These 6 college rankings take 'arbitrary' to a whole new level

Another day, another set of college rankings. According to a recent report by the American Council on Education, students don't really care about them.

In the survey, only 24% of college freshmen from affluent families — the students longed-for by many colleges — said rankings were "very important" in their decision to enroll. That number fell to 10% for low- and middle-income students, who are much more likely to look at schools close to home — even if they are high achievers.

Still, rankings persist, breeding "negative consequences" when schools attempt to climb the list. More admissions, for example, are denied in order to appear more selective. And that's not even taking into account the number of schools that land in hot water after being caught submitting doctored data.

It's debatable whether the much-lauded rankings produced by U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, Princeton Review and others are arbitrary. As the following six examples show, an onslaught of seriously superfluous lists — whether because of topic, source, or methodology — are making the rounds every day. 

1. RateMyProfessors.com's Schools With The Best Professors

Each year, RateMyProfessors.com, a site owned by MTVu that allows students assign ratings to instructors, pores over its data to purportedly find out which colleges and universities have the best professors. Maybe it's just us, but it's a little bit hard to take the list seriously given the tendency for higher ratings to typically be assigned to those with easier courses (or those who students considered "hot," who are also awarded a tamale icon). For what it's worth, though, Duke University topped the 2013 list after not even being in the top 25 the previous year, booting 2012's No. 1 Stanford down to fourth place.

2. The Daily Beast's Sexiest Colleges

Where to even begin with this one? The 20 "Sexxxiest Colleges" are part of The Daily Beast's "Down + Dirty Guide to the Best Colleges 2013," where they're lumped in among a few other lists we can only assume are more serious, like "Worst ROI," "Healthiest," and "Happiest." Maybe you can dispute the latter, but there are serious campus culture factors that could theoretically contribute to such a metric.

According to the site, schools' "sexiness" was ranked using data on guys and girls from Niche.com's College Prowler (which just sounds creepy) and an annual Trojan campus sexual health report card, all weighted equally. Not only is 2/3 of its metric subjective, but it has  nothing to do with the educational experience overall. The Daily Beast isn't the only publication to do this, but it is perhaps the only one attempting to attach a serious metric.

3. The Daily Beast's Best Party Colleges

Another hit from The Daily Beast's "Down + Dirty Guide," this one focuses on party schools. As with its list of the sexiest colleges, the publication attempts to rank the 20 schools included using a serious metric — again looking to College Prowler data for the schools with the most social drinkersbest party scenemost party guys, and most party girls. Playboy also does a better-known party school ranking (SFW link from Huffington Post) with National Center for Education Statistics, NCAA, and Census data along with social media feedback.

This is probably the least prestigious of all lists a college or university could land on from a mission standpoint, but it's unfortunately also the kind of list that's likely to catch some prospective students' eyes.

4. Business Insider's Public Colleges With The Smartest Students

Just like The Daily Beast, Business Insider looked to Niche when it assembled a list of the 20 public colleges with the smartest students. The thing is, though, that Niche's smartest girls and smartest guys lists don't explicitly state what metrics were used. Our guess, based on Niche's profiles for the institutions listed, would be average ACT and SAT scores, and perhaps admission rates. Standardized test scores, however, don't necessarily measure intelligence so much as memory.

At least when Forbes went this route with "The 25 Colleges With The Smartest Students," it tried to be innovative by measuring student scores on Lumosity's "cognitive training games" — though it did note that success on these games may have more to do with repetition and skill than cognitive ability.

5. Business Insider's Best College Campuses

Business Insider employed a more complex methodology for its 20 Best College Campuses, determining its rankings using Princeton Review's own lists of schools with the best libraries, financial aid, career services, health services, campus food, dorms, architecture and landscaping, ease of travel, quality of life, and town-gown relations. The list was fairly diverse, ranging from the Ivy League to technical schools.

That said, several of those factors — wide-ranging campus dining options, the nicest dorms, a beautiful campus — aren't necessarily required for a great college experience. They're just great amenities. 

6. Slate's Super-Official College-Rankings Rankings

Having seemingly had enough with college rankings all together, Slate Senior Technology Writer Will Oremus compiled the ultimate arbitrary rankings list in September, when he ranked the rankings themselves. The satirical list poked fun at what he saw as the arbitrary methodologies used by these lists, as well as the tendency for corrections in the U.S. News list in particular.

Among the highlights for rankings cynics: Mixed in among the various publications are "Informal survey of your friends," "Throwing darts at a dartboard," and "Your father's strong opinions based on his memories of where he and his buddies went to school 32 years ago" —​ all of which ranked higher than U.S. News and Forbes.


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