PROVO — A Harvard study that sought a new method for ranking U.S. colleges named BYU the 21st most popular university among high-achieving high school students.
The study's authors aimed to demonstrate a new method of ranking schools that could not be so easily manipulated by the schools themselves. Other common metrics often used to tout a school's popularity — such as the number of applications submitted or the percentage of students who commit to attend the school after they are accepted — are too easily influenced by the schools themselves, according to the study. So the authors went to a less corruptible source and took their survey directly to the students.
After surveying more than 3,000 high-achieving high schoolers, the authors ranked Harvard, Caltech, Yale and MIT as the nation's four most popular schools. BYU ranked just after Duke and the University of Virginia, and was the only Utah school to make the top 110 schools listed by the study.
BYU's strong academic programs and campus culture make it a popular choice among certain groups of high schoolers, BYU spokesman Joe Hadfield said. He also credited the BYU faculty's dedication to students for the school's growing popularity.
"That seems to grow out of the faculty members' dedication to mentoring students and involving them in research experiences," Hadfield wrote in an email. "Often the most productive researchers here are also among the best teachers, according to students."
The Harvard study was less susceptible to schools' influence than other rankings, according to the authors, because it dodged techniques schools use to bolster their apparent popularity. Some schools encourage students who are not qualified to attend to apply anyway, so they can increase the number of applications they receive each year. Other schools will turn away students they consider overqualified to avoid decreasing the number of accepted students who decline to attend, the study said.