ApplyOrg | FAQ about World University Rankings

FAQ about World University Rankings

Due to the availability of many universities worldwide, it may be difficult for some candidates to choose a university for themselves or their kids. There are a lot of factors that need to be considered, such as location, costs, subjects amongst others.

One of the most common factors that can be considered is the university ranking. Some ranking universities, such as Times Higher Education or QS, publish several university ranking tables every year. Different ranking tables may rank universities significantly differently.

Here we aim to clarify a few questions on how universities are ranked and how these rankings can be used by students to make more educated decisions.

How are universities commonly ranked?

Rankings are commonly determined based on many different factors, such as research quality, teaching quality, student satisfaction, career prospects, etc. Different ranking organizations will choose to focus on certain factors, especially when they are trying to determine their rankings. It will result in different ranking outcomes for every university. For example, the QS ranking will be mostly determined by the reputation survey from more than 40,000 academics from all around the world. The Times Higher Education Ranking will focus on the overall teaching quality of every institution. 

How many universities are ranked?

The newest 2021 edition of the QS World University Ranking will feature more than 1,000 universities from all around the world. The Times Higher Education will rank 1,250 universities. The Shanghai Ranking will rank the top 500 universities from all around the world. Every ranking organization will collect data from a lot of universities. For example, QS World Ranking will assess more than 4,700 rankings to get this ranking, while the ARWU or Shannghai Ranking will use more than 1,200 institutions. However, they will only publish the ranking positions of all universities from the top of the range.

When are the rankings published by different institutions?

Different institutions usually have different publishing schedules. The QS World University Rankings usually releases the result in June, while the Times Higher Education World usually releases the ranking table in September. The Shanghai Ranking or ARWU is released around July or August.

Do courses/subjects matter in the overall ranking?

This is another important thing to consider when choosing a good university. Some ranking organizations will rate the strength of the universities across many different subject areas. For example, Norwich University of Arts and Falmouth Universities are strong in their performing and visual art programs. They are commonly ranked high in the Art and Design ranking table.

During the assessment of the university, the subject-specific ranking will be more relevant and also important than the regular university-based ranking. The area of the study will carry more weight than the overall university ranking on the table. It will help you choose the right university.

Is there any reference other than rankings?

There are many other university rankings that you may wish to consider before making the final decision on the country, university, and course. No ranking system can provide the full picture, so different factors need to be considered and combined to obtain a helicopter view of the university suitability. Quite often, the National Student Survey rank universities based on how satisfied students are with their universities. This is conducted based on a survey of more than 10,000 students and graduates. Another ranking is called the Research Excellence Framework (REF). It is created based on the academic research output and quality, so it is more related to postgraduate (masters and PhD) candidates.

Why are most top universities in English speaking countries?

The ranking tables are commonly used to rank any universities from all around the world. There is no bias toward English-speaking universities. All universities in different countries regardless of their official language are surveyed and assessed. Therefore, you can compare some available schools and universities based on specific factors that you are going to take a look at.

How can a candidate use the rankings to better choose a university?

It is important to note that world university rankings are just some rankings and they do not provide a full picture of what happens on the campus. As such, they can be carefully used to shortlist universities and colleges. They provide informative insights on the reputation and the international level of universities. They are also useful for comparing and benchmarking different universities.


How much weight should one place on rankings when selecting a university?

The amount of weight one assigns to the rankings in the process of decision is a personal preference and choice. The importance of ranking intimately depends on the alignment between the ranking criteria and personal preferences/priorities.

It is highly recommended to use rankings as a quick way to check the reputation of a university. At the same time, it is important to note that some rankings put much more weight on research quality than teaching quality. All these must be noted when deciding about undergraduate or postgraduate courses in different universities. As such, it is highly recommended to NOT base the university selection process purely on the rankings. They are just some statistics.

Do rankings guarantee an excellent and successful study journey?

Never. It all depends on the student and what they do as part of their studies.