Top University Rankings – Applications and Benefits

The Usefulness of Worldwide University Rankings and How to Benefit from Their Consultation

Story Highlights

University rankings allow for decision-making. They are a tool widely used by various groups, especially by future Higher Education students, as they provide a summarised and reliable overview of education around the world – whether by continent, country, or subject. 

A student consulting University Rankings before starting his application process
A student consulting University Rankings before starting his application process

There are currently around 30,000 higher education institutions worldwide, and as you can imagine, choosing the best ones on your own can quickly become an overwhelming task. Here is some information that will help you understand what kind of data is taken into account when calculating university rankings, why rankings are important, and how to consult university rankings to help you make more informed decisions and choose the best higher education institution for your specific needs. 

Who is The Existence of University Rankings Useful For?

The rankings can be useful to various groups of people: 

  • Students, particularly those who want to decide which university to apply to. As you can imagine, there are many universities that may be of interest to potential students, but they are sometimes located too far away to make checking them out in-person a realistic option. If this sounds like you, keep reading because below you will find13 tips on how to use rankings to choose the best university for you
  • Employers are more than happy to reduce the time of their selection process, because they trust the quality of teaching at reputable Higher Education Institutions.
  • University authorities are attentive to their continuous improvement and competitiveness among other Higher Education Institutions, in order to improve the quality of their performance and social impact. They also wish to improve their reputation and visibility, in order to attract new students and funding grants.
  • Governments, philanthropists, parents, and all those who support Higher Education Institutions financially.  Naturally, these groups want to know where universities are best-rated, as well as where they need more investment and improvement.

What Information Do University Rankings Base Their Calculations On? 

The rankings types are highly varied, and they use different methodologies to assess different criteria with different meanings. Higher Education Institutions are evaluated according to different criteria, among which the following stand out: 

  • Quantity and quality of research
  • Innovation potential 
  • Quality of teaching
  • Investment in resources
  • The international focus of the university
  • Online visibility and social impact of your content
  • Employability potential of the university’s graduates
  • Evaluation of graduate students 

It is important to note that, beyond the difference in the criteria that the rankings use, there is a difference in the way their calculation algorithms are defined.

Rankings are provided by newspapers, magazines, governments, websites and academia. Each has its own interests and each ranking decides the orientation and meaning it gives to each criterion and the weight or importance of the indicators it uses for each criterion. As a result, rankings can often use the same source of information, but reach different conclusions.

Follow this link to find out more about the 13 most popular publishers that produce world university rankings.

Importance of University Rankings For Prospective Students

For students, the importance of the rankings is that they want to get some basic help in deciding which university to apply to. 

Without the rankings, they could easily get lost in the wealth of available information about Higher Education Institutions on the Internet. Many students would probably not even be aware of the existence of some valuable universities, or study and research programmes. 

It would undoubtedly take much longer to search for quality higher education institutions without the ordered and classified listings provided by university rankings. 

University rankings offer a great capacity to summarise and present information on the universities that stand out in the areas that are of interest to the student, who, as mentioned above, want reliable data to make meaningful decisions about their career paths.

The rankings provide value by showing the reader a number of universities that might be of interest, which makes it easier to continue researching from this point of reference by continually narrowing down the qualities that the prospective student is looking for. 

This will point you in the direction of for example other institutions that stand out across the same subject or category you are interested in, where these universities are located, what kind of study programmes they offer, what lines of research they follow, what the requirements are for new students, and what the university facilities and services are like, etc. 

With the information discussed so far combined with the foolowing TED presentation, you as a student will be able to get a clearer idea of how to consider university rankings and determine whether they are truly relevant in your particular case.

Hiroshi Ono, discusses the competitive effect on higher education of the university ranking system

Hiroshi Ono, a sociologist with a background in mechanical engineering, whose research interests include the sociology of education, discusses the competitive effect on higher education of the university ranking system and how recruiters from large companies rely on the pre-selection of their students by well-reputed universities.

Furthermore, it shows how the great competition that exists in the higher education environment is sometimes transferred to students, who have to face certain difficulties in order to get into prestigious universities. This process often causes students great stress during their search for admission, or big disappointments when being rejected. Hiroshi invites students to question their desire to get into the top universities listed in the rankings. And also to understand the need to discover their personal purpose for studying a particular degree before choosing an institution

“The most important thing is to be clear about what you want to study, and what you want to achieve it for.” 

13 Tips For Taking Advantage of Rankings and Choosing The Best University

To get the best out of university rankings, consider these 13 recommendations:

Two surprised students comparing University Rankings on a laptop
  1. Keep in mind the reason for consulting university rankings, so that you can better choose the most appropriate ones for you. (perhaps you want to do a university degree, go on a student exchange, participate in a research exchange, or maybe you want to know which employers are looking for talent in the universities you like to study at. etc.).

  2. Consult various types of rankings that include the indicators you are interested in, and draw your own conclusions using the range of information you find

  3. Cross-reference information. The results of a single isolated ranking represent absolute values of a company or publisher that has its own objectives and methods of calculating the rankings, which could lead to a misguide decision for you, if you interpret these too literally.

  4. Check which criteria and indicators are taken into account by the different rankings you want to consult and the weight or importance they give to each one within their calculation algorithm. 

  5. You can use a comparison tool such as the University Guru portal. It allows you to check all the rankings earned by each university in one place free of charge: Searches can be conducted by subject, nationally or globally. With one click you can compare more than 110 university rankings as well as a large number of genuine student reviews.
    Click here to consult all university rankings in one place

  6. Sometimes there are excellent universities that may not be included among the selection. Remember that there are thousands of universities in the world; and that these rankings only analyse a small number, because they have strict selection criteria. The reason why this happens is for example, because the university in question does not publish a sufficient number of research articles in indexed journals, or because they do not offer undergraduate programmes on their premises and are only dedicated to postgraduate studies and research. Find outhow the ranking publishers choose the universities it includes in its calculations. 

  7. The fact that many universities are left out of the rankings calculations does not mean that they are Inadequate or unworthy. Try to use university rankings more as a gateway and starting point to begin your own research, and avoid being blindly led by biases in the choice of the combination of factors in the rankings and the subjective weights that the providers have decided to give to each evaluation criterion.

  8. When looking at rankings, be aware of your personal situation (your expectations as a student and career aspirations) and the reality, the practical considerations of the institutions that catch your attention. For example: check where these universities are located, their reputation in your area of interest, the culture of the country they are in, your previous qualifications, the university’s requirements for admissions, possible financial aid for foreign students, equipment and services for students on campus, the possibility of finding employment, research or entrepreneurship upon graduating, etc. 

  9. Focus on the possibility of overcoming any limitations and see if the university you choose is a good fit for you and can deliver what you are looking for. 

  10. If you are interested in the importance that employers will give to the fact that you have studied at one university or another, look at the rankings that take into account the type of company you would like to work for after concluding your studies. There are rankings for which these criteria are very important, for example: Global University Employability Ranking

  11. For complementary and more detailed information on some intrinsic aspects of the university itself, which are difficult to see in the lists of positions offered by the rankings, also consult opinions of the alumni of these institutions. 

  12. Some students provide valuable information, offering in-depth details about their experience, while others are more generalist. In any case, bear in mind that one individual’s experience does not guarantee that all other students will feel the same way. 

  13. The combination of different sources of information, from university rankings and student ratings is often very useful in order to make better decisions. 

We suggest you consider all data as a whole by putting your own filter in place, according to what is relevant for kick-starting the enriching experience you’re looking for. 

Higher Education – Pros and Cons of University Rankings

University rankings have their supporters and opponents in the scientific and academic community. The rankings are different and each has their own particularities. However, in general terms, without wanting to lump them all together, the following is a summary of points in favour and against these tools that analyse and compare higher education institutions to offer their ranking lists.

They serve as a basis for students and their families to learn about the study alternatives that stand out from the existing offer. They support decision-makingThey create confusion by presenting different positions for the same university in different ranking publications, because their methodologies are subjective and different.
The rankings are updated regularly, usually annually.The data source used is not updated with the same speed to cover the ranking update period.
The information on the quality of universities is processed independently and neutrally by organisations or companies other than universities. This gives reliability to the comparison provided by the rankings.One might think that there are biases in the positions because there are companies that promote the recruitment of students on the same pages where university rankings are offered. 
Universities receive an additional stimulus to continuously improve and deliver better quality in their teaching, research and student services.University authorities sometimes lose focus on the quality of teaching in order to pay more attention to other activities that are scored more favourably to help them improve their position in the rankings.
They stimulate innovation, scientific research and dissemination of knowledge.Some universities that are more oriented towards teaching or entrepreneurship are at a disadvantage compared to the high weightings given to the production and dissemination of scientific research in indexed journals.
They stimulate partnerships between universities to collaborate with each other in various fields and promote exchange programmes for international students. Universities are more motivated to exchange knowledge, do research and complement each other. Sometimes very few universities make it into the rankings due to the strict criteria of the publishers’ selection process, so there are thousands of very good small universities that do not make it into the picture of Higher Education that reaches students through the rankings listings. 
They are a useful summary for financial supporters and strategic decision-makers, as the rankings provide an external benchmark showing where their institutions require the most investment.The weights given to the assessment criteria and their indicators are subjective, so the level of relevance of a specific area is not the same in all rankings calculations. 
They help to simplify the recruitment process for employers. It is understood that universities with excellent reputations make a selection when admitting students and have a high level of demand to ensure that they produce professionals of the highest calibre.A bias may occur in cases where the level of salaries earned by graduates is used as an indicator. Universities focusing on law, business, medicine or technology will have a more favourable indicator for post-graduation salaries than institutions focusing on arts, literature and humanities. 
They provide a snapshot of higher education that can be consulted globally, by continent, by country and even reviewed by subject area. Each Higher Education Institution has its own philosophy, its alignment with a doctrine that may be more focused towards academia, research, or social impact for innovation or entrepreneurship. These details are not obvious in the picture presented by ranking publishers

The existence of university rankings can be a great advantage if careful attention is paid both to the purpose for which we consult them and to the way in which the positions of the universities in the rankings we choose to review have been calculated. 

All in all, with their advantages and disadvantages, university rankings allow you to get a first impression of the state of Higher Education, which will serve as a starting point for further detailed research and push you towards the most informed and suitable decision for your personal situation.

FAQs About University Rankings

How and where can I consult University Rankings?

University rankings can vary greatly from one agency or publishing institution to another, and although there are some that use the same data as a basis, they tend to give different significance to the key factors they take into account in their calculation algorithms. That is why it is important that you first have a clear idea of why you want to use the university rankings, and then distinguish which ones are relevant for you. Do you want to pursue a university degree, go on a student exchange, participate in a research exchange, or maybe you want to know which employers are looking for talent in the universities you like to study at?

Alternatively, you can consult the University Guru Internet portal where you will find carefully arranged the results from more than 110 university ranking publishers, so you can compare universities by country, by subject, and also discover the opinions of previous students, and much more.

To better understand the uses and applications of university rankings, we recommend you visit the previous link, as well as the following link to find out which factors are taken into account by the 13 most prominent university ranking publishers.

Why are university rankings so important for students?

Students mainly want to ensure that at the end of their studies they will have a high level of knowledge and expertise that is well recognised in the global labour market. However, there are other factors such as campus safety, value for money, and the condition of the facilities, among others, that a student would want to compare in advance before choosing a university to prepare for in the future.

For these reasons, the quality of teaching, as well as factors related to the success of a university’s graduates reported by an external third party, makes consulting university rankings undeniably useful, especially for future Higher Education students, as they provide a summarised and reliable overview of worldwide education – organised either by continent, by country, by subject, etc.

Discover here more about how to use university rankings when choosing which universities to apply to.

Why are university rankings so important for Higher Education Institutions?

University rankings can stimulate innovation, scientific research and knowledge dissemination. Regardless of some of the criticisms that university rankings face, It is a fact that the prestige of a Higher Education Institution (HEI) influences national and international partnerships and collaborations, and funding sources for different types of projects.

Recruitment of new students, recruitment of prominent professors and top scientists, as well as the chances for graduates to achieve professional success, are other aspects that are also favoured when the university has achieved a formidable position in international rankings.

Not all universities in the world are included in the rankings and there are strong criticisms of the methodologies used to calculate the positions of higher education institutions – you can read more about the pros and cons of university rankings here.

What are the benefits of studying in top universities?

Attending the best universities and colleges will not only give you the opportunity to receive a high-quality education, but can also help you to build networks of influence that will open doors for you both during your studies and after graduation.

Here you can learn more about the usefulness of university rankings and how to consult them according to your own goals and objectives.

How University Rankings can help you choose the best university for you?

University rankings can be used in a number of ways, for example as a pre-selection tool, to narrow down the search list of higher education institutions where you want to study.

careers direction field is one of possible students starting points before consulting university rankings

On the one hand, as soon as you are clear about what degree you want to study, you can review which universities are the best to study at for the specific degree of your choice, and then focus on and research the top-ranked universities in the locations around the world for that subject, which are located precisely where you would be willing to go and study.

Another approach when looking at university rankings would be to directly check which types of factors are most important to you and consult the ranking publications that give the highest weight value to those factors you are interested in.

Why are some colleges and universities unranked?

Each algorithm for calculating the position of universities within the rankings uses different types of factors with different weights. For example: sometimes the institution in question is not being nominated for ranking at all because it has a low number of research papers indexed in scientific journals. Others are not included because of the small number of students under their roof. Not appearing in university ranking listings does not necessarily mean that those universities are of a high academi standard or good enough in any other area.

To better understand why some very good higher education institutions fail to make the rankings, we suggest you read the pros and cons of university rankings.

Fabiola López Marín

Content Creator and Editor. Lived in: Spain, the USA, Sweden, and Venezuela. Studied at: University Autónoma of Barcelona (Dr.oec.), University of Barcelona (Master in Digital Journalism). University of the Andes (Bachelor in Public Accounting)
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