Why Students Choose Colleges Based on Academic Reputation — And Why It Matters

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When students choose a college or university, they’re essentially choosing their future. They’re deciding which school will be on their resume for the rest of their life, which campus offers the best education, and where they’ll network with future professionals. So of course, students want to attend a school that will give them the best foundation for success. For many students, that means choosing a college that has the best academic reputation.

Academic Reputation is Essential in Education

According to the American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2013, a very good academic reputation was the most important factor influencing college decisions. The survey, conducted by the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) asked 165,743 students at 234 colleges and universities why they chose the college they’re currently attending. They were offered 23 factors, and asked to indicate which ones were “very important.” Reputation took three of the top five most important factors in college choice:

1. College has very good academic reputation (64.0 percent)

2. This college’s graduates get good jobs (53.1 percent)

3. I was offered financial assistance (48.7 percent)

4. The cost of attending this college (45.9 percent)

5. College has a good reputation for its social activities (44.1 percent)

Students want to know that their college has a good academic reputation, graduates are reported to get good jobs, and the college has a reputation for good social interaction. College cost is also a major concern, with students choosing schools that offer financial assistance or an affordable cost of attendance.

Why Academic Reputation Matters to Students

Academic reputation is largely subjective. Even Times Higher Education admits this much in their 2014 world reputation rankings. It’s difficult to assign a numbered score to a university’s reputation, but despite this hardship, schools are still judged on their academic reputation by students, employers, professionals, and fellow academics. Reputation has become the currency of global higher education today, says Times Higher Education.

Though reputation may be influenced and distorted by factors like marketing and rumors, the impact of reputation is no less real. In fact, academic reputation is often a predictor of future university trends. A strong academic profile supports research, recruitment, business engagement, and philanthropic giving, says Emma Leech, director of marketing, communications and recruitment at the University of Nottingham.

Without a strong reputation, colleges are unable to attract the resources necessary to build an effective educational environment. Institutional reputation attracts everything from the best professors and research talent to philanthropic donations and star students. Everyone wants to be a part of a winning team, and in education, that means investing in the best academic brand.

How Students Can Choose a College with a Strong Academic Reputation

Students choose colleges on reputation. It’s more important than how much it costs, where the college is located, or even course content. Is that fair? It seems so, as the college brand they choose will determine the level of academics and resources available, and will be a reflection of their own reputation for a lifetime. How exactly can students learn about a prospective college’s academic reputation? There are plenty of resources to find out.

  • Check reputational rankings. The Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings is one of the largest and most dependable reputation measures in academia. The survey calls on seasoned academics for recommendations of the best colleges and universities, asking questions like, “Which university would you send your most talented graduates to for the best postgraduate supervision?” In this survey, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, University of Cambridge, Oxford, Berkeley, Princeton, Yale, Caltech, and UCLA took the top spots.
  • Read U.S. News and World Report. U.S. News offers a comprehensive guide to the best colleges in the United States, offering rankings, tuition and admissions statistics, and more. Reputational factors weigh heavily in the U.S. News rankings, with undergraduate academic reputation taking up a 22.5% weight in ranking categories.
  • Check student and alumni reviews. Websites like StudentAdvisor and RateMyProfessors.com can shed light on what recent students and alumni really think about a college campus. Just be careful to take reviews with a grain of salt, as they may be emotionally charged or based on factors that have nothing to do with academic reputation and educational quality.
  • Ask professionals what they think. It’s never too early to start networking and asking for guidance from established professionals in your field. Connect with seasoned pros to find out which colleges they think are the best for your particular major or future career. They are likely to know which colleges where many of their most successful colleagues have studied.

Reputation matters, in education and beyond. Choose your college carefully: it is likely to set the tone for your professional reputation.

Photo of Joseph Torrillo
About the Author

Born and proudly raised in Syracuse, NY, Joseph joined the team in 2008 as the Director of Reputation Management after earning his B.S. in Public Policy. He is now the Vice President of the department.

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  • Reputation matters a lot in all the fields and things of life.

  • The name of an institution is very important for all those students who want to get education from a good institution in which all the basic and important facilities are available.