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By Spencer Pevsner & Valerie Erde
Before you decide how to apply to college, you need to decide where. With thousands of colleges and universities across the U.S. and overseas, building a college application list can be a daunting task.

There's More Than One Way to Organize Rankings
Many parents have only heard of one set of rankings: U.S. News and World Report’s Best Colleges. While this is by far the best-known list, it is by no means the only set of rankings out there.
For the record, U.S. News and World Report rankings try to encompass a pretty complete picture of what a college or university’s quality is like overall. That means their rankings are based on a board set of criteria, including, but not limited to:
  • SAT/ACT scores of admitted students
  • Graduation rates
  • Faculty quality
  • Financial resources
    While these factors are all certainly worthy of note, they are not necessarily the things that will determine if a school is the right fit for any given student. Perhaps most notably, these rankings don't make it easy to tease out which factors are most important to you.
Rankings Based on Return on Investment (ROI)
Georgetown University’s Centers on Education and the Workforce has put out its own rankings based on ROI – namely, how much money graduates make on average, both immediately after graduating as well as five, 10, 20, 30, and 40 years down the line. Their report, A First Try at ROI: Ranking 4,500 Colleges, finds that on average bachelor’s degrees from private colleges have a higher ROI than degrees from public colleges 40 years after enrollment. Community colleges and many certificate programs have the highest returns in the short term, though returns from bachelor’s degrees eventually overtake those of most two-year credentials.

Rankings Have Their Place, But Use Them Wisely
The rankings companies are in some ways victims of their own success: Their widespread popularity has, paradoxically, led to them becoming less useful over the years.
In short, rankings should never be the sole or even primary factor in deciding what schools to apply to — and you should take them with a huge grain of salt. Rankings are most useful in narrowing down the range of schools you're considering, but at the end of the day, personal preferences about school size, region, majors, and educational philosophy are far more important. So consider college rankings as just one of many tools at your disposal — and a subjective one at that.



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