Many places rank universities, but do these rankings matter?

It depends.  Few people choose universities based on rank only, but sometimes, rankings are useful.

colleges for international students
Elmira College, taken by HckySo

But first, where do the university rankings come from?

The USA Today puts out a well-known ranking of US colleges and universities.  For international universities, probably the most well-known are the QS rankings and the Times Rankings.

What do these rankings really mean?  Let’s take a look.  Times gives a detailed, complex, description of its method, but QS seems to have the simplest explanation about the measurements they use:

Academic reputation from a global survey–This is 40% of the ranking, a large amount. In fact, it is the largest percentage.

The others are Faculty-Student Ratio and Citations per Faculty:  Both of these are 20% each.  That brings us to 80%, and the remainder is made up of Employer Reputation, 10%, (meaning the reputation of the college among employers); and percentage of international students, 5%, and international faculty, 5%.

So what does that tell us?  Reputation is important, of course, and we can assume that universities with a good reputation probably are high quality.

As a student, for example an international student looking for a university, we can use these rankings as a reference.

Let’s say that you live in one of the Asian countries and are interested in coming to the US to study. How would you use these rankings?

Probably, you have already thought about the kind of university you are interested in.  You can then use the rankings and sub rankings to get more information.

For example, most students will have some idea of what they want to study (or know that they want to explore many subject areas before deciding), where they want to study (what geographic area), and what size of institution they are looking for.  With these in mind, they can look at the rankings and narrow their choices down.

For example, you can narrow your search by looking at rankings by major or by subject.

Pick a few colleges that you think are interesting and then do some more research into them.

University rankings are a tool.  They are not the most important tool–that is you and your preferences.  However, they can help you get another view of the universities or colleges.  With several different kinds of rankings, they might be useful in anyone’s search for a good university for them.