Yale placed fifth nationally in a new set of college rankings released Tuesday.
The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings released its first-ever list of 500 higher education institutions, ranked by each school’s benefit to its students, not by admissions statistics. While other ranking services emphasize selectivity, the WSJ/THE ranking is designed to shift the priorities of college applicants away from selectivity and toward the practical skills and employment prospects colleges provide.
But while the ranking’s creators are attempting to refocus the college application debate, college admissions experts are skeptical that much will change about how high school students select colleges.
“Despite the efforts of a lot of educators, rankings are still quite important for students and their families in making initial choices for schools to look at,” said Parke Muth, former associate dean of admissions at University of Virginia and an independent college counselor. “They feed into an incredibly competitive process.”
WSJ/THE uses four metrics in ranking schools — success after graduation, educational resources, student engagement and diversity. Despite this new model, the list of top schools remains relatively the same as on other lists.
With 90.4 points out of a possible 100, Yale was 1.6 points behind top-ranked Stanford. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania also ranked above Yale with overall scores between 90.8 and 91.3. Harvard University trailed Yale in sixth place, and Brown University’s 20th place ranking was the lowest in the Ivy League.
In a statement on the Yale Admissions website, former Dean of Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel ’75 cautioned prospective applicants to avoid focusing too much on college rankings.
“Make no mistake: the publication of college rankings is a business enterprise that capitalizes on anxiety about college admissions,” Brenzel wrote, adding that rankings “encourage schools to expend resources on things that move their ranking positions rather than things that serve their students.”
The WSJ/THE ranking joins an already crowded field of college ranking services. In several major global rankings, Yale fell between 11th and 15th worldwide this year.
In national rankings Yale tends to place closer to the top. The widely circulated US News and World Report’s annual college ranking, which this year put Yale third in the nation, has been criticized for perpetuating an obsession with school ranks. Muth added that rankings often narrow the college choices of international students applying to U.S. schools.
“[The US News ranking] wasn’t done by a bunch of scientists — it was just a few guys wondering how to sell more magazines,” Muth said. “The idea that there is somehow a distinction between schools a few places aparton rankings is just ridiculous.”
Of 12 students interviewed, seven said rankings were more influential in choosing where to apply, but not in deciding where to matriculate.
Alejandra Canales ’20 said rankings were largely inconsequential in her final decision. Still, she added that rankings helped expose her to lesser-known liberal arts schools.
Though Lawrence Early ’20 said Yale’s engineering program had a lower ranking than the programs at other schools to which he was accepted, he decided that Yale’s atmosphere mattered more than any single number. Hiral Doshi ’17 echoed this, saying that feeling comfortable on campus and among other students was an important factor in deciding where to matriculate.
Brendon Bouphachay ’18 spent two years at Rochester’s Monroe Community College before transferring to Yale. His decision to apply to Yale was not based on its numerical ranking, but rather on the strength of the University’s Political Science Department. Bouphachay added that his two years at a community college convinced him that numerical rankings were of lesser importance. Still, Bouphachay defended the utility of rankings, which he said offer first-generation college applicants a window into the world of higher education.
“Once you get to know more about yourself and your interests, college rankings become an arbitrary factor,” Bouphacay said.