U.S. News Ranking’s Impact on International Students

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Zoey Jia

National Beat Reporter

A recent list unveiled by the U.S. News & World Report ranked the best global universities and has sparked discussion among international students about how to evaluate American universities during the application season. 

U.S. News & World Report — a well-known global authority in university rankings — recently released a list of 2021’s best global universities, which raised eyebrows among international students. A ranking for Qufu Normal University, a relatively undistinguished university, placed its math department and major as the best in Asia and as the top 19th worldwide. 

This ranking has surprised many international students because Qufu University was never known for its math department. Xiaoyu Liu, a second-year Chinese student majoring in financial mathematics, commented on how she and her friends were surprised by this news. “Because China has 34 provinces in total, some universities are only popular in their own province. However, my friends from Shandong, which is where Qufu Normal University is located, said it is not one of the best universities here.” 

According to U.S. News & World Report’s official website, the subject-specific rankings are created based on each university’s “academic research performance,” which is evaluated by weighing the number of citations and publications of conducted research. In addition, the global and regional research reputation of a university is also taken into account when ranking the hard science subjects, such as mathematics. 

Qufu Normal University was not placed on the ministry’s list of first-class discipline construction; the list is made by the Ministry of Education (MOE), aiming to objectively rank Chinese universities. As a matter of fact, it was rated a B minus from the Chinese MOE’s fourth round of nationwide subject review. 

“I found many high school students, who are planning to study in the United States, are confused by this news. Rankings often provide guidance for these Chinese students to choose American universities,” Liu said. 

In response to these concerns, Cuca Acosta, the Associated Director of the UC Santa Barbara Office of Admissions, believes both domestic and international students are making more rational decisions based on factors aside from rankings.  

“The rankings across the United States are vast … and the concept behind these rankings is to look into the minutiae. Most individuals do not know the small differences between rankings,” Acosta explained. “The U.S. News looked at the alumni giving, while other rankings may look into the publications.”

Acosta suggests that international students should try to understand the best fit for them, instead of simply taking the highest rankings as their best option. Choosing universities is more than comparing rankings as more specific aspects based on students’ own preferences should also be considered.

“I think all students, no matter where they live, shall look for the universities that can benefit them in their future career to be in a graduate school or in the industry. I also think more and more students are making this decision as a family unit,” Acosta said. “Many students are also looking for universities where there are particular programs that they are interested in; and that is good.”

Erika Shinoda, a Japanese senior majoring in communication and theater, works as a mentor for Japanese high school students and helps them choose universities. 

“The most important thing is to study what they want to study. I told the high school students to list up any values they can think of, and choose which value matches your own value. Then match the schools with your preferred values,” Shinoda said. 

Shinoda also suggests rankings could help students get to know different universities when doing school research. 

“Ranking is definitely a consideration for many Japanese students as the first step of searching schools because that is a way to narrow all the universities down,” explained Shinoda. “But in terms of the last decision-making process, I feel it is not as important as your other values like what you want to study. The values depend on different people.”