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Looking beyond traditional rankings (a U.S. perspective)

Diploma Programme (DP) graduate Ayman Siraj advises students on how to use U.S. university rankings when choosing what university to attend. This is ­­his second story in our graduate voices series.

Looking beyond traditional rankings (a U.S. perspective)

By Ayman Siraj

College rankings are an integral part of any aspiring college student’s journey to making a list of colleges they are going to apply to (and maybe even deciding which college to go to)—especially for international students wanting to come to the United States (U.S.) to study. Many of us stick to the most common rankings: U.S. News, QS World University Rankings, Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) & the Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings.

It’s also 2020, so you’ve also probably gotten the spiel that rankings aren’t accurate, they don’t reflect the actual quality or value of all university or college degrees. That, to some extents, is true. However, my four years of college in the U.S. and experience helping my brother go through the same process of building a list of colleges to apply, made me realize there are many rankings that are useful in determining what criteria is meaningful for you in your college search. Each one of us has unique circumstances and thus, one ranking may be better for us to consider rather than just using the most popular ones. There are lists that rank universities by criteria that I think many of you consider but don’t really get a chance to critically compare among universities. I hope these suggested rankings below can help you use what is important to you to narrow your search for a university in the United States.

Note: Please do your own due diligence and read up on the methodology of any ranking you look into. Knowing what factors a list is using to weigh universities can go a long way in helping you determine if the ranking is relevant to your aspirations. I guarantee 99 percent of people don’t even care to look into the weighting and data used.

“Each one of us has unique circumstances and thus, one ranking may be better for us to consider rather than just using the most popular ones.”

My goal is to … earn the most money after graduation.

PayScale’s College Salary Report, is a website that tracks salary data of college graduates and has a ranking of which university graduates earn the most money after graduation. Their break down includes both early-career earnings and mid-career earnings. You will find your usual suspects with big names but you’ll also find many universities that you would not have expected to be there. WSJ has a similar search tool that lets you compare earnings vs. debt by university and major.

My goal is to … get the most financial aid.

Student Loan Hero has a ranking of universities that have the most generous financial aid policies. With the rising cost of college in the U.S., financial aid is the differentiating factor, for many, that determines which college they decide to attend. WalletHub has a similar ranking as well that focuses on, “top-performing schools at the lowest possible costs to undergraduates”.

My goal is to … find a university that current students rate highly.

It can be hard to differentiate from a great website, admissions tour or word of mouth when deciding on a university. Do I attend this university because everyone says it’s really good? Should I attend because the admissions tour was great? Well fear not, Niche ranks universities based on millions of alumni and student reviews. Check out their 2020 college rankings here.

My goal is to … work in Silicon Valley.

Quartz has a neat list of which colleges send the most graduates to Silicon Valley. Many STEM graduates come to study in the US and with many folks catching on to the fact that technology jobs pay the most straight out of college, it’s important for one with aspirations to make it in the technology scene to pick the right university.

My goal is to … attend a university that is at the forefront of innovation.

If you are research-focused, the usual rankings may not offer the insight you are looking for as you go about building a list of colleges to apply to. Reuters has a ranking of the world’s most innovative universities. The ranking focuses on the number of patents filed by a university and how impactful their research is to other researchers across the world.

My goal is too … attend a university with a strong alumni network.

In the U.S., alumni networks are a very important aspect of the college experience for many reasons. Alumni come back on campus at a greater rate to recruit for positions from the companies they work at and are also more likely to help a current student when contacted for advice due to the shared experience of being educated at the same place. College Consensus has a neat ranking of the most supportive alumni networks in the country.

What’s your favorite ranking?

I personally am a fan of the WSJ/THE Rankings. They are probably the newest entrant among the major rankings. The reason I like the ranking is that even though they have their own formula of ranking universities, they let you sort by factors such as outcomes, resources, engagement, environment, etc. They also let you customize the ranking to what is important to you by allowing you to change the weight of each factor in the overall ranking.

Enough of rankings … I got you!

While rankings may give you an idea of where universities stand, there’s a better way to get a, “real feel”, of your shortlisted universities. While you may have had the chance to attend an on-campus tour or information session in your city or school, the best way to learn about a university is to talk to students who are experiencing it right now. The easiest way is to email the admissions office and ask if they can set-up a call between you and someone who is currently studying in your intended major or department. These conversations are so invaluable and will give you insight that you will never find online.

I don’t expect everyone in high school to have a LinkedIn account but consider making one. It’s a great way to find current students at universities you are looking into and, trust me, they will be more than happy to talk to you if you shoot them a nicely crafted message. Good luck on your college search, it’s stressful but the moment you get your first acceptance, it is very fulfilling.

Ayman 600

Ayman Siraj is a graduate of Kodaikanal International School, Tamil Nadu, India. He continued his studies at the University of Southern California (USC) in the United States. He has been working at PricewaterhouseCoopers as a Cybersecurity consultant since graduating from USC. On weekends, you are likely to find him playing football (soccer), aimlessly scrolling through memes on social media or missing being home in Bangladesh. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or Instagram.

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