankings in the publications that rank institutions.

Another source of information for private college and university program ranking is professional associations and journals: these organizations sometimes publish online reports of student surveys on various schools and programs, which provide still more school or program "rankings." These program-specific associations (for example DesignIntelligence magazine) as well as institute-type organizations (such as National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities) may offer awards and honors for teaching excellence, and looking at who they have honored can also be used to supplement your 'ranking' of schools. As well, their websistes either publish or link to articles specifically about private college and university education, so consider reading these to see which schools are mentioned and what is said about them. This kind of news may not be ranking per se, but the information is yours to use and interpret.

Each of these sources, however, uses its own particular set of criteria for ranking schools and programs. In the case of the controversial Gourman Report (which looks at undergrad programs in all fields), the author specifically refuses to disclose his methodology. How then should all these rankings be interpreted?

First, the ranking reports often come with detailed data to support conclusions, and while data collection may be criticized, the editors of these reports usually make an effort to ensure that statistics are comparable. So the reports can be used by you to compare private universities and colleges on the basis of the data provided.

Second, the statistics that come from the rankings can also suggest topics that need to be studied in more detail. For instance, if a school has a high acceptance rate, high tuition fees but a low graduation rate, you may want to ask why.

All US college rankings have one other thing in common: they are a list of institutions and schools. Scanning the list might suggest a school that you had not considered or perhaps even heard of. Used this way, the rankings can help expand your list of private colleges and universities that can then be researched in more detail.

However, you should never judge based on rankings alone. Rankings are important, but there are other factors that need to be taken into consideration. Schools that are less prominent may have a program that suits your needs better than any nationally ranked schools. Lesser known regional colleges can also be a good choice if you wish to remain close to home during your studies. Often times, these schools have the strongest relationships with local communities, industries and employers. Once you have accumulated this information, you can create your own private college and university ranking.
 



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