For high school students who are passionate about research and have set teaching and academia as their professional goal, rankings such as Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) may be excellent resources while choosing schools. These institutions measure university performance based on prestige in research and criteria such as the number of Nobel prize winning faculty, published articles, cited researchers. To these students, ARWU, Times Higher Education and even QS World Rankings to a slightly smaller extent, publish rankings that are meaningful, and they should make use of them.
What about those who are planning to use their university education as a means of gaining the skills to step into the world of professional executives, or entrepreneurs who cannot wait to turn their big ideas into successful businesses, or artists who are hoping to transform minds through the visual stimulation they create and the designs they make? For these people and their likes, it is not the ranking of the school in the above-mentioned lists that can help them choose their “top” schools. Other criteria gain importance-for artists and designers, for example, the location of the school may be one of the important factors as they will need the intellectual and visual stimulation of the major cities of the world to help them develop their vision. For entrepreneurs, specialty schools may be valuable (and they never take place in general rankings) or the nature of the student body may be a chief factor for those business majors who wish to expand their network. The number of internationals in a school may be important for someone who wishes to study communication rather than the number of publications in a university.
To tenth and eleventh graders who are contemplating majors and the countries where they wish to study, the road to successful choices lies in research and investigation. Rankings are for lazy minds, for those who “follow the crowd.” What is easier than to choose a major “X” and write “top schools in major X” in the world or the country you have chosen. Your list is there in seconds. The next step is to look at entry requirements and spend the time until your applications trying to get as close as you can to those requirements. The trap is that students are so wrapped up in trying to achieve the standards of the “top” schools ranked by ARWA or Times or QS or any other ranking that they forget to listen to themselves. Don’t forget teenagers, your inner voice will tell you if you no longer wish to design anything but would rather investigate the role of art in societies, so set aside time from your intensive “requirements prep” for schools or majors you no longer feel interested in and spend it on listening to others and yourself while doing meaningful research. This research cannot be measured by citations or publications but I promise it will be measured by your success in life. Always review the courses offered by the programs, there are so many different ways of studying engineering, or communication or business or architecture. It is only through extensive research into the courses studied in those programs that you can find your fit.
Then I promise you will rank at the top of the students who have managed to discover the overlap between their talents, interests and university programs wherever they may be in the world.