Chasing Those College Rankings

Colleges say they don’t really think too much about their U.S. News rankings, but of course that’s not true. Whether or not those rankings matter is a whole ‘nother discussion. Chicago Magazine examines the University of Chicago’s recent dip in rankings (from 4 to tied to 5, behind Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and Columbia) and what the university has been doing to maintain its prestige:

“There was this view that if you were ‘our kind of student,’ well then, you already knew about the University of Chicago,” Nondorf says. “And if you didn’t know about us, you weren’t.”

Nondorf doubled the size of the admissions staff, and the group got to work drumming up more applicants. (Switching to the Common Application, a near-universal college application, didn’t hurt, either.) The number of applications increased so much that the school’s acceptance rate—one of the factors in the U.S. News rankings—went from 39 percent in 2006 to 13 percent in 2012. (That’s still behind, say, Harvard, whose rate was 6 percent.)

The university also embarked on a “nearly $1.5 billion spending spree,” according to Crain’s Chicago Business, building everything from a new library to a new arts center. What’s more, as is typical among elite schools, the U. of C. worked to win the esteem of influencers: journalists, policymakers, and academics. The views of the egghead crowd are precious currency in part because a school’s reputation is given a hefty weight of 22.5 percent in the U.S. News rankings.

When I was applying to colleges, I only gave a brief glance at the U.S. News rankings—cost and the programs offered were much more important factors. As a U of C graduate says in the piece: “Kids who came here for the rankings, they’re the ones who are walking around miserable. The quirk factor is still what marries you to this school.”

Photo: Paul Hsu

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