Let’s Talk College Rankings (Part 3)-The Wall Street Journal with CIT Founder Jay Benanav

There certainly is no shortage of college rankings! In my previous blogs, I’ve discussed the rankings in US News and the New York Times. In this post, I’ll look at the Wall Street Journal. 

College Inside Track consultants take a “holistic approach” to college searches and tailor them to individual students & rarely rely on college rankings. However, we know that some families refer to college rankings. While these lists may have some helpful information, there’s a danger in using rankings as the sole or primary tool in college decision-making. The nuances of individual fit, specific program strengths, or unique opportunities might be overshadowed by a college’s overall or incorrect ranking.  At College Inside Track, we recognize that each student is unique and that a “one size fits all” college ranking system does not substitute for the kind of individualized attention each student deserves.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) college rankings have a unique approach and set of criteria that distinguish them from other college ranking systems. 

Pros of WSJ Rankings

  • Comprehensive Evaluation: The WSJ rankings assess over 1,000 colleges and universities, considering a range of factors important for students’ future success, including the earning potential of graduates, student debt levels, and cost of attendance.
  • Diverse Data Sources: These rankings utilize data from various sources like the Department of Education, College Scorecard, and Social Security Administration, providing a more accurate and comprehensive view of each institution.
  • Emphasis on Economic Value: WSJ rankings focus on the financial return on investment from a college education, including median earnings of graduates and their ability to pay off student loans, which is critical for assessing the value of higher education.
  • Student Outcomes Focused: Unlike other rankings that emphasize input measures like admission criteria or faculty credentials, the WSJ rankings prioritize student outcomes such as job placement rates and workforce success, making them useful for career-oriented decisions.
  • Diversity and Inclusion: These rankings also consider the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity of student bodies, along with support for underrepresented groups, highlighting institutions committed to inclusivity.

Cons and Limitations

  • Exclusion of Financial Factors: The WSJ rankings do not consider tuition prices or financial aid generosity, which can be crucial factors for many students when choosing a college.
  • Subjectivity in Criteria: Like many college rankings, some criteria used in the WSJ rankings can be subjective. For instance, factors like “quality of life” and “academics” may be based on survey responses, which might not be representative due to voluntary response bias and nonresponse bias.
  • Influence on College Behavior: Rankings can unduly influence colleges, leading them to focus on factors that improve their rankings rather than those that necessarily enhance educational quality or student experience.
  • Potential for Misreporting: There is a risk of colleges manipulating data to improve their rankings, as some institutions have been found to misreport information.
  • Omission of Certain Colleges: The WSJ does not rank schools with fewer than 1,000 students, potentially leaving out smaller institutions that might be highly suitable for certain students.
  • Awareness of Bias and Fit: It’s important to recognize that rankings can be biased and that a lower-ranked college might actually be a better fit for a student’s specific needs and goals.


While the WSJ college rankings provide insights, especially regarding economic outcomes and diversity, there is a risk that it will be used to the exclusion of other crucial factors in the college selection process. Prospective students and their families need to consider a wide range of factors, including social fit, academic interests, financial considerations, and long-term career goals, rather than relying solely on any single ranking system.