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Why is William & Mary ranked so low?

  1. Jun 12, 2014 #1

    interhacker

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    The other day, I was looking at the QS World University rankings. Since the university I plan to attend is ranked 481-490, I was browsing through that range, when to my astonishment I saw College of William & Mary in the 501-550 range. I'm not an American so I don't know that much about American universities, but I was under the impression that College of William & Mary was an excellent institute. I expected it to be at least somewhere in the top 200. Why is it ranked so low?
     
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  3. Jun 12, 2014 #2

    atyy

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  4. Jun 12, 2014 #3
  5. Jun 12, 2014 #4

    WannabeNewton

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    That's quite the audacious claim. Care to explain?
     
  6. Jun 12, 2014 #5
    You need to dig into the table, the only serious thing St Andrews beats Cambridge on is the "value added" score. One would suspect everyone at Cambridge would already be A* calibre so you can't really add any value, only maintain it at best!
     
  7. Jun 12, 2014 #6

    interhacker

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  8. Jun 12, 2014 #7

    Vanadium 50

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    Rankings use a formula. Sometimes the formula has outliers.
     
  9. Jun 12, 2014 #8

    Choppy

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    To add to Vanadium's point, often the formula contain parameters that have very little to do with the interests of a student seeking a place for graduate study.

    For example, one common parameter is faculty-to-student ratio. While it may be good to have fewer students for every professor in general, that doesn't mean much if the professors in your area of interest are not good at teaching - or don't teach in a manner that's compatible with how you learn. Further, as a graduate student you should have a supervisor that you will have one-on-one time with, regardless of this parameter.

    Another common parameter is some kind of citation index. The faculty in a particular department can be highly cited because they publish controversial ideas, not because they are particularly better than a lesser cited faculty. Further, citations take time. If you're leading a field in something you likely won't be cited a lot at first. Years could pass before anyone starts paying attention to your work. On the flip side of that you may want to think about why it may or may not be important to you to attend an institution where all the real exciting work was done five years ago and isn't really pushing the envelope anymore.

    This isn't to say that that university rankings are completely useless.
     
  10. Jun 12, 2014 #9

    jtbell

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    I think the OP is (about to be) an undergraduate.
     
  11. Jun 13, 2014 #10

    jtbell

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    In general, the QS listings seem to ignore most US undergraduate-only (or primarily undergraduate) institutions, which usually have "College" in their names. I see only:

    109 Dartmouth College
    331 Boston College
    501-550 College of William & Mary
    601-650 Smith College

    Actually, Boston College does offer graduate degrees, including a Ph.D. in physics. I haven't checked the others.

    Off the top of my head, I can think of many widely-respected undergraduate colleges that are not in the list above: Swarthmore, Williams, Middlebury, Oberlin, Amherst, Harvey Mudd, Davidson, Reed...
     
  12. Jun 13, 2014 #11

    mathwonk

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    read the criteria for the rankings. eg. some rankings include amount of alumni contributions, so they rate unis for how much money their alumni give. does this measure quality of faculty or student body or course offerings?
     
  13. Jun 13, 2014 #12

    interhacker

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    I see. Judging the rank of an institution by the amount of money it receives from its alumni seems ridiculous, at least to me.
     
  14. Jun 13, 2014 #13

    jtbell

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    Well, the money to pay for buildings and faculty has to come from somewhere. Even the flagship state universities in the US receive only part of their funds from their respective state governments. In many states, that part has decreased a lot during the last decade because of budget cuts. In my state, one of the two flagship universities (the one with the bigger engineering program) now receives so little direct funding from the state that there was some talk a few years ago about "cutting the cord" and becoming an independent private institution.

    And most of the "best" universities in the US are private (non-state) institutions: MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Chicago... Their tuition fees are high, but they don't pay for the whole cost of running those places.
     
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2014
  15. Jun 13, 2014 #14

    Vanadium 50

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    Also, schools with a lot of unhappy and/or unsuccessful alumni probably don't get so many gifts.

    If you're going to have a formula, it's not crazy to include this in it. But people need to understand the limits of these formulas, and the limit of assuming that the quality of the university as a whole is a good proxy for the quality of the program you are interested in.
     
  16. Jun 14, 2014 #15
    Maybe I'm missing something, but does the THS link only show marks for the University as a whole? If so that's no use at all, they need to go by subject, as with the Guardian.

    Some subtle problems can occur, which tables can never show. If you have fairly large classes of very bright students, as in Cambridge, then you might not be able to do the classes that attracted you to going there in the first place. You might get, "Sorry, we're full up, you only got 89% and you need 90% to do the string theory class..."

    I would think "alumni gifts" would be a good indicator within the USA, but across countries I think it would fall down. For instance, there isn't such a stress on alumni giving in the UK.
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2014
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