Are Nurse Practitioner School Rankings Accurate?

Are you looking for the right nurse practitioner program? If you’re anything like me, part of your NP school search involves looking at rankings. You’ve checked out which universities position their nurse practitioners for the highest levels of success, at least as far as you can tell. You’ve weighed the quality of each program compared with the price tag of attendance. But, how accurate is the information you’re finding online, especially when it comes to NP program rankings?

This weekend I read the parenting book How to Raise an Adult by Judy Lythcott-Haims. In the midst of discussing parents’ concerns about children and college education, Haims brings up an interesting point about university rankings. U.S. News and World Report publishes the most widely read and distributed university rankings. These publications are a significant revenue generating product for U.S. News. Tied closely to the company’s financial model, this leaves such rankings systems prone to subjectivity and manipulation. 

College rankings usually appear to contain primarily objective data. Stats like retention rate and class size seem to be straightforward. But, as we’ve discussed previously here on ThriveAP, admission statistics and the like are subject to manipulation by universities themselves (the schools you’re applying to may not be as selective as they seem). The remainder of a university’s rankings are determined by subjective data, about 22.5% of a ranking decision is made based on subjective data in U.S. News and World Report’s lists. These considerations include things like ‘reputation’. 

Not only are university rankings open to subjectivity, according to Haims, but publishers also pressure universities to participate. They penalize universities in online rankings for submitting incomplete information or refusing to reveal certain information. Universities that refuse to report data, such as Smith College, may be assigned the overall average in the metrics they do not report, whereas the school’s actual scores might be much higher.   

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While Haims presents her findings primarily in the context of undergraduate education, the takeaways from her discussion apply to students looking for a nurse practitioner program. NP school rankings are created under similar pressures and with a level of subjectivity. Since rankings are determined under such circumstances, prospective nurse practitioners must consider them appropriately. There may not be much difference in quality among the top 10 schools on a list. A nurse practitioner program that falls in an ‘average’ category on a ranking may simply have chosen not to reveal certain statistics to a publisher. 

What’s the bottomline? Don’t put too much pressure on yourself for perfection in selecting your nurse practitioner program. While NP school rankings can help give you an idea as to a school’s quality, they shouldn’t be used as an absolute, authoritative source. Academic statistics are important in your nurse practitioner school selection, but so are qualities like personality fit, geographic location and cost. You do need to be judicious – there is some stigma against large online programs among employers, for example. However,  rankings publications are somewhat subjective so consider them as such when taking them into account. As you choose where you’ll get your nurse practitioner degree, keep a broader perspective than the latest ‘Top 10’ list. Attending a #5 school is perfectly fine. In fact, a #5 school may actually be a higher quality NP program top pick on a publisher’s list. 


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