UNLV Rebels score 12th in ‘most popular’ college rankings

Remember back in college, there were those cliques? The popular kids, the jocks, the mean girls, the wannabes, the frat boys, the nerds and the emo dorks.

UNLV used to be a wannabe.

Now it’s one of the popular kids.

No joke. UNLV is the 12th "most popular" university in the country.

"That puts us way ahead of a whole bunch of very prestigious institutions," the university’s president, Neal Smatresk, said the other day.

Princeton is 13th, Columbia 15th, UNR 28th.

Duke is a lowly 79th.


Among the top 10 are Harvard, Brigham Young University, Stanford, M.I.T. and Yale.

The data come from U.S. News & World Report, which puts out so many college rankings they’ve got an entire website devoted to it, books about it, and a rabid argument going on in higher ed circles about whether any of it matters.

But this one?

The folks at UNLV are embracing it like it’s the latest NCAA college basketball rankings. (Which, by the way, also have UNLV ranked 12th in the nation.)

The popularity rankings measure how many of the students who were accepted into a particular university actually ended up attending that university in the fall of 2010.

At Harvard, the figure was 75.5 percent. It was 59.7 percent at UNLV.

A lowly 41.7 at Duke.


Luke Schultheis, who was brought in three years ago to run the enrollment division, says the secret to UNLV’s success — it was unranked two years ago, and 25th last year — is targeted marketing.

In other words, the university goes after those students who probably would like UNLV and so have a good chance of being successful there.

Kind of like the Army. It’s not recruiting geriatrics with artificial hips.

In the university’s case, Schultheis says, the marketing is geared toward students who have high test scores but not the highest, who have said they would prefer an urban university, and for whom cost is a concern.

The university also keeps up with those students and their parents throughout the application and admissions process, Schultheis says.

That’s important these days, he says, because it’s what everyone is doing. If you don’t do it, you’re forgotten.

There might also be an economic factor to UNLV’s rise in the polls, Schultheis acknowledges. Maybe in this economic downturn, more students than usual are opting to stay home and attend UNLV.

After all, public universities in Alaska, Nebraska and North Dakota also are ranked near the top in the popularity poll.

Still, he says, more out-of-state students than ever are attending UNLV, as are more international students.

Strangely, some universities that usually rank highly in almost all the polls are near the bottom in this one.

There’s St. John’s University, American University, Stony Brook University and Fordham University.

As well as the dorks at Duke.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at or 702-383-0307.

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