Yesterday the US News & World Report, the most famous and influential of the national college ranking services, released their 2012 rankings. This magazine doesn’t even have a print edition anymore, but they make a fortune each year selling their rankings issue, which sits on bookstore shelves year around.
While lucrative for US News and for the top schools on the list (whose bond ratings can be affected by their rank), I wouldn’t become too dazzled by this or any other subjective ranking system. Don’t get me wrong, there is some valuable information about the schools contained in the report, and it does provide insight into some important metrics (like graduation rates and financial aid awarded) to consider when evaluating colleges. But ultimately the methodology that determines why one school is ranked higher than another, and is therefore perceived as “better”, is only minimally based on educational quality. Rather, ‘reputation’ — measured by feedback from other administrators — is one of the most significant factors in the rankings. Guess what? They often vote for each other’s schools.
Though the rankings might contribute to a school’s prestige, they have little baring on your child’s success in school and in life. That’s more about a student’s ambition, talent and hard work once they get to college, and ‘brand name’ graduates do not have a monopoly on those traits.
Many lesser-known and thus lower-ranked schools have outstanding programs and great reputations among employers and graduate schools. So, unless your child defines success as getting accepted to a highly ranked college, your best strategy is to apply to colleges that fit your student’s academic and career aspirations, inspire them socially and will be affordable so that they can finish without handcuffing their future with debilitating debt.
Unfortunately, the rankings can have great influence over the admissons process, causing needless stress and forcing parents and students into sometimes irrational decisions. My best prescription for rankings-induced agita is to take a look at the report if you wish, and use the information provided to inform but not to direct your selection.
With the rising sticker price of college, practicality (school generosity, study options, career direction)– not some subjective perception — should reign supreme. If you’d like to understand how the whole college system – admissions, need, and non-need based financial aid — works; and more importantly, how you can make it work for your family; you should register for one of my free classes. I’m teaching two at the end of this week. After that, I think I’m conducting just one more class that’s open to the public this year. If you are the parent of an 11th or 12th grader, or care about someone who is, I highly recommend you check out my class.