Ranking: Law v. Undergrad

Inspired by this 2007 Taxprof post, I decided to compare the 2013 US News undergrad ranking to the 2013 overall law school rank. This project was a bit more complicated than it was six years ago,  due both to scandal & to the proliferation of regionally rankings.  But, ignoring schools that aren’t present on both lists, the results are illuminating.  For figures, follow me after the jump.

First, I’ll list the schools with a +20 or more difference between law and undergrad rankings — i.e., those schools with a significantly better ranked law school than their home institution.


Next, those schools with a -10 or more difference — i.e., those law schools lagging the most behind their home institutions.

You’ll note that there are more law schools exceeding their undergraduate reputation than those lagging it, and that the school with the biggest negative gap (Drexel) is still only 40 or so places behind its undergraduate rank, while the school with the biggest positive gap (Houston @ #48) is an astonishing 136 places in front of its undergrad rank (#184).  Why this should be so seems complicated to me – but I’d ultimately attribute the skew to an unbalanced mix of missing data on both lists.  Still, this should be interesting evidence when schools think about the determinants of their academic reputation score. If I were an administrator at one of schools with the bigger gaps, I’d wonder how much farther the rubber band could stretch.

Also worth noting: those schools whose rankings match exactly: Columbia, Chicago, Northwestern, B.C., William and Mary, and UC-Davis.

[Updated: by popular demand, I’ve turned the numbers into percentages, by dividing the rank into the total ranked schools in each category.  The results for the top 20 schools in both categories aren’t terribly different.]

First, the schools with the biggest negative gap.

Now, the largest positive gaps:

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13 Responses

  1. Confused says:

    Did you adjust for the larger number of undergraduate schools?

  2. Dan Cole says:

    I’m not sure I follow the underlying assumption that law school rankings and undergrad rankings should basically mirror one another. Is there a reason for such an assumption? And what would it mean for the “rubber band” to snap?

  3. Dave Hoffman says:

    Confused: Sorry that you are! I thought I was clear that I didn’t adjust for the larger number of undergraduate ranked schools — indeed, that’s what I meant by “skew”. Paul Caron in 2007 turned the ranks into percentages, which you could easily do.

    Dan: I don’t know why you’d think I assume they should basically mirror each other. But given that law ranking are determined in part by academic reputation, which is in turn determined in part by undergraduate brand (for better or worse), a large difference in rank would tend I think to exert pressure on the law scores. “Headwind”, as Caron describes, for schools that have a “better” law rank than undergrad; “Tailwind” for schools that don’t.

  4. Confused has a point. Because the undergraduate list is longer than the law school list, law schools will tend to have better ranks than their affiliated undergraduate programs. But, and this is critical, the differences due to length of list alone are not uniform across the scale. Lower-ranked schools will tend to have larger differences because both scales are anchored at 1 at the upper end and then descend at different proportional rates. If you’re gong to present only one set of data — differences in absolute ranks or differences in percentages — it should be percentages. Differences in absolute ranks are meaningless.

  5. Dave Hoffman says:

    Not meaningless to university and law school administrators, or in reputation effects. But nothing you say is inconsistent with my post, I think.

  6. Dave, I disagree. You called the results of your comparison “illuminating.” They’re not.

    Here’s another way to do the comparison that would have been more useful. Drop every school that is not “present on both lists.” Now you have two lists of equal length. Compare schools’ ranks on these revised, shorter lists. That’s apples-to-apples, unlike your charts.

  7. Dave Hoffman says:

    I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one. I put up some new charts, which I’m sure won’t satisfy you!

  8. An Albanian says:

    Albany Law School is a free-standing law school. It’s not affiliated with SUNY-Albany.

  9. Dave Hoffman says:


    Thanks – my screw up. I’ll leave up the figures since it’d be confusing to delete them. But folks should mentally delete the school from the list.

  10. Thanks, Dave. I’ll pronounce myself satisfied, especially given that very nice shade of blue you used.

  11. JustinB says:

    Albany Law School is loosely affiliated with Union College, #41 National Liberal Arts College, which would probably be a basis for comparison. http://www.union.edu/academic/beyond/after/union-university/

  12. Steve M says:

    What exactly is the point of this?

  13. dave hoffman says:

    Steve M: Would driving traffic to the blog be an acceptable answer?