On the international stage, Penn jumped from 19th to 16th in this year’s “World University Rankings” by Times Higher Education. Harvard University, which has ranked first for the past seven years, was replaced by the California Institute of Technology.
“This ranking places more emphasis on tangible academic areas than other prestigious rankings,” such as the U.S. News and World Report, said Top Colleges admissions strategist Steven Goodman, a 1989 Graduate School of Education graduate.
The Times rankings are “skewed toward the math and science fields” because of their emphasis on research, Goodman added, citing Johns Hopkins University, ranked 14th, and Caltech, as “specialized schools” that ranked higher than Penn.
Caltech overtaking Harvard as the highest-ranked university “seems like a reflection of society’s changing values,” Harvard University sophomore Julianna Brunini said. “As technology takes center stage in our lives, a well-rounded, liberal-arts-based education takes second place to an engineering-based education.”
Another significant factor used to determine these rankings is the international outlook of universities. This year, Times added a new criteria to determine colleges’ international outlook. The rankings evaluated the proportion of research papers each institution published with at least one international co-author in addition to previous rubrics that considered the proportion of international staff and students at institutions.
Global rankings are “potentially exciting and confusing for a U.S. audience,” Timothy Lear, director of college counseling at the Pingry School in Somerset County, N.J., wrote in an email.
Although Lear has encouraged his students to consider universities outside the United States such as the University of St Andrews in Scotland and McGill University in Montreal, he remained “unsure whether families and students have the time (or resources) to adequately research them all.”
“Recommending that a student add Imperial College London or the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich to their college list isn’t quite the same thing as adding Bucknell,” he wrote.
However, Goodman believes high-school students considering the United States for college will also look to foreign universities.
“Penn doesn’t want to think that it competes against [schools like] Cambridge [University], but it does,” he said.
While the Times rankings place a heavy emphasis on institution’s international outlook, it places less emphasis on factors used in the U.S. News rankings, such as the universities’ reputation among peer institutions and high-school guidance counselors.
“The Ivy League is a brand that is very strong and will continue to be strong for the foreseeable future,” Goodman said, but that “doesn’t necessarily mean that other schools can’t necessarily surpass” them.
Some applicants to Penn, such as Jericho High School, N.Y., senior Ashley Paston, are disappointed with Penn’s 16th rank.
“I feel a school of such stature deserves a higher status,” said Paston, who is applying early decision. However, “at the end of the day the prestige of the school makes the ranking unimportant.”
“Clearly the evaluators thought that Hopkins and Columbia were marginally better,” College sophomore Natalie Gould said. But “obviously students at Penn feel differently because we’re here and not there.”
Despite some students’ disappointment, what students should care about most are not rankings but “the benefit from the years spent at university X will be,” Goodman said.
“The rankings here are trying to capture that,” he concluded. “I welcome these rankings.”
This article has been updated from its original version to reflect the fact that McGill University is in Montreal, not Toronto.
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