Deciding which university you want to go to is often a toss-up between finding one that is highly-ranked and in your preferred location, or simply one that matches your qualifications.
Adding to the confusion is the sheer number of university rankings there are out there - not only are they put together by different providers, every ranking measures a different aspect of the institution. So a university may have a solid reputation for a specific subject, but may not fare so well overall when compared to other more elite schools.
For example, University of Pennsylvania is ranked the top university in the world for nursing, but it only ranks 19th in the world. This begs the question: should I focus on the institution's overall ranking, or just my course? Well, the answer mainly depends on what your priorities are as a student.
If making yourself as employable as possible is your main reason for going to university, it is probably best to focus on the institution's reputation.
At the end of the day, future employers are unlikely to know exactly which universities are best for which courses. Studying at an unknown university because it’s excellent for your subject isn’t going to be much help when an employer has no idea where your qualification is from.
That being said, if you are studying an industry-specific subject, this may not be an issue. Law firms and engineering companies will most likely be clued up on where the best teaching is. If you have a specific career in mind and are unsure which is the best option, it’s always a good idea to reach out to your potential future employers and ask what they look for in a graduate.
If you’re unsure of what career path you want to follow, or you're taking a degree not directly relevant to your future career, studying at a globally respected university is the foot-in-the-door you'll need when job hunting. However, if you are going to university to become an expert in your field, beginning your journey to becoming an academic or are studying a career-specific course, choosing your subject based on course rankings is your best bet.
University rankings are a thing this morning? Hmmm University Of Limpopo is not on the so called top ten but has produced the most Judges post 1994 to the bench. At the end of the day it’s your own fortitude once you leave varsity that sets you apart.
— Bra Nape (@Nape_MM) March 31, 2018
Course-specific rankings show which universities offer the best teaching quality and course structure for your subject specifically. While London School of Economics may be great for Finance and Business, if you’re passionate about the History of Art or Geology, you might want to consider a different institution.
It's also worth remembering that rankings take a statistical approach to university quality. If you are looking for specific qualities in your degree, you may find it helpful to speak to students and lecturers in the departments you are interested in.
This way, you can discuss your personal needs and hear directly from your future peers and lecturers about how the course is structured.
Every student has different priorities, every university has different structures and every employer has different wants. To make the most of rankings, you should identify what you personally want from your degree and then speak to relevant people as well to decide what will best suit you.