Many students apply only to the schools with the best college rankings, but what happens when the scores those rankings are partly based on are embellished? Scandals involving colleges that fudged their SAT scores just to rank better should serve as a reminder not to judge schools purely based on college rankings. Instead, other traits should be taken into consideration, too.

The Discovery of Data Manipulation

According to the Chicago Tribune, administrators at some schools have changed the data submitted to US News & World Report to improve their college rankings. For example, Claremont McKenna College was rated ninth on the list of liberal arts schools, which is an appealing ranking for students interested in a small college of this type.

Unfortunately, it turns out this college ranking may not be indicative of the school’s academics. It does show, however, how badly an administrator wanted to rank well on the list, since the submitted SAT scores for incoming freshmen were inflated by up to 30 points.

That might not sound like much, but there is a reason the administrator bothered manipulating the data by so few points: it makes a big difference when it comes to college rankings. Having 30 fewer points would have likely left the school off the list, or at least out of the top ten.

Don’t assume you can avoid data manipulation like this simply by not considering one or two specific colleges. Several schools have been caught inflating scores, too, with Baylor University, Iona College, and even assorted law schools also admitting to data manipulation to score better on college rankings.

Why Be Wary of Rankings?

Even when test scores are free of embellishment, this does not mean that college rankings are always indicative of great academics. Unless you pay attention to exactly how the rankings were determined, they can be misleading.

Many schools use different methods to determine scores, or they may submit scores from completely different tests to the lists that feature college rankings. This can make it hard to directly compare colleges, yet people try to do so through rankings.

In addition, according to The Washington Post, most college rankings incorporate the opinions of college faculty in regards to peer universities. This means that college professors, provosts and other administrators are expected to grade other colleges, which will be included in the rankings.

How Should You Choose a College?

You don’t have to completely ignore college rankings, but do not rely solely on a list of numbers to choose the best school for you. If you want impressive academics, you can find a list of the colleges with the best academic rankings, and then explore each school a little further.

For example, if you are interested in sports or clubs, take a look at the extracurricular activities that are offered at each school. Some colleges have a wide range of clubs, or a lot of support for sports teams.

In addition, you should find a school that has a great program for the major you are interested in. Some colleges that consistently have high rankings may not have the best program for your major. In such cases, you are likely better off choosing a lower-ranked school with a great reputation for your major.

Of course, another way to choose the best college for you is by visiting the campus. College rankings don’t mean much if you can’t stand the weather, campus or general attitude that surrounds you each day at school. That alone is why choosing  a college based only on rankings can be a mistake!

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