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For the second year in a row, Penn came in fifth on U.S. News and World Report’s list of top national universities for 2012. The Wharton School placed first in the ranking for undergraduate business schools.

Like last year, Penn ranked one place behind Columbia University and tied with Stanford University for fifth place.

This year, the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology climbed from seventh place and the University of Chicago from ninth place to join Penn, making it a five-way tie between the universities for the fifth spot.

Harvard University, which remained at the head of the pack, was joined by Princeton University this year. Yale University came in third, and Duke University rounded out the top 10.

Penn President Amy Gutmann said she is “very pleased” with what she feels is a “respectable showing” for Penn.

Dean of Admissions Eric Furda, however, expressed concern with the five-way tie, since small shifts in numbers such as admissions statistics may drastically affect future rank outcomes.

“Institutions do not change dramatically from year to year,” Furda wrote in an email. However, he acknowledged that the rankings “do have some influence on where a student will apply and enroll.”

While rankings help paint a general picture for applicants, “students should not use them to break a tie if they are deciding where to apply,” President of Hernandez College Consulting Michele Hernandez said.

“What separates one school from another is so slim,” added Sydney Schneider, a University School of Nova Southeastern University senior from Florida, who is applying early decision to Penn. “Students should pick the school that fits academically or socially.”

Wharton’s rank also “doesn’t matter much,” Director of IvySelect College Consulting Michael Goran said. “Wharton uniformly has the reputation as the best undergraduate business school in the country,” he added, explaining that students would apply no matter its rank.

However, other college consultants, such as Top Colleges admissions strategist and 1989 Graduate School of Education masters in education recipient Steve Goodman, believe the U.S. News ranking has “real value” as “a third-party source that is reaffirming that these colleges really offer what they say they offer.”

The rankings will be especially influential over international students, Hernandez added since “the less you know [about U.S. colleges], the more you rely on rankings.”

Although Goodman does not believe that a difference of one or two ranks could influence where students apply for regular decision, he said it might change the game for early decision.

“Someone might choose Columbia over Penn [because of the rankings], if they are undecided,” he said.

Goodman said Columbia’s more favorable ranking may be attributed to the higher score it received from high-school counselors, who view New York as an up-and-coming place to attend college.

Columbia also has a core curriculum that is “so unique,” he added. “A lot of people love it.”

Goodman said the fact that Princeton is tied with Harvard this year could be “incredibly significant” for recruiting future classes, he said.

“Yes it’s true that colleges complain about rankings,” he concluded. “But they stop complaining when they do well.”

See the complete U.S. News and World Report 2012 rankings here.

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