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5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using University Rankings

5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using University Rankings main image

While the appeal of university rankings lies largely in their simplicity, they’re actually much more complex than may appear on the surface – and as a result, it’s possible to misinterpret or over-emphasize their meaning. Before you finalize your university shortlist, check that you haven’t made any of these five common mistakes…

1. Approach rankings like a carved-in-stone message from the gods.


Obviously, rankings can give students an overall sense of a university’s performance, but you should keep in mind that rankings can never come close to showing the full picture. This can be especially true in the case of smaller, younger and/or highly specialized institutions, which may not qualify for inclusion in the list.

2. Ignore bunching.


Something that you should really watch out for is ‘bunching’, that is, when universities with relatively similar scores are separated by several ranking places. It would be unfortunate to miss out on great courses just because a university is ranked four or five places below another institution with a virtually identical score. Remember: rankings can fluctuate from year to year, and the university you choose is likely to move up or down a few places every so often. Don’t overemphasize small differences in position.

3. Assume the methodology exactly matches your priorities.


Different rankings prioritize different factors over others. Some rankings place more emphasis on research performance, for instance, while others focus on employer reputation or student to faculty ratio. When consulting any ranking, it’s important read through the methodology – don’t just assume it’s an exact match for your own priorities.

4. Commit yourself to a life of despair and self-flagellation if you don’t get into a top-10 university.


… Because obviously, there are plenty of respectable universities out there that have great resources and facilities, despite being lower down in the rankings! The universities at the very top of the table are not necessarily the best fit for you and what you are trying to achieve. You might discover that you are better matched to another, smaller and less well-known, institution; so don’t shut yourself off to opportunities for the sake of reputation or academic prestige!

5. Ignore subject-specific rankings.


Unlike overall rankings such as the QS World University Rankings®, subject-specific rankings provide a more focused picture of high-performing universities in specific academic areas. Once you have chosen your field, looking at subject-specific rankings, such as the QS World University by Subject, can help you compare departments worldwide (the four points above still apply though!).

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Written by Mathilde Frot
I'm originally French but I grew up in Casablanca, Kuala Lumpur and Geneva. When I'm not writing for QS, you'll usually find me sipping espresso(s) with a good paperback.

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