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The Intuitive Shell Game: College Ranking for a Purpose

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College rankings serve a purpose for, not only academic classification, but also for administrative research on the part of the prospective students who are looking for the best college and program to suit their respective needs.

That’s the point, though: The individual student’s particular needs determine where s/he should go to advance her or his education, whether it is for the sake of obtaining that great-paying professional job or simply challenging or enhancing one’s own personal knowledge or skills.

There are several college ranking lists for 2008. A few of the more common and important college rankings for those interested are below.

The most significant list would have to be the national list, which covers the top institutions of higher level education throughout the entire country. Those at the peak, of course, are Princeton (NJ), Harvard (MA), Yale (CT) and Stanford (CA), in that order. These, presumably, go without mentioning, but they are official nonetheless and must be recognized here. Following these four are another one hundred twenty-six, starting with the University of Pennsylvania (5), California Institute of Technology (6) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT; 7) and includes Duke University (8), Columbia University (9), Dartmouth College (11), Johns Hopkins University (14), University of Notre Dame (19), University of Michigan (25), New York University (34), University of Florida (49), Ohio State University (57), Baylor University (75), Marquette (82) and American University (85). The first twenty on the list, ending with Notre Dame, are private; the rest are public, or state, schools. These college rankings denote the most recognized in terms of popularity and reputation, not to mention competitiveness.

The problem with college rankings on the national level, however, is that the list is general and therefore doesn’t reflect any particular field or program. This is where such a list, though prominent, is useless for the students doing research for the best schools for their respective needs.

The college ranking lists for college level, however, are helpful for students who plan on going for a certain type of degree, such as baccalaureate, Master’s or PhD. Taylor University (OH), Cooper-Union (NY), Oachita University (AR) and the United States Air force Academy in CO are the top 4 in the Baccalaureate category, where Creighton University (NE), Villanova University (PA), Rollins College (FL) and Trinity College (TX) lead the Master’s college ranking lists.

Then again, even these aren’t specific enough. Students looking for programs need to look into college ranking lists that highlight their intended fields, such as engineering, liberal arts, medicine, law, agricultural, or teaching. For example, those people wishing a career in agriculture might be better off at Michigan State University rather than Harvard, which is known for law and medicine. Likewise, those wanting a career in TESOL would be better served attending Florida State University than Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT; MA). The college rankings that searchers are advised to consider depends on the particular program, not the school’s general reputation.

Once interested parties find an ideal program, they apply at as many schools as possible on that particular program’s college ranking list, such as that of agriculture or engineering. This way, they spread themselves around and increase their chances of acceptance into a desired program. In light of this, the most effective college rankings are those that are specific, and such lists do exists for those willing to do the research.

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