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Do university rankings important when pursuing a Master’s degree? – FindaDegree

Do university rankings important when pursuing a Master’s degree?

university rankings and Master’s degree

How do you go about choosing a master? Well, there are all sorts of methods you can use but one of the most obvious things you might be tempted to look at will be university rankings. Fair enough, but do rankings tell you much about universities? Are they specific to the postgrad study and should you be using them in your Master’s search? The answers are ‘sort of’, ‘no’ and ‘maybe’. Let’s explain why

What types of university ranking are out there?

I think there are three main varieties so let’s look at them.

global university rankings

These are often referred to as ‘world university rankings’ or similar. What they set out to do is to judge all the universities in the world according to the same criteria. What they’re trying to do is find the best institutions overall. There are three main examples. There are The Times Higher world university rankings, there are the QS world university rankings and there’s the Academic Ranking of world universities, which is sometimes referred to as the Shanghai ranking.

Domestic university rankings

and as the name suggests these just look at universities in one specific country. This means they can do things slightly differently so they can compare things like employment outcomes and earnings on more of a level playing field. They tend to be produced by newspapers, so in the UK you’ve got The Guardian and The Telegraph that both produce these rankings, there’s the US news that does the same for the USA, and so on.

Subject specific rankings so these look

at the best universities for work in a specific subject area, so the best universities for business, the best universities for history, the best universities for chemistry, and so forth. These tables are often derived from the global university rankings produced by the same people and then just recalculated to focus on the things that matter for particular subjects.

Spoiler! These subject-specific rankings are the ones I think you should be looking at in your Master’s search if you look at any. However, none of the rankings I’m talking about here are postgrad specific. There aren’t any postgrad-specific university rankings that are widely accepted and respected. Exceptions are rankings for specific types of degrees so there is a very well-respected MBA ranking from The Economist, another newspaper, but overall there isn’t a general postgraduate university ranking.

What do rankings measure? What are the league tables they produce based on?

it depends on the ranking in question but here are three things that most of them look at to at least some extent.

Staff student ratio

this is how many staff there are concerning the size of a university’s student population. Can be a nice way of seeing how well resourced a university is, but bear in mind this is almost always based on undergraduate numbers, not a great indicator for a master where your class sizes will be smaller anyway.

University’s reputation

They tend to do this by surveying academics, employers, or other individuals and asking them what they think of a university overall or concerning particular things they think that university should be good at such as research performance, employability, training, and so on.

This sort of thing can tell you something about a university’s reputation obviously and perhaps give you a sense of how well regarded your degree certificate might be, but it can also be a bit of a self-fulfilling process. You can imagine can’t you, that the most famous universities and those that already have the highest reputation tend to do quite well in reputational surveys whereas a newer university that’s very good at postgrad study in your subject area may not be as well known overall. and of course, reputational surveys don’t tend to be postgrad specific.

University’s research output

all rankings really will look in some way a university’s research performance. So they’ll look at how much research a university produces, how many peer-reviewed journal articles, and other publications it generates. They’ll also look at how much impact that research has, so how often is it cited by other academics? Is it used by governments or industries or other organizations? And so on.

And this is more like it for postgrad study because you want your Master’s to be informed by cutting-edge research and more to the point you want the people teaching you on that Master’s to be the people doing that cutting edge research. So yes, this can tell you something about that although again, it’s not usually subject-specific, at least not for overall rankings.

Finally, one thing to bear in mind is that rankings all weigh these methodology factors and measures slightly differently, so one ranking might say that the staff-student ratio is very important and that makes up a bigger percentage of the factors it looks at, another might focus more on reputational surveys or research performance.

Tips for using university rankings

Here are a few tips for using university rankings when you’re looking for a Master’s degree.

1. use rankings with a pinch of salt
particularly if they look like they’ve been created by a website or some other publication with no apparent track record of publishing university rankings and no obvious methodology for you to see. It is very easy to just put things in numerical order, that does not mean that you should.

2. use subject rankings if you can
they’re still not postgrad specific but they will tell you how good a university is in your field and they’ll measure its research performance in your subject area. Remember Masters degrees are very specialized, the best university for your subject won’t necessarily be the best university in every subject and there’s no reason why it should be.

3. use rankings to find good study abroad options
One thing you can do if you hack the tables a little bit is look at how well a country’s higher education system does overall. So does it have lots of well-ranked universities you know, with a global league table? You could also find out which countries have the most universities ranked for certain subjects – that probably tells you something about how good that country is or that destination is for postgrad study and research in that area.

4. hack the rankings
You can also get a bit clever and dig into the methodology to look at really specific things, a good example is that universities will, or rankings, will sometimes look at how many PhDs a university award and include that somewhere in the makeup of its research performance. This is useful actually for postgrad because a university that awards lots of PhDs is probably a university with a very strong postgraduate community overall including its Master’s students.

5. don’t just use rankings
Look at other aspects of a university – look at the staff profiles, find out who’s going to be teaching you, how research active they are, what their interests are, and so on. Look at the extracurricular opportunities that might come with your course. Look at the modules you’ll have the option to do and the dissertation options you can pursue.

>>Top 10 best universities in the UK based on 4 ranking systems

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