Rank your top 10 favorite movies (action, animation, comedy...). Now compare that with a few national listings. How do they compare? I'm sure you have a few similar choices. They have something ranked high that you've never heard of before reading the list. In the end, you probably liked your list better than the professionals, right?
Now do the same with your favorite music. Now pizza. Now tacos. Now colleges.
College rankings are wonderful marketing tools used by magazine or service providers to share their perspective on higher education. While these lists do provide a snapshot of what the college offers, you should not value one ranking list over the other, nor should you spend a lot of energy comparing your starting list of colleges to the list.
Each list has a different top 10. Lists will come and go (LinkedIn shut down their higher education tools including their college ranking list). Each company uses different methodology (college presidents, student responses, economic data, social data...) to create their ranking. Some institutions, like one university in South Carolina, make strategic decisions to boost their ranking. So just like, movie rankings, college ranking lists are subjective.
Use ranking lists as tools, not rules. You need your own personalized list. Start by asking if your list reflects your personal goals and interests.
The most recent list comes from the New York Times. The College Access Index ranks colleges by economic diversity (family income, the net price students pay, and at least a five-year graduation rate of seventy-five percent.
The Fiske Guide (book form only) asks open-ended questions. US News & World Report uses fifty different types of numerical rankings. Forbes (CCAP) draws from many third part sources including RateMyProfessor, PayScale, and awards like the Oscars and Grammy's.. Niche (College Prowler) uses "a comprehensive assessment of more than 1,100 U.S. colleges based on millions of statistics and student reviews."
Other national lists include Kiplinger, Washington Monthly, Princeton Review, Business Insider, Money, and the Wall Street Journal Two international ranking lists include QS World and the Times Higher Ed World University Rankings.
As you will quickly see, each organization creates their own scientific formula, or methodology, to determine which colleges and universities it considers best. When you visit my college ranking page, you will see the methodology along with some data points. The weights (or percentage) given to each category may change from year-to-year.
You need to decide which list to use - if any. And remember to enjoy the college planning process. This is supposed to be fun!
Combining my youth ministry and educational consulting experience, I guide students to connect higher education with God's calling.