Joining the Ranks: Do Colleges’ Academic Rankings Translate into MUN Success?

by arhoades on December 21, 2013

While there are many compelling reasons to participate in Model United Nations, there is no denying that awards are a very strong motivating factor for numerous delegates and teams. As Best Delegate’s Fall 2013 North America College Rankings hit our screens this week, many readers are no doubt wondering, “What makes some schools better at Model UN than others?”

One potential explanation of a college’s success in Model UN is the academic strengths of the school. It seems a logical assumption that schools with stronger Social Sciences (namely International Relations or Political Science) programs will perform better at MUN than schools whose strengths lie elsewhere.

Comparing the just-released Best Delegate rankings to the list of schools that Foreign Policy and U.S. News have identified as the top ten Political Science and International Relations programs (in the USA) tells a different tale, however.

Best Delegate’s Fall 2013 Rankings recognize the following schools as being the ten best schools at Model UN:

  1. University of Chicago

  2. Georgetown University

  3. Harvard University

  4. University of Pennsylvania

  5. Florida International University

  6. United States Military Academy at West Point

  7. Claremont McKenna College

  8. Columbia University

  9. Yale University

  10. Rutgers University

Meanwhile, the list of the top ten International Relations and Political Science programs in the USA (synthesized from Foreign Policy and U.S. News rankings) identifies these schools as being consistently at the top of the Social Sciences game:

  1. Harvard University

  2. Princeton University

  3. Stanford University

  4. Columbia University

  5. Georgetown University

  6. Yale University

  7. University of Chicago

  8. Dartmouth University

  9. George Washington University

  10. American University

As you can see, there is a decent amount of overlap between the two lists. However, there are also some glaring inconsistencies. Harvard, Columbia, Georgetown, Yale, and University of Chicago, all make the top ten of both lists, albeit in a different order. The other half of each list is entirely disparate.

Five of the schools on the Foreign Policy and U.S. News list do not make the cut for best Model UN teams.

Princeton-UniversityPrinceton, ranked #2 for its IR/PoliSci programs, only makes the top 50 on the MUN list. It is ranked #1 on U.S. News’ list of best colleges in the USA.

stanfordovalStanford fares better, clocking in at #23 on the list of best MUN teams, although this is still a bit low given its #3 ranking for Social Sciences. It is ranked #5 on U.S. News’ list of best colleges in the USA.

800px-Professor's_Gate_-_GWUGWU is in a similar situation, listed at #9 for their IR/PoliSci programs, and at #15 for their Model UN performance. It is ranked #52 on U.S. News’ list of best colleges in the USA.

american_university_flickr_jakewaage_606American, which rounds out the list of the best Social Sciences programs, only makes the top 75 MUN teams. It is ranked #75 on U.S. News’ list of best colleges in the USA.

dartmouth-green-ve30nuMost surprisingly, Dartmouth, which is ranked a solid #8 for its IR/PoliSci programs, did not even make the top 75 on Best Delegate’s list. It is ranked #10 on U.S. News’ list of best colleges in the USA.

On the flip side, where do the schools that make the MUN list but not the best Social Sciences programs list stand academically?

upenn3University of Pennsylvania has Finance as its most popular major of 2012, with 14% of the student body choosing this major. It is ranked #7 on U.S. News’ list of best colleges in the USA.

uni_head_fiuFlorida International University’s most popular major of 2012 was Business, Management, and Marketing, pulling in 35% of the student body. Its national rank was calculated but not published on U.S. News.

USMA_Color_Guard_on_ParadeUnited States Military Academy at West Point had 23% of its students majoring in Engineering. It is ranked #17 on U.S. News’ list of best colleges in the USA.

college-photo_12820._445x280-zmmClaremont McKenna College appears to have a strong Economics focus, with 30% of its student body selecting this as their major. It is ranked #9 on U.S. News’ list of best colleges in the USA.

Rutgers CampusRutgers University had a wider distribution of majors, but Psychology took the lead at 13%. It is ranked #24 on U.S. News’ list of best colleges in the USA.

Given these stats, it would appear that overall academic excellence at a university may have more impact on its Model UN performance than superiority at specific Social Sciences programs. There are, of course, myriad other factors that can influence and impact a school’s Model UN performance. Training regimens, geographic location (which, in turn, may dictate the conferences a school attends), size of the delegation, committee assignments, and countless other variables can all play a role in shaping a school’s success at MUN. Keep in mind that even when the utmost effort is made to make rankings objective, different organizations have returned different results, and there are many intangible factors that cannot be computed well when formulating these lists. For this reason, at Best Delegate, we take rankings as a good gauge of a school’s MUN performance, but not as the hard and fast definition of MUN success.

Looking for tips on delegate strategy, ideas for team training, or ways to improve your individual or team performance in the new year? Take a look back through our posts of 2013 and check out our Resources page here:

  • akal

    This is awesome! I’ve been waiting for someone within the community to begin analyzing the trends between which schools that are renown for their international relations programs are also the most “successful” MUN teams. Now we’re getting meta up in here!
    I think it’s really interesting to note that some teams have a core group of people who win awards for their teams (think small delegation schools) while others can pull on a massive pool of individuals (think UPenn, Harvard, UChicago, etc.) to win. I am not sure if one style is better than the other but I do think it shows how much room for growth there is for MUN on the collegiate level.
    The point I want to make is this: the larger the MUN community grows the more opportunities there will be for awesome content. It really makes me happy to see how much Best Delegate has grown over the years to be what it is today. It also makes me excited to find out what it will be in the future.
    Anyway, this was a great post. I really enjoyed the analysis!

    • Troy Robinson

      To respond to your note, I think one of the largest contributing factors to Small Delegation size is limited finances. It may prove misleading to think of Small Delegations as fielding only a few strong delegates, when in fact it may be that some schools can only afford to send a few delegates while other schools can pay for their entire team to attend. In my opinion, quality of the team overall means much more than aggregate awards. Of the Top 25, 8 schools are low-funded public-university teams that perform well as Small Delegations.I am sure if some if some of these schools could field 30 delegates at each and every conference, the rankings might look much differently.

  • Phil Kehoe

    Great article, but just a few things. The rankings for Rutgers University – New Brunswick are incorrect. Rutgers is ranked as the 69th best national university, with the 45th best political science program. Rutgers – Camden is the 24th best school in their northern region.

    I liked that you touched on the wide distribution of majors at Rutgers, and I believe that is what makes us a very successful Model UN team. Many of our best delegates are not political science majors, and we do not even have an IR program. We have a very diverse team with majors ranging from computer science to public health, and their wide array of knowledge and experience really helps us compete and succeed on the circuit!

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