Rankings FAQ

Why does The Alumni Factor even do rankings?

Ultimately, The Alumni Factor believes that the only ranking that matters is yours – hence, our customized ranking tool, MatchMe2U.  That said, rankings are useful shorthand to help consumers understand a collection of very complex and interrelated data.  They help people quickly identify options they may not have had on their radar screens, and they help people quickly compare schools to one another.  That is why The Alumni Factor produces its rankings.  And it is because of the complexity of reducing so much information down to a single number that we provide multiple rankings – not just overall, or of certain types of schools, but on individual dimensions such as Immediate Job Opportunities.

Does the world really need another ranking system?

If done on the basis of inputs – no.  But The Alumni Factor ranks schools an entirely new way – on outputs, or on the long-term impact of an education at a given institution on its graduates’ lifelong success, defined in many ways.  Given the huge investment in time and money that students and parents put into a college education, we do believe they deserve to have a better window into the return on that investment.  That is why the world needs The Alumni Factor rankings.

How is The Alumni Factor ranking system different from the others?

Three things distinguish The Alumni Factor from other rankings:

  1.  We focus on outputs, not inputs.  We do not use proxies – such as the salary level of professors or the size of an endowment – as indicators of educational quality, as some other rankings do.  Just think about that for a moment.  If big salaries were indicative of quality, then we wouldn’t have all the problems we seem to be experiencing on Wall Street, would we? That’s how little sense that metric makes.  But that is how some rankings approach measurement of colleges’ quality, because those types of metrics are easy to gather.  In contrast, we are turning to alumni – the people who have completed their education and have gone on to the real world – to share their first-hand experience of how their college experience has prepared them – or not – for real world success, defined in multiple ways: for example, happiness, friendships and financial well-being.  We believe that outputs are the real indicators of how good a school actually is and that the “consumer” of education is actually the one best placed to judge its effectiveness, which is why we take this approach.
  2. We insist on statistical validity.  We do not publish on any school unless we have a sufficient sample size to be 95% confident that our data reflect reality.  We use the judgment of professional statisticians in doing so.  Unlike some other rankings, the opinion of a single person – or five people – will no longer hold sway.
  3. We do not use our own judgment in assigning weightings to different factors we measure.  It is not up to us to determine what is more important – friendships or intellectual development or career success.  It is up to you, the consumer.  So we don’t artificially make one thing more important in our rankings, and on our website, we enable you to give each item the weight you feel right, for you.

 For a better understanding of some of the other ranking methods on the market, read Malcolm Gladwell's article in The New Yorker.

Are the rankings objective and fair?

Our rankings are very objective and fair.  We rely on publicly available data or survey responses from people who have been validated to be alumni of the schools, so the data itself is objective.  We only report on schools for which we have a statistically reliable sample size, thereby insuring the data is representative of the schools’ alumni populations as a whole.  In addition, we do not make subjective judgments about weighting individual factors differently, so do not favor schools that are particularly good at producing one outcome over another.  In fact, we believe that by looking at a broad set of outcomes, we are providing a more balanced view of the unique experience available on different campuses, highlighting strengths and weaknesses in a more holistic way than is the case with other ranking methods.

How should I use the rankings in my college decision making and application process?

We would recommend using the rankings themselves first, to stimulate a discussion about what you want to get out of your college experience.  Does it matter to you that you develop deep and lasting friendships? Or are you more focused on your future career?  There is no wrong answer.  You can be interested in one or in many potential outcomes.  What is important is that you consider the question, alongside other constraints or goals you may have (for example, to stay near your home or to attend a school with a nuclear physics program) and orient your search around those objectives.

Second, you can use the rankings to identify schools that may not have been on your radar screen, but offer up the kind of educational outcomes you seek.  The beauty of The Alumni Factor ranking system is that you can see which schools excel at certain things, looking beyond pure reputation to see which can really deliver on your dreams.  You can play around with the custom search tool to find out which schools pop up as good fits if you release a constraint or two, or change your mind about your goals.  Options are good, and the rankings can help you surface more than you may have realized you have.

Third, as you narrow your search, you can use The Alumni Factor rankings and profiles to dig deeper into the schools you have prioritized and help you decide where to investigate further, or even where to apply, based on which better meets your needs and goals.  You can focus your research – whether it is an informational interview with an alum, or a campus tour – on figuring out just what it is that the college or university does to create the outcomes in which you are interested.  And you can do the same thing after you have been accepted – again, returning to the profiles and rankings to get that fact-based view of which will best help you realize your goals, once you are out in the real world.

Overall, you should consider the rankings and profiles as a helpful source – but not the only source – of fact-based input as you make your decision.  You shouldn’t focus on a single number but on what the numbers tell you about the fit of the school with your aspirations.

In brief, how does The Alumni Factor rank colleges?

The Alumni Factor gathers anonymous survey data on the outcomes experienced by alumni of each school it profiles. Alumni are validated to be actual alumni of the school, and are reached independently of the school or its alumni association to ensure that there is no pressure on the alumni to artificially inflate their scores. We supplement the alumni feedback with additional publicly available data, such as the alumni giving rate.  These factors are then weighted equally and used to drive our overall ranking.  Schools are also categorized by type (e.g., National University, Regional University and Liberal Arts College) and ranked within type using the same data.  And, they are categorized by size of the undergraduate student body (small, medium, large or very large) and ranked within those categories, as well.

What weighting does The Alumni Factor  assign to the individual components in the rankings?

We weight each factor equally. We do not believe we can objectively assign relative weightings.  Using our online tool, you can assign your own weightings to generate a more customized ranking that reflects your personal goals.

The only exception to this rule is that there are a handful of measures we collect data on and rank but do not include in the overall rankings we provide.  For example, we do not include Spiritual Development in our standard rankings.  We exclude it because we recognize that Spiritual Development is not part of the mission of many schools.  However, because it is a focus of some schools – and an aspiration of many college students – we collect the data so that it can be incorporated into more customized rankings.

Why does The Alumni Factor assign the weightings it does to the individual components in its ranking system?

We assign equal weight to each factor as we do not believe we can objectively assign weightings in another way.  Doing so would imply some value judgment about what is more important in an education.  That is a values-based decision that we believe is very personal.  Therefore, we have enabled subscribers in our online environment with the tools to assign their own weightings, based on their own goals and values.

How did you decide which outcomes to measure and rank?

We began with sociological research about what students wanted and expected from their college educations and supplemented it with our own consumer research.  While career preparedness, job placement and financial success were overwhelmingly important to college students, other factors were also important, which is how we arrived at the set we currently rank.

Where does the ranking data come from?

The ranking data comes directly from proprietary alumni surveys that are administered independently from the schools or alumni associations, and publicly available data collected from NCES.

Will The Alumni Factor ranking methodologies change from year to year?

We anticipate that we will continue to innovate based on feedback from students, parents, guidance counselors and schools.  However, we do not plan to re-weight our formula from year to year, other than to accommodate new outcomes.  And we will remain focused on outcomes that matter to educators, students and parents.

Do you expect schools’ rankings to change dramatically from year to year?

Because for most factors, we are looking at alumni outcomes over time, we expect more gradual change.  That said, some factors could change dramatically in a short period of time, such as the alumni giving rate, which could drive movement in the rankings themselves.  And as we add more schools into our database, we could also experience shuffling of relative ranking.

How will schools improve their rankings from year to year?

The only way for schools to improve their ranking on The Alumni Factor system is to improve the educational and campus life experience for its students in ways that materially improve graduate outcomes and alumni giving. To measure this improvement we will increasingly survey more recent alumni to observe shifts in ratings. 

A school in which I am interested is ranked much lower than I expected; I know from friends' and acquaintances' experiences that it is very hard to get into, so the lower ranking seems counterintuitive.  Why is it ranked lower by The Alumni Factor?

The Alumni Factor does not rank schools based on their selectivity, their costliness, the fame of their faculty or other reputational factors.  We rank solely on reported outcomes experienced by graduates.  We have learned that in many cases, schools do not live up to their reputation when judged by actual, real-world results.  And other schools with perhaps less stellar reputations prove to be quiet powerhouses when it comes to generating successful graduates.  That is why our rankings might be different than what you may expect based on reputation-based rankings.