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Thursday, 07 June 2012 08:21

School Rankings: What are they and how to use them

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Every year popular American magazines publish the school rankings of various academic institutions, distinguished by the kind of school (Business, Education, Law, Medicine) and for the types of programs offered. 

The publications most relied upon by American Students are the U.S. News and the Princeton Review. The decisions of which schools to apply to should not be completely based on the rankings; but considering the weight given to them by law firms, recruiters, and universities, the rankings should also bear substantial importance in deciding to apply to certain schools. 

The considerations typically taken into account when ranking schools are: the reputation of the school, the admission rate, the ratio of professors to students and, in the case of law schools, the bar exam passage rate. Aside from the rankings there is also other information concerning the average salary of the graduates Inevitably, the best schools will always be in the top 10-15.

The top ranked schools rarely change from year to year, and usually the same schools are in the top ten. It is also very rare for a school in the top ten to be ranked lower in any subsequent year. It is more possible for a school’s ranking to go up, rather than down. Usually, in addition to the “general rankings,” there are subcategories in which schools are ranked by area of specialization. (Ex. International law, corporate and business law, environmental law.) This part of the ranking is very useful for those pursuing a specialized degree. 

Sometimes it may happen that a University with a good local reputation for high quality will fall outside of the top thirty and sometimes outside of the first tier. Under these circumstance it is very dependant on the specific statistical methodology used in the preparation of the ranking and to the weight that the editor of the ranking chose to assign to each category considered to reach a statistical result. 

For this reason it is recommended that one evaluates the interpretation of the data, integrating the information obtained from the rankings with those from other publications and sources, such as former students. It is also important to note that the major classifications are not necessarily based on the quality of the LL,M. program, but the overall quality of the school (i.e. the J.D. program). From this perspective, it is also important to remember that the LL.M. students attend the same classes, as the JD students. 

However, a prospective student should always research other resources when choosing a school. The ranking system may seem representative of the American tendency to organize products, services (and sometimes people) in accordance with statistics, seemingly impersonal and inspired by a drastic logical approach. Aside from a value judgment of the logic of the ranking system, its utility is undeniable, especially as a predictor of the quality of a subsequent career. 

Above all, it is advised to consult the rankings but with a certain level of intelligence and without prejudice to those schools not within the top rankings but still offering interesting opportunities.

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