College Rankings: What They Really Mean

From US News to the Princeton Review, there are hundreds of different college rankings based on hundreds of different factors. They all seek to answer the age-old question: is one college better than another? It seems like a clear cut question, but what does it even mean for one school to be better than the next? How do you know what components they use in their rankings and if they line up with your preferences? And how can you even compare a small, private liberal arts college in a rural area, to a big public university in the middle of a city? Here, we will unpack what actually goes into college rankings, what they mean, and how they can guide your college decisions.

How do they work?

To make a college ranking, organizations assemble data on the many different aspects of each school. These facets may include average class size, average GPA, graduation rate, or financial resources. All of these data are then fed into a weighing system that averages the score of each category (Academic Reputation, Financial Resources, etc), and analyzes the importance of each division. For example, US News weights Academic Reputation at 22.5%.

The most important thing to remember is that each college ranking uses a different rating system. For example, US News does not take the cost of tuition into its ranking at all, which may not be very helpful if you’re looking for more affordable college options. Each ranking uses different data and weighs things differently, so it’s important to know what goes into a college ranking when you use one.

One more thing to remember: college rankings try to compare colleges that may be extremely different from one another. Two similarly ranked colleges provide different experiences, and it’s important to remember this when examining them. Also, remember that a higher college ranking does not mean a college is better. It just means that a college scores higher in that particular rating system.

Tips for Using College Rankings

Don’t rely on the rankings

No college ranking should determine your college decisions. They serve as a useful tool, but your final decision should come down to reasons beyond the rating, such as campus life, location, and academic profile. Be careful of relying too much on the rankings!

Use them as a starting point

While college rankings shouldn’t have the final say in your decision, they can be a great starting point in finding the school that’s right for you. If you already have some schools you like, you can look at rankings to find similarly ranked schools that may interest you. Also, many ranking websites have tons of helpful information on all the universities, such as average class size, student population, and average salary after graduation.

Don’t try to compare extremely different colleges

College rankings can give the illusion of being able to compare very different college experiences. For example, a small private liberal arts school may rank similarly to a large public university. Though they are ranked the same, the colleges offer contrasting experiences. You should look carefully at the type of college experience offered, rather than just its rating.

Look at specific rankings

By looking at rankings based on a specific major or certain type of school, you can compare colleges in areas that matter to you. If you know which factors that are most important in your college decision, you can look for rankings based on those. Some examples: rankings by major, by type of institution (public, private), and by affordability.

Be aware of the rating system

Finally, make sure you look at how each agency creates its rankings. The data should be listed on its website, including the process and how the rankings are weighed. This will help you better understand what the rankings actually reflect, and whether they measure the things that matter to you.

Rankings are a good place to start your college exploration journey, but be sure to focus on fit when searching for your dream college. We can help! Download Encourage to get your college matches today!

Benefits of Trade Schools

Though a traditional four-year college or university may seem like the right choice for many students, trade schools are worth keeping on your radar. Trade schools, also known as technical or vocational schools, teach and develop skills related to a specific job. Read on to learn more about the benefits of trade schools.

Benefits of Trade Schools

Less time and money

Most trade schools offer 2-year programs, so naturally, the cost is going to be less than paying for a 4-year bachelor’s degree. The average trade school degree cost around $33,000 compared to many bachelor’s degrees that exceed $100,000. With affordability being a major factor in the college decision-making process, you might want to consider trade school as an option.

Smaller class sizes

When attending a college or university, the first couple years are dedicated to general education classes that tend to be larger in size. Technical schools allow students to jump into intimate class sizes right away. When classes are smaller, they offer greater focus on the material and allow for more student-teacher interaction. This may be appealing to students eager to become experts in their specific field as soon as they can.

Flexible learning environment

Not only is the learning environment more intimate, but trade school programs also offer more flexible options for non-traditional students. If you don’t have the ability to attend physical classes during the day, technical schools have more options for online and night classes. 

Variety of programs

Technical schools offer many programs that appeal to all different interests. You may prepare for a career as a HVAC technician, practical nurse practitioner, home inspector, commercial diver, electrician, landscape designer, construction manager, dental hygienist, and so much more! One thing all these jobs have in common: they involve hands-on work that can’t be outsourced to another country.

Job security

Probably the biggest and most appealing reason to consider trade schools: you are bound to secure a job right after graduation. Many technical schools have connections and partnerships that commit to hiring directly from the graduating classes. Not to mention, most programs are training students for jobs that are in high demand. As the baby boomer generation enters retirement, experts predict a shortfall of skilled trade workers. This means there will be more trade job openings for younger generations to fill. 


When attending a technical school, you are completely immersed in an environment surrounded by people with similar interests and entering the same field as you. Because of this, you are bound to make connections that will stay with you long after you graduate. You will be exposed to all kinds of networking opportunities and connections that will lead you to success. 

Before making a decision about the kind of school you want to attend, be sure to think about your goals for the future. A traditional four-year college or university is an ideal option for students who want a well-rounded education or a chance to explore their interests. Trade schools better serve students who want a shorter, inexpensive path to a career. One choice isn’t better than the other; it’s all dependent upon what you want from your education.

College Towns that Everyone Loves

There are so many college towns scattered throughout the United States; some are large, some are small, and some fall right in between. The ambiance varies from one town to the next, but there’s something for everyone in these communities. Many college towns embody the ideal experience of higher education, with students dominating the population, shops and businesses flourishing, and a community overall shaped and enhanced by the university. With that being said, here are our top picks:

1. Chapel Hill, North Carolina

University of North Carolina

You can get a bit of everything in Chapel Hill. There are tasty dives, neat bars, quirky museums and galleries, and beautiful Georgian architecture. All of this is nestled in over 700 acres of natural areas and parks.

Chapel Hill’s claim to fame as a top college town rests in the hands of the University of North Carolina. The Tar Heels basketball team is infectious as it’s been a historically dominant program. The university is also a part of the Research Triangle whose three points are Raleigh (NC State), Durham (Duke), and Chapel Hill (UNC). The foodie, sporty, and outdoorsy town offers plenty of opportunities in tech and healthcare. These are reasons why Chapel Hill heads the list of the top college town in the country.

2. Ann Arbor, Michigan

University of Michigan

A large percentage of the population of Ann Arbor are college students reinforcing the perfect neighborhood for undergraduates to study. The mix of restaurants and bars certainly provide entertainment to students and other residents of Ann Arbor, but it is not the number one source of entertainment.

The Michigan Wolverines provide all the enjoyment needed for those in Ann Arbor. The always-competitive football team is the number one reason why the Big House is filled every Saturday. There is also active night-life with a surplus of bars and restaurants. As far as career opportunities for post-graduates, there are several employers nearby including Google AdWords, JSTOR, and Toyota.

3. Madison, Wisconsin

University of Wisconsin

The University of Wisconsin lies in the center of its state capital. The downtown is surrounded by lakes and rolling prairies. Given its location, Madison serves as an active, outdoorsy city. Along with Madison’s beauty, it is home to large companies like Microsoft and Google.

More than anything, there is a unique charm to Madison. The social scene is optimal, complete with restaurants, cafes, boutiques, and bars. When it comes to showing school spirit, the whole community supports the Badgers. This team dominates in many sports year after year showing no sign of slowing down.

4. State College, Pennsylvania

Penn State-University Park

Penn State University is the centerpiece for State College, PA. This medium-sized town is stunning with fresh greenery and has a thriving art and live music scene. Raytheon and AccuWeather are set up in the area contributing to employment opportunities for students. The most prominent source of activity is the enthusiasm for the premier college football program.

5. Iowa City, Iowa

University of Iowa

The University of Iowa has established itself as a community focused on giving back. The hospital system hosts numerous events concentrated on service. The university holds a dance marathon that raises millions of dollars annually for the children’s hospital. This town also has a lot of school spirit, especially when it comes to supporting the Hawkeyes in their top football and basketball programs. Consistently listed as a top party school, the university proves itself to be perfect for all social butterflies. Iowa City is also associated with well-known writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Frost, and Flannery O’Connor. Every year there is a book festival and a Literary Walk attracting visitors from all over the country.

6. Champaign-Urbana, Illinois

University of Illinois

Champaign-Urbana is not your average urban city, for it is surrounded by farmland. This extra greenery provides a breathtaking landscape for the University of Illinois, one you wouldn’t typically expect from a metropolitan setting. The cities have everything to offer culturally as well as low living costs and little traffic. Due to large companies based nearby such as Kraft Foods, there are several employment opportunities in Champaign-Urbana. Champaign-Urbana also has an active music scene with several museums and festivals. Although it is surrounded by farmland, Champaign-Urbana is packed with things to do.

7. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Carnegie Mellon University
University of Pittsburgh

Two great universities can be found in the Steel City: Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. While Pittsburgh is a larger city, these two universities have a great presence. The two schools continue to strengthen Pittsburgh’s status as a research city, as it is the federal headquarters for robotics, energy research, and cyber defense. The Steel City has some of the most famous sports franchises in the country including the Steelers, the Pirates, and the Penguins. You can also find many libraries, cultural districts, and bars. Pittsburgh’s wide range of offerings makes it an ideal metropolis to attend college.

8. Charlottesville, Virginia

University of Virginia

The University of Virginia is located in a historic area where both former presidents James Monroe and Thomas Jefferson resided. Known as one of the “Public Ivies,” it’s no surprise that UVA is the central focus in Charlottesville. The university’s prestige coupled with its sports unites the town. They also have one of the largest outdoor shopping malls in the country. Between the history of Charlottesville, the elegant landscapes, and the devoted community, this college town sets itself apart from all the others.

9. Ithaca, New York

Cornell University
Ithaca College

Even though it’s a small town nestled amongst serene lakes and trees in tranquil upstate New York, Ithaca is anything but isolated. Not one, but two colleges are located in Ithaca: Cornell University and Ithaca College. It’s easy to point to academics and research as Ithaca’s selling point, but the town offers so much more.

There is a fostered sense of community in the town as it endures cold, snowy winters together. The close-knit community features great local musicians at different venues year round. If you’re a foodie, Ithaca is the place for you. The options are endless in this picturesque town. Ithaca’s research, community, music, restaurants, and beauty make it a phenomenal place to study.

10. College Station, Texas

Texas A&M University

Sitting on barrels of oil, College Station, TX has more to offer than its abundance of natural resources. The town is home to Texas A&M University. As a large university located in the heartland of the Lone Star State, the Aggies have a rich football history. While the town huddles together on Saturdays for football games in the fall, it also boasts impressive academic programs.

Texas A&M prides itself on its commitment to explorative studies, the university giving grants to land, sea, and space research. In addition to the numerous and large-scale research projects, those who call College Station their home are certainly a knowledgeable bunch. The town has continuously ranked high among all U.S. cities as one of the most educated places in the country.

Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs)

What are Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI)?

Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) are colleges with greater than 25% of their undergraduate enrollment identifying as Hispanic or Latinx. This designation makes HSIs eligible for government funding which provides students with resources for student success.

Dating back to the 1980’s, Hispanic Serving Institutions have a long history in educational achievement. The effort was first recognized when institutions in Texas and New Mexico started enrolling a large number of students who identify as Hispanic or Latinx. In 1986, the foundation, (HACU) Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, led the movement to coin the term HSI as an institution accredited to helping achieve higher education for Hispanic and Latinx students. Congress finally recognized the efforts in 1992 and created federal operations to instill funding for universities that serve this purpose.

What do Hispanic Serving Institutions offer?

A Diverse Environment

HSI provides an environment where students from all backgrounds can thrive. HSI communities are determined to protect the rights and ensure that all students receive the same quality education.

Student Support Services

HSI implement an array of services related to financial and career development, academic help, and personal support to help their students succeed and prosper in an academic environment.

Faculty and Curriculum Development

Hispanic serving institutions distribute support in areas of curriculum development to improve the learning environment for Hispanic and Latinx students.

Which HSI is right for you?

According to the Higher Education Act of 1965, an HSI receives federal funding if it fulfills certain qualifications. It as to be a non-profit university and offer a degree program that consists of at-least two years. It must be an accredited institution by the Department of Education, account for students that need assistance through HSI programs, and have an enrollment of at least 25% Hispanic and Latinx population.

Since students might also apply to a HSI based off available assistance resources, it’s important to note that not all HSI’s have the same offerings. A Hispanic Serving Institution receives federal funding by applying for certain grants that serve the student population best. Since there are quite a few of federal grant opportunities, universities usually only apply for two or three to help in the specific areas of interest that need assistance. It’s important to research which programs at the university are available for the students before making a final decision.

Where to find a HSI?

There are currently over 250 accredited schools in 20 different states that have been designated as an HSI. The trick is to find one that’s right for you in a location that you desire. For more information, check out this list of Hispanic Serving Institutions.

5 Reasons to Choose the Affordable College

There’s a lot of pressure to choose a college, and factoring in affordability makes things even more confusing. You might find yourself caught between your dream school that gives little to no financial aid or another school further down your list that’s more affordable. Here are reasons why you should choose the more affordable college:

1. Peace of mind

Transitioning to college already comes with its own stresses. For the sake of your mental health, choosing a cheaper school will keep you from stressing about finances both today and for years down the road. By choosing the affordable option, you will be able to enjoy more of the college experience because you won’t have to work 6 jobs to make ends meet. You’ll also be able to sleep better at night knowing you will have less student loan debt.

2. You will be able to spend your money on other activities

When you combine choosing the affordable option and working a job, you may find that you have a little extra money at the end of the day. You can put this towards something else like study abroad, graduate school, or your savings account!

3. You can get a head start on your career

When you are worried about money, you are going to spend your time finding a job to help you pay for school and life. This could mean turning down internships or other opportunities that may not pay super well. When you choose a school that’s more affordable, you can accept internships that will enhance your resume, provide you with experience, and give you an advantage in the job market.

4. There’s always grad school

If you also plan to go to grad school, this is another opportunity to attend your dream school. If your dream school remains the same throughout college, make it your goal to obtain a graduate assistantship or fellowship to offset the cost of tuition for your graduate degree. 

5. Don’t get caught up in the name game

It’s easy to get swept up in the “name game” when it comes to your college list. You may equate big name schools to academic prestige or athletic prowess, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to the best fit for you. Sometimes, you may find your fit with “under the radar” options that may come with a cheaper price tag.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you go to college. You do not need to attend a university with a big reputation to be successful. All schools have the ability to offer an enriching academic experience. In most cases, your education is what you make of it.