Students weigh in on college rankings

By Marissa Meredyth

Many prospective college students turn to popular school-ranking publications to simplify a hard… Many prospective college students turn to popular school-ranking publications to simplify a hard decision. These listings have the potential to change their opinion about Pitt.

College and university rankings often come in the form of a number or letter that dramatically simplifies the many different aspects that make up an education, yet many students continue to place emphasis on these scores when deciding which schools to apply to and eventually attend.

The University fell from 56th to 64th in US News & World Report’s Best Colleges 2011 in the category of National Universities.

Pitt senior Jacob Brett, a politics and philosophy major in the Honors College, said he definitely remembers looking at rankings. But just because he looked doesn’t mean they were a decisive factor in his choice.

“I think I got some book, The Princeton Review’s Best Colleges,” Brett said. “I had been to D.C. before and liked it, so I applied to George Washington University and American University in addition to Pitt.”

He got into George Washington, American and Pitt, he said. George Washington was too expensive, so his choice became between Pitt and American.

Brett said that he asked the opinions of teachers he really respected in high school to help make that choice. They all said to go to Pitt. This year, US News ranked American 79th.

As described on its website, the organization ranks colleges and universities to help students “make one of the most important decisions of [their] life,” and that the rankings should just be one tool for selecting a college — not something upon which a student should rely solely.

“I’m pretty satisfied with Pitt,” Brett said, “Sometimes I wish I was in a bigger city and being a political science major in D.C. may have been better. But, it is easier to network here which has opened a lot of doors for me personally.”

Data used for these rankings was collected during the spring and summer of 2010 by Common Data Set, an initiative which describes itself as a combined effort of the College Board, Peterson’s, and US News & World Report to research higher education institutions.

“The combined goal of this collaboration is to improve the quality and accuracy of information provided to all involved in a student’s transition into higher education,” the Common Data Set website said.

Even so, Pitt freshman Scott Salo said, “I don’t pay attention to rankings. I chose Pitt because of its name recognition out of state.”

Salo had not heard of Pitt’s fall in rankings this year and did not think it mattered.

“It will make it easier for me to get a job with an education from Pitt then if I graduated from a school no employer has heard of, despite what number it is ranked,” Salo said.

US News & World Report used this data to place schools in four categories: National Universities, National Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Universities and Regional Colleges. Pitt is considered one of the National Universities, of which there are 262 total — 164 public, 98 private. These universities offer full ranges of undergraduate majors, as well as masters and doctoral degrees,many of which emphasize research.

Of top public universities, Pitt ranks 23rd, a drop from 20th last year.

National Universities are ranked by seven main categories: academic reputation, student selectivity, faculty resources, graduation and retention rates, financial resources, alumni giving and graduation rate performance.

Many of these weighted categories also have subfactors within that determine the weight of the main category. Academic reputation is determined by two subfactors: a peer assessment survey which counts for two-thirds of the score and high school counselor rating score which accounts for the remaining third.

Peer assessment rates how a school is regarded by administrators at peer institutions. The US News & World Report determines the scores by surveying the presidents, provosts and deans of admissions.

They are asked to rate peer schools’ undergraduate academic programs on a scale of one: marginal to five: distinguished. The survey conducted in spring 2010 was completed by 48 percent of those surveyed, the same as completed it the previous year.

Other information regarding ranking criteria definitions and weights can be found on