College rankings that compliment universities on their students’ drinking abilities could cost a school an 8 to 9 percent drop in out-of-state student enrollment, according to a new study conducted by the American Educational Research Association. The study claims that the annual top party lists produced by organizations like Princeton Review can damage an institution’s reputation, making it less appealing to applicants.

On the other hand, being named one of the top 25 best colleges in America by the likes of U.S. News & World Report could boost the amount of students applying to a university by 6 to 10 percent, researches say. And being included in the top 20 for academic quality by the Princeton Review is advantageous as well: That accolade on average bumps up the number of applications by 2.3 percent.

As for Princeton Review‘s ranking of campuses with the happiest students, being named to that list increases the the number of applications by 2.9 percent, while inclusion on the publication’s most beautiful ranking bumps up enrollment by another 2.3 percent, the study reports.

But while college rankings clearly have an impact on the livelihood of universities, their methodologies lack scientific backing. In the end, then, such authoritative publications are determining whether a school is successful through largely misleading measures.

“It raises important questions about the large role these arbitrary rankings can play in the college selection process,” explained Randall Reback, an associate professor at Barnard College who coauthored the study.

Reback’s study is not, of course, the first time that those questions have been raised, with some schools having sought to challenge such rankings in the past. The University of Virginia, for example, demanded a recount of Playboy Magazine’s party school ranking in 2012, when Playboy dubbed UVA the top party school in the nation. UVA spokesman Marian Anderfuren would refute the accolade.

“It’s far more important for the University to be known for our academic achievements in teaching and research, the extraordinarily high graduation rate of our students, and our commitment to providing financial support to all students who have demonstrated need,” added Carol Wood, another spokeswoman for UVA. “These are areas for which the University has consistently been ranked among the best in the country — and for which we have become widely known and respected in higher education.”

So the next time you check out a college ranking, you might want to hold back from making assumptions about the universities depicted on the list. Visit colleges in person; don’t let a ranking determine your opinion of your potential dream school.


Image via The Hook