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Given the criticism that the NRC doesn’t consider program prestige and standing and has had its metrics questioned, how much faith do y’all have in the NRC rankings? How do you account for the difference between them and USNWR (also has its problems)? If not, do you just gauge programs off of faculty and word of mouth? How are you supposed to know if a program is tier 1 or 4 if these two systems report such diff rankings?

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I said something similar to this back when a bunch of us on this forum discussed the updated US News and World Report rankings in 2017, but as best as I can tell rankings are better understood an expression of already existing preferences, rather than a system that is supposed to impute preferences either in hiring or graduate admissions. The methodology of these ranking lists couldn't be taken as credibly serious by any scholar -- especially US News'. I've talked to people in my own institution and elsewhere who have worked on hiring committees and none of them have mentioned ever looking at rankings as a means of seriously vetting candidates, which makes sense because once you're at the graduate level, your dissertation work is all about with who you work. Your department could be top 10 by reputation as a whole, but if there aren't faculty at your university that are standouts in the field, then the top 10 ranking won't help you job-wise than if you had been at a school where the faculty fit match was stronger. I know I would have been worse off at the schools ahead of me in the top 20, even though they're ranked higher, because at my current institution the faculty match is near peerless. 

So, in short, when you see rankings like US News or the NRC's, my advice is to say, "Think of this how the professionals in the field tend to see these departments," and nothing more -- certainly not "I won't get a job if I don't get a school at X rank."

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@silenus_thescribe I agree with your point that ratings are “an expression of already existing preferences.” That’s actually why the NRC rankings confuse me, since they don’t really take that in account and have programs rather highly ranked that don’t seem like they have as high of an existing preference for. USNWR, while not a reliable method, does mostly follow what I would expect for programs I’m familiar with and how they place.

Your point on fit is quite correct and working with well-recognized faculty, but the former could land someone in a program with poor placement and the latter is hard to gauge in some areas of interest as most of these superstars often are likely on the verge of retirement. I’ve found it useful to look at folks mentored by these folks, but being able to find programs through a ranking system can be helpful in initial research. This is where my confusion with the NRC comes from. It seems like an odd data source to start with to assess institutional preferences and assumptions.

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