Students considering graduate school often look to rankings as a means to determine where they might receive the best education. After all, a graduate level education can be very costly and the variety of graduate schools can make comparing schools seem overwhelming. Here, we will take a brief look at the methods behind ranking schools and how to determine which institution is best for you.
How are Graduate Schools Ranked and What Does it Mean?
Several publications provide annual graduate school rankings. The means by which publications rank graduate schools varies because each publication has different criteria. As a result each publication displays different rankings; however, on occasion these rankings appear similar.
One such publication, perhaps the most prominent that does college rankings, is U.S. News & World Report http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/college/rankings/rankindex_brief.php. Know for school rankings since 1983, they collect data from surveys they send to schools and from opinion-based surveys sent to faculty. They base their rankings on peer assessments as well as graduation rates, financial resources, average GRE scores, and student-to-professor ratio in addition to a number of other criteria.
Another popular publication, StudentsReview.com, http://www.studentsreview.com/methodologies.shtml collects data about institutions by surveying the students themselves rather than looking at numbers. Some fear that this would be unbalanced should any students make negative remarks, but this risk is countered with very specific, student-created and refined questions such as “What is the % of professors that speak English clearly in your department?" and "Rate the campus maintenance (A-F).”
School rankings utilize many different factors to determine where a college ranks, be it top-10, top-50, or top 100. In the end, the meaning of that ranking is only determined by the student considering the school. While rankings can be quite useful in helping you to grade the schools you're considering, you should always make sure that you understand what criteria was used in determining that ranking.
So How Do I make a Choice?
When it comes down to the bottom line, no school ranking list can meet all of your personal criteria. You have several unique needs and factors that you must carefully weigh before you choose a graduate school. A good place to start is by understanding what you want, what you need, and what you would like to accomplish with a graduate education.
Another way to choose a school is by carefully examining the program you would like to pursue. A good way to do this is by simply visiting the campus. Once there, you will be able to get a feel for the environment and determine if it is something that you would be satisfied with. Some key factors to consider would be the location and the attitudes of the individuals around you. If you do not like the region and the people are not befitting to you, it could be unwise to pursue an education at that institution. Additionally, you can look at the interests of the faculty as graduate education is very involved and can require heavy student/faculty interaction. It's important that the faculty meet your expectations.
In the end, which school is best is entirely up to you as a student. While rankings are a helpful tool, even the highest ranked graduate school might not be the best fit for your educational needs. Rankings in addition to the consideration of your own needs should help you to iron out all of the details in finding the best graduate school for you.
Some Helpful Links for Making a Graduate School Decision