Rank and bile: Harvard Medical School won’t participate in U.S. News ratings

The institution joins some top law schools in abandoning the rankings. U.S. News says the reports provide a valuable service to students, and many schools tout high rankings in their marketing.

Students and parents scour the rankings produced by U.S. News & World Report when choosing schools, but one major name is no longer participating in the rankings.

Harvard Medical School said last week that it would no longer submit data for the U.S. News ranking of the best medical schools.

In a statement to the campus community, George Q. Daley, dean of Harvard Medical School, said he had been pondering the move since becoming dean six years ago. Daley noted growing concerns about the methodology of the U.S. News rankings, but he said his concerns were more philosophical.

“As unintended consequences, rankings create perverse incentives for institutions to report misleading or inaccurate data, set policies to boost rankings rather than nobler objectives, or divert financial aid from students with financial need to high-scoring students with means in order to maximize ranking criteria,” Daley wrote.

“Ultimately, the suitability of any particular medical school for any given student is too complex, nuanced, and individualized to be served by a rigid ranked list, no matter the methodology.”

It’s not as if Harvard Medical School was lagging in the rankings. Harvard ranked first in the U.S. News 2023 ranking of the best medical schools for research.

Still, Doyle said it’s his belief that “rankings cannot meaningfully reflect the high aspirations for educational excellence, graduate preparedness, and compassionate and equitable patient care that we strive to foster in our medical education programs.”

The rankings have had their critics, but Harvard Medical School’s move gained national media attention. Colin Diver, former president of Reed College, told Axios that the move is significant, as Harvard’s dean “recognized that a boycott of the U.S. News can only work if it comes from the top.”

Nonetheless, many people turn to the rankings when looking at schools, and institutions use the rankings in marketing themselves to prospective students.

Eric Gertler, U.S. News executive chairman & CEO, said the rankings offer valuable guidance to students and families in making decisions on where to go to school.

“We know that comparing diverse academic institutions across a common data set is challenging, and that is why we have consistently stated that the rankings should be one component in a prospective student’s decision-making process,” Gertler said in a statement.

“The fact is, millions of prospective students annually visit U.S. News medical school rankings because we provide students with valuable data and solutions to help with that process."

Still, the rankings have gained growing criticism recently.

Columbia University took some heat after allegations that it submitted inaccurate or misleading data to the U.S. News ranking of the top colleges, The New York Times reported. Columbia said it miscalculated data, and U.S. News dropped the university from number 2 to number 18. But the furor added fire to questions about the value of the rankings and how easily they can be skewed.

Some top law schools have said they will no longer participate in the rankings, including Yale Law School, Harvard Law School, and Berkeley Law. Doyle cited the decision of John Manning, dean of Harvard Law School, as a factor in his move to stop participating in the rankings.

Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken said the rankings disincentivize programs that support public interest careers and offer need-based aid.

“While I sincerely believe that U.S. News operates with the best of intentions, it faces a nearly impossible task, ranking 192 law schools with a small set of one-size-fits-all metrics that cannot provide an accurate picture of such varied institutions. Its approach not only fails to advance the legal profession, but stands squarely in the way of progress,” Gerken said in a statement.

Doyle noted that comparable data for all U.S. medical schools can be found on the Association of American Medical Colleges website, which includes the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) Reports for Applicants and Advisors.