Get Smart About College Rankings - COLLEGEdata - Explore Colleges
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Get Smart About College Rankings

It's easy to assume that a highly ranked college is a good choice. But is a "best" college really the best one for you?

The buzz around college rankings is impossible to miss. Putting some "top" schools on your college list may look like an obvious and easy decision. But rankings should support—not replace—your own research.

Who's on First: You or the Rankings?

It takes time and careful thought to find colleges that will fit you well. It might be tempting to let a college ranking point the way. But before you start adding top-ranked colleges to your list, ask yourself the questions below.

How Does the Ranking Define a "Good" College?

It can be hard to see why some colleges get to the top—or even get on the list in the first place. Look for an explanation of what college qualities are valued—and how they are measured.

  • Each ranking assumes that certain college qualities are more important than others. For example, some rankings highly value academic strength. Some highly value the quality of student life.
  • Some rankings rely on subjective input, such as opinions of college professionals or students. Others use objective data, such as qualifications of entering freshmen, graduation rates, or sizes of college endowments.

What Does It Take to Get to the Top of the List?

The organization conducting the ranking should provide an explanation of how it collects data and opinions, and how it weights these factors.

  • The famous U.S. News ranking gives a great deal of weight to a "peer assessment survey," in which college presidents rate other colleges similar to their own. They are not asked how familiar they actually are with those colleges.
  • For its "America's Best College Buys," Forbes bases 25 percent of the ranking on student ratings of professors. But participation in the student ratings is not monitored. Anyone, including those outside the college, can rate a professor.

Can the Ranking Help Your College Search?

A ranking might be useful if it reflects what you want in a college. Rankings can also educate you about college qualities you may have overlooked, such as campus safety and rate of admission to graduate schools.

  • Look at specialized rankings. Students interested in a college's environmental polices might take a look at the annual Sierra Club college ranking. U.S. News ranks national liberal arts colleges and regional universities, which might include schools you may have overlooked.
  • Student opinion rankings can give you an insider's take on dorm food, the off-campus atmosphere, what students do for fun, and more. Just be sure the opinions gathered are only from students at that college.

To explore a range of rankings, take a look at the list of undergraduate college rankings from University of Illinois.

Turn to the Ranking That Counts the Most—Yours!

Do yourself a favor. Don't start with the ranking, start with you. The most meaningful college ranking is based on qualities that make a college a good fit for you. The colleges you put on your list should be ranked highly—by you.

What's Next?

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COLLEGEdata Dollars are
points you earn by
completing certain
COLLEGEdata activities

Ways to earn
COLLEGEdata Dollars:

  • Complete your Admissions Profile.
  • Add colleges to your College Choices.
  • Update your Admissions Statuses.
  • Use the College Match tool.

What are COLLEGEdata Dollars (CD$)?

COLLEGEdata Dollars (CD$) are points you earn by completing certain COLLEGEdata activities. The maximum number of CD$ you can redeem is 5000. Once you have earned at least 2500 CD$, you can redeem them for $25, which will be provided to you on a Loyalty Card, and once you earn another 2500 CD$, you can redeem those CD$ for a second $25, which will also be provided to you on a Loyalty Card.

Earn points and redeem them for
U.S. Dollars

Complete certain COLLEGEdata activities (for example, signing up, starting your Admissions Profile, searching for colleges, calculating your chances for admission, searching for scholarships, updating your Profile with your admission decisions). Each activity is worth a specific amount of points (CD$). You can redeem the points you earn for U.S. Dollars that will be issued to you in the form of a 1st Financial Bank USA Loyalty Mastercard®.

How do I earn COLLEGEdata Dollars?

You can earn CD$ by completing certain COLLEGEdata activities. As soon as you sign up and activate your COLLEGEdata account, explore COLLEGEdata and begin completing COLLEGEdata activities to earn points.

Here is a full list of COLLEGEdata activities for which you may earn CD$ and the number of CD$ you can earn by completing each activity.*

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Check your CD$ Dashboard at the bottom of the page to view your CD$ balance, find other activities that you can complete to earn CD$, and redeem the CD$ you have earned for U.S. Dollars.