Studying in America and Canada  

3.5.2 School Reputation or Ranking

The reputation and rankings are two separate items, although admittedly correlated. The reputation of a school is built over the years, if not decades, by its graduating students who have become successful. It is a qualitative perception. It has inertia and it changes ever so slightly, if at all, from year to year. There is no particular source for finding out the reputation of a school, it just is. The rankings, however, are a different story.

Rankings change often, sometimes from month to month, depending on when the latest rankings are released. We often come across remarks about "the top 10 schools" in America or Canada. The question is: in whose opinion? Who determined the rankings and how? Isn't it a subjective evaluation, or at best a quantitative number-crunching on subjective criteria? Do others agree? Why or why not? The fact is there is no universal agreement on school rankings. You get the idea: there is no such thing as the school rankings. Schools like Harvard, Stanford, and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), with arguably the best reputations in the world, get their rankings bounced around from being in the top few to being in the top teens. So what are their "real" rankings? Who knows! But we do know that, despite such variations in rankings, their reputation is very much intact and it isnít going to change anytime soon.

Unlike India, ranking schools is a common practice in America. There are multiple sources, which produce college rankings periodically. It is a journalistic endeavor and a quite lucrative one. Every time a source puts out new rankings, the evaluation process and the rankings are immediately embraced, complimented, criticized, debated, rejected, and ignored - all at the same time - by the winners and losers. We are saying this to make you aware of the fact that depending on the methodology, the rankings vary and they vary quite dramatically at times. You must refer to multiple sources of rankings, understand the methodologies and rigor in the evaluation, and analyze the results carefully to create your own rankings. You can find various sources for college rankings in the iMahal Education Channel (http://www.imahal.com/education).

College rankings exist and we encourage you to research them carefully, basically because you will get different points-of-view from multiple sources on various colleges. College reputation and ranking are appealing and interesting. But when applying for admission or financial aid, they are not really relevant. How do they relate to your chances of success?

The implicit assumption is that the higher the ranking of a college, the more competitive or selective it would be for admission and financial aid. First, this is simply not true. Second, even if it were true, why not deal directly with the competitiveness or selectivity issue? Your focus should be on the selectivity: how selective a school is and whether you can succeed in your quest. The more selective the school, the higher its reputation is either today or it will be in the future. The more difficult something is to attain or obtain, the more prestigious it is. Selectivity is a free market indicator of the supply and demand imbalance in the marketplace. When far more students want admission than the school can admit, the school is held in high regard. The selectivity for admission is not prone to subjective evaluation that is inevitably a part of school rankings. Regardless, selectivity is the relevant indicator for you.

You can read the schools rankings material from other sources. We will focus in on the selectivity indicator as we help you target colleges.

We wish to address the issue of "accredited" or "recognized" schools, before we leave this discussion. The notion of accredited or recognized schools is from British heritage, where the government gets in the business of bestowing honors on "acceptable" schools. Such is not the case in America. Accreditation is conducted by independent and private organizations, and not by the government. It is conducted for individual programs of study and typically not for the entire college. Accreditation is not a worthwhile exercise for highly reputed and prestigious schools, because it takes time and effort and all they get in return is a badge of approval from an entity that itself is not as prestigious as the college. While it is valuable for average or below-average colleges to demonstrate that they have an acceptable level of education, many top-tier schools simply ignore the accreditation ritual. The concept of recognized schools does not exist in America and Canada at all. Employers in America and Canada are not particularly interested in whether your school is accredited. They are interested in the quality of your education regardless of the accreditation status of your college, and they are interested in your personal capabilities and skills. The further away you are on the time scale from your graduation, the less your degrees matter relative to your demonstrated record of success.

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