College ranking season is officially here. This is the month where seemingly every magazine comes out with its own college rankings, all with different methodologies and motivations. As high school seniors attempt to finalize their college lists and begin applications, these various rankings may creep in and influence students’ choices.
Many of the usual suspects have already released their lists such as Forbes and Princeton Review. However, a new ranking has caught many students’ attentions. Business Insider’s “50 best computer science and engineering schools in America” list adds to the confusion using very weak and subjective methodology. Their rankings are based on which colleges respondents think are the best coupled with the average SAT scores of incoming students. Only 400 people responded to this survey and it is unclear if they are managers, human resources representatives, or developers.
Here is the full list.
The list is extremely skewed towards the Ivy League. In fact, six out of the eight Ivy League institutions are included in the top twenty. This doesn’t reflect the reality of which college’s graduates are highly sought after in the hot tech job market. Ivy League schools generally don’t offer the same focused curriculum and co-operative education programs as STEM research institutions. Many graduates of these Ivy League programs decide to move to non-technical careers. The methodology does not include actual outcome data, such as where graduates work, average starting salary, or full-time employment within a few months of graduation. Rankings like this (wrongfully) add to the hype and hysteria that students need to attend an Ivy League school to build a successful career in tech.
Because of this flawed methodology, there are a few notable computer science programs that were left off the list. One such example is Rose–Hulman Institute of Technology in rural Indiana. Tech companies flock to this campus for career fairs and interview events each year, yet it was completely overlooked by Business Insider. University of Cincinnati, University of Texas – Dallas and University of Central Florida are also notable omissions. Additionally, the University of Washington barely made the list (ranked at #38) though it is widely considered in the top 10 on lists with more robust and outcomes-focused methodologies, such as U.S. News and World Report.
For students who are interested in studying computer science, here are some other resources and criteria to use when researching programs:
1) Career services websites for computer science programs
If the school truly has a strong computer science program, they will have their own career services and advising website. The college will brag about average starting salaries for graduates and will provide a wealth of other statistics, such as graduation rates, demographics, top employers and employment statistics upon graduation. Additionally, students should look at recent recruiting events held on the campus to see which companies attended.
2) LinkedIn university search
Though this tool is not perfect, it is one of the best sources of outcomes data for prospective students. LinkedIn’s data set allows students to search for colleges by location, where graduates work and filter by intended major.
3) Colleges with strong internship and co-operative programs
This is the standard for Canadian universities (which produce very strong computer science graduates) and is becoming increasingly popular in the United States as well. Previous internship experience with a tech company really stands out on a resume and is often the determining factor in whether or not a student is selected for an interview. When researching colleges, check the computer science curriculum to see if a co-op or internship is a part of the program, if it is paid, and what percentage of students participate.
Though no ranking system is perfect, this Business Insider list is particularly inaccurate. In an age where seemingly everything has to be ranked, students, parents and counselors should be skeptical of simplistic methodologies and consult multiple sources of information in their college research.