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College Rankings: Just How Accurate Are They?

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Have you ever noticed that just about every car advertised in magazines or on television is an award winner? Automobile of the Year. Best Family Car. Design of the Year. Best Hatchback for the Money. It almost seems like there’s an award for everything, but do you know who’s handing out the trophies? Cars aren’t the only things that are ranked. College rankings are calculated and published each year by various companies, and most have received their fair share of criticism.

The Princeton Review’s The Best 371 Colleges has been released annually since 1992, and it’s one of several different Princeton Review books published by Random House. The book offers basic information regarding campus size, academic selectivity and the price of tuition and room and board at select schools, but other categories — such as “Reefer Madness,” “Dodgeball Targets,” and “Dorms Like Dungeons”— make it easy to see how the book has caused problems for colleges receiving top billing in certain areas.

The Princeton Review: Party Hearty

Penn State was declared the “Top Party School” in this year’s book, and it also came in third place in the “Jock School” and “Major Frat and Sorority Scene” lists. The school also received the honor of first place for “Lots of Beer,” ninth place for “Lots of Hard Liquor,” and eleventh place for “Students Study the Least.” Penn State has always been relatively popular for its football team and corresponding tailgate parties, but this was the first time the school received top party school billing from the Princeton Review.

According to the online news source Inside Higher Ed, Penn State was quick to dismiss the accuracy of these rankings. “This survey doesn’t have any bearing one way or the other,” said Annemarie Mountz, a spokeswoman for the school.

Just how are these “awards” handed out?

The 62 ranking lists in the Princeton Review’s 2010 edition are based on surveys of 122,000 students at the 371 schools in the book over the previous school year. These numbers mean that an average of 325 students per school filled out the 80-question survey that asked various questions about their school, and the majority of these surveys were filled out online, meaning that technically the numbers could be fixed.

Annemarie Mountz even claims that she found multiple Facebook groups urging other students to “vote” for Penn State in the party department. Besides, 325 students (the survey average) from Penn State would make up less than one percent of the school’s total population.

Penn State is in good company.

The other top party schools of 2010 include:

2. University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

3. University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS

4. University of Georgia, Athens, GA

5. Ohio University, Athens, OH

6. West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV

7. University of Texas, Austin, TX

8. University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI

9. Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL

10. University of California-Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA

The Princeton Review, which is not affiliated with Princeton University, is a company that mainly offers standardized test preparation and college admissions advice, but the annual Best Colleges guides are extremely popular.

A 2009 post on Seventeen magazine’s website telling readers to “see where your dream school ranks on the Princeton Review” proves that young people really do pay attention to the rankings, and Robert Franek, coauthor of the book, defends his ranking system because the results are intended for students looking at colleges, not at the college administrators. Besides, these college rankings may upset the school’s administrators, but to some students, attending the nation’s top party school is something of an honor in itself.

The Princeton Review isn’t the only company that creates college ranking systems. The news magazine US News & World Report has been publishing an annual list ranking the nation’s four-year colleges and universities since 1983. The Fiske Guide to Colleges has been published for over 25 years, and other books and lists exist, too.

StateUniversity.com Top 2000 Ranked Universities for Highest Overall School Score

One of the many tools for students located right here on StateUniversity.com is the online university directory of the Top 2000 ranked public and private educational institutions. All schools are listed in order by the highest overall school score. The ranking system is based on U.S. government surveys as well as information provided by the schools. Based on the data provided, we rank the schools on a number of factors that include student retention, faculty salary, and student to faculty ratio.

The main difference between our college rankings and other college ranking systems is the absence of student evaluations and surveys. Many popular ranking systems – such as the Princeton Review’s – rely heavily on student evaluations or even colleges’ evaluations of other colleges. These systems have recently come under fire as being extremely inaccurate. Fewer schools are even participating in peer surveys, which mean that some college ranking systems are uneven and biased.

Currently, the top ten schools in our list include:

1 Stanford University, score 100.0

2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, score 99.6

3 Princeton University, score 99.4

4 Cornell University, score 99.2

5 California Institute of Technology, score 99.2

6 United States Military Academy, score 99.2

7 Amherst College, score 99.1

8 Rice University, score 99.0

9 Williams College, score 98.9

10 Brown University, score 98.9

We also have more detailed information regarding college rankings systems, and one final piece of advice? The College Board recommends that students create their own lists when searching for their perfect college! Ask yourself which type of school you’d like to attend based on a variety of factors, such as size, location, and majors available. A college that was ranked number two in any category could drop to number ten the next year, and a school that was in the last place could jump up into the top ten.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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