I have two very good admission offers from good universities in the US, and I am having a hard time choosing between them. So much that I am starting to consider less relevant factors, such as the position of the department in the different rankings. I believe that the ranking from the US News and World Report is the most prestigious one. However, they only show the top-10 departments on my field. I would need to pay 30 USD to see the full ranking. Is it worth it?

closed as off-topic by Brian Borchers, Buzz, virmaior, OBu, EnergyNumbers Feb 18 '18 at 17:39

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    There are other rankings that are freely available. See for example the rankings produced by the National Research Council. In Mathematics, the American Mathematical Society groups PhD programs in mathematics into three tiers (and public vs. private) that provide a very rough ranking. The value of these kinds of ranking is quite limited though. – Brian Borchers Feb 17 '18 at 18:15
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    Did you properly consider the advisors? It's far more important, than all that. Arguably, it can be more important than the university itself. – Fábio Dias Feb 17 '18 at 18:26
  • You pays your money and makes your choice - Or you don't pay your money and make the choice with the info you have... we won't! – Solar Mike Feb 17 '18 at 19:00
  • @BrianBorchers My understanding of the AMS grouping is that it's not a ranking in any sense, is just a grouping by certain criteria, no? (IIRC using things like size or whether they have a PhD program) – Kimball Feb 17 '18 at 23:19
  • Can you look at them through a library? // Have you already taken a close look at publications and websites coming from the professors in the various candidate department? – aparente001 Feb 18 '18 at 6:15

No, it's not worth paying $30 for an extended list of rankings in a discipline. Why not use more productive factors, such as:

  • Who has the wider range of faculty working in areas that interest you?
  • Where would you like to live as a grad student (in a city, a small town, etc.)? Does region of the country matter?
  • How does your stipend compare to cost of living where you are?
  • Will you be close to potential collaborators?
  • Do you want to work in a small department or a large department?
  • What do your current faculty mentors and advisors think of the two departments?
  • Thank you. Please let me answer those points. 1, 2, 3) I have been offered an RA, and I think that my funding is tied to working with those professors. Both are in big cities, and the stipends are quite similar when compared to living expenses. 5) I think both departments are large. 6) I am an international student, and my current mentors and advisors don't do much research any more. 4) What do you mean with potential collaborators? The same as faculty working on those areas? – Anonymous Feb 17 '18 at 17:51
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    The point is that you should not focus on the ranking at all, even if it is free of charge. @anonymous – Arctic Char Feb 17 '18 at 20:05
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    @JohnMa I basically agree, but if there are huge differences in rankings (eg top 10 school vs top 100), that can make a big difference in the overall quality of fellow grad students, which in turn can make a big difference in both one's experience and education, as well as future connections. – Kimball Feb 17 '18 at 23:24
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    @Mehrdad Look at it this way: rankings are a fuzzy metric. Past the top 10 colleges (and even within the top 10, to some degree), exact position in the ranking doesn't mean much. If there's a meaningful difference in prestige, it'll be evident in other ways. – duskwuff Feb 18 '18 at 3:32
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    @Mehrdad: No, they won't. Or at least not longer than about 5 minutes. They will care a lot more about your published work. – jamesqf Feb 18 '18 at 3:57

I'd suggest talking your current advisors and mentors - the people who wrote your recommendation letters. Even if they no longer do research, they can still offer you opinions on where to go. You can also do things like talk to the prospective supervisor's current graduate students. There are much more tangible things to consider than the US & WR ranking (see aeismail's answer).

Having said that, if you really do end up in a "both equally good" situation and need to use a ranking, I'd suggest the THE reputation ranking. If you ever need to find a non-academic job, the recruiter is not likely to know your supervisor or your research topic. They're only likely to know the brand name of the university. The THE reputation ranking is as good a proxy as any of how the university is perceived by the public. I stress though that this is only a tiebreaker, and it should never outweigh the factors mentioned by aeismail.

  • +1 I like this answer. While factors other than the ranking should be more important, one cannot dismiss the "perception" of university prestige when considering a job outside academia. – Abbas Javan Jafari Feb 19 '18 at 9:10

First of all, congratulations on your offers. The existing answers have offered good alternatives to spending the money on the ranking report and are worth considering.

However, it could still be valid to pursue the avenues suggested by the answers and still pay for a ranking report. The question asks if it is worth the 30 dollars. Consider that you will be spending the next 5 or so years (assuming an average length PhD in the US) at one of the institutions. Where you go will also affect your career trajectory in the next following years if not more. If I were you, I would not begrudge these expenditures if they would help you in making your decision. I would even suggest you to invest in visiting these two choices in person first (though in many cases the department will offer to pay for the travel expenses).

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