Experts and observers are divided on the significance of college rankings, with some extolling rankings as a way for students and families to determine the best school for them, and others decrying them as artificial and arbitrary. These criticisms differ somewhat based on the ranking methodology used.
College rankings companies in North America have developed a wide range of rankings of colleges, allowing students and parents to evaluate future colleges in terms of academic quality, athletics, social atmosphere and other factors. In addition, many lists can be broken down into sub-lists, such as "Best Liberal Arts Colleges" or "Best Regional Universities in the Northeast." Proponents of rankings argue that these lists can help students differentiate among different schools, helping them to narrow down the types of schools they intend to target for their search.
Critics of college rankings often call them misleading or even useless. Many rankings are based on acceptance rate, which can lead to a kind of self-reinforcing spiral whereby more selective colleges, such as Yale, Harvard and Stanford, look good based on low acceptance rates, leading to more students applying, leading to even lower acceptance rates. Other critics contend that ranking systems are easily gamed and distorted by colleges, and that they promote a kind of competitive behavior that has no place in higher education.