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How to Determine Legitimate Ranking Websites

In mStoner’s 2018 Mythbusting Enrollment Marketing, they surveyed students and campus professionals to see how closely aligned campus professionals were to student interests:

  • 80% of campus professionals believe teens use US News rankings [and similar mainstream ranking websites, including Forbes, Niche, and Princeton Review]
  • 70% of teens said they didn’t use rankings or indicated they didn’t use any of the top rankings [mStoner] asked about

However, mStoner went on to say that not is all lost for ranking websites for the small percentage of prospective students who take advantage of them:

  • 4 in 10 teens who use US News are legacy [or not first-generation] students
  • 68% [first-generation] teens who use US News [said they] find it useful

Rankings are certainly a feather in our University cap that we should be proud of, so it is up to you to promote in confidence how well Tarleton is doing in state, national, or international competitions. But not all rankings are legitimate, and these will do you more harm (and University embarrassment) than good. In fact, many of these fake ranking websites harm your prospective students or harm University marketing efforts by unintentionally promoting other universities over our own.

You will normally discover these ranking websites in emails that claim you ranked # on such-and-such degree, and they offer quid pro quo (you link to their website and they show off your supposed ranking). It is vitally important for the safety of the University and prospective students that you investigate these claims by reviewing their emails and/or websites before considering adding them to your website.

First Steps You Can Investigate

If you haven’t heard of them, like the mainstream examples mentioned above, you may want to take a close look at who is running the ranking website, including whether other high ranking universities have referenced them. Keep in mind, though, other universities have been caught not doing due diligence in their own investigations. While we discourage investigating suspicious websites on your own, if you have a means to securely view these websites and scan/protect your computer from potential viruses or data tracking code, you may follow along on the deeper dive testing practices as described.

No single successful test will legitimize the ranking website. As scam artists (bad actors) work to improve their imposter behaviors to convince you they are real, we must adapt and adjust to avoid being manipulated.

Email Test: Did a human or robot send the email?
Email Test: What methodology was used to rank universities?
Search Results Test: Are they on the first page?

Investigation Deep Dive

We do not want you, your computer, or other property to be harmed in any way by investigating potentially malicious websites. Though these are simple tests, please do not conduct them on your own if you do not have a secure means to access their websites and protect against viruses and other harmful code. Contact Web Services for assistance on these investigations if desired.

Source of Data and Criteria Analysis Test
Privacy Policy and Selling Data to a Third-Party Test
Conscious Consent to Give Personal Data to a Third-Party Test