Times Higher Education ranking tool to compare US universities

THEBy now most of us have been flooded with different kinds of rankings. THE, Shanghai and QS with their composite scores that rely rather heavily on research have been accompanied by a multitude rankings on all possible and impossible indicators – from university ICT visibility, employability and reputation to the best place to party.

THE World University Rankings has now also compiled a set of US universities in terms of Average SAT score, acceptance rate as well as total number of students enrolled. On THE website, one can also find the tool with out of state tuition fees included. Aligning these results with the ranking from the annual THE rankings, some interesting cases emerge.

The institutional profiles of the top universities clearly differ. Institutions such as UCLA and UC Berkeley have a much more open acceptance rate amongst the top ranked US universities. While Harvard has an acceptance rate of 6%, then Berkeley accepts 22% and UCLA 27% of the applicants, indicating that not all of the institutions in the top are equally selective. The institutions also vary greatly in terms of size, but it is not the case that the most selective institutions are the smallest, the emerging picture is rather varied. Harvard has in fact over 27 000 students, whereas CalTech has only just over 2200 students, and an acceptance rate of 13%. The highest acceptance rate amongst the top universities is at University of Washington which in the THE ranking is on the 25th place but takes in a whole 58% of the applicants.

The very largest institutions, University of Phoenix, Ashford, and Arizona State University are also amongst those that either are not ranked, or do not perform particularly well in the composite ranking. Of the five largest, only Arizona State University is part of the THE ranking, on #146 position. While on a global scale this is a good position, the students they attract in the US clearly have much lower average SAT scores than the better ranked institutions as their acceptance rate is at 89%. At the other end one can find Georgetown, a rather selective institution that accepts 18% of the students, but is well behind in the rankings of other equally selective institutions, being in fact ranked under Arizona, on #160.

The most selective institutions in order are Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Princeton, Yale, MIT, Brown and Dartmouth. The latter two both having an acceptance rate of 10% but being well down in the rankings (on #52 and #126 respectively). While CalTech has a higher acceptance rate than Harvard (13% vs 7%), it nevertheless has the highest average SAT scores, suggesting that with its size and specific profile it attracts a particular type of students. Regarding average SAT scores, Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Washington University in St Louis follow, the latter being ranked as #42 in the overall rankings. Amongst those with high SAT averages and relatively seen low ranking position are also Vanderbilt and Dartmouth.

The overall emerging picture suggests that in general those institutions that are highly selective are also the ones who perform well and have higher SAT scores. However, the relationship is not given and there are many cases that stand out. One can question what the relationship is between selectivity, size, SAT scores and what the composite rankings measure. Do they measure some aspects of some sort of overall quality in the broadest term, or do they measure different and perhaps unrelated aspects of higher education institutions? Does size matter and how and what is it that is actually being ranked? How much will rankings matter for student choice in the long run?

 Note that there is also a similar comparison tool for UK universities, which can be found here