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Do University Rankings Matter?

University cafeteria

Rankings. Rankings. Rankings. How important are they really?

You're fresh out of high school and starting to look for the perfect college to start your academic path. A common reflex for many students and their parents is to consider university rankings as good indicators of which college should be aimed for.

Is attending a prestigious university really a professional game changer though?

Here's an article with a few pros and cons and other factors employers consider in an individual, beyond the ranking of the college they attended!

Why do university rankings matter?


Well, even though this article aims at explaining why college rankings don't matter (probably due to subjectivity and wishful thinking), they still do.

In some cases.

Facing reality, students graduating from top-ranked universities usually signal higher quality, levels of knowledge and prestige thanks to the renowned and well-ranked institution they attended.

Ranking colleges and universities has now become a yearly routine for a number of journals, newspapers and academic institutions. By ranking higher, universities gain by attracting more talent and reinforcing their international brand.

In turn, students attending the colleges in question benefit from these high reputations, on which some companies now base their standards. In addition, a clear correlation between your choice of university and your income upon graduation now exists.

This - for example - applies if you're looking for a consulting job after graduation.

In sum, if the job you're aiming for after graduating is more easily accessible via well ranked-universities, it's only logical to consider college rankings to make a choice.

That being said, a great number of employees for top companies haven't necessarily attended a high-ranked college.

If they made it, why wouldn't you?

Why are university rankings not necessarily important?

Small university class

In fact, 90% of employers do not consider university rankings to be a primary factor in hiring processes. In addition, more than half (56%) of respondents to the survey conducted by Gallup admitted college rankings "not be important at all" when making recruitment decisions.

What is more important than college rankings?

In the end, it all comes down to what you'll be writing in your CV: your professional experience, your skills, and of course your education, a section in which students are proud to emphasize they attended top colleges and universities.

Rightfully so!

Getting into a high-ranked university is an achievement in itself, of which students should be proud. That being said, it's important not to solely rely on your institution's ranking as a unique selling point.

Skills development and professional experience arguably constitute more important factors employers will consider when making hiring decisions.

Skills development

This is by far what companies and employers look at most.

If you can't afford, "don't qualify", or simply don't wish to attend a high-ranked college, don't panic. Skills are what employers look at most when hiring new talent.

Skills you want to develop as much as possible during your college years:

  • Foreign language skills (e.g.: French, English, Spanish, German, Mandarin, Russian, Arabic)

  • IT skills (e.g.: coding, software development, data analytics)

  • Soft skills (public speaking, interpersonal skills, intercultural communication)

Once you've developed these skills or acquired basics, grasp opportunities to put them to use and further develop them.

Of course, don't forget to add these skills to a professional CV and highlight them in your tailored cover letter.

Professional experience

Something else most employers will be more sensitive to than college rankings.

Accumulating professional experience during your studies will be priceless once you graduate. Adding a "number one ranked university" next to your college name on your CV can be satisfying and signal prestige, no doubt.

How about adding two 6-month internships with 4 bullet points boasting skill development and professional achievements? Probably as effective.

College rankings don't buy motivation, ambition, and professionalism. These depend on you, how you spend your college years and how much you invest into growing professionally and acquiring knowledge.

That being said, don't forget to invest in having fun either, lots of it. Tons of it.

3 factors to consider when choosing a university beyond looking at the rankings

When choosing a university, it's likely you and your parents will research how well the targeted colleges and universities are ranked.

It's an important step: the institution you choose will play a very important role in your knowledge acquisition, and professional and personal development journey.

However, college rankings are not the only factors to take into account when planning your development journey.

Here are 3 factors you want to consider when choosing your higher education path.

1) University location

University of Groningen

Universities' locations are among the factors you might want to consider before the rankings.

For instance, it could perhaps be important to take the following into consideration:

  • Where is the university campus located compared to major cities with substantial job opportunities?

  • How easy is it to commute between the campus and the city centre?

  • If you're planning on travelling during your studies, how well is the university city connected to other regions?

  • Is the university close to dynamic learning and support hubs (e.g.: start-up incubators, workshops, laboratories?

  • How close is the campus to health and lifestyle environments (green areas, sports clubs and facilities, bars, restaurants)?

While universities are places we primarily attend for education, the time spent in college marks an essential path to personal and professional growth.

These are times when meeting new people, making connections, travelling, and cross-cultural learning are arguably as important - if not more important - than how the university you're attending ranks worldwide.

In other words, knowledge and professional growth could possibly be more influenced and stimulated by universities and the overall living environment as opposed to solely through the program, courses and projects you are completing in the institutions.

2) Low tuition fees

Students are notoriously poor.

While this is a part of the fun and student experience (e.g.: eating pasta and drinking cheap beer 365 days a year), some governments, notably European governments, allocate funds to helping students finance their education by keeping tuition fees low and accessible to all.

Some countries with low tuition fees


Yearly tuition fee range




~ 3000 - 4000 euros


Free for undergraduate programs


~ 2300 euros


~ 2000 - 3000 euros


~ 4000 euros


Free for EU students


Free for EU students

You'll certainly find more precise information about the cheapest universities to study in elsewhere, but you got the drift, cheap quality education exists, whether the university is ranked or not!

3) University philosophy

University classroom

  • Are you a competitive individual?

  • Very business oriented?

  • Primarily interested in research?

  • Seeking to rely heavily on alumni networks?

These are all valid questions you might want to ask yourself before looking at college rankings.

Indeed, while universities share more or less the same goals, keeping graduation rates high, a good reputation and the highest possible level of higher education, not all approaches to these ends are the same.

For instance:

  • Some colleges might promote highly competitive study environments, where you might thrive or not.

  • Other schools and institutions may heavily invest in student support services.

  • Some colleges may use research papers as primary academic resources.

  • Some universities may accept international admissions more than others

Students may have different expectations of their college experiences, different priorities, and different needs, which some colleges may be able to cater to better than others.

Make sure you understand what you're seeking as well as possible and research institutions which will suit you best.


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